VST Instrumental Placements

One of the problems of orchestrating music in a Music DAW is the VST instrumental placements (aka Panning). Most VST’s, mainly the cheap ones, are recorded in Mono or default to centre panning.

When they are played all as one, it can sound very unrealistic and unnatural. Below we are going to look at how we can set the panning correctly based on the actual positions in 3D space.

Imagine we have a Bassoon player on our right somewhere but how do we know what panning to use for that player? we could pan 10% right, or 20% or 15%… but which would be more accurate?

Bassoon Player: Clair

First, to make things very simple, we measure how far forwards and right Clair is sitting. Let’s say Clair is 3 metres front and 5 metres to the right. To find the direct measurement from conductor to Clair you could simply measure it yourself.

If we are not working from a large room, but guessing, we need to use the Pythagoras Theorem (C2 = A2 + B2) as you’ll notice we have created a triangle shape. This is very important!

VST Instrumental Placements Diagram

From this, we can find the panning. Use the formula:
((180 – (sin-1(O / H) + 90)) / 90) * 100

VST Instrumental Placements Diagram #1

Example: (using a calculator)

  • O ÷ H = 3 ÷ 5.83 = 0.51
  • sin-1(0.51) = 30.66
  • angle = 180 – (30.66 + 90) = 59.34
  • panning = (59.34 ÷ 90) * 100 = 65.93
  • panning = 66%

This is also the same for instruments on the left side of the stage but a negative value. Since the panning is only a 90 degree angle (front to right/left, not behind) the formula finds that percentage: 0deg = 0% and 90deg = 100%.

Finding the Delay

The speed of sound is not instant and we need to adjust the delay of each instrument. Because the speed of sound can change depending on the temperature and biometric pressure, we’ll use a fixed unit.

The speed of sound at sea level, at 15 degrees Celsius; This is equivalent to: 761.21 miles per hour or 340.29 metres per second which is 0.34029 metres every 1 millisecond. Basically, the speed of sound is travelling at approximately 1 foot every 1 millisecond.

The formula this time is: Time (seconds) = Distance (Hypotenuse) / Speed (of Sound)

We know Clair, the Bassoon player, is 5.83m away and the Speed of sound is 340.29 metres per second: 5.83m ÷ 340.29 = 0.017 seconds.

There we are. The Bassoon has a panning of 66% to the right and 17ms delay.

Panning & Delay Calculator

You can use the calculator below to also find the panning of an instrument: (mm, cm or metres)

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Categories: AnalysisStudy



I’m self-taught pianist. I have interests in the traditional Roman and Greek literature of music dating from 1200.c to 1900 (Classical Music) and its contemporary forms by composers such as Edward Elgar to Joe Hisaishi (Modern Classical, minimalism, surrealism, anime / film / game). I also arrange, compose, transcribe and midi orchestrate music.