The Pros and Cons of Mixing in Mono
Mixing in mono is one of those topics that a quick trip to Reddit will reveal is up for massive debate. Some producers swear by the technique, others ignore it completely.
We don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. Instead, it’s important to know WHY mixing in mono can sometimes benefit your mixes, but also understand the limitations. As many benefits as mixing in mono can provide as a double-check for your mix, it can also be a waste of your time in certain circumstances, especially if we don’t have a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve while mixing in mono.
Let’s talk about the pros and cons of mono mixing so you can understand the best ways to use this technique in your mixes and achieve the best results.
1. EQ Balance
When we’re mixing our songs in mono, the sounds can’t “hide” in the sides of the stereo image. Any frequency buildup and overlap is made so much more clear because everything in your mix is forced to sit on top of the other elements, straight down the middle. In this sense, mixing in mono (or at least checking our mixes in mono) can help us prevent masking and achieve better instrument separation.
2. Avoid Phase Issues
Phase cancellation on sounds occurs when the waveform of the left channel and the right channel are summed into mono but go in opposite directions. Why is phase cancellation a bad thing? It can result in lower volumes or a strange “chorus”-like effect. If our sounds are having phase issues when summed to mono and being reduced in volume as a result, the balance of our mix can be affected—especially in the low end where phase cancellation is most likely to happen. By checking our mixes in mono, we can make sure our sounds aren’t suffering from these side-effects when listeners might hear our music on a non-stereo system.
3. Strong Center of Mix
When mixing our tracks in mono, we can be absolutely sure that the center of our mix is strong. When we listen in stereo, we can be tricked into thinking the mix sounds amazing because of how wide and expansive it may feel, but often times the best mixes and those that stand the test of time have a very strong “mid” channel. We want to make sure all of our important, central elements stand strong in mono just as much as they do in stereo.
1. Volume Balance
This one relates to our point about phase issues above. If we are “mixing” in mono and not just “checking” or “comparing” in mono, we might not even be aware that we are getting phase cancellation on our sounds! We need to always know the effect that summing our tracks to mono is having on our sounds as compared to the stereo version and make decisions accordingly. Mixing sounds in mono without being aware that they’re being affected by phase cancellation can cause us to make poor volume balancing decisions!
2. Playback Issues
At the end of the day, the stereo version of your mix is still very important because in 2021, the vast majority of listening devices are stereo (car, headphones, laptop, etc.). In fact, more and more club systems are stereo these days. When checking our mix in mono, we’re making sure that our song sounds good EVEN on mono systems, but not ONLY on mono systems.
At Cosmic Academy, we recommend doing both. Never exclusively mix in mono like we’ve all heard some tutorials tell us to do, but on the other hand, never exclusively mix in stereo either. We need to use mono mixing as another step in our mixing checklist, another tool in the toolkit of achieving a mix that sounds awesome in the greatest amount of listening situations. Between stereo and mono, which you should prioritize in your mixing really comes down to where your music is meant to be played—mono compatibility might be much more important for tracks that are built for a club, as compared with those that are designed more for streaming and radio play. But in today’s day and age, where streaming is arguably just as important for our careers as live plays are, it’s incredibly important to mix keeping both mono and stereo in mind.