Does stereophonic mixing sound unnatural to anybody else?

Discussion in 'The Sound Hound Lounge' started by nmiller, Dec 16, 2009.

  1. nmiller

    nmiller Drowning in lap steels Silver Supporting Member

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    I've been doing some reading recently on mixing, and I'm finding that much of what I read regarding panning is contrary to what sound good to me. I find that the more I experiment with utilizing the entire stereo spectrum, the more I prefer mono. While I'm sure this is partly due to my own inexperience with mixing, I find that the same holds true for professional recordings as well.

    When I hear an instrument panned off-center, it's distracting to me. I feel like there's something missing on the other channel, even if it's not panned all the way to one side. It's okay if there are, say, two acoustic guitars playing the same chords, one panned hard left and one hard right, but it only works if they're normalized and EQed similarly. Otherwise, I spend the entire song distracted by what my brain perceives as an "empty" spot on one side. This is particularly distracting on many 1960s recordings - the best example is the Beatles' "This Boy". It's a great song, but the guitar is panned to one side and the vocals to the other, which drives me nuts.

    Ultimately, I've found that I prefer mono mixes about 80% of the time. Stereo feels like a gimmick, or some sort of effect that is rarely used in a beneficial fashion.

    Does anybody else feel this way?
     
  2. buddaman71

    buddaman71 Student of Life Silver Supporting Member

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    In nature, humans hear in stereo due to sound waves arriving at our side-of-head-oriented ears at slightly different times. This gives humans MUCH greater sound orientation perception than, say dogs with front oriented ears, who have compensated for this in nature by possessing a much keener sense of smell. If you stand directly in front of a 4-piece band for example, you will hear the guitarist on your left louder in your left ear than you will the guitarist on your right and vice versa.

    Unless I am going for a dramatic effect, I have always placed instruments in the stereo field similar to the way they would be placed in the natural environment. Stereo panning that mimics source placement in a natural environment is actually much MORE natural sounding than mono IMHO. The reason hard-panning on ancient (technologically speaking) records that were only capable of hard left or hard right panning sounds unnatural is that, in a standard room in front of a standard band for example, both of your ears would hear everything, albeit left sources louder on left and right sources louder on the right. There would never be a situation in which ONLY one ear (assuming hearing is normal) heard a real-time source and the other didn't hear it at all.

    PS: I'm not saying that old mono records sound "bad" they just aren't a true representation of the natural acoustic world.

    :)
     
  3. HammyD

    HammyD Supporting Member

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    I think there is a way to use stereo and pan instruments, but still retain that natural sound. Its the way they used to record, with the band set up as if they were performing and let the mic's capture the whole performance, rather than each instrument in total isolation. Or to add a stereo mic or mic set back away from the band to capture the overall sound of the performance.

    I have been corresponding with Rich at Sonare as this is a technique used in classical recordings.

    http://www.sonarerecordings.com/index.html

    It is on my "bucket list" to record three jazz albums this way. One jazzy-blues, one Christmas jazz album, and one of classic "cool" jazz tunes.

    We plan to record at a local auditorium with a nice Bosendorfer, no headsets, just a few jobos. And all over a five day period.
     
  4. Dog Boy

    Dog Boy Member

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    Could be your room?
     
  5. nmiller

    nmiller Drowning in lap steels Silver Supporting Member

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    It's not just one room, it's everywhere - including the car and using headphones.

    I realize that many (maybe most?) people use stereo to mimic the layout of musicians on a stage. Most shows I've been to have run everything through the PA, but the smaller ones where I hear the actual amps sound like everything is coming from a single point at the center of the stage. If I'm more than a few rows away from the stage, the various sound sources are too far away to distinguish. As far as I'm concerned, live music is in mono.
     
  6. 84Bravo

    84Bravo Member

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    Elvis hated stereo, and he had some ears.
     
  7. DC1

    DC1 Member

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    Panning isn't stereo.

    The idea that the stereo field is determined by panning, which is a level control only, is a misunderstanding of how we hear.

    If you want a realistic stereo field, you must learn to use delay in addition to panning to achieve it.

    Master this, and you will hear stereo. Panpots alone will never do it.



    d
     
  8. therhodeo

    therhodeo Member

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    I work for an audio company and was listening to one of our new systems in a big conference room for fun a few days ago. I love the sound of big sounding stereo mixes through speakers with a decent amount of room between them.
     
  9. DC1

    DC1 Member

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    Not at all.

    The band is spread out across a stage. Collapsing this into a point source (mono) is not even close to being realistic.

    What does get close to real is an LCR (left-center-right) system and an engineer who knows how to use it.

    dc
     
  10. atquinn

    atquinn Supporting Member

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    Stereo is where it's at for me. Sure alot of the 60's stuff was done half-assed when it was in it's infancy, but when done correctly (which it has been for decades), it's the way to go. For me.

