Panning is the process of distributing 1 or more signals across a series of outputs so that the listener will have the experience of them coming from a particular "space" within the overall listening field.
It is used to create a sense of space and/or a sense of motion in an audio mix. You can spread out different signals acros the space, and make them move within the space over time.
Types of Panners
The way a panner works depends a great deal on how many signals it is going to process and how many outputs it will send them to. The simplest case is distributing a single signal to 2 outputs, which is the common case when using a "mono" track and a stereo speaker setup.
But panning in Ardour could theoretically involve distributing any number of signals to any number of ouputs. In reality, Ardour does not have specific panners for each different situation. Currently, it has dedicated panners for the following situations:
- 1 signal distributed to 2 outputs (the "mono" panner)
- 2 signals distributed to 2 outputs (the "stereo" panner)
- N signals distributed to N outputs (the "vbap" panner)
Panning is not Balance
If you are used to the "balance" control found on most home music playback devices, and on many DAWs and audio editors, you may have gained a particular idea of how "panning" should work. You turn the knob to the left, and the signal in the right speaker gradually vanishes as you do. You turn it back to the right, and the signal in the left speaker vanishes in the same way.
This is not panning. It does not alter the placement either the left or right signal, but rather is just a different term for "independent gain control". What is actually happening is that as you move the balance control left of center, it reduces the volume of the right channel towards zero, but leaves the left signal at normal volume. When you move it back to right of center, it reduces the volume of the left channel toward zero, and leaves the right channel at normal volume. When the control is exactly in the middle, both channels are at normal volume.
The panners in Ardour control the distribution of at least one signal across at least 2 outputs. Ardour does not (currently) come with a balance control. Many people would like to see one.