When we talk about audio phase in music production, we are referring to the relationship between two or more sounds. This can be the relationship between two different instruments playing the same note, or the relationship between two different recordings of the same instrument.
Audio phase refers to when sound wave crests and troughs line up perfectly, and they reinforce each other. When two sound waves are out of phase, their crests and troughs don't line up perfectly, and they cancel each other out.
The concept of audio phase is important to understand when mixing and mastering music, because it can affect the overall sound of a recording.
Phase can have a big impact on how a sound is perceived. For example, if two instruments are playing the same note but are out of phase with each other (phase cancellation), they can cancel each other out and make the overall sound quieter; the sound will be thin and less full.
On the other hand, if the two instruments are in phase with each other (phase alignment), they can reinforce each other and make the overall sound louder; the sound will be fuller.
Why is audio phase used in music?
Phase can be used to create a variety of different effects in music, from subtle changes in the sound to complete sonic mayhem. It is an essential tool for any serious music producer.
There are a few different ways that you can use audio phase in music production. One way is to use it to widen stereo effects. By using two different signals that are out of phase with each other, you can create a wide, expansive sound. If sounds are too quiet or thin, then audio phase can be used to make the sound fuller. For example, if a recording of a guitar is sounding too thin, a producer may use a phase plugin to thicken up the sound.
Audio phase is used in music to create a sense of space and depth. By delaying certain frequencies, the brain is able to perceive a three-dimensional soundscape. This can make music sound more immersive and realistic, and also helps mix instruments and tracks more effectively; since this avoids sounds fighting for the same space in the mix.
This can be especially useful for creating and layering atmospheric pads or textures in your mix, which often sound best when they sound wide and expansive. This makes phase a key consideration when producing ambient music and atmospheric genres.
Additionally, audio phase can be used to enhance the clarity of certain instruments or voices in a mix. By carefully manipulating phase relationships, engineers can ensure that each element in a recording is heard clearly and distinctly.
Finally, audio phase can also be used for creative purposes. By delaying one signal relative to another, you can create a range of interesting effects. This can be useful for creating special sound effects or adding depth and dimension to your tracks. Creative uses of phase can often sound ‘spacey’ and sometimes robotic.
While audio phase is a powerful tool, it is important to use it sparingly. Too much phase manipulation can result in a muddled and incoherent sound. When used tastefully, however, audio phase can greatly enhance the listening experience.
Examples of audio phase
Songs that use audio phase can be found in many different genres of music, and can be used to add interest and depth to a track. Though it has also been long used as a corrective sound design technique even in classic audio recordings.
Examples of classic songs that use audio phase include "Thelonious" by Monk, "A Love Supreme" by Coltrane. Each of these songs uses audio phase to create a clean and unique sound.
Monk's "Thelonious" uses audio phase to create a sense of space and depth in the music. The song begins with a piano chords played by Monk, which is then echoed by the other instruments in the band. This echo creates a sense of beautifully panned space and depth that is not present in other recordings of the song.
Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" uses audio phase to create a sense of movement and energy in the music. The opening track begins with a series of chords played by Coltrane, which are then echoed by the other instruments in the band. This echo creates a sense of movement and energy that is not present in other recordings of the song. Recorded using a live quartet, phase alignment is used expertly to sync each instrument together.
Modern examples of songs that use audio phase include "BitterSweet Symphony" by The Verve, "Karma Police" by Radiohead, and "I Feel It Coming" by The Weeknd.
How to use phase in music production
There are two main ways to use phase in music production. The first is through recording. The second way to modulate audio phase is through phase plugins.
1. Through recording
To control phase through recording and editing, you’ll need to configure your microphones correctly. By carefully setting up your microphones and monitoring the waveforms of your audio tracks, you can ensure that they are all in phase with each other.
You may notice that certain parts of the recording sound quieter than others, or that there is a strange "phasing" effect. This can be avoided by making sure that all of your recordings are in phase with each other. Monitor the audio signals, comparing them closely to one another to identify phase cancellation.