    -Austin
     
  11. Birddog

    Birddog Member

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    The last couple of guitar-heavy songs I recorded, I would pan the beginning of each guitar solo hard to one side, but pan it closer to center after a few measures. It kind of offset it in a "hey look at me" kind of way to draw attention to the solo, but then let it sit in the mix a bit more naturally. Don't know if this is something other people do, because I know very little about the process other than what I've taught myself, but it's something that I stumbled upon that works for me.

    Also, running bass, kick and vocals up the center seems to sound more natural, too, while running cymbals and other guitars, etc a little more panned to set them apart.

    Just keep mixing until it sounds right.
     
  12. SideBMusic

    SideBMusic Supporting Member

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    Music is art. It depends what you are going for. Sometimes I like things stacked on top of one another, others I like to widen the sound. There are no rules. Please your ears.
     
  13. rob2001

    rob2001 Member

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    Interesting....in my mind, I don't see panning as level control so much. It's determining where a sound is coming from, right, left or center. I suppose you could look at it like reducing the level of one side and increasing the other.

    On the delay thing...thats all about mimicking distance. I'd think you'd have to be pretty far away from a sound source to detect a difference in distance in the real world.

    If I put two mics in front of a drumkit at about the same distance as my ears are, this should be representative of what my ears hear if those mic's are panned hard left and right. This causes phase issues which can be delt with but i'm just making the point that our ears are not that far apart. I don't think thats enough distance to detect a difference in time.

    On the other hand if I record two separate guitar players and pan them hard left and right, this is not representative of what my ears will hear live. If i'm sitting right between them, i'll be able to detect that one is louder on one side, but my other ear will still hear the source from the right and left.

    The other thing to take into account is reflected sound. Early refections help our ears determine the placement of sound sources. So the listening environment definitly affects how we locate sound. A big hall will have loads of refection and it won't be as apparent as to where the sound is coming from.

    In my own mixing, I like to use panning. It can provide clarity and separation to a part. A single, focused instrument from one speaker will have more definition and stand out more in a mix of most things down the center.

    So, not disagreeing DC, just some discussion and just my thoughts.....
     
  14. eliot1025

    eliot1025 Supporting Member

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    I love stereo and I like panning. I find no advantage in going mono on a mix.
     
  15. DC1

    DC1 Member

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    That's what it is. And it is incapable of placing things in other than hard-left, hard-right, center, and a bit at 10 and 2 O'clock. To create a realistic stereo field you will need more options.

    No, actually it isn't. It is about using delay to provide localization information. Try this. If you use a DAW, copy a file to an open track without moving it in time. Pan one track hard left and one hard right. Set your "nudge" factor to 1ms. Now, while listening, nudge only one of the tracks back in time a bit. Do it ms by ms and listen to the stereo field. This is where you start to develop real stereo mixing chops. There's much more, but this is where you start.


    Mics dont hear like ears do. And "phase issues" are how humans localize sound source. Using mics to fool ears is what we do, so these things are useful tools if we understand them.

    Indeed. Delay is how you simulate their real relationship. There are other techniques too. Panpots won't do it.

    This is why your mixing acoustic environment is important. It is less important than understanding how localization actually works though.

    Everyone likes panpots. Just understand what they will and won't do.

    Try the nudge trick above. I predict a couple "wow's".

    best

    dc
     
  16. rob2001

    rob2001 Member

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    Oh, for sure...I do it often, but prefer a real-time, random "nudge" accomplished by double tracking and panning. But not everything can be double tracked...drums for instance....


    On some songs I use two matched overhead LDC's (in varying config) on the kit and do slight delays with panning to really give the drums a HUGE stereo spread. Not a copy/paste, but delaying one mic from a separate location on the same source.

    But all these "tricks" are just that. Not many occur in the real world. I see the studio and mix capabilities as it's own environment and what sounds great may never happen in the real world.

    As far as mixing and recording, I think guys in the old days were more attune to capturing an actual live performance rather than using the studio as it's own instrument to create new sounds. I think this is the bigger difference in perception rather than mono vs. stereo.
     
  17. Gretsch1972

    Gretsch1972 Member

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    The Beatles were famously meticulous about their mono mixes, and they weren't even present for the stereo ones.

    Charlie Hunter has a new record coming out that he did in mono. He thinks mono is funkier.
     
  18. DC1

    DC1 Member

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    Yes, and double tracking fills up space too fast to use on everything.


    Indeed. There is no real world in the studio. Simulating it convincingly is the work of a really good engineer.

    It sure is. You can get some of that vibe with everyone playing in the same room for basic tracks and stereo micing everything. Lots of work, but the results can be stellar.

    dc
     
  19. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    I love mono, especially in the car. Stereo is great, too, though some folks do pretty weird things with it.

    One of these days I'll start exploring 5.1 for audio. To me, this seems like a great way to capture the ambience of a room/venue.
     
  20. funkycam

    funkycam Member

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    I like stereo.
    i love panning.
    if you play live the band you are playing with does not feel mono
     

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