PreSonus Blog

Friday Tips – Why Mono Matters for Mixing

With the ideal mix, the balance among instruments is perfect, and you can hear every instrument (or instrument section) clearly and distinctly. However, getting there can take a while, with a lot of trial and error. Fortunately, there’s a simple trick you can use when setting up a mix to accelerate the process: Start your mix with all channel pan sliders set to center (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: All the pan sliders (outlined in white) are set to center for a reason.

With stereo tracks, changing the track interleave to mono isn’t adequate, because it will throw off the channel’s level in the mix. Instead, temporarily add a Dual Pan set for the -6dB Linear Pan Law, and center both the Left and Right panpots (fig. 2). Now your stereo track will appear in the mix as mono.

Figure 2: Use the Dual Pan, set to the -6dB Linear pan law, to convert stereo channels temporarily to mono when setting up for a mix.

Analysis Time

Now listen carefully to your mix. Are all the instruments distinct? Monitoring in mono will reveal places where one instrument might mask or interfere with another, like kick and bass, or piano and guitar (depending on the note range).

The solution is to use EQ to carve out each instrument’s rightful place in the frequency spectrum. For example, if you want to prioritize the guitar part, you may need to reduce some of the piano’s midrange, and boost the regions above and below the guitar. For the guitar, boost a bit in the region where you cut the piano. With those tweaks in place, you’ll find it easier to differentiate between the two.

For kick/bass issues, the usual solution is to increase treble on one of them—with kick, this brings out the beater sound and with bass, string “zings” and pick noises. Another option is to add saturation to the bass, while leaving the kick drum alone. If the bass is playing relatively high notes, then perhaps a boost to the kick around 50-70 Hz will help separate the two.

Keep carving away, and adjusting the EQ until all the instruments are clear and distinct. Now when you start doing stereo placement, the sound will be open, with a huge soundstage and a level of clarity you might not obtain otherwise—or which might take a lot of tweaking to achieve.

We’re Not Done with Mono Just Yet…

Okay, now you have a great stereo mix. But it’s also important to make sure your mix collapses well to mono, because you have no control over the playback system. It might play from someone’s smartphone, and sounds mostly mono…or play back over speakers that are close to each other, so there’s not real good stereo separation. Radio is another possibility where the stereo might not be wonderful.

Some processors, especially ones that control stereo imaging with mid-side processing, may have phase or other issues when collapsed to mono. Short, stereo delays can also have problems collapsing to mono, and produce comb-filtering-type effects. So, hop on over to the main bus, and click the Channel Mode button to convert the output to mono (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: The Channel Mode button (circled in yellow) can switch the output between mono and stereo.

Hopefully, everything will sound correct—just collapsed to mono. But if not, start soloing channels and comparing what they sound like with the Channel Mode button in stereo and mono, until you chase down the culprit. Make the appropriate tweaks (which may be as simple as tweaking the delay time in one channel of a stereo delay processor), make sure the mix still sounds good in stereo, and you’re done.

  • SoundSource JScott

    Great read – Thank you!

  • Dwendell

    If you’re on a Mac, in Safari, click “Show reader view” and print from there. I did that and printed out excellent.

  • Larz Smith

    Started mixing in mono a year ago and my mixing has got so much better

  • Mike Mirage

    Thanks Craig

  • I’ve pointed PreSonus to this discussion, perhaps being able to print anything that appears in the blog would be a good idea. I have no idea what’s involved in making it happen, though…I’m a guitar player 🙂

  • Mike Mirage

    I have word and Adobe Acrobat. Adobe had better output but they still should put a print button on the pages as some header text on pages overlays on top of some of your text. Not that hard to do to put the printer friendly button on there, been there, done that.

    Thanks for the tips

  • Download LibreOffice if you don’t have Microsoft Word, select just the text + images in the post, and paste into a new document. Then you can print it out, or export it as a PDF. FWIW after there are 100 tips, I plan to update them, categorize them, and publish them as an eBook that you can print out at a Kinko’s or whatever.

  • Mike Mirage

    Please ask Presonus to make these pages easily printable. Your tips are very helpful.

  • Hi, Jeff was referring the MixChecker plug-in I mentioned, which costs $80 (MixChecker Pro is $130).

  • I believe Dual Pan is a stock plugin that comes with Studio One.

  • Jeff Evans

    Thanks Craig that looks interesting. A slightly expensive plug-in with Aussie dollars but helpful I bet for sure. I find the classic Auratone will actually do a good job over a few listening environments. That software would cover more. It is so true though that it is possible to get the small mono Auratone type mix sounding good and the up loud version can still sound great and not change much.

  • You might enjoy supplementing your approach above (which BTW is very similar to mine) with the MixChecker Pro plug-in. It emulates a variety of nasty consumer playback systems. It may seem like a gimmick, but sometimes, you’ll find certain tweaks that allow a mix to work on smart phones and tablets without compromising the sound on better systems. They also have an Auratone-type emulation.

  • Thanks that makes sense.
    So does the mono button on the master fader not use the -6db pan law?
    Would I have to pull the master fader down 3db when referencing in mono?
    Would it make more sense to just put Dual Pan in the post section of the master fader to reference the mix in mono, instead of just pressing the mono button?

  • Jeff Evans

    I am fan of mono too. I take it further in a monitoring situation, as well as my main monitors, I listen to the mono mix though a single small Auratone type speaker and do it at 70 dB SPL and under e.g. 65 dB SPL. Sit closely in front of it so you are facing it. Your ears will open up to it. The balance of things is accentuated and you can fine tune instrument levels too. Things that are even only slightly too loud normally are emphasised in this approach and sound silly loud at the low volume in mono check.

  • Excellent point!! Thank you.

  • The Dual Pan treats stereo as dual mono, like Pro Tools. To pan only one side, use the input balance control to choose only the left or right (or anywhere in between). 2nd question – yes, in theory you could just make everything mono. But a mix progresses over time, so when you start creating a stereo placement, you’ll still want the tracks that aren’t placed yet in mono. Also, stereo tracks will be louder in mono, for the reasons mentioned above. So if you mono the master bus and get the levels balanced, as soon as you make the master bus stereo, the levels will likely seem different.

  • Craig, does Studio One have true panning like Pro Tools or that remove one side panning like Ableton?
    Can I just put Dual Pan on all the busses instead to achieve the same results?

  • Almost all club systems are in mono. So if you’re making music that will be played in a club or bar your mix better sound good in mono.