Lately I’ve been listening to mixes from members over at MixWithUs.com. A number of times I’ve suggested to people that they check their mixes in mono.

To clarify, everybody mixes in stereo. Stereo simply means the mix has two channels (left and right). A mono mix is simply one channel. You combine (or sum) the left and right channels into a single channel.

Listening to mixes in mono can be very helpful. I’ll explain why.

Phase

Whenever you combine multiple signals together (especially similar signals), you run the risk of having phase issues. (See What is Phase?)

When using multiple microphones, whether on an acoustic guitar or a full drum kit, the more mics you use, the more careful you have to be. As more mics are picking up the same signal, those signals, when combined, can cause cancellations at certain frequencies (if they aren’t perfectly in phase with each other).

When setting up microphones, it can be difficult to hear phase issues if you’re listening in stereo. Listening in mono lets you hear them more easily.

The same applies to mixing. You may have a really cool guitar sound panned to the left, and another great guitar sound panned to the right. In stereo it sounds amazing, but in mono it suddenly becomes thin and hollow. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve found that mixes that sound good in mono sound GREAT in stereo.

Bass Issues

This is especially true when dealing with the ever-problematic low end in your mix. You think you’ve done the perfect amount of EQ. The bottom end is full, but not muddy. Then you check the mix in mono and BAM…it’s all muddy again.

Why? Because the tracks you have panned left and right in your mix all have little bits of low end that you don’t hear as clearly when spread out in stereo. But when you “fold back” everything to mono, these little bits of low end add up to a big boomy sound.

While listening in mono, make the necessary EQ changes until everything sounds nice and balanced…THEN switch back to stereo. Wow! It’s pretty astonishing how good it sounds.

You didn’t know there were low frequency issues before. Listening in mono pointed it out, then when you fixed it and switched back to stereo, everything sounded cleaner and more professional.

How to Do It

There are lots of ways to listen in mono.

  • Pan your master fader L and R sliders to the center.
  • Use a plug-in like TT Dynamic Range Meter on your master fader. It has a big “Mono” button.
  • Use a monitor management box, like the Presonus Monitor Station. These have mono buttons on them as well.

Some people would tell me that mixing in mono serves no purpose, since people will always be listening to your mixes in stereo. Good point, but I view mixing in mono as one extra way to discover problems in my mixes.

Sometimes I’ll mix an entire song in mono (on accident), then switch it back to stereo right at the end…and WOW…it sounds amazing. Give it a shot sometime.

Comment Time!

Do you mix in mono? Take 30 seconds and leave a comment below.

[Photo Credit]

  • Edb Nevafgetit

    Yes I mix in mono, it shows my problem areas instantly. But when I switch back to stereo, my left n right channels aren’t even, 1 will say for instance, 6db, and the other 8db, how do I fix that ?

  • Ellis williams

    I don know how to start a mix in mono, so I’ve been doing every track in stereo, my base guitar and kick always sound to boomy hard to hear other sounds in the track.Can you help,thanks.My email is Elliswilliams7@yahoo.com.

    • Mono won’t fix boomy bass and kick. You need to learn to EQ them

  • Rick

    Aren’t a lot of club systems in mono? Or is that usually only the subwoofers?

  • Sean

    Probably pointed out but many club systems sum to mono. If you are an EDM artist sum to mono is a godsend. I too noticed the sudden muddy mess that occurred when summing to mono. Worse yet I discovered many issues with my mid/side EQ.

  • Ecmaj7

    I enjoy balancing and EQing in mono.
    It’s much more confusing to my brain in stereo.
    Another big one is avoiding the mute button.

  • Solrax

    I’ve always recorded and edited in mono. Here’s what I don’t understand.

    After I’ve edited and placed a pan on my instruments, I still don’t hear a stereo difference. (Example: Guitar 1: L-20 Guitar 2: R-20-25, Bass center, vocals center, drums vary)

    Even after I bounce/export the song to .wav or .mp3, it doesn’t have stereo depth. I have had people tell me it sounds mono and that I need to add depth.

