Ask about Mono vs. Stereo

WeissSound

Engineer
Seems to come up a lot so I'm gonna drop a long informative rant.

Defining Stereo and Mono signal and playback.


I think a large portion of the confusion here comes from the fact that people say "mono" or "stereo" without specifying - or knowing - if they are referring to the recording or the playback. You can for example have a mono signal with a stereo playback.

A mono signal is anything recorded from one source, such as a microphone in front of a voice. There is only one input.

A stereo signal is two mono signals (occasionally more) recorded simultaneously with the intention of each signal having different pan positions in a stereo mix. For example, the output of a keyboard, or two or more mics on a choir of singers. The mono feeds of a stereo signal share similar information, but also have dissimilar information.

If you are listening out of two speakers that are receiving different playback feeds - you are listening to a stereo playback. If you are listening from one speaker, or multiple speakers that are receiving the same feed (like in a grocery store, an AM radio station in your car) you are listening to a mono playback.

Your mix setup is 99.999% likely to be stereo. That's the playback. What you are listening to, is most likely an array of both mono and stereo recordings.


So what does that all mean?

For one, it means your vocal is mono. Recording your voice with a single microphone onto a "stereo track" does not make it stereo. There is no dissimilar information on the stereo track, therefore it's just mono - twice. That's not stereo. Copying your vocal, and panning the original left and the copy right does not make it stereo. It makes it louder. If it does anything more than that, something is wrong.

Record your vocal onto one track. Don't make multiple copies of your mono vocal and start messing with them unless you (a) really know what you are doing, or, (b) are willfully experimenting knowing you may screw up your vocal sound.

This also applies to guitars. IF you are using a two mic technique on a guitar cab, pan them to a similar spot and blend them. Don't stick two mics on the cab and pan them out. It's a mono source. But really why are you using two mics on guitar cab? Because Bob Lorde-Kramer says he does that in an interview? One source, one mic. If you ARE going to do a multiple mic thing, do it for room tone, or do it because you really know what you are doing, or do it because you are willfully experimenting knowing you may screw up your guitar sound. When I get multiple close mics on a guitar cab in for a mix, 7/10 times I'm throwing one of the mic feeds out. K - that was a total aside.

Leave your stereo for things that are in fact stereo. Drum overheads. There's a left side, and a right side. Stereo. Although, nothing wrong with a mono overhead. Bottom line is there are multiple resonating sources far enough apart to warrant a stereo pickup. Rooms. Rooms have a left side and a right side that produce different reflections. Stereo. Although nothing wrong with a mono room sound. Acoustic guitar - resonates from a single sound hole. Mono. Piano - resonates from multiple sound holes. Stereo (but barely, and only if you are inside the piano).

IF you want a stereo playback of a mono source you need to realize you are messing with physics. Yes, you can delay one side, yes you can pitch shift one side, or a host of other things. Bottom line, you are going to degrade your center image. Only do this if you (a) really know what you are doing, or (b) willfully experimenting knowing that you are about to screw up your source sound.

A better alternative may be creating a legitimate stereo signal or playback. For example, doing a completely new take of your guitar line, recording that in mono, and panning that to one side. Or, feeding into a reverb or a delay.





I wonder if I'm clearing up confusion or adding to it....
 

WeissSound

Engineer
Cool. Maybe if people have questions regarding mono or stereo issues they can ask them here instead of reposting the same threads on a bi-weekly rate. Maybe retitle the post to something like "Ask about Mono vs. Stereo"? It's a fairly in depth subject.
 
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moses

hardliner
Done! Dvyce discusses a similar but more specific recording problem in another sticky. But it's great to have a more general place for stereo vs mono discussions.
 

WeissSound

Engineer
mono no goodddd.

I strongly disagree here. Mono is power. There's nothing as strong as a mono sound straight up the center. Choosing what's mono and what's living in the stereo realm is the question. But usually mono is king, especially if you are talking source sounds rather than playback.
 

CPhoenix

CharlesAllen/ BMR Studios
Hopefully this will stop the art of panning a vocal hard L & R thinking it's going something.

