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I play the vibraphone. As a player, I'm used to having the low end of the instrument on my left, and the high end on my right.

However, when the instrument is recorded, a setting with 2 microphones is common, one 'pointing' to the low end, and the other one to the high end, and the both microphones are mixed with others to produce a stereo recording. And then things get tricky : some recording will put most of the low range of the instrument in the left track and most of the high range in the right track (mimicking what the player hears), while others will to the reverse, assuming the listener is on the other side of the instrument, in the audience. The latter feels strange and quite wrong to me, and quite inconsistent (because the audience is usually sitting at a distance and the stereo effect of a 2m long vibraphone heard from 10m is actually quite small, compared to having the vibraphone on one end of the stage and the bass player at the other end).

Is this specific to the vibraphone (which is not as usual for recording engineers as e.g. a piano) or are there different conventions in use among the sound engineers on this topic?

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migrated from music.stackexchange.com Feb 20 at 17:34

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I know a drummer who complains of the same issue. –  Dave Feb 20 at 16:11
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I think this will be a great question for Sound Design, so I'll migrate. –  NReilingh Feb 20 at 17:33

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For me this would be all about context. In a solo recording you may want to give some extra stereo width to this kind of instrument, although, in my humble opinion, its very easy to overdo it. For example panning the two mics hard left and hard right is going to give a wide spread but may leave you with a hollow centre. Solidity of the centre in the stereo sound image is something which is all important to a "present" recording.

Say you now have a piano, vibes duo (ala Gary Burton and Chick Corea), from a quick listen to some of their recordings, the two instruments are panned slightly to separate them on the sound stage, but again its a case of a little can go a long way.

Ultimately, its about the psycho-acoustic effect you are trying to produce. Where is your listener in the space you are creating on the recording? As you have rightly have deduced, the instrument's stereo image will be affected by distance from the source.

Stereo imaging is very important in separation of instruments and giving them a place in the mix, more so than EQ or FX. Take a few minutes to imagine the experience you have in mind for the listener and let this vision guide the width you need for that experience for the listener.

As an aside there are techniques (google Mid-Side as an example) for instruments like piano or groups of singers (to name two examples) that don't position the mics in what you would imagine is the conventional approach.

As for the correct way to pan them (ie left vs right), I have always imagined watching the performance while mixing and to that end will often pan instruments like drums or vibraphone based on the physical position of that range of the instrument but its by no means essential. Ultimately, trust your instincts and go for what 'feels' right for you. Like most things in mixing there is no right or wrong.

Hope that helps.

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Whilst the musician would hear the vibes in stereo, in a stage situation, the audience almost certainly is going to hear them in mono, as they are much further away from the vibes. I would mix a recording from the audience's point of view (or point of hearing).

So - if the vibes is the only instrument, then it should be mixed in stereo (but not hard left/hard right but somewhat less). As more instruments are introduced, the stereo field of the vibes should be reduced until the the source is effectively mono. This source, though, does not have to be parked in the middle of the stereo; it could be on either side, depending on the stereo mix of the other instruments.

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@ No'am - I get what you are saying but I think to refer to the source as effectively mono is slightly misleading. A mono source will always have equal voltage left and right which I'm sure is not what you mean to say. I agree with your approach just a small point on the terminology for clarity. –  Simon Rigby Feb 21 at 10:26

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