Mixing in mono is a great technique that will not only help you get cleaner mixes, but will also help you get your sound ready for a wider range of audio systems.
To get started I want to make clear what mixing in mono means.
Table of Contents:
5. Final notes
Mono & Stereo
What do we understand about mixing in mono?
A mono signal refers to a single audio signal like a vocal recorded with your microphone. As soon as you add a second mic, you're recording in stereo.
In other words, your two speakers offer a left and a right channel. When you pan an instrument to the left or right, you can hear how the sound moves to the left or right.
When listening in Mono, both channels are put together and all elements are playing in the middle, meaning that the information on the left channel is exactly the same as the information on the right channel.
But why is mixing in mono important?
A lot of audio systems work in mono. For example shops often have mono speaker setups.
Panned or doubled elements might disappear in a mono mix. Problems like that also occur in a stereo mix but they are less obvious since the elements have more space to breathe. Another thing where mixing in mono can help is the detection of phasing issues. Phasing issues appear when you double elements like a guitar for example. The doubled elements work great when you listen in stereo, but in mono, they will nearly disappear. That happens because the waveforms are clashing with each other. Everything above zero pushes the speaker out, and everything below zero brings the speaker back in (notice the vibrations on your (sub)woofer for example). When the signal on the right is the exact opposite of the signal on the left, merged together it will be zero. Watch out with stereo imaging plugins as they can adjust the phase and create problems like this.
How do you put a mix in mono?
After all the theoretical stuff, let's get into the DAW. Setting a mix in mono is super easy. Since there are different DAWs and a lot of different ways to do it I'll explain it with Ozone Imager. Just load Ozone Imager on your stereo output and activate the mono setting on the right corner.
That's it, super simple, right?
How to mix in mono?
So mixing in mono works the same as mixing in stereo but to get the best results, use this method: At first, the goal of mixing volumes is to make the most important elements the loudest but all other elements are still audible. Bring down all faders and start bringing up the most important elements at first. For example a lead or the vocals. Next, bring up element after element and let them sound great around the main sound. In the end, everything should sound as clear as possible. You should EQ and compress in mono as well. But is there a point where you should switch back to stereo? Yes, there is, let's talk about that in the next step!
Back to stereo!
Mono mixing will bring you the best foundation you can get, so let's go on from here. As soon as you think you did the best job possible in mono mixing, you can go back to stereo. Now it's time to add things like panning, reverb, and delay. For these elements, it's important to have the stereo experience. While panning, make sure you bring sounds like bass in the mid and elements like guitars more to the left and right channels. After all that, you can check again in mono to make sure no phasing issues appear because of the panned elements.
Some final notes
Mixing in mono doesn't work for everyone. But at least, try to do the volume balancing in mono. It will be a lot easier to set the levels right that way. And do a mono check before exporting to look for phasing issues. Another thing you can do if you feel uncomfortable with mixing in is checking the mix in mono a couple of times in between your mixing session.
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