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What is mono compatibility and why should you care?

Chances are, when you sit down in the studio to produce you listen to your mixes on headphones or a pair of monitors, listening to your mixes in stereo. However, have you ever stepped back to listen to how your mixes sound in mono? You might be surprised…

In this day and age, you might be wondering why making your mix sound good in mono is important. If your song is destined for radio play, there are still a lot of people who’s wee set in the kitchen just the one speaker; and in the club, many club sound systems sum the mixer outputs to mono.

From a production point of view, mixing in mono first can sometimes be a useful way to go: if you can get a mix sounding good in mono first, then you’ve already done most of the hard work in getting that mix up to scratch, before you’ve even touched a pan pot or heard how big all those lush reverbs and ping-pong delays sound in stereo!

So what is mono compatibility and why should you care then? The term ‘interference’ may be familiar to you from your high school physics, and it may bring back dark and long-repressed memories, so we’ll gloss over most of that and head straight to the practical consequences. What this interference can mean is that, when the left and right channels of a stereo mix are combined to one mono signal, the mix may change beyond your wildest dreams… Certain sounds may appear to change in level relative to the rest of the mix, or even seem to disappear entirely, or the entire mix can just sound small, underwhelming and unbalanced.

Certain effects can be particularly bad at contributing to mono compatibility issues: stereo-widening effects for example. Some of those fantastic-sounding presets in your soft synth may also suffer, having been programmed to sound big, wide and impressive.

Fortunately, it’s quite easy to check that your mixes are going to translate to mono. Most DAWs feature a device that allows you to collapse your mix to mono, put on your master channel as the last insert effect and listen to that mix contract. Many monitor controllers, such as the Mackie Big Knob will let you do the same thing with a button on the hardware. You can also check mono compatibility using a stereo analyser, searching for ‘goniometer’ will track down a few candidates, and you can choose one to suit your system; just try and stop that line going horizontal!

If you make sure and check those mixes in mono, you hopefully won’t be caught out in the club when that huge chord pad, the triumphant climax to your latest trance tune, doesn’t materialise after the drop!

About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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