Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

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Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby Erotic Cabaret » Sat Sep 11, 2010 9:05 am

Forgive me if I'm beating a dead horse, I searched for this topic on the forum and couldn't find anything. I enjoy beating dead horses, anyhow.

I've been doing a lot of experimenting with recording synths in stereo vs mono. Obviously, these are modern synths...I have a Prophet '08 and a Nord Lead 3.

With a no-sustain, fast decay pad sound, I've been doing comparisons of mono vs. un-panned stereo vs. slightly-panned stereo vs. un-panned dual mono vs. slightly-panned dual mono on my Prophet '08. I also tried recording each note of the pad separately in mono, each with a slightly differing amplitude envelope delay, and panning the signals hard left, hard right, and center. This, in particular, sounds very, very wide...far wider than panned stereo...but it seems to sound somewhat disconnected, at the same time.

A few questions:

--What types of synth sounds do you generally record in mono?

--What types of synth sounds do you generally record in stereo?

I was listening to the horn pad on "Satellite" off of A BROKEN FRAME today and comparing it with my Prophet '08 pad recordings. I noticed that the higher notes in the "Satellite" pad seem to be panned a bit to either side, while the lowest note is center. I doubt they recorded each note in mono and then panned the notes separately for the studio recording like I was experimenting with. They might have used an early stereo enhancer on, say, a Lexicon 480L or an early Harmonizer. Hard to say. I've always wondered how they made mono output synths sound so stereo in the early 80s...

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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby meatballfulton » Sat Sep 11, 2010 2:35 pm

The big problem with stereo is it can clutter a mix. Too many wide sounds make for a confusing soundstage.

What sounds good in mono? Bass. Putting the bass dead center in a mix makes it the strongest it can be. Widening it thins it out.

What sounds good in stereo? Drum kits. Just don't pan it too wide. Sound effects.

Rule of thumb: The more important the sound is in the mix, the closer it should be to mono.
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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby rharris07 » Sat Sep 11, 2010 4:08 pm

meatballfulton wrote:The big problem with stereo is it can clutter a mix. Too many wide sounds make for a confusing soundstage.

What sounds good in mono? Bass. Putting the bass dead center in a mix makes it the strongest it can be. Widening it thins it out.

What sounds good in stereo? Drum kits. Just don't pan it too wide. Sound effects.

Rule of thumb: The more important the sound is in the mix, the closer it should be to mono.



I would totally agree with all the above...and add that I record strings in stereo for that richer, fuller sound. I typically record all my synths in mono, and then I can make a copy of the track if I want to add effects...the old trick of having two copies of a track, one dry and one wet...pan them outwards to your liking, and serve.

I also have a P'08 and I've tried recording it in stereo quite a bit - BUT, due to its power, it ends up consuming the entire mix. Especially if using all 4 outputs, two stereo tracks from one synth can be very overwhelming if you're not careful about it...so I just go mono with it 99% of the time, especially since I use it for leads and bass, not as much for atmosphere or rhythmic tracks.


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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby nvbrkr » Sat Sep 11, 2010 4:36 pm

You're just asking for trouble if you record the bass in stereo. It may sound nice while tracking, but at least on my own stuff it has just ended up sounding weird after downmixing and mastering.

When something sounds nice and wide in your non-optimized monitoring setup, you're probably better off cutting down the stereo image to 50%-75% of what it was. Use more extreme panning only on certain parts of the song, not throughout it (e.g. "a brass crescendo", "fast string machine runs"). If two sounds that are playing the same notes, or "part", aren't synced and you don't want to scrub either of them, then extreme panning may work as a fix. It may also work for sounds that have some sort of unpleasant phasing going on.

If you're short on HD space, recording everything in stereo won't help.
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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby Mush » Sat Sep 11, 2010 5:56 pm

Record everything in mono and on separate tracks (each drum on it's own track). Use FX-chains and panning on the individual tracks to get stereo-effects in the mix. It is much easier to do stuff in the mix without stereo-recordings.
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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby Erotic Cabaret » Sat Sep 11, 2010 7:22 pm

Obviously I know not to record synth bass or individual drum machine sounds in stereo...so pads are really my main concern. So it's best to always record pads in mono, then?

I never use superfluous FX...just one stereo reverb during mixdown. Should I be using a stereo enhancement effect on mono pads, then?

I mean, how did they get mono output synths to sound stereo, without using reverb, in the early 80s? There are several sounds on DARE, for example, that are clearly stereo, yet have little or no reverb.
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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby sequentialsoftshock » Sat Sep 11, 2010 7:43 pm

Erotic Cabaret wrote:I mean, how did they get mono output synths to sound stereo, without using reverb, in the early 80s? There are several sounds on DARE, for example, that are clearly stereo, yet have little or no reverb.


I don't know, maybe doubling one mono track and panning..?
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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby nvbrkr » Sat Sep 11, 2010 7:47 pm

I don't think there's any reason to record pads exclusively in mono. It may work for mush, but it's hardly something that everything in the industry does.

It was possible with some analog synths to pan the different voices on different sides of the stereo image, so that may be what you are hearing on the records. Isn't that the case with the P'08 as well? There are many other ways to turn a mono signal into a stereo one - like mic'ing up two amplifiers with different type of frequency responses. Although mic'ing up ampplifiers for synths was already on its way out in the 80s.
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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby Mush » Sat Sep 11, 2010 8:05 pm

nvbrkr wrote:It was possible with some analog synths to pan the different voices on different sides of the stereo image, so that may be what you are hearing on the records.


