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does it matter whether or not an ambient mix sucks in mono?

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  • does it matter whether or not an ambient mix sucks in mono?

    i was looking through some old tracks to see what i could polish and build upon for the upcoming ambient online compilation album. lots of my old tunes have plenty of things that can almost objectively be described as bad mixing, but what i've observed most frequently with them is the loss of a lot of information in full mono; great shifting drones are reduced to acoustically sparse husks of their former selves, reverb is emasculated, sometimes crucial atmospherics vanish almost entirely... i looked at a number of my older songs and, with the help of an instance of voxengo span on the master channel, found that it's always the case that my music that loses lots of information in mono has mid information equal to or a few decibels below the side information. i analyzed some music from cryo chamber and, logically, found that what sounded very good in mono tended to have much more going on in the mid range than the side range (oftentimes, on tracks like cities last broadcast's "fourth floor", the mono information was 10 db higher than the stereo information!).

    for sound design that doesn't need to incorporate the stereo field, that's all well and good. listening through headphones, there's tracks where it sounds fine for the most prominent things in the mix to lack stereo depth. however, that's not viable for all tunes; if i wanna mess around with the listener's spatial perception of sound, if i want to make things sound like they're three feet in front of the listener, or from a distant abyss, or behind their head, i basically need to accept that a lot of that will be lost in mono sound systems. this leaves me a choice between minimizing the importance of three-dimensional mixing in my workflow to accommodate my listeners who aren't fortunate enough to have two speakers, or disregarding those people in favor of providing the best listening experience possible to people listening in stereo. this is my dilemma: how much should i degrade the quality of my work to those listening in stereo to provide for the people in mono? i know this can vary on a per-track basis but is there anything my mixes should trend toward doing? i think most people expect mono sound systems to be poor quality and i know that ambient music is typically regarded as something that should be listened to through headphones, but the large majority of ambient tracks i hear go for the conservative approach of making nearly everything audible in mono. i know that when it comes to mixing it's generally best to follow what others are doing, but how necessary is that in this case? more generally: should i make my work as good as it can be for the majority of my audience but disregard a minority of listeners, or appease the minority at the expense of making it slightly inferior for the majority?

    also, does anyone have any techniques for manipulation of the listener's spatial perception of audio that work in full mono? i'm aware of mid/side processing and know to watch out for effects like chorus, reverb, and delay that can quickly add too much stereo to a sound... but are there any less obvious ways to make things sound fuller in mono?
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  • #2
    what is "mono"?

    the only time I can think of when I listen in mono is my radio - and that is a long way from critical listening. Unless you have a genuine use case I would not bother and even then I would make a separate mono mix for that specific case. I would not compromise stereo for mono compatibility just as I (and most everyone else) would not compromise a 5.1 mix for stereo - I'd make two mixes

    as far as distance perception in mono - that will be things like frequency response, time delays, direct to reverberant ratio and loudness of the individual sounds. Plus our experience of sounds eg whispers versus shouts - a really soft shout will sound far away, a soft whisper will sound close
    Last edited by ; 10-02-2016, 08:40 PM.


    • #3
      If you're losing information in mono, that means you have a phasing issue between your Left and Right channels. Put a phase meter on your Master and watch what happens when you play back. If you can see a phasing problem, then solo each group of tracks if you record in mono or each stereo track by itself if you record in stereo to see if it's one sound that's causing the problem. For example, you have a track called 'Track A' and it's a stereo track of a synth line. Solo that and look at the phasing as the song is playing. If that track is the problem you have two choices really. Get something like Sound Radix Auto Align and have it time align your tracks, or split that track in to two mono tracks (L and R) and just manually move one of them until the phasing is correct. Repeat that for every track and the problem should be solved. I personally like doing it manually because you're not inserting plugins that use DSP resources, and you can just move the tracks and then it's set without a program having to monitor and process the tracks.

      Phase alignment was a huge deal when radio stations only broadcast in mono. It's less of a problem now, but phase alignment issues can still be picked up by the human ear so it's good practice to check phase alignment during mixing, or 'mono folddown' as it was officially called.