Just raise the volume!
 

DIRTYscope

New member
When it comes to mixing beats those who don't know how to mix should remain mono
Thats just my opinion... you can still achieve a good sound through volume.
Make sure things that are not too loud.
Start by making the kick the hardest hitting thing in the mix.
Work your way up from the bass and all that.

If you want to pan and create stereo studio your stereo images.
There are lots of examples out there.

---->>> EXAMPLE OF A GOOD STEREO MIX: H.U.S.T.L.A. -- Original Hip Hop Beat - YouTube
 

WeissSound

Engineer
I kind of agree. I'd say basically yes - if you're not really up on mixing - stick with basic panning, volume, simple eq tweaks. That and go with what feels right.
 

dvyce

New member
This also applies to guitars. IF you are using a two mic technique on a guitar cab, pan them to a similar spot and blend them. Don't stick two mics on the cab and pan them out. It's a mono source. But really why are you using two mics on guitar cab? Because Bob Lorde-Kramer says he does that in an interview? One source, one mic. If you ARE going to do a multiple mic thing, do it for room tone, or do it because you really know what you are doing, or do it because you are willfully experimenting knowing you may screw up your guitar sound.

Actually, if you are mic'ing different speakers on your guitar cab, those are different "sources".





Acoustic guitar - resonates from a single sound hole. Mono. Piano - resonates from multiple sound holes. Stereo (but barely, and only if you are inside the piano).

Though an acoustic guitar has one resonating hole, the mic picks up sound from the strings themselves. You can set a mic pointed at the hole from the bottom of the guitar to get more of the high (thinner) strings, and you can have the mic pointed down where the low (heavier) strings are to get more of them in the recording... you can also position near the bridge or near the frets for different sound.

You can combine these in "stereo" if desired.




And with regard to piano, the high and low register strings are so far apart that the instrument benefits from multiple mics... and resonates from around where the strings are... a perfect candidate for "stereo" mic'ing.





And, as always with stereo mic placement, you must be careful of phase relationships. You can't necessarily just throw up a couple of mics and call it a day.
 

dvyce

New member
Actually this is incorrect, it is simply dual mono.

Stereo always implies 2 unique sources.

I believe he is talking about the idea that even though your mix is made up of mono tracks, your playback is still stereo since you are panning your mono tracks at varying degrees of L and R...

Or that you can put some sort of "stereo delay" on a track to have stereo information created out of a mono source.
 
I have a question about stereo/mono cables.

So i have 2 audio cables plugged into my interface, from a synthesizer from the L/R outputs. One of the cables is a mono, other is a stereo cable (2 bands on it), i only did this because i ran out of mono cables, my others are being used in other things (yea i could switch them around but i'm that lazy).

When i recorded something, it came out how it would when i used 2 mono cables, at least to my knowledge. Is there anything wrong with what i'm doing, like BAD? I don't really know all the science behind this.
 

sleepy

Moderator
I have a question about stereo/mono cables.

So i have 2 audio cables plugged into my interface, from a synthesizer from the L/R outputs. One of the cables is a mono, other is a stereo cable (2 bands on it), i only did this because i ran out of mono cables, my others are being used in other things (yea i could switch them around but i'm that lazy).

When i recorded something, it came out how it would when i used 2 mono cables, at least to my knowledge. Is there anything wrong with what i'm doing, like BAD? I don't really know all the science behind this.

Seems like you should be okay. If you mean 1/4" cables, don't think of it as "stereo" but a "balanced" cable. A balanced cable should be TRS (Tip, Ring, Sleeve), TRS describes how the cable is built. In theory, the cable should be less succeptible to interference, specially with longer cables. Of course, this also means that the cable can transmit two signals, including a stereo signal. An "unbalanced" cable is just TS, and doesn't have the additional signal that TRS have, which with TRS, is used to cancel out possible interference.

You're usually okay with using either balanced or unbalanced cables. There are exceptions, but that's usually covered in the user manual. At least on the interface end, there should be no issue.
 
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