Sometimes, you might wonder how some tracks sound like the band is standing in your living room. The singer is right in front of you, the bassist and drummer seem to be set up just behind them and the guitar and synthesizer seem to be coming at you from the sides. How does a mixing engineer manage to create so much depth via just two speakers? In this blog, we explain how you can make your own stereo mixes feel more three-dimensional using nothing more than the tools that came with your DAW, including panning, a chorus, doubler, reverb and some EQ. In other words, you can learn to pack your mixes with the illusion of space.

3D Stereo Mixing: Create Depth with Just Two Speakers


The easiest way to create more breadth in a mix is to pan your instruments. Pan is short for panorama, and you can use it to shift the sound of any track to the centre or left or right of the stereo image – so the left or right speaker. When an instrument is panned to the centre, when you listen to the finished mix through a good set of speakers, it’ll almost sound like it’s floating in front of them. This phenomenon is referred to as the ‘phantom centre’. Instruments with a lot of low-end to them, like the kick drum and bass are almost always centre panned. This is because low frequency reproduction can be pretty demanding for most speakers, so things tend to sound best when the load is divided between the left and right speakers. Also, human ears aren’t all that adept at being able to tell exactly where lower frequencies are coming from, so there’s little point in hard panning something like the bass all the way to the right.

Other instruments that play a key role in a track, like the lead vocal or lead guitar, are almost always centre panned as well, while the supporting instruments are often panned to the left or right to spread them out. When panning your instruments, keep an eye on the balance of the total mix. One of the easiest ways to do this is to regularly check how your mix sounds in mono. For example, instruments that are hard-panned all the way to the left or right speaker tend to disappear completely as soon as you listen to the mix in mono.

Faking Stereo

You can also give individual instruments and vocals more breadth by recording them twice and then moving the two takes apart using panning. This is a really popular technique when recording vocals and guitars. The minimal difference in timing and pitch can create a really spacious effect.

Of course, if you’re as lazy as I am and can’t really be bothered to spend time recording everything twice, then you could always just use a chorus or doubler effect. These effects literally copy the recording and add a little pitch and timing shift. Another method for ‘faking’ a stereo track with a mono track is using an equalizer. Copy the track and then pan the tracks away from each other. Then, use an equalizer to create some peaks and dips in the frequency response of the track you panned to the left, making sure to focus on the frequencies lying between 400 Hz and 2 KHz. Now, apply an EQ to the track you panned to the right and create a mirror-image of the settings you applied to the EQ on the left. So, where you added a peak on the left, add a dip on the right and so on. There are even plugins available that can do all of this for you.


When it comes to giving the mix some depth, it’s all about creating a suggestion of depth simply because, when you set up a pair of speakers, you tend to place them next to each other, not one behind the other. Here, we can actually learn a lot about how we experience sound in daily life. Volume and timbre play a big role in this, so an instrument or sound that’s really loud in the mix will definitely sound closer, but you can also create depth in your mix by making an instrument sound clearer than all the others. This approach definitely works when it comes to the lead vocal and backing vocals. The same applies to full versus thin sound. The best method for achieving this depth is to think about where you’re going to place each instrument right at the beginning – during the recording process. I.e. the further away you place the microphone from the amp, the instrument or the vocalist, the further away it’s going to sound in the mix.

Reverb & Delay

Another region where our ears naturally mine for sonic information is spatial acoustics. This could be created by the acoustics of the room you’re recording in, but you can always give your acoustic options a boost by using reverb and delay effects in your DAW. You could say that both of these effects simply make an instrument sound ‘further away’, but this description could do with a bit more nuance.

Reverb often includes something called pre-delay, which you can use to make the reverb effect start later. This can make the instrument sound really close by, but still make it feel like it’s placed it in a really big space. Another interesting phenomenon is when an instrument that’s been treated with a narrow stereo reverb/delay (so with minimal difference between the left and right) or even a mono reverb/delay, can sound even further away than when you use a more broad effect.


Creating height is also going to be about creating the suggestion of height. Bright sounding instruments that mainly lie in the 10 KHz region can sound like they’re sitting ‘higher’ in the mix than instruments with a more ‘dull sound that mainly lies below the 80 Hz frequency range. To clarify this, we have to go back to school for a bit…

We’re able to hear the difference between upper and lower, just like the difference between in front and behind, because of the helix – or shell-like parts of our outer ears. Our helix adds colour to the incoming sound depending on the angle from which the sound is coming, and because of that added colour, our brain is able to tell which direction the sound is coming from. By incorporating just as many treble-heavy elements in your mix as bass-heavy elements, you can actually create the impression that the instruments are also taking up vertical space.

If you have your own signature moves when it comes making your mixes sound more three-dimensional, let us know in the comments!

See also…

» 5 Ways to Make Your Mix Sound Louder
» Mixing Flawless Vocals in 5 Steps
» Mixing with the Mix Bus
» What is an Equaliser and What Is It Used For?
» How to record a great-sounding demo
» The Best Microphone Set-Ups for Stereo Recordings
» DIY Mastering: 5 Tips for Better Results
» Compression: What is it and How Do You Use it?
» DAW Plugins: What Are They & What Can They Do?
» What’s the Best DAW Software for Me?

» DAW Software
» Effect Plugins
» USB Microphones
» All Studio & Recording Gear

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