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Topic: Mono vs stereo?

  1. #1

    Question Mono vs stereo?

    I've notice that some people here prefer mono when it comes to samples, and i'm wondering why?

    This may sound like a stupid question but my tech. skills are very limited it's not obvious at all to me .


  2. #2

    Re: Mono vs stereo?

    This is what i know:


    - Easier to pan. Easier to put instruments in a space you design with stereo reverb.
    - Better panning consistency and pinpointing where an instrument is: your samples will not move around left and right that much...but that is a problem caused by developers who don't tell the performers to stand still.

    - The instruments have more space and are easier to hear in a large mix.
    - It attempts to capture the "Real thing" that you would hear with your ears in many occasions, thus giving the impression that an instrument is there, somewhere in front of you. Nothing beats the real thing.
    - They are hard to pan around without stereo modellers and stereo modellers can cause strange phasing/cancellation effects. When you pan them they just decrease the opposite channel, so in a preseated strings for example you would simply get all the ambience on the right side when panning right.

    Multiple mono:

    - Like Alan Lastufka's (Bela D media) Studio B drums for example: It has multiple mono recordings with various mics so you can make your own stereo field. But if you are not a very good engineer it can be hard.

    - The best bet for panning things exactly as you like them and still keeping a very persistent stereo field.
    Theo Krueger - Composer


    Kontakt 2 Scripts

  3. #3

    Re: Mono vs stereo?

    Heh it's funny you'd ask that question at right this moment - right now I'm in the middle of mixing/sequencing a piece that, following Hermitage and Bruce's advice, uses greatly narrowed samples (some nearly mono) instead of the usual stereo spread. The sound really is completely different, and in retrospect it really makes a lot of sense most of the time to narrow the stereo field with orchestral samples.

    Take VSL for example - we all know about the close mic'ing, the "harshness" of the samples sometimes, but what really needs to be adjusted in order for it to blend well is the stereo spread. A single VSL oboe solo will pop up all over the place, and if you just keep layering more instruments on top, you really end up with something more like a stack of cards than a 3D stage with depth. Even if you pan things around, you're still moving around a sample that once took up the entire stereo field anyway, and so you'll get a lot of sound from the opposite side that isn't coming from an echo (and thus shouldn't really be there).

    Put it in mono though, or at least use a stereo modeller to narrow the spread considerably, and you'll have a more obedient and realistic position that can then be inserted onto a virtual stage via reverb. You'll hear much more realistic reflections, which again will give you that sense of depth that's missing when every sample gobbles up the entire stereo field.

    Without reverb and when played on their own, wide stereo samples admittedly might sound more attractive. I had troubles believing in the mono thing too until I tried playing my own sampled CD through my tv speakers (blech), right after playing some live music (Gladiator, Matrix Reloaded). The realism of individual instruments and level of expression were comparable, but what really made the difference was that the live soundtracks sounded like they were played on an actual stage; my music just sounded like a bunch of unconnected, stacked samples.

    If you have Kontakt, you can use its stereo imager on each patch to determine the width of the source; a solo woodwind might be close to mono, whereas a string section would take up a good amount of space (but still not the full spread). Otherwise, you might wanna bounce each track seperately and mix it as audio, with a stereo imaging plugin on each track.
    Wilbert Roget, II

  4. #4

    Re: Mono vs stereo?

    VSL isn't actually close-miked.

  5. #5

    Re: Mono vs stereo?

    Thank you Theo and Will, great info .

  6. #6

    Re: Mono vs stereo?

    On top of the useful info already provided, mono has the advantage of not being too wide. Even with a narrow stereo field, there is (for me) still a discernable difference in sound. And contrary to popular belief, strings do not suffer from being in mono. A little work is needed, yes, but not nearly as much as panning a stereo instrument, which is really just a reduction in one channel, and having to readjust the dynamic. The engineers among us will be able to give a more definitive answer to this from a technical viewpoint.
    No panning or phasing issues. (under normal circumstances)

    Placement 'stays where you put it'.

    What you hear is what you get, from start to finish. No tonal 'flex' as
    you manipulate the sample.

    I've heard from a lot of people, including pros, how much more width there is in stereo. I suspect there are some people using stereo to cover for inadequacies in the music, which is the same reason on many occasions that reverb gets overused for.
    My answer is always the same.
    Good orchestration. Good placement. Great recorded TONE.
    And a piece written for mono instrument samples will sound as wide as anything else.



  7. #7

    Re: Mono vs stereo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Theodor
    The instruments have more space and are easier to hear in a large mix.
    you've written a lot of practical sense here, but i differ in this line.
    It's been my experience that correct placement of mono more accurately reflects the space in the score, according to how it's orchestrated, and in fact stereo can 'muddy' the sound.
    I'll be the first to admit i'm no sound engineer, and it may be a lack of engineering expertise on my part, but i've always had a better result with 'smart' mono, than stereo. You've heard the piece i'm working on. Using stereo, i believe the close harmony, where written, would suffer at the hands of multiple stereo instruments, and lose the distinctive tones as they appear. It's a musical fact that the more instruments you add, the less discernible is tone. Like mixing a lot of colours at once, and producing a consistent shade of grey. I think in a full and close harmonic stack, mono is essential to maintain the texture and tonal combination.

