How To Use Mid/Side EQ For Clearer and Wider Mixes
Mid/Side EQ can feel confusing, but it’s a powerful tool for tightening your low-end, creating focused definition and separation between your tracks, and width in your mix.
We have talked about general EQ techniques a lot on the blog, but mid/side EQ is a little more advanced.
Here are some suggestions on how you can use this advanced EQ technique to improve your mixes.
What is Mid/Side Processing?
With the stereo field, we divide the spectrum into a left and right field between the two speakers.
With mid/side processing, we have a “middle” field and a “sides” field.
These images will help you visualize how the stereo spectrum changes when you change from L/R to M/S:
The mid/side process allows for creative equalizing that adds depth and width across the stereo spectrum. M/S EQ gives you some advanced techniques that the L/R EQ doesn’t support, like tightening up your low-end, separating your tracks to create clarity in the center, and adding width to the sides.
Common Mid/Side EQ Applications
- Tightening the low-end – Filtering out the bass frequencies in the sides and forcing the bass into the center of the field makes your low-end tighter.
- Separating your tracks differently – Instead of creating separation across the stereo spectrum, you can separate instrument in the center only, like a vocal and guitar, while leaving those frequencies alone in the sides. You can also boost a panned instrument in the sides, which will add clarity at the edges of the mix without masking the center.
- Focusing your center field – You can get more surgical by adding clarity and focus in the center of the spectrum without adding it across the stereo field. A boost in the high-mids can often bring the center forward, making the essential elements jump out of the mix.
- Adding width to the sides – Just like you can focus the center by bringing it out, you can add width in the sides by boosting the highs.
Mid/Side EQ Quickstart for Your Mix Workflow
Let’s say you have many synth and keyboard tracks in your mix, and they’re clashing with the vocals. Usually, I would recommend an 800 Hz- 3 kHz cut on the instrument buss to make room for the vocal. However, you can do it in mid/side mode instead, which will keep those synths wide in the center while giving the vocal room in the middle.
You can even add an extra step and add a high-frequency boost in the sides to get the synths to cut through in the high-end. That way, you not only end up with a clearer vocal track that cuts through the mix and jumps out of the speakers, but you also have a wide instrument track with presence and air.
Of course, this trick isn’t only applicable to synth tracks but any instrument group in which you want these results.
Mid/Side EQ in Your Mastering Workflow
For mastering M/S EQ, I tend to do two things: Tighten the lows and widen the highs.
On my mix/master bus, I have an EQ preset that has an L/R high-pass filter set to 30 Hz to that elimina any unnecessary low-end rumble. Then I have a second high-pass filter in M/S mode at 75 Hz that cleans up the rest of the bass frequencies in the sides. You can experiment with the frequency cut-off but I’ve found 75 Hz to be a good starting point. This way you’ll get a focused low-end in the middle of your mix, tightening up any stray bass frequencies that might skew the stereo spectrum in the low-end.
Then I’ll add an air-shelf in the Sides above 10 -12 kHz or so. It’ll be a subtle boost but the mix will feel wider and clearer. With an M/S EQ you’re adding an additional dimension to your smiley face curve. The LOUD button on your stereo increases the bass and the treble, creating a smiley curve that our ears like. That’s why we like mixes that have a thick low-end impact and rich high-end sparkle.
However, with M/S EQ you’re adding an additional dimension across the stereo spectrum. That way you’re not just adding a smiley-face EQ curve from low to high, but also from left to right so your mix feels more three-dimensional.
Your Ultimate Guide to EQ
Of course, M/S EQ is an advanced technique that may not help you too much if you’re still struggling with general EQ principles. If you’d like to take your EQ skills to the next level and become a master of both L/R and M/S EQ, EQ Strategies – Your Ultimate Guide to EQ will help you achieve that.
Steve Wagner is a recent student and he told me that after he finished the book and the video course, he “got a feeling that I could create mixes that are competitive. And the feedback I’ve been receiving proves this out. I got a better grip on which frequency to handle rather than just tweaking this or that until it (hopefully) sounded better. At length, it has helped me arrive at the conviction that you need to begin from the ear and proceed to the mixer, not the other way around. My ear has developed considerably since studying this course and applying it to my mixes. [I’ve learned] how to reduce hi-end harshness and lo-mid cloudiness to get a mix with greater clarity.”
Check out the in-depth workbook and video course through the URL below:
Keeping Track, Music Mixing