Several weeks ago, while mixing our album tracks, my bandmate asked me about which is best between mono and stereo for recording vocals. I had no straight answer to him at that time and casually dismissed his question. Yet, upon second thought, I think his query deserves a more in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of using mono and stereo when recording vocals.
Recording well the vocals will help a lot afterward when mixing the vocals. Moreover, vocals are a critical part of a song, and if you wrongly record them, you might have a hard time mixing the tracks. So, it is essential to know whether you should go mono or stereo when recording vocals.
Understanding Mono and Stereo Recording
If it is your first time hearing about mono and stereo, you might get confused at first. Monophonic sound reproduction or mono is a sound that seems to emanate from a specific position. Thus, when you do mono recording of vocals, the vocals seem to come from one direction.
On the other hand, the stereophonic sound (stereo) is a sound reproduction that creates a multi-directional audio perspective and illusion. It was Alan Blumlein, a British Engineer, who invented modern stereophonic technology, and we owe it to him why we have the stereo option.
Of course, the difference between mono and stereo boils down to the number of channels each uses. Monophonic (mono), as its name connotes, uses only one channel. On the other hand, stereophonic uses two channels.
With stereophonic sounds, you have two different outputs, meaning you can play the right channel to the right speaker and play the left channel to the left speaker. Another obvious difference between stereo and mono is that the stereo sounds can create that perception of width, which you can never have in a mono sound.
Moreover, stereo files can create the impression that the sound source is coming from different sources. This impression is called sound source localization. Humans have this ability to locate sound source. So, every listener out there will surely enjoy stereo sound.
Of course, you can record the vocals, either mono or stereo, and it all depends on the number of voices or singers you would record. For example, if you are recording one vocal, you should go mono. But if you would record two vocals in an acoustically treated room, you should go stereo.
Mono recording can make the vocals sound more powerful and clearer. On the other hand, the stereo recording makes the vocals sound larger, wider, and softer.
How Do You Make Mono or Stereo Recording?
When you go mono, you only use one microphone to capture the sound via a single audio channel. So, when you play back the mono recording, you only need to use a single speaker. You can also use two speakers to play the mono recording. Yet, each speaker will only playback in dual-mono, with each speaker playing a duplicate sound of the other speaker.
To get a stereo recording, on the other hand, you will need two microphones, and during the processing of the recording, you can pan one channel to the left and another channel to the right.
Many handheld recorders can provide you with stereo recording, capturing sound utilizing two built-in microphones. With these built-in microphones, you can save the sound information to the left channel while capturing other sound information via the right microphone to the right channel.
When to Go Mono or Stereo for Recording Vocals?
With a stereo recording of vocals, you can emphasize the difference among the multiple elements you have recorded, making each element stand out and creating an impression that the sound has width. Yet, when recording inside a room with unique acoustic, you may try doing a stereo recording. Try to experiment with a stereo recording of the lead vocals, and you might end up liking the results. One caveat, however, in doing this is that it may complicate the mixing process for you.
Listeners are delighted when they listen to the stereo sounds because they hear a distinct sound on one earpiece and another sound on the other earpiece. Sometimes, they hear the voicing on the left earphone and the main vocals on the right earphone. Such nuances create the impression of space, which can be very delightful to listeners. You can also better record some instruments using the mono recording, though the perfect thing is to combine mono and stereo recording.
Factors that May Determine Your Choice Between Mono and Stereo
You can do most of your vocal recordings in mono. Yet, there are instances likewise when you would feel that stereo recording would bring in better results. For example, when recording the chorus part, you can record the vocals using a stereo recording. Moreover, you can go stereo when you want the vocal recording to sound like in an amphitheater or theater.
Of course, this type of vocal recording creates a more realistic feel and a more spacious ambiance. However, with this type of recording, it is easy to capture unwanted noise that may make the editing more complicated.
So, it boils down to your discretion when recording vocals, either mono or stereo. If you want to go stereo when recording some vocal parts, you can then plan everything well. Of course, proper planning can minimize ambient noise and other issues that come with stereo recording.
Yet, generally, you should go mono when recording vocals. The reason is quite apparent—you want the vocals to sound in-your-face and personal.
Music Production Recording
In most music productions of vocals, sound engineers often mono recording. Yet, as mentioned above, there are instances that you would need to go stereo in vocal recordings. Moreover, there are music genres that are best for a stereo recording of vocals. Say, for example, you are recording vocals as parts of ambiance in a jazz recording.
Moreover, in films and videos, the stereo recording of vocals more often provides a realistic feel to the sound. So, it all boils down to what vocal recordings you would want to achieve. But generally speaking, most experts would advise you do a mono recording for vocals.
FAQs about Mono and Stereo Recording
To further understand the difference between mono and stereo recording of vocals, it behooves you to learn more about the different FAQs about mono and stereo recording. Here are two FAQs about mono and stereo recording of vocals:
Should I record the Vocal Reverb Using Mono?
You would usually want to increase the reverb of vocals because you want to project a more spacious result. So, it is best to set to stereo the reverb on your vocals. In doing so, you can produce that feeling of space and realism. Yet, you should be a bit wary in doing so because when you reach the mixing stage, you may find it hard to mix.
If you want a vocal part to be less upfront, you should go with stereo reverb like studio reverb or hall reverb. However, if you want the vocals to appear more upfront and directional, you should stick to a mono recording.
What About Background Vocals: Should It be Mono or Stereo?
When I do the backup vocals, I usually set them on stereo because I want to create width and leave the main vocals’ power to stand out. However, when I am mixing duet, I usually settle for mono to make the voices sound more cohesive and unified.
The vocals are crucial elements of a recording. As such, they should stand out over the instrumentals and other aspects of the song. Generally, the recording of vocals should be in mono to make the vocals sound powerful. As mentioned above, however, there are instances when you need to go stereo to create an impression of space or suit the music like jazz.
The only downside of experimenting with vocals using stereo recording is that you may find it hard to mix later. Yet, in the last analysis, going mono or stereo all boils down to what you want to achieve in your recording.