Do you want to find out what the exact difference between mono and stereo is? If so, keep reading this article.
I’ll explain the difference as simply as possible so you’ll understand it and know how to use it to your advantage.
The difference between mono and stereo is the number of channels that they send to the speakers.
Mono tracks send only one channel for all speakers. However, stereo tracks send two different channels, one for each speaker. Most people today use stereo since it sounds wider, more detailed, and a lot more realistic.
For your convenience, here’s a list of all the topics we’ll discuss in this article:
What Is Mono Audio & What Is It Used For?
Mono audio means that only one signal is sent to all speakers.
The same signal can be reproduced through several speakers, but, since there won’t be any difference between them it won’t create a stereophonic wide effect, it will just make everything louder.
Have a look at this illustration to better understand it.
Mono audio might sometimes sound narrow, and a bit unclear. However, there are situations where it’s worth it, and is actually really useful.
For example, clubs, restaurants, and bars have a lot of speakers that are directed in too many different ways, so they can’t define which speakers are the left ones and which are the right ones.
Therefore, they play everything in mono in order to avoid phase cancellation and other issues.
Here’s an example of mono audio:
What Is Stereo Audio & What Is It Used For?
Stereo audio sends two signals, one for each speaker. It uses two different channels, one for the left speaker and one for the right speaker.
Take a look at this illustration here to understand it better.
You can use stereo channels to create directionality, perspective, and a simulation of real space.
But, the primary use of stereo signals today is creating width.
By using stereo recording methods/stereo widening plugins I’ll talk about later in this article, you can make something that is mono – to be stereo and sound wide and big.
The vast majority of audio systems today support stereo signals, and it seems like it is just getting more and more of a standard of audio systems today.
Therefore it’s necessary to know how to use it correctly.
Here’s an example of stereo audio:
Is Stereo Better Than Mono?
Stereo is a lot better for the average listener. It sounds wider, more detailed, and more realistic. However, in places that have multiple speakers, like clubs, coffee houses, or restaurants, stereo might cause phase-cancellation issues and, therefore, make mono the right choice.
Whether stereo is better than mono or not depends on your situation and your perspective.
As an average listener, using stereo would be a lot better, since it creates width, and it sounds better overall.
What’s better for gaming: Mono or Stereo?
Stereo is and always will be better than mono for gaming as it gives a much more realistic sound.
In fact, for gaming, you’d probably be better using a surround set of headphones. It’ll give you a much clearer understanding of where your opponents are coming from, and improve your skills significantly.
What’s better for listening to music: Mono or Stereo?
Stereo is much better than mono when listening to music with headphones, car speakers, home stereo, and any other usual pair of speakers.
The only time you should use mono is when you’re setting a complicated system (usually at restaurants or bars) where you can’t tell which speaker is left and which one is right.
However, even then, there are methods you can use to set stereo correctly by using distinct areas and setting each area separately.
What’s better for producing music: Mono or Stereo?
As a producer/mixing engineer, you’d want to produce stereo tracks.
However, you’d also want to dive in a little dipper and treat each instrument differently.
Since each instrument has a different job in the mix, some instruments should be stereo, and some should be mono.
Read the following section to find out which elements should be stereo, which should be mono, and how to take advantage of the stereo field as a producer/mixing engineer.
What’s The Stereo Field & How Can It Help Me?
Have you ever heard a song where the chorus comes in, and everything suddenly starts to sound super wide, but still incredibly focused, and powerful?
If so, it means that the song’s mixing engineer has used the stereo field correctly.
But, before we dive into how to use it correctly, we need to understand what it is.
The stereo field is the range between the left and right sides of your song. It consists of both left, right, and mono elements. We can use the stereo field to make space for all of the elements in the mix and to make it sound wide and prominent.
As you probably know, every song consists of mono elements, left/right elements, and full stereo elements (which are elements that play both in the left and the right channels).
How can the stereo field help us?
We can use the stereo field to make space for all of the elements in the mix, and as written above, to make it sound wide and prominent.
The most common methods used today to take advantage of the stereo field are LCR and 50/50 Panning.
LCR & 50/50 Panning
We can take advantage of the stereo field with these methods of panning.
LCR and 50/50 Panning mean that every element in the mix but the vocals, the kick, the bass, and the snare should be panned all the way or 50% to the left/right.
That way, you make space for the main elements like the vocals to shine, and you add a lot of width to your mix, and that can result in a super full mix.
Check out the picture of the stereo field above to see the usual possible places of common elements in the stereo field.
You usually want the vocals, the kick, the bass, and the snare to be centered and mono, and everything else to be on the sides.
Check out this example of one of my songs, pre, and post-panning.
Make sure that you’re listening with headphones or with quality studio monitors so you can hear the difference easily.
First, let’s listen to the track pre-panning.
Now, let’s use panning.
Do you hear how much space went clear?
It’s incredible because this space makes the track a lot cleaner, and it allows you to add new elements that will fill out the track.
Should You Record Vocals In Mono Or Stereo?
If you record one vocalist, your vocals should be mono. However, if you record two vocalists or more or if you record in a room with unique acoustics, the vocals should be stereo.