    I also think in a large mix mono would serve the writer better, as it would more accurately reflect the actual intent of the orchestration.

    Still, the differences in opinion means we get to discuss this!



    p.s. Thanks again for helping out with my piece. Very generous of you.

  8. #8

    Re: Mono vs stereo?

    I just got back from seeing my favorite band in my unfavorite local bar so I'll limit my comments. Suffice it to say that from the audience position the instrument is mono, the orchestra is stereo. Another reason I'm glad I'm not a developer.


  9. #9

    Re: Mono vs stereo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hermitage59

    I also think in a large mix mono would serve the writer better, as it would more accurately reflect the actual intent of the orchestration.

    I would say that putting solo instruments in mono works pretty well, however to my ears there is something missing in the sound when you do the same to a violin section. I certainly narrow the stereo field and pan appropriately for the ensemble, but wouldn't want to go down the mono route for all instruments.


  10. #10

    Re: Mono vs stereo?

    Its one of the secrets of great mixing engineers.
    For pop/rock, R&B,dance/electronica records - there are simply TOO many stereo tracks to make a coherant mix out of.

    Mixers have been stripping stereo tracks to mono for years. Probably since the first synth to have chorus on it and thus stereo outputs. (just don't tell the keyboardist!)

    The stereo field is only so wide and with only so much room in it.
    Mixing still to this day comes down to elements that have existed since the first stereo recording
    1) Level
    2) pan
    3) echo (old term - now known as reverb)

    4) filter (eq) came later.

    Too many stereo elements inflict an unnatural exaggeration of the stereo field upon the mix.
    Just try panning a stereo track to mono (make sure you don't have phase problems - if you do you can just make one side louder than the other - this usually works).
    The mono track will have more punch and clarity in the mix.

    Which leads to the great orchestral lib debate.
    The sampled in place vs closer mic'd pan it yourself debate.

    Since many NS member are still pulling shrapnel out there beeehinds from a few past threads on this topic I am loath to step into it .... but .....

    My 20 years as an engineer tell me that EW is wrong. that when you finally mix a complete track in gold you are not getting one perfect picture of the orchestra sampled in the hall.
    You are really getting 12-20 TIMES the hall reverb because the full hall is in each section sampled!!
    But while I know this is true - I own gold. It sounds great. It works fine.
    So who cares. end of issue for me.

    VSL - its not close mic'd. Its in its own space and yes kids a single instrument does indeed "bounce around" the stereo spectrum a bit. enough to piss me off.

    Mixing lots of individual stereo tracks by its very nature insists that you narrow the spread on them. to get them to sit "in the orchestra" you have to narrow them down alot. Maybe even to mono.
    Your reverb (digital or convolution) is creating the ambient hall. You simply need to feed it a coherant stereo spread and it will literally do the rest.

    So how much can/should you "monoize" samples that are not recorded "in place". My personal answer is more than you think.
    If you don't you end up with the worlds most stereo oboe. Maybe the oboeist has a rack and some stereo chorus and really is projecting a stereo image 10 feet wide.
    I doubt it. Its a nasaly narrow little sound. So make him narrow in your mix.

    The one thing I can promise anyone who is struggeling with their mixes -
    If you import a few similair mixes into your daw from top level releases - and endlessly A/B your mix against them - you too can learn to mix.
    Its just a puzzle.
    Level, Pan, EQ and verb.

    If you are a decent composer - you have all the talent and the ears to mix.

    If your mix is a mess - strip down some tracks to mono - or pretty darn close. Lighten up on the verb.
    Level, Pan, level pan, level pan.

    I went through this stupidly long post to get to my final point
    Stereo imagers .......
    Many here keep recommending using them to narrow stereo tracks.

    Unless you are using a GREAT stereo imager (ie not free with your daw) you may want to think again.
    I won't go into a long digital comb filtering diatribe about what they are doing to your audio.....

    Just do a quick test.
    take your stereo imager reduced tracks and compare them to the same track just panned closer together. 9 times out of 10 the imager has more phase artifacts. For the 1 time your panned tracks sound phasey just kill one side or make one side louder than the other.

    You are mixing multiple stereo tracks - recorded in the same space = phase issues unless they had the mic at exactly the same distance for every single instrument! You are probably mixing in some different libs.
    Don't add to the phase.
    Mono is a beautiful thing. And it was long before stereo imagers were around.

    My apologies for the rant - I retired from mixing/mastering 2 years ago. (no I am not old - I just went back to playing for a living)
    The last year of that past life was spent recovering records from finalizers, multiband limiters and stereo imagers.

    Almost all better now.
    I spent a year listening to old mono blues records on one single Adam S3A. I am finally able to walk in a straight line again without getting dizzy.

    And on a different note - before I walked away from my part time life of studio owner / mixing engineer - we had a client who hung with us for a couple years.
    He was the nicest, most organized cat. Great tunes - great voice.
    We cut him an early daytime rate (10am-4pm) which was our lightest booked hours.
    He was always on time. Always paid his bill on time. Was maticulously perpared.
    I only met him a couple times since I worked nights when I was in town and was on tour most of that 2 years but each time I met him/heard the tracks it was a pleasure.

    Well last night he took home the grammy for best new artist.
    Congrats to John (Stephens) Legend.

    Yes folks - every now and then - the really talented guy is the really good guy and he gets to win.

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