Mono compatibility — a brief conversation
I participated in an online conversation this week on the topic of mono compatibility — and I’m reproducing it here for you! Other people’s questions and thoughts are in the green quote blocks; my thoughts are the other bits.
If you switch to mono should the mix still sound "the same" in terms of the spectrum overall minus effects like reverb?
For me this has become a very simple question of “How well do I want my work to translate?” Once I centered that as my framing, everything started feeling very simple and clear. So many people are listening in mono these days; think bluetooth speakers. You get one chance to grab someone with your song — do you want it to communicate your intentions as closely as possible if that someone hears it in mono? Personally, I do. So I pay a lot of attention to how the mix and master work in mono.
listening to mono on a single speaker, as opposed to hitting the mono switch and listening on both speakers, is preferable IMO.
I agree with this very much. I bought myself a 1985 Auratone and a mono amplifier a couple of years ago, and it changed my world. Weirdly, while pairs of mid-eighties Auratones can be very expensive, singles are usually very reasonably priced. And you can get a perfectly adequate little power amp on Amazon for $30-ish.
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If you want your mix to have the exact same balance of sound in mono as it does in stereo, then you will be fighting an uphill battle.
This is true; also, you can get close if you work back and forth between stereo and mono. My goal personally for my mixes is for them to sound amazing in mono and then even more huge and exciting in stereo. It’s doable! It takes some fiddly back-and-forth adjusting for sure. Generally the vocal ends up relatively a little bit louder in the mono mix, and the reverb might be a little quieter, which is kind of fine? Things can be more crowded in the mono listen, so it’s kind of nice to have the vocal naturally pop out a bit more.
There will always be a compromise when listening to a stereo track in mono. If it's important to you then you may have to use less panning at the mixing stage.
A trick I’ve evolved that helps a lot with this is to use a stereo widener on some key stereo elements, set to 180% or so — a couple synths, reverbs, etc — but then to bring the pans on those inward from a fully wide <100 100> to more like <50 50> or so. It’s counter-intuitive — like, you might think these two things would cancel out — but it makes the entire mix sound massive, leaves the sides uncluttered, and collapses to mono in a surprisingly representative way.
Also on the panning tip: <50 50> sounds just about as wide as <100 100> for guitars, and is a whole lot more mono-friendly. No one wants the guitars on their big rock mix disappearing on the bluetooth speaker, that’s not fun for anyone.
Moving in mono — jamie