Moreover, recording vocals in mono makes them sound powerful, clear, and upfront. And, recording vocals in stereo makes them sound wide, large, and soft.
You record one singer in mono because you have nothing to record that will make a difference between the left and right channels.
But when you record multiple elements, you would rather record in stereo to get the difference of volumes between the elements in the different channels.
Nevertheless, there may be situations where trying stereo recordings might be interesting.
For example, if you are recording in a room with unique acoustics, you may want to try and record the lead singer in stereo.
But notice that this will make the mixing process much more complicated, and you may end up with some phase cancellation, so be careful.
I’ve actually written a fully comprehensive article about this topic where I outlined all there is to know about monophonic and stereophonic vocals.
The Most Popular Way To Record In Stereo
What You Need:
For this method, you need two omnidirectional microphones.
How To Position The Microphones
Basically, you’ll need to position each microphone towards a different part of the thing you’re recording.
And record them both at the same time.
This way, you get ‘A’ and ‘B’ parts that you can combine and create a full, beautiful stereo image.
How To Mix Them
What I’ve found that works best for me is panning the ‘A’ channel about 75% left, and the ‘B’ channel about 75% right, and then fine-tuning from there.
The higher the percentage, the bigger the stereo image, and the higher the risk of phase issues.
How To Make A Mono Recording Stereo
If you couldn’t record authentic backing vocals, or if you want to get the main lead vocals to sound stereo, there are two ways you can make the same effect.
There are two methods for making mono recordings stereo. The first is to use a stereo imager plugin, and the second is to duplicate the channel, pan the first one to the left and the second to the right, and delay the second channel by (5-30)ms.
The Simple Method – Get A Vocal Doubler Plugin
This method is easier to use than the manual way.
And most of the time, unless you’re a total expert, you’ll get much better results with it since there are plugins that were built by professional sound&mixing engineers, particularly for this matter.
Such plugin that I really recommend is VoxDoubler plugin by Sonnox.
I’ve downloaded it a couple of months ago, and I use it each and every time that I turn mono recordings to stereo.
It’s surprisingly simple, super effective, and super mono-compatible.
It lets you control the widening in an advanced and customizable way, and it comes with two standalone plugins – VoxDoubler Widen, and VoxDoubler Thicken.
VoxDoubler Widen – generates two new mono voices and pans them to the left and right of the original vocal. This version would usually sound wider, and better in stereo, however, it’s less mono-compatible.
VoxDoubler Thicken – generates a new stereo doubled voice and overlaps it with the original vocal. This version usually sounds a little narrower, however, it’s super mono-compatible.
Both versions have six knobs –
- Mix – Can help you balance the dry and wet signals of the plugin.
- Timing – Can help you humanize the vocals.
- Pitch – Can help you humanize the vocals.
- Depth – Can help you push the new doubled voices deeper into the mix, and make them less upfront.
- Tone – Can prevent sibilant doubles from becoming distracting, or to brighten those that are too muddy.
- Width (Only In Widen)- Determines the width of the stereo vocals.
- Stereo Spread (Only In Thicken)- Determines the panning percentages of the left and right vocals. 100% will send the left vocals a 100% left and the right vocals a 100% right.
I usually set the width/stereo spread to about 25% when I want a subtle effect, and to about 75%-100% when I want a super-wide effect (usually for the chorus).
I also usually set the Timing knob to about 15% – 35% depending on how loose I want the vocals to sound, the Pitch knob to about 10% – 25%, and the Depth knob to about 20% depending on how the vocals interrupt the mix (as they interrupt more, I would set the Depth higher).
For the tone knob, I don’t have a go-to setting since it really depends on the vocals and the singer.
If the vocals sound muddy, set the tone to a positive amount, so it takes out of the low-end. But, if the vocals sound too bright, set the Tone to a negative amount so it takes out of the high-end.
And of course, you shouldtry and experiment to see what works for you, and your mix.
Check Out VoxDoubler On Plugin Boutique’s Website.
The Manual Method
To use this method you’ll need to do a bit more work, but its free to use as long as you have a DAW.
What You Need To Do:
- Create two extra channels — one for the left signal and one for the right. The original channel will be your main vocals channel.
- Copy your track to them and pan them accordingly – As written above, I usually start with panning the left channel to 75% left, and the right channel 75% right, and then I fine-tune them.
- Add a small delay between the channels – I usually set the left channel to start 10-20ms before the main channel and the right channel to start 15-30ms after the main channel.
Is Stereo Louder Than Mono?
Stereo isn’t louder than mono. However, stereo may sound louder since it sends two different channels to the speakers, and creates a simulation of space and width. But, if you compare them both on even speakers with the same volume settings, they should both be at an equal dB level.
The reason for that is the way that the mono signal is produced.
As you already know, stereo signals use two channels, one for the left side and one for the right side.
But, mono signals only use one channel, which is actually the combination of the left channel with the right channel divided by 2 ((left+right)/2).
Therefore, stereo can’t be actually louder than mono.
But, it can definitely sound louder due to the extra width that appears on stereo signals and disappears on mono signals.