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Mixing hard-panned stereo instruments in mono?

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Mixing hard-panned stereo instruments in mono?

Postby schmargle » Thu May 31, 2012 9:36 pm

Okay, here's a question for you. I'm working on a mixing project that has a number of hard-panned stereo instruments (or groups of instruments), and when I listen to a song in mono--or on speakers that are too close together--the stereo instruments kind of disappear in the mix.

So, for example, on one song, I have an organ leslie that's mic'd in stereo, and I pan each side hard to deliver the greatest stereo width when listening in stereo. But if I listen to the song on, say, a boom box (or just listen in mono), the organ is now significantly lower in volume.

The same thing happens with background vocals that I've panned hard L and R. In a properly set up stereo environment, I can get the levels right where I want them. But then things change when I listen in a more mono environment.

Is there anything that can be done so the stereo-->mono fold down works a little better? Or do I just need to pan a little less dramatically, aiming for the mean between the extremes?
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Re: Mixing hard-panned stereo instruments in mono?

Postby stephentayler » Thu May 31, 2012 11:48 pm

This is always a difficult one!

Set the balance in mono, and then if the part seems too loud in stereo, bring the width in.

Also worth checking the phase on the stereo track... often a sound might be great in stereo but will partially cancel in mono if there are out of phase elements.

Judging stereo elements when listening from the sweet spot or in headphones can actually be misleading. I frequently put my mix on and then go for a wander, listen from the next room or down the corridor.... it can be very revealing to hear balances when 'eavesdropping' on the mix.
Useful as well for exposing words in lyrics that might get lost or pop out of the mix, etc....

Mixing to satisfy all listening environments is always going to be a compromise, I'm afraid!

Cheers
Stephen
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Re: Mixing hard-panned stereo instruments in mono?

Postby stephentayler » Fri Jun 01, 2012 2:40 am

And.... this plugin from Waves, Center, can be extremely useful for tweaking the mid and side content in a stereo file......

http://www.waves.com/content.aspx?id=8885

Cheers
Stephen
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Re: Mixing hard-panned stereo instruments in mono?

Postby schmargle » Fri Jun 01, 2012 6:49 pm

Thanks, Stephen.

Phase might indeed be an issue in the case of the organ leslie. I mic'd it with a spaced pair (which sounded much better to me than an XY setup) but it's possible the geometry was a bit off. Using the phase invert plug-in didn't help, so I might just have to nudge one side to see if it improves things.

Setting the balance in mono and then possibly bringing in the width in stereo sounds like a good plan. I hate to lose that wide stereo sound for some things, but it would be worse to lose levels when listening in some environments.

I also like the eavesdropping idea. I'll try that too.

And Waves Center looks promising...and for only $64, why not?

Thanks again. And by the way, excellent work on Kate Bush's 50 Words for Snow. That album sounds absolutely gorgeous.

--greg
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Re: Mixing hard-panned stereo instruments in mono?

Postby mikehalloran » Sun Jun 03, 2012 9:37 am

The mic setups that work best in mono are M/S and near coincident.

Of the two, M/S has the best mono compatibility and stereo image - but it sounds best in a good sounding room.

If you are close micing, near coincident may be a better choice but it can't deliver the stereo spread on, say, a Leslie, that you may want.

X/Y and ORTF have terrible mono summing. The physics that make these work for stereo fight you for mono.

If you know that mono is going to be an issue, use a three mic approach. Place a cardioid or omni just above your stereo pair or in the middle of a spaced pair. Use the stereo pair for the stereo mix and the center mic for mono. With M/S, this isn't an issue, of course.

If you have been given these tracks and must make it work, start with a mono mix that works and expand from there. You will have to play with phase and polarity (not the same thing). Sometimes, you can delay one side a little and get some of the mono sound back - sounds weird but it works more often than you think.
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Re: Mixing hard-panned stereo instruments in mono?

Postby schmargle » Thu Jun 07, 2012 7:04 pm

Thanks, these are good suggestions. For the organ, I did in fact use a third mic, a dynamic, in the center, for the low end. Starting in mono and adjusting the balance and panning of all three helped. I'll explore the other mic'ing setups for future recordings. I probably won't do M/S, though. I like left to be left and right to be right rather than going for the psychacoustic effect of M/S.

Now, for hard-panned groups of instruments, like two guitars or backing vox, I suppose the thing to do is start in mono and find a happy medium between a good mono mix and a nice stereo spread.

All of this work has made me realize oe reason why so many albums in my collection sound more mono than I might have mixed it--the mixers were taking the near-mono listening situations into consideration.

Thanks again for the response.
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Re: Mixing hard-panned stereo instruments in mono?

Postby mikehalloran » Fri Jun 08, 2012 2:42 am

> I like left to be left and right to be right rather than going for the psychacoustic effect of M/S.<

It's pure math. No psycho-acoustics going on. You do need a good sounding room, however.

M/S once saved my butt in a big way. In the middle of a string concert, the KFOG Kaboom! a monster fireworks show, lit up in the San Francisco Bay - the barge was about 300 yards from the church. The musicians kept playing but is sounded like world war three in the hall.

I told the guy I would do my best but feared the recording was ruined. On a whim, I ran the side mic in two channels R/L but summed to mono. This cancelled all common mode noises, removing all of the blasts from my recording - you could hear a faint boom as like distant thunder, barely perceptible. Since none of the musicians were in the center, they recorded perfectly. The conductor thought I was some kind of post production genius - and I never told except to explain there was not going to be a stereo mix.

>All of this work has made me realize oe reason why so many albums in my collection sound more mono than I might have mixed it--the mixers were taking the near-mono listening situations into consideration.<

Either you have never worked analog or it has been so long ago that you forget. The maximum separation possible with vinyl is 27dB with the finest cartridges. 20-22dB was typical. Remix engineers take that into account when mastering for CD - the analog tape masters often sound unnatural since they were extremely panned to compensate for this.
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Re: Mixing hard-panned stereo instruments in mono?

Postby schmargle » Sun Jun 10, 2012 7:00 pm

Well, yes, psychoacoustics are math! I just mean I don't like to create spaces that way, with M/S. But I can see how they'd be helpful in certain situations.

That's interesting about the cartridge separation. And yes, you're right, I've never mixed for vinyl. ...I guess I can't say I'm too young since it's coming back again. Let's just say I'm too inexperienced.

Thanks again.
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Re: Mixing hard-panned stereo instruments in mono?

Postby cbergm7210 » Fri Jul 27, 2012 11:27 am

stephentayler wrote:This is always a difficult one!
Judging stereo elements when listening from the sweet spot or in headphones can actually be misleading. I frequently put my mix on and then go for a wander, listen from the next room or down the corridor.... it can be very revealing to hear balances when 'eavesdropping' on the mix.
Useful as well for exposing words in lyrics that might get lost or pop out of the mix, etc....


Yes.

My later stages of mixing when I have everything 95% there is done with me sitting on the lounge couch or standing in that area which is 20 feet from the speakers. Couldn't imagine mixing without having this luxury.

Also, I run the mix through an iPod player who's little speakers are ten inches apart, basically giving me a mono listen.
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