    Am I missing something? Is there something I’m forgetting to pan or do to make the finalized song stereo?

    Any help is greatly appreciated? Great article!!!

    Thanks,
    Sol

    • Why are you only panning 20-25? That would be my first guess, simply pan things wider.

      • Solrax

        Thank you! I never tried that. I guess it was part of hearing that you should never break the “30” barrier.

        I’ll give it a go!

        • Andrej

          Just trust your ears man. :p

          Easiest way to find out how much “panning” you want is – take 1 track and play with the panning knob. I am surprised every time how much RIGHT you can hear if you pan it 50% LEFT. So I usually pan at least 50, maybe 75-80%. 🙂

          • Solrax

            Thank you both!! I’ll be giving it a try.

          • ^^^The rule may have been misinterpreted.. the 30% rule is a good one. just not 30% of the “KNob”. The track having a 30/70 balance when panned is pretty nice. As you said, even at 50% there is too much in the other channel. Experimentation is the best route. I liked how Joe said to not mindlessly follow rules if they are not giving you the sound you’re looking for.

        • Not sure who told you that rule, but be careful about mindlessly following “rules,” especially when those rules don’t give you the sound you want. 🙂

  • Andrej

    Mixed most of my last song in mono, put it into stereo – heck yes, sounds awesome.

    There are 4 distorted guitar tracks and making them work in mono (EQ cutting etc) is a huge thing and it sounds even better in stereo, when they are partially panned.

  • Pingback: Mixing in Mono()

  • I had to learn this the hard way. I gave all my songs to a Dj that was putting together the cd for me. Long story short, I get back a whole cd in mono. Mind you, Im a stereo width addict so u can imagine how this cd sounded like. Almost every sound/effect was gone. So here I am, trying ti fix my mess.. But 2 thumbs up on the article!! Good job, keep up the good work!!

  • Thanks for this excellent article.

    I spend around 40% of my mixing time switched to mono. I find it much easier to superimpose sounds on top of one another whilst listening in mono than when those sounds are spread 4 feet apart in stereo. Also, to monitor in ‘true’ mono the sound should be coming from a single source point. I switch to mono from my DAW and then switch off one of my nearfields and listen quietly in mono on the other.. works a treat. As you say, when switching back to stereo the mix sounds massive!

    • It’s almost worth it simply for the fun of switching it back to stereo at the end.

  • MONO AT THE END! Some day you could hear your MIX in a elevater. (MONO)

  • Xan

    I’ve actually found stereo image controllers rather useful, and most ov them can be used to mono too..! 🙂

  • sijo

    dear friend,
    thanks…..for sharing .let me try this way. Then i will reply

    • The T

      Take your time man, no rush

  • Do/should you do some volume re-balancing after switching to stereo, though? Because I’ve tried listening to songs in mono, and the instruments panned to the sides (e.g. double tracked guitars) become quieter in mono, and that bugs me.

  • I believe that there’s a huge difference between mixing mono sources in mono vs mixing stereo sources in mono.
    If you record a guitar with one mic, you can place it anywhere in the stereo field (from hard left to hard right) and still be in mono, so you end up with less phase issues.

    When you record in stereo (and this may be something like the vast majority of synthesizers), you actually have a stereo signal that can lead to great troubles in mono (phase issues).

    A simple acoustic piano is usually sampled in stereo, and you lose a lot of information if you turn it into mono.
    As I work a lot with synths in my songs/recordings, how should I address this issue?

    Thanks!

    • “A simple acoustic piano is usually sampled in stereo, and you lose a lot of information
      if you turn it into mono.”

      That’s not true…as long as you’re still using both the L&R signal. You can pan them both center, creating a mono signal, but still retain all of the “information” from the stereo sample.

      The point of this article is that your mixes should CERTAINLY be stereo, but you should be LISTENING to them regularly in mono, so you know that everything is behaving itself.