That would be the only reason I can see to record a pad in stereo. Using choruses and other stereo-effects on pads make it a lot harder for the mixing engineer to fine-tune stuff. It is alot easier to use outboards effects or plugins doing this at mixing which makes it easier to control more aspects of the sound of song. I hate working with a mix where the sounds have to much effect on them, it is always nice to have the tracks as dry as possible.

EC: You should really try to work with FX in your DAW. Make a few copies of the track and distort one a bit and keep it just hearable in the mix, there are lot of tricks in mixing that makes your work come alive in new ways. And all the sounds you hear on the classic recordings are processed by great engineers using great outboards. Nowdays we have the ability to make better homerecordings than ever as we have so many decent plug-ins for almost no money. Start using a few of them!
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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby nvbrkr » Sat Sep 11, 2010 8:16 pm

I can see yout point about the choruses. Those chorus units can sound fantastic when you are just playing the keyboards, but it's an entirely different deal how they are going to work within a mix. I love my vintage MXR stereo chorus, but it can be indeed a pain in the a*s if overused. Usually I've just mixed it with a dry mono signal so that the dry mono / wet stereo signal ratio is about 4:1 or something like that. Again, the biggest problem are the low frequences as they wobble from side to side.
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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby aeon » Sat Sep 11, 2010 9:44 pm

Erotic Cabaret wrote:--What types of synth sounds do you generally record in mono?


Most all of them.

Erotic Cabaret wrote:--What types of synth sounds do you generally record in stereo?


Two specific kinds:

  1. "Synth sounds" that are actually stereo samples generated from acoustic mic'ing of the source.
  2. Synth sounds that are generated with a discrete synthesis chain per channel.

IOW, very few sounds are recorded in stereo.

My preference is to generate stereo spatial soundstage via use of post-processing and aux effects.

Erotic Cabaret wrote:They might have used an early stereo enhancer on, say, a Lexicon 480L or an early Harmonizer. Hard to say.


It's easy to say they didn't use a Lexicon 480L or Eventide Harmonizer in the case of A Broken Frame because the 480L was years from being released, and the sound in question does not have the artifact quality of the Harmonizers available at the time.

Erotic Cabaret wrote:Should I be using a stereo enhancement effect on mono pads, then?


If it works for you and your mix. I like generating stereoization that way, whether it be from chorus, static split micro-pitch-shift, Haas delay, and so forth.

Erotic Cabaret wrote:I mean, how did they get mono output synths to sound stereo, without using reverb, in the early 80s? There are several sounds on DARE, for example, that are clearly stereo, yet have little or no reverb.


You can do that kind of thing with delays, modulated delay, pitch-shift, Roland SDD-320 DimD (popular then), voice panning, etc.

nvbrkr wrote:I can see yout point about the choruses. Those chorus units can sound fantastic when you are just playing the keyboards, but it's an entirely different deal how they are going to work within a mix. I love my vintage MXR stereo chorus, but it can be indeed a pain in the a*s if overused. Usually I've just mixed it with a dry mono signal so that the dry mono / wet stereo signal ratio is about 4:1 or something like that. Again, the biggest problem are the low frequences as they wobble from side to side.


Mix ratios and frequency balance are very important when using chorus, IMHO. That is why I think an effect like chorus, which works via mix with the dry signal, is best used as an aux where ratio is easily controlled. EQ shaping is also easily obtained in this way, such that you can limit frequencies going to or returning from the chorus. Band-chorus effects can be generated this way with analog units, similar to how digital processors with such algorithms function.


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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby Erotic Cabaret » Sat Sep 11, 2010 9:46 pm

Yeah, as I said, I never print any effects to my synths when recording. Heck, I don't even use effects except for one reverb bus...that's it.

So, keeping that in mind, pads are still best recorded in mono until mixdown, when, I assume, I should use a non-reverb stereo enhancement effect to widen them? Man, this is overly confusing...
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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby nvbrkr » Sat Sep 11, 2010 10:03 pm

Well, you can of course record them in stereo. If you need to use them in mono, you can just pop out the other channel. Most DAWs should allow for you to record the left and right channels on different tracks as well. I've made quite a lot of ambient type of material, so I prefer the pads to be in stereo. However, I can see how it can get messy if those coupled with bass / drums etc.

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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby CS_TBL » Sat Sep 11, 2010 11:17 pm

Single player -> mono, one source, one seat.

Ensemble of players -> stereo, to represent the locations of the player's seats. Recording this mono puts all these seats in one line, adding chorus or reverb only makes this line thicker, but it doesn't spread out the seats in a realistic way.
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Re: Recording Synths in Mono VS. Stereo

Postby aeon » Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:06 am

CS_TBL wrote:Single player -> mono, one source, one seat.

Ensemble of players -> stereo, to represent the locations of the player's seats. Recording this mono puts all these seats in one line, adding chorus or reverb only makes this line thicker, but it doesn't spread out the seats in a realistic way.


Just because a synth is recorded mono doesn't mean it can't be panned as part of a mix arrangement later.

Your point is valid, but nothing said earlier excludes such thinking, even if it wasn't addressed specifically.

That all said, the end goal isn't always realism. Part of the beauty (to me) of those things synthetic is the ability to realize that which is born of the subjective imagination, not the objective world. In so doing, one may dispense of the paradigm of players and seats as would occur in an acoustic space if it better suits the end sonic and artistic expression.

Other values will lead to other choices as it concerns conceptualization and approach.


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