Careful with panning in Ableton Live!

For those of you who prefer to read:

many times when I was panning things around in Ableton Live in order to create some space and depth in my mix I felt like doing so changed the timbre and over all sound of the sample or instrument I was panning. Now I finally realised why that is the case.

Panning in Ableton  isn’t really panning the sound around, but actually just a volume control for the left and right channel of a stereo bus. That means if you pan a sound to the left for example, the volume of the left channel will be increased and the volume of the right channel decreased.

So why is that problematic?

Lets do an example with a Piano recorded with two microphones as seen in this picture: 

Mic 1 is all the way to the left and mic 2 all the way to the right. Sampling the piano like this leads to the sensation that your sitting right where the piano player would be sitting, since he or she would have the lower notes to his left and higher notes to the right. Ableton’s stock grand piano is one example of a sampled piano recorded like this.

Lets say you want to use a piano as a small element playing a quick piano run on the left side of your mix. Panning it to the left will create a problem, because you are raising the volume of the left track which predominantly contains the lower notes. At the same time you are lowering the higher notes which are more present in the left channel. of course you could use the utility plugin to switch up the left and right channel, but that will also lead to an unnatural effect. So best would be to you a piano in mono and pan it instead.

I encountered similar problems with many other elements, like drums and synth stabs. To sound wide and big they contain different frequency content in each side. So panning them will change the overall sound of that sample.