Mix translation has become even more of a moving target than ever, now that music is consumed on earbuds, headphones, iPhones, in cars, and desktop computer speakers—but rarely on large stereo speakers. Mix engineers are aware that they should probably mix on earbuds and tiny speakers, but who can spend hours listening to a mix played back on speakers the size of a nickel? At the end of the day, due to the limitations of current playback media, you hear music in mono far more than you think. For example, music from streaming services isn’t always played back in true stereo. Music piped into an elevator, supermarket, doctor’s office, shopping mall, PA system, or theme park is heard in mono. If only there was an easy way to reference a mix in mono and anticipate how playback will sound in these myriad environments. There is, it’s called Panipulator 2 and it’s a free gift from Boz.
Panipulator 2—Just the Facts:
- Simple, streamlined user interface
- Check the mono compatibility of mixes
- Identify problems in the stereo field
- Hear what your mixes will sound like in imperfect playback media
- Use correctively or creatively
- Flip phase on left and right speakers individually
- Isolate speakers in mono, in and out of phase
- Flip the stereo field to assess differences in speaker playback
- Five modes to check mono summing; L/R 0dB, L/R -3dB, L/R -6dB, L, R
Panipulator 2—Cracking the Code:
Panipulator is an essential tool for mix translation. It can live on your master bus without your CPU knowing it’s even there. One way it achieves this is by enabling you to reference your mix in mono. While you may think that mono is so 70 years ago, mono is still relevant. To this day nearly all professional engineers sum their mixes to check for mono compatibility for several reasons: 1. Music played in restaurants, shopping centers, and other public places is sent out in mono. 2. Music played through PA systems is output in mono. 3. Desktop computer speakers placed side by side creates a mono output. 4. FM radio receivers sum a weak signal to mono to improve reception. 5. Small radios, TVs, and your Smartphone have a single mono speaker; and finally, someone listening to your music on earbuds may pull one out to share it with someone else, and voila, two mono mixes. Even the sound system in your car isn’t true stereo by virtue of the driver’s position, which places you near one speaker; left in the USA, right in Europe. It follows that a solid mono mix will let you know how your mix will sound coming from one speaker. Panipulator 2 goes one better (hence, the 2) by giving you the option of isolating the left or right speaker summed in stereo or summed to mono (so now you can mix for cars in the UK and the US).
Another issue to contend with is stereo speakers with barrier strip connectors, where speakers are accidentally wired out of phase—something very difficult to hear. However, it can cause a mix to lose punch and spatial detail if one speaker has an outward excursion while the other travels inward. On percussive hits, a positive-going waveform should cause the speaker cone to travel outward. To test this, some mixers will place a finger on the speaker cone, which is not as readily revealing as you would hope. Panipulator 2 lets you test speaker phase solely with your ears and the flip of a few virtual switches. You can still do the finger test, but it’s pretty rare to have both speaker cables wired in reverse phase—though it can happen.
High-Level Boz Tip: Sometimes it’s hard to see whether the waveform starts with a positive- or negative-going peak. To find out, perform this simple test: isolate and loop a single drum hit, put your finger on the speaker cone and use Pantipulator’s polarity reverse. If the cone moves outward with polarity reversed, use your DAW’s audio processing to flip its polarity for a permanent fix. And that, to use mono parlance, sums it up. Additionally, you can use Panipulator’s mono summing to make sure that you haven’t gone overboard with stereo widening plug-ins, which when used in excess, can ruin an entire mix.
Even Higher-Level Boz Tip: Speaking of mix widening plug-ins, a stereo width control is a feature that appeared on analog consoles based on a circuit published by Mullard in 1972. It was found that by cross-feeding an anti-phase signal into the main L/R mix (i.e. polarity reversed left channel fed into right and vice versa), the stereo image would widen. It was also stated that any more than 24% would cause the stereo image to come apart into two distinct halves (remember this for later). While this feature has all but disappeared from analog consoles, you can find it on the SSL AWS Delta and Rupert Neve Designs 5088. However, if you don’t have the $50k price of admission, no worries. Panipulator can do it for free!
Here’s how: Create two aux channels, Mix Bus, and Stereo Width. Both will be fed into the L/R Master. The complete mix is routed to the Mix Bus and also to the Stereo Width bus with the addition of Panipulator. Both are sent to the Master, which also has Panipulator (don’t worry, your CPU will hardly know it’s there). Engage L/R Flip, L Polarity, and R Polarity on Panipulator in the Stereo Width bus and blend a small amount in with the main mix, as you would parallel compression. You should hear the mix widen. Now, use mono summing on Master Bus Panipulator to ensure that you haven’t gone too far.
Panipulator’s controls are as simple as they are useful. From left to right, they include single-click controls for Flip L/R, Left Polarity, Right Polarity, and Mono summing. There is also a five-position knob that offers five modes for mono summing. Since summing the same center-panned signal to mono increases level by 6dB, the mode switch offers -6dB attenuation for true mono summing. In stereo, the same signal present in both speakers combines acoustically, not electronically. The perceived increase in level from acoustic summing of the same signal is 3dB. The L+R -3dB position on the mono mode selector is the one to choose if your program material will only be heard on stereo speakers.
Download your Free copy of Panipulator 2 and let it live on your master bus—your CPU won’t even know it’s there, but your mixes certainly will.