Therefore, you should tune your stereo mix in mono

By | April 6, 2021

For a long time, all music has been recorded to be listened to in stereo, ie the sound comes from two separate speakers, with a certain difference between left and right side to create width and a certain depth. We have no intention of changing that, but the fact is that there are advantages to converting large parts of the actual mixing work to mono, not just to quickly check that it sounds okay.

It is otherwise practice among mixing technicians to press the mono button from time to time to be sure that the fancy stereo effects do not disappear or sound bad in mono. Because in these times of mobile sound – mobiles, bluetooth boomboxes, kitchen radio, car stereo in poor reception, destructive coded sound – you can count on many people listening in some kind of mono, so a check from time to time is recommended. Dance clubs and shops actually often run out the sound in mono to make it sound the same throughout the room.

But there are also other and lesser-known points of complementing your studio with a special monomonitor, preferably one-way (a single full-range speaker element) and preferably placed centrally above the mixer. No fake button mono via the stereo monitors, but uncompromising hardcore mono.

Genuine mono from a single speaker, placed here between the regular studio monitors.

Many benefits
The advantage of using a single monitor, instead of driving out the sound in mono from two speakers, is that the latter has a tendency to amplify bass frequencies and cause more room reflexes, which can interfere with the assessment of the mix.

Mono sound has no special sweetspot. Wherever you sit, it sounds the same. Due to the clarity, you can also mix at lower levels than in stereo and this together with the lack of phase differences between two monitors makes it less tiring to mix for a long time, otherwise a common problem.

Furthermore, any phase errors between the channels are heard very clearly. In stereo mode, it is difficult to perceive exactly what it is that makes the sound image blurry, but such things appear in mono as unwanted phase effects or that the sound disappears, for example if the softening has not been optimal. The mutual level balances of the different instruments are also easier to assess, as well as whether they collide or compete in any frequency range. In stereo lighting, everything has an ability to flow together and is also more affected by the acoustic conditions in the control room.

Many stereo mixes contain a sound or instrument on one side to balance a similar one on the other (critical when listening to headphones). Such balances are perfect for tuning in mono mode. With a little practice, it is actually also easier to find the right level and tone for reverb, no matter how strange it may seem. Test!

And if it sounds good in mono, it will sound fantastic in stereo, which basically applies to all points here. Psychologically, mono-work also feels more affordable, especially in complex soundscapes.

Monomixa – step by step
Once the monitor itself is in place, it is important to arrange a sensible summation of the stereo signal to send to it, so that it is not just the left or right side that is heard. Many larger hardware mixers and standard sound cards have mono buttons, but it is also possible to use a plug directly on the master bus in the recording program. Just remember to disconnect it when downmixing.

It usually comes with a plug with a mono button in a recording program. Here Logics “Gain”.

You can then in principle use a standard monocable – tele, xlr, rca or whatever now fits at each end – and connect the mixer / sound card to the monitor because the signal should now be identical on the left and right side.

Assuming that the monitor has a smooth frequency response (see gadget tip box), you now have a rig to start working in. Here are some simple steps to tune your stereo mix:

  1. Make a preliminary mix in mono, with levels, equalizer and effects. Keep in mind, however, that reverb / room sound has a tendency to sound a little drier in mono than in stereo.

  2. Switch to stereo listening (in your regular monitors) and pan out what should not be in the middle. If you have a base-poor monomonitor, the base may need to be lowered.

  3. Back in mono mode: if necessary, fine-tune the levels, which have changed slightly in the panning in step 2.

  4. Check it all out in stereo, especially wide effects.

  5. Mix in stereo as usual.

It takes some practice and habit to get good at mixing this way, but once it does, it will do the trick for the end result. Go mono!

Tips on good mono reference monitors

  • Avantone MixCube (affordable)

  • Used Auratone C5 or AKG LSM50 (always test first!)

  • Behringer Behritone (low budget, but C50A is perfectly okay)

  • Littlepapercones

  • … or to indulge in it: Mariton Bullfrog (two-way but coaxial set).

Avantone MixCube is an affordable monitor suitable for mono reference.