Check Your Mixes in Mono

Some of you may have heard that it’s a good idea to check your mix in mono. But why is it important and what should you listen for? Besides keeping things old school, there’s other reasons why since 1958 music has continued to be checked and even still played in mono. Before we go into the details, I want to open your mind to the world of mono and where it’s still used today, because eventually your music will be played back in mono somewhere.

EXAMPLES OF MONO PLAYERS TODAY:

  • The sound system in a public place, where multiple speakers are placed throughout the venue. These could be a Store, Stadium, Nightclub, Restaurant, Bar, etc… Why are these venues usually setup in mono? Easy, a person can’t be sitting perfectly in-between two speakers at any given time in these venues, so sound has to be setup to come out of multiple mono speakers throughout the space.
  • Everyone seems to have them these days; Smart phones, tablet (iPads), etc… the built in speakers are typically still mono in these devices and if the device isn’t, a lot of TV on the web is mono.
  • At home, your alarm clock, small tv’s with one speaker, portable radios, ipod docks are sometimes summed mono instead of true stereo.


If this doesn’t give you some mojo to start checking your mixes in mono, this will.

WHY SHOULD I TECHNICALY CHECK MIXES IN MONO?

  • Phase Cancellation or Phase Shifts: When you check your mix in mono, you may notice a drop in certain frequencies or send effects such as reverbs. This is checking if you have any phase cancellation issues. If you have a phase-shift issue, you’ll here it right away in mono.
  • Comb Filtering: This is only audible when you sum the signals to mono. A common example of a source of this, is when mic’ing a guitar in X-Y pattern, the different distances and angles of the microphones will cause Comb Filtering. This could sound like a phase pedal, washy and wavy.
  • Balanced Mix: A balanced mix will not have instruments colliding with one another. This can cause frequencies to clash and elements of these instruments may disappear or get lowered in volume.

HOW TO CHECK MIXES IN MONO?
(These techniques are to be used at your discretion, to each their own.)

  • Start in Mono: Some engineers, like me, like to assemble their mixes in mono first and finish them in stereo. What this means is that when you start mixing, keep you monitor output in mono for awhile. Make panning decisions, eq adjustments and dynamic (compression) adjustments. Working in mono forces you to listen better and keep eqing things to be just right for that perfect separation. When things are in stereo, a wide pan can make the mix sound big without the mix truly being balanced. The mix should sound clear and satisfying, now flip your monitors to stereo and you will be wowed! From here make further mix adjustments and add the cherry on top, while checking in mono once in a while until completion. HINT: if you don’t have a monitor switcher with a mono option, use a plugin like Brainworx’s bx-Solo on your master output from your DAW. This has a button to listen to your mix in mono.
  • Check your mix in mono through one speaker NOT two. I use a Fostex 6301B for this task, but the industry norm seems to use Avantone’s. When I do check a single speaker in mono, I make sure to listen to it at low volume. Listening to things in mono softly will let you hear how things are sitting in the mix and it’s a nice change in perspective.
  • There are plugins out there to fix phase-alignment issues. Such as the Waves InPhase Plugin and Voxengo PHA-979. However, this is a corrective fix instead of a preventative measure. Best thing is to not let phase cancellation happen in the first place, check your phase (in mono) as you go.

So you’ve done your mono checks, how do you know if you have a balanced mix? Well, when you put your mix in mono you’ll notice right away if your mix sounds muddy or murky, if you’ve lost the high end, the sheen. The clarity of the track may have been lost. The details of the mix are gone. When you flip from mono to stereo you shouldn’t notice a big change in the song’s details, it’s about getting another perspective. It’s more likely that people will be listening to your music in stereo, with all the smart phone ear buds out there these days. BUT you should still aim for the best, because you never know when you’ll be waking up to your mono clock radio and hear a song you’ve worked so hard at mixing, only to find out the rhythm guitar is missing 😮