Mono and stereo plugins will both affect your vocals differently. If you want your vocal track to sound upfront and focused, use a mono plugin. However, if you wish your vocal track to sound wide and fill out empty spaces in your stereo field, you should use a stereo plugin.
Mono And Stereo Plugins On Vocals
Using the wrong version of a plugin on your vocals can totally ruin your vocal mix, depending on the type of track you are working on.
Knowing when to use what type of plugin in a given situation is crucial when nailing your vocal mix.
Once I started switching between mono and stereo plugins on songs I’m producing, I noticed a massive increase in the depth of my mixes.
In this article, we will go over whether you should use mono or stereo plugins on vocals.
What Is Mono?
Mono means ‘one sound‘ and is short for monophonic or monaural. Mono tracks take up far less space in your mix because it mostly sits in the center of your panning field.
Mono audio is only one audio signal and requires only one channel for recording and playback.
If you were to render a completed track from your DAW in mono instead, it would sound thin and weak.
Here is what a mono audio track looks like.
What Is Stereo?
Stereo is short for ‘stereophonic‘ and refers to multi-directional audio.
You need two or more speakers to reproduce audio in a stereo format. For example, the sound systems in automobiles are stereo because they have multiple speakers.
In contrast, most phone speakers are mono because they have a one-speaker system.
Stereo audio sounds wide and full and has much more depth than a mono signal.
Here is what a stereo track looks like.
Pretty much any song you listen to nowadays will be stereo audio. There is pretty much no reason to have your finished music in mono.
When Should I Use Mono Or Stereo Plugins On Vocals?
Whether you should use mono or stereo plugins on your vocal track depends entirely on how you want your vocals to sit in the mix.
A mono plugin will help keep your vocal upfront and centered in the mix, while a stereo plugin will add a bit of width, depth, and space.
Let’s take a look at the different times you might want to use a mono or stereo plugin for vocals.
Here are some situations in that I would use a mono plugin on vocals:
- Whenever I’m going for a conventional vocal mix that sounds present and upfront
- Anytime I do not want to add width to my vocals
Here are some situations in that I might try out a stereo plugin on vocals:
- If I’m going for a unique vocal effect where the vocals sound a bit more distant/spaced out
- Anytime I want to add width to my vocal track
Because mono and stereo vocal plugins will have a different effect on the sound of your vocal mix, it’s important to keep this in mind when mixing vocals to help you make informed decisions.
Should My Vocal Reverb Be Mono Or Stereo?
Using a mono or stereo reverb on your vocals is dependent on how you want your vocals to sit in the mix.
Using a mono reverb on your vocals will give them the space they need without taking away too much from their presence.
Use a mono reverb plugin if you want your vocals to sound more up close and personal.
Using a stereo reverb on your vocals will make your vocals sound wider and take up more space in the stereo field of your track.
Use a stereo reverb if you want to add width to your vocals.
Should You Stereo Spread Vocals?
This depends on the type of vocal sound you want to have in your mix.
For example, if you want your lead vocals to sound upfront and present in your track, you should probably not do any kind of stereo spread to them.
However, if you want a spacey, distant, and expansive vocal sound, try widening your vocal track in the stereo field.
How Do You Make Stereo Mono Vocals?
If you want to take your mono vocals and make them sound more ‘stereo‘ in the mix, there are a few ways to do this.
Here are some things you can do to stereoize your mono vocals:
Use a reverb with the width turned up
Use a stereo widening plugin
Duplicate the mono track and pan it left and right
How Can I Widen My Vocals
Here are a couple ways that you can widen your vocals:
Make a duplicate vocal track and pan them left and right (if you want to widen a lead vocal, I recommend that you take three copies of the lead vocal track and pan them left, center, and right; leaving one of your vocal tracks in the center will help your lead vocals sound upfront and have ‘oomph‘ in the mix)
Use reverb and turn up the wideness.
Use a stereo widening plugin or any other type that lets you increase stereo width.
A wide vocal track can help fill out the stereo field of your track.
Should Vocals Be Center?
Typically, yes, you should pan your vocals center in your mix so that they are upfront and present in your track. Having your vocal track panned left or right in the mix is uncommon and makes your vocals hard to hear.
If you want to widen your vocals, try making two additional copies of your vocal track and panning one to the left and one to the right; leave one of the three panned to the center so that the vocals are still present.
Should Lead Vocals Be In Mono Or Stereo?
Lead vocals should always be in mono.
Having your lead vocals in mono will help their presence in the mix.
The only time that vocals should be in stereo is if they are background vocals or if you are trying to achieve a specific effect.
Should Background Vocals Be Mono Or Stereo?
Typically, background vocals should be wider in your stereo field, but you should still record your background vocals in mono to start with; unless you are recording a choir, gang vocals, or multiple singers at once.
To widen your background vocals after recording them, you can use a stereo widening plugin or duplicate the background vocals and pan them left and right.
Panning your background vocals left, and right can create space in your mix for the lead vocal to shine through.
Should You Record Vocals In Mono Or Stereo?
You should record vocals in mono when recording a single vocalist.
However, if you are recording vocals from multiple singers or a choir, you should record in stereo because the audio you are trying to capture should replicate stereo widening effects.
What Should I Do To Widen Mono Audio?
To widen a mono audio track in your mix, there are a couple of things that you can try.
Here is a list of a few mono widening tricks:
– Duplicate the track and pan one to the left and the other to the right
– Use a reverb plugin and turn up the width
– Use another type of stereo widening plugin
Should I Record Audio In Mono Or Stereo?
Whether you should record in mono or stereo depends on the sound you are trying to record.
For example, if you are recording an acoustic guitar, a lead vocal, a kick drum, etc., you should go with mono.
However, suppose you are recording a pair of drum overheads, a piano, a choir, etc. In that case, you should use stereo because these are stereo audio fields.
Is Mono Short For Something?
Mono is short for ‘monophonic‘ or ‘monaural‘ when talking about audio and music production.
The word mono refers to audio that takes up only one channel for recording and playback.
Is Stereo Short For Something?
Yes, in audio and music production, the word stereo is short for ‘stereophonic.’
Stereo audio is multi-directional and refers to an audio signal that takes up two channels for stereo recording and playback.
As you can see, there are different times to use different plugins on your vocals depending on the type of mix you are going for.
For example, I recommend using mono plugins if you want a conventional, upfront lead vocal. However, if you’re going to make a vocal track sound more spacey and wide, you should use stereo plugins.
To have more depth in your mixing and production skills, I recommend you try alternating between mono and stereo plugins, depending on your desired effect.
For more great tips, check out this article about mixing in mono.
about the author
I’m Jack Oberkirsch, a film and media composer residing in Denver, Colorado. I play in several local bands and have been touring the country for nearly a decade.
Since 2016 I’ve been focusing on studio work and production and have moved into the realm of film and media composition.
I like to combine and implement many different musical instruments and styles to convey the director’s vision on any given project.
I also enjoy writing material for music libraries and sync placements.