This helps correct potential phase issues between different instruments. If you have two instruments that are recorded separately, they might not line up perfectly in terms of phase. This can cause problems with the overall clarity and focus of the sound. By carefully aligning each track, you can make sure that the instruments are in sync and improve the overall sound quality; a process known as audio phase correction.
2. Through phase plugins
To control audio phase through plugins, you’ll simply need to run the phase plugin on your track. There are a number of different plugins available that allow you to change the phase of your audio tracks. By experimenting with different settings, you can find the perfect sound for your mix.
Plugins are a great way to use audio phase in music production. They allow full control over the sound, letting you input the amount of phase that is applied to the sound, and control how in, or out, of phase you want sound waves to be.
There are many different phase VST plugins available, each with its own unique sound. Some of the most popular phase VST plugins are Waves InPhase, Sonic Charge Permut8, and Soundtoys PhaseMistress. Other popular plugins include Wavesfactory Echo Cat, MeldaProduction MPhaser, and FabFilter Pro-G.
Audio phase is a powerful tool that can be used in a variety of ways in music production. By understanding how it works and how to use it effectively, you can take your tracks to the next level.
Understanding phase cancellation
When two sounds are out of phase with each other, it's called "phase cancellation." Phase cancellation can occur when two sounds are played back at the same time, but it can also occur when two sounds are recorded together.
For example, if you record a guitar and a bass player in the same room with two microphones, there will be a small delay between the time when the sound waves reach each microphone. This can cause the sound waves to cancel each other out, resulting in a thinner, less full-sounding recording.
Here’s a reminder of how phase cancellation looks:
Audio phase cancellation is sometimes used intentionally to reduce noise in recordings. When two sounds are out of phase with each other, they cancel each other out and the sound is softer. This can be useful for reducing background noise in a recording or for making a sound less harsh.
Although audio phase problems can occur when two sounds are not in sync with each other. This can happen when two instruments are playing the same note at different times, or when one sound is recorded with a delay. When this happens, the sound can become muddy and unclear.
Here are some examples of when phase cancellation can occur in music:
- When two singers are singing the same note at the same time, their voices can cancel each other out if they are not in phase.
- When two guitarists are playing the same note at the same time, their guitars can cancel each other out if they are not in phase.
- When a kick drum and a bass guitar are playing the same note at the same time, their frequencies can cancel each other out if they are not in phase.
How to avoid phase cancellation: phase alignment
If you are having trouble with audio phase in your recordings, there are a few things you can do to fix it.
To avoid phase cancellation, it's important to make sure that all of the sounds you're recording are "in phase" with each other. One way to do this is to use a technique called "phase alignment." This involves delaying the signal from one microphone so that it is in sync with the other microphone.
Here’s a reminder of how phase alignment looks:
Another way to fix audio phase is to try moving the microphones closer to the sound source. This will help to keep the sound in phase. If that doesn't work, you can try reversing the phase of one of the microphones. This can sometimes help to cancel out the phase problem.
Phase alignment can be done manually or with special software. For example, Pro Tools has a plugin called "Delay Compensation" that automatically delays signals to keep them in phase.
There are also a few third party VST plugins that can help to fix audio phase problems. Waves offers a plugin called the Center, which can help centre the sound and make it more clear. iZotope's Ozone Imager can also help to improve the clarity of your recordings by adjusting the stereo image.
Another way to avoid phase cancellation is to use only one microphone. This is often the best option for recording acoustic instruments like guitars and pianos. By using only one microphone, you don't have to worry about aligning the signals from multiple microphones, and you can avoid any potential phase cancellations.
The technical details of how phase cancellation and alignment work are quite complex, but essentially, when two sound waves are in phase with each other, they reinforce each other and the sound is louder. When they are out of phase with each other, they cancel each other out and the sound is softer.
If you're still having trouble with phase problems, it's best to consult with a professional audio engineer. They will be able to help you troubleshoot the problem and find a solution that works for your particular recording situation.
Audio phase is an important aspect of music production that can be used to create a more cohesive sound. By understanding how audio phase works and using it correctly in your mixes, you can achieve better results with less effort. We hope this article has helped you understand the basics of audio phase and given you some ideas on how to use it in your own music productions.