Use of mono vs. stereo instruments


#1

I’d like your help and this is something that I don’t think really has been discussed much here in the forums. I would still consider myself somewhat new at this - composing music. And what I’ve really come to grips with is my need for improving my mixing and mastering skills. So, I’d like to know what you guys know, if you’d be willing to share, because I have a lot to learn still, in my opinion:

I did much of my learning of midi early on in FruityLoops and Reason. Most of my instruments early on have been mono instruments. Almost 2 years ago, I started working with a lot of EastWest/Quantum Leap sound libraries and with it came better samples and stereo instruments.

What I’ve found is that the higher-quality stereo instruments create a more “real” sound to your compositions, add depth, and also add another level of complexity to mixing and mastering (now you got 2 pan knobs to work with, not 1! :smiley: ). While you lose some depth and “realness” to mono instruments, there is also less complexity to the sound and I can seem to make a mono instrument pop up much more up front in the mix than stereo instruments at times.

My questions for you: Is it smart to have a mix of both in a song? How do you choose to use a mono version of an instrument vs. a stereo version when composing? Am I right in saying that there is less complexity to mixing mono instruments and should I gravitate to mono instruments if it is a lead part that I want way up front in the mix?

Am I making any sense? I kind of feel stupid for asking this. But I’m still learning (which I believe we always need to be doing)! Thanks for your help! :slight_smile:

Phil


#2

I often mix stereo instruments to mono because it’s easier to place them in the stereo panorama. My experience is, if you have too many stereo instruments in a mix it sounds too crowded all over the place. It’s like with EQing. If you boost all frequencies of every instrument to make each one sound as real and big as possible you get a muddy mix.


#3

I use a couple of Spitfire libraries and the players are recorded in situ according to the orchestra. This is both good and bad because on the one hand you get a great stereo image but if I mix other orchestral libraries in with it it becomes a bit of a nightmare getting everything to sit right!

I try and avoid complex mixing practices where possible


#4

too much stereo instruments can cause phase issues, same thing for stereo riverb and delays,
it could be good to keep kick, and bass in mono or if you wanna them in stereo check with a phase meter.


#5

Hi Phil,

Think M/S (Mid/Sides)!

generally, what will be the center are mono (bass, kick, snare, lead vocals).
This allows to use the sides to spatialize other elements (guitars, synth, fx, reverbs…).
After that is a matter of taste and logic to distribute the elements in space., based on the result that you would get.

As said Aloise, it also limits phase issue, and it makes the mastering easier and stronger.

and “the first rule of mix is that there are no rules, trust your ears”… :wink:


#6

Here’s a video from recordingrevolution.com about this issue:


#7

Incredibly helpful, guys. Thank you!


#8

Of course you may know this, but generally speaking when it comes to recording, a stereo recording of instruments should be used whenever the sound of the space your working in (acoustics of the room with the instrument) must be replicated as accurately as possible. Your mic’s polar pattern is also a key factor in this.

I also find that these days I’ll use a stereo pair of condenser mics to capture acoustic guitar performances for songs that have very few instruments, whereas I will record in mono if there are a wide range of instruments.

Unless I am experimenting, the majority of very low frequency instruments are recorded in mono. Main vocals too.

Since these rules typically apply to recording, I also use them when selecting samples too.


#9

One thing you may want to fool with when recording acoustic instruments is to simply record a track in mono and double it (play it again, don’t just copy and paste). Pan one track left and one track right. It gives you a “false stereo” feel, but it’s much easier to work with than stereo tracks. I love recording in stereo but not every song calls for it. Just make sure you play both parts exactly the same or you’ll think it sounds terrible. Small timing differences, though, are what make it sound cool.


#10
SoundDog said

One thing you may want to fool with when recording acoustic instruments is to simply record a track in mono and double it (play it again, don’t just copy and paste). Pan one track left and one track right. It gives you a “false stereo” feel, but it’s much easier to work with than stereo tracks. I love recording in stereo but not every song calls for it. Just make sure you play both parts exactly the same or you’ll think it sounds terrible. Small timing differences, though, are what make it sound cool.

+1

really like the way this can sound


#11
TimMcMorris said

I also find that these days I’ll use a stereo pair of condenser mics to capture acoustic guitar performances for songs that have very few instruments, whereas I will record in mono if there are a wide range of instruments.

+1

IMO you need more than one mic to truly capture an acoustic guitar, but if it’s going to be an accompaniment with a bunch of other instruments, I find recording with a single SDC makes it much easier to sit in the mix.


#12

If you need a quick check how your stereo instrument sounds in Mono here is a free M-ST Mono VST: http://music.service-1.de/html/m-st.html

I´m shure many DAWs have some function but I use it sometimes for the pre-master to simulate different sound sources like Notebook speaker, car radio or just for the stereo ballance of used instruments.