      • Roger

        Sorry, I only saw this today…
        Joe, although you end up with the information from both channels, you also end up with a MAJOR tone change as a result of phase issues of the two channels combined. You can do this simple test by using most of these stereo piano samples and throwing the TT Dynamic Range Meter in mono on the master buss. The “best” way I have found to workaround this was to use a stereo enhancer to do the opposite – reduce the stereo with and find a mid-term between the 100% stereo and mono. I still retain some of the stereo information and tone, while decreasing the stereo-mono difference (both in tone and volume). 😉

        • I would say the “MAJOR tone change” is exactly what I’m going for. THAT’s the reason I flip to mono, to hear those changes and make sure the mix still works. Those phase issues are what I’m wanting to check.

  • GREAT tips. Will definitely try out later.

  • Joe Rawls

    When do you adjust the pan? Before you go into mono or after mixed in mono? 

    • Both…just depends on how the mix is going that day. 🙂

  • Rodrigo

    Oh no man. I’ve just check my mixes on mono, and they sound like shit. Back to the console again, here we go…

  • Marco

     Agreed!  I never did this until I read Bobby Owsinski’s book.  Now I use it as a tool to discover where I need to polish up EQ.  It’s almost like a cheat tool once I figured out what I was listening for in mono!  Just today I was mixing a piano into a stereo mix…and I couldn’t get it to sit right.  Switched to mono, completely re-did the EQ on it, switched back to stereo and it sat nicely.

  • Anonymous

    In general: -For a “normal” pop/rock song with up to 15-25 tracks,  I almost always mix in mono first and don’t pan the tracks before I can hear or identify every track in the mono mix. Of course, two tracks (L/R) can be a synth pad or some doubling stuff, making it (nearly) impossible to identify both tracks, but the two of them should together be audible or have a purpose even in a mono mix. I believe that by doing that, the whole mix will be very transparent and clear. That’s what I always try to strive for anyway and that’s probably what I spend most time at. That do also make it easer to make tough decisions – like not using a recorded track at all or only partially. – like not using a recorded track at all or only partially.

  • Thanks Joe. I somehow thought the mono button on my C-Control was some kind of obsolete thing – couldn’t imagine when I’d use that button… Between mixing in mono and using just LCR I’ve improved my mixes several fold.

  •  das

  • Anonymous

    Oh, also, how does mono and phase stuff relate to double-tracked audio? It’s not the same as recording the same take with two mics, its one mic for two different takes for the L/R ends of the mix. How should one deal with the phase for them when converting the entire mix to mono?

    • There WILL be phase difference between the two, but that’s part of the sound you’re going for when you double track them. When listening in mono, you particularly want to make sure the low end isn’t building up too much.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, thank you! Never knew about this. Will try it out soon.

    A request:- Could you please write an article on stereo width? I never seem to get it fully. I have VSTs which I use to add or decrease width to a stereo signal, but I want to know HOW that happens. Plus, I want to do more with stereo, for example place a sound right ‘behind’ me (e.g. the vocals in the chorus of Nine Inch Nails “Ruiner”)… or in another words, be able to give a 360* effect MANUALLY.

    In the end I just want to be a little creative with signal placement in my mixing, try to pseudo-replicate a “3d” environment the way I wish, so I need to know the mechanics behind it.

    • I have no idea about 3D panning, unless you’re referring to surround panning, which means you need a surround sound setup with rear speakers. Most of us don’t have that. 🙂

    • Bouben

       I believe it is about frequency ratio and panning. Like in the real world.

    • Anonymous

      @12ed8839ed37155ee772c3f53224bde6:disqus  and @joegilder:disqus : No idea. Perhaps I worded myself wrong. I’d just like to know how stereo width works and how I can control it with the most basic of effects i.e. panning, channel send/receive etc…. rather than using a special stereo widening effect.

      • I almost never use a stereo widener plugin. If I want my mix to be wide, I
        pan the tracks wide. Simple as that.

