How do I create a mix that sounds big and wide but is still mono compatible?

Hey everyone, I’m trying to create a mix that has a big, wide sound while still being compatible with mono playback. What techniques can I use to achieve this without losing the impact of the mix when it’s collapsed to mono? I’d appreciate any advice you can offer on this topic, especially from those who have successfully done it before.

Thanks for your question. Here’s a handful of tips for achieving mono compatibility that I’ve found to work in the past:

  1. Balance and panning: To give your mix a sense of width, use panning effectively. Start with the most important elements like the kick, snare, bass, and lead vocals in the center. Then, pan the other elements to create a wider stereo image. Be mindful not to overdo it, as excessive panning can lead to phase issues in mono.
  2. Frequency separation: Ensure each element in your mix occupies its own space in the frequency spectrum. This helps prevent masking and keeps your mix clean and spacious, both in stereo and mono.
  3. Use Mid/Side (M/S) processing: M/S processing lets you control the width of your mix by separately processing the mid (mono) and side (stereo) signals. Applying M/S processing on certain elements like synths and pads can help maintain a strong center while still achieving a wide stereo image.
  4. Haas effect: The Haas effect, or precedence effect, is a psychoacoustic phenomenon where the ear perceives a single sound coming from the direction of the first-arriving sound. Use this effect to create a wider stereo image by delaying one side of a stereo track by 10-35 milliseconds. Be cautious when using this effect, as it can cause phase issues when summed to mono.
  5. Stereo widening plugins: Use these plugins cautiously and on select elements, as they can cause phase issues and collapse your mix when summed to mono. Always check your mix in mono when using these tools.
  6. Reverb and delay: Using reverb and delay can help create depth and width in your mix. However, be mindful not to use excessive amounts, as this can lead to a cluttered mix and potential phase issues when collapsed to mono.
  7. Regularly check your mix in mono: To ensure mono compatibility, frequently switch between stereo and mono during your mixing process. This will help you identify and fix potential phase issues or elements that become lost when summed to mono.
  8. Use a phase correlation meter: There are both software and hardware phase correlation meters available that help visually identify phase issues. Basic phase correlation meters can be deceiving since they simply tell you whether or not phase correlation issues exist but not which part of the frequency spectrum they exist within. Consider using a multiband phase correlation meter to help identify phase issues.

As a final note, the mono and stereo versions of your mix don’t need to sound exactly the same. In fact, they won’t because they’re different formats. As long as you’re happy with how your mix sounds in mono and stereo, you’ve achieved “mono compatibility”.