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Topic: Information needed stereo vrs mono recording

  1. #1

    Information needed stereo vrs mono recording

    Anyone know of good sources for information about recording in mono?

    Listening to an older recordings on my car CD player (OK, Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces"), I couldn't help noticing that the recording quality was very very good, with each instrument set in its own space, and at the same time being fairly sure that it was a mono recording.

    The hall may be one reason it sounded so good: it makes sense that in a car, a stereo recording might not fare well, since one would always be closest to one channel than the other, so a mono mix, with the same sound coming from everywhere, might be better. But when I listened to it again, at home, the sound seemed very very good, in some ways stronger, with better defined instruments than a stereo CD I played after it, and with each voice clearly defined in its own space. Yes, I understand that the same sound was coming out of each speaker, but if the instruments are well "panned" in the mix is it possible that mono can give a fuller sound, since one ear is not hearing more of one backup vocalist, say, and the other more of another? (So both ears are receiving all the Jordanaires with each separated for each ear.)

    If I recall correctly, there was a big debate over the value of stereo over mono when stereo first came out, and I'd like to learn more. Any sites that might have information about the history of this debate? Should I not drink beer before listening to Patsy Cline? Should I not drink beer before posting on this site?)

  2. #2

    Re: Information needed stereo vrs mono recording

    I'm not sure, but I'm guessing the mono recordings sound better because that is how it was mixed in the first place. If you mix in stereo and switch to mono, it will not sound right at all. I'm guessing it's the same if someone tries to make stereo version of a mono mix. The analog equipment and recorders used back in the mono days sounded a lot warmer than the new digital stuff being used more and more today, as well. The quality of the recording is a major factor. You can have a really good sounding mono recording done with state of the art equipment, and then have a really crappy stereo recording done with radioshak junk.

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Central Point, Oregon

    Re: Information needed stereo vrs mono recording

    Quote Originally Posted by Jake Johnson
    Should I not drink beer before listening to Patsy Cline? Should I not drink beer before posting on this site?)
    Well, you definitely shouldn't drink beer before listening to Patsy Cline in your car! A simple Yahoo or Google search for "history of stereo recording" will give you more reading options than you'll want. One of the early stereo enthusiasts was Bruce Swedien, who, when hearing about the first 24-track machines, exclaimed "Wow! 12 track stereo!" The reason stereo made (and makes) sense is because it's the way we hear. Swedien and others found that recording everything in stereo more closely matched the natural function of our ears. There's no such thing as a truly monophonic sound in nature, as every sound reacts with its environment to create a broader image---unless you're prone to listening to trumpets with your ear against the bell, of course.

    Recording individual sources in mono can still sound great, since it not only allows you to focus on a particular portion of the generated sound, but can also give a sense of space if not miked too closely to allow room reflections to be recorded. Adding some good reverb to well-recorded mono tracks can then be very effective at placing a source in a real space. Radical, dry, stereo panning that was so popular in early stereo recordings is decidedly UN-natural, but who's to say that natural is always desirable? Personally, however, I find totally mono mixes, as well crafted as so many of those older recordings were, to be pretty un-exciting.

  4. #4

    Re: Information needed stereo vrs mono recording

    Thanks for the responses, folks. I'll try to do some research on the Patsy Cline recordings, too, and post whatever I find. I'm fascinated by the idea of recording the intruments in mono and then postioning them them in a stereo mix. (But I love stereo, too, and surround sound, often. Just a different sound, mono.)

  5. #5

    Re: Information needed stereo vrs mono recording

    Well, I did find this about the Owen Bradley recording session for "Crazy," apparently the first use of what we would not call isolation booths for recording live. Good description of the soundspace.


    And in my search I ran across this nice piece about panning on the emusician site:


    What I'm still trying to discover:

    Is it possible to create a soundspace for an instrument in a mono recording? Given that there can be several channels feeding into a mono deck, can these be "panned" in the mono mix, so that one sound seems to come from one side of the room. and another from another? (I understand that this is why people welcomed stereo, but I seem to hear instruments coming from different places on mono mixes, yet as I understand it, a mic won't pick up the direction the sound is coming from.

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