        • Anonymous

          How does one “pan” wide? Doesn’t one pan to the left or to the right?

          • Yeah, if panning the tracks hard left and right isn’t wide enough, then something else is wrong. Why are you so focused on “wideness.” Any time I try to make mixes REALLY wide, it ends up sounding awful in the middle.

            • Hmm, because I really enjoy a good stereo sound on my instruments.

              • Fair enough, but if you can’t get it “wide” enough with your mic technique, you’re not going to do any good with a stereo widener. If anything, it’ll just introduce weird phase issues.

  • Stiansylta

    I used to do this all the time, but after getting a home studio, for some reason I forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me, Joe.

    • You’re welcome. I forget about it, too. 🙂

  • Bouben

    Since I’ve discovered mixing in mono I use it regularly. Very helpful indeed. I wanted to ask…are there any real disadvantages while mixing in mono?

    • The only real disadvantage is that you can’t separate tracks in the stereo field, which makes it hard to make everything heard in the mix.

      • Bouben

         Thanks

  • Toth

    Thanks for the link Wayne Johnson! 

  • Wayne Johnson

     Here is th link to the TT Dynamics meter for those who are interested.http://productionadvice.co.uk/how-to-avoid-over-compressing-your-mix/

  • Wayne Johnson

    You can use Izotope vinyl and it’s free. It has a stereo mono switch and input gain just don’t load any presets and it will work just fine. Most people don’t think of this plugin and you can get it for all formats. Enjoy!! Have fun with your mixes. Wayne 

  • Nate

    If you can’t get the TT meter for free, there’s a free plugin “Panipulator” at recordingreview, it does mono, stereo image flip, and left and right polarity inverse I believe. Not in any way affiliated with the site, but it’s a great free tool. I also use the TT meter, both are always on my master buss.

  • I usually do just what you are talking about. The mono mix can reveal a lot of ugly low end. I think it also helps to reduce the reverb so that all that color doesn’t cover mistakes.

  • Dave Roscoe

    Good stuff Joe! I’ll be giving this technique a shot!

  • Jon

    So glad you did this post Joe. It’s something I used to do all the time and have got out of the habbit. Going to start using it again. Found it a good way of checking if my mixes were as wide as I thought they were.

  • Toth

    I’ve always checked my mixes in mono until Cubase got rid of the mono button on the master channel. Now I have export the mixdown and put it into Wavelab and convert to mono to check. It’s a real hassle. I would love to get a copy of TT Dynamic Range Meter, but I can’t find a copy anywhere to download. All the links on the various pages Google turns up seem to be broken. Is it not available anymore? Do you know of a download site that works?

    • I think you have to pay for it now. $30 maybe? Not sure. Does Cubase not allow you to simply pan your master fader to the center?

      The other option is to work on the mix with everything panned to the center, then do your panning towards the end…

      • Toth

        I never even thought of using the panners because I didn’t know that it would create a true mono signal! I will do that for the master channel.

        Cubase has 3 types of panning options.

        http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/dec04/images/cubase3.s.jpg

        I always use balance. Should I be using one of the other options for general mixing? What are the advantages of one over the other? I notice that your Protools has stereo dual panners and not simply a balance knob.

        • I don’t know. Really don’t know anything about Cubase. I wouldn’t stress to much about it though.

    • Bouben

       I believe there are tons of free VST plugins that will make true mono. Sonalksis Free G for example.

      • Anonymous

        “true” mono? other plugins fake it? How is this disparity possible? Isn’t mono simply an average of the two stereo channels?

  • Thanks Phil. Typo fixed. 🙂

  • Never tried it, I’m kinda afraid of mono for some reason. But it won’t kill to give it a shot, if Joe has said is beneficial 😀

    • That’s the cool thing. Mixing in mono CAN’T hurt anything. If nothing else, it’s just fun to flip back to stereo after getting used to listening in mono. 🙂