Mics - capture audio as mono or stereo?

Sorry for the newb question. I have read the FLOSS manual, but still have a question: should I capture microphone audio as stereo or mono? And if I do use stereo, should I route the mic’s send port to both L and R ports of the track or just L? (or R?)


Hey this is a good question, and deserves some coloring in:

A microphone, even a high quality one, is most often a mono signal,
This first of all should be properly impedance-matched to the connecting device (usually a preamp)
to minimise distortion, coloration, and keep the noise-floor at its lowest.
Good microphones usually require phantom-power from the preamp they are connected to, which needs also to be good quality.

Good microphones also are often fragile and easily overloaded, and require windscreens, to prevent wind-popping / damage,
and should be isolated in their stands (floating in non-sound-conductive suspensions),
with the stand itself isolated from the floor by rubber, sand, and/or carpet to prevent ‘microphonic’ noises, bumps, creaks etc.

Good microphone technique also requires the mic be shielded from noises from elsewhere, and reflections from nearby surfaces.
This is done with a sound-absorbing back-shield and/or wall treatments etc.

Good clear sound is also achieved by proximity (closeness) of mic to sound sources,
but the best mic setup in the world will be ruined by bad “mic technique”
(i.e., a vocalist who does not have an awareness of distance and loudness, and who changes loudness or distance arbitrarily during recording, or e.g., microphoning a drum or loudspeaker with a sensitive mic that just breaks up or can even be damaged by the sound-pressure - another right tool for right job problem).

All that having been said, the microphone will be used in a number of ways:

(1) to record an isolated instrument or vocal track

(2) to record a natural harmony of voices and/or instruments

(3) to record more than one type of source alternately, like vocals and harmonica etc.

(4) to record the live “room sound” of a drum kit or music ensemble

(5) to record the “sound” from various vantage-points to attempt to record the “staging or positioning of various instruments on a stage” in order to reproduce a “stereo image” of the live sound-stage.

Only in the last two cases, are you going to actually record real “stereo” imaging which can later be used in a “mix-down” to reproduce a final audio stage or illusion of one.

In most cases you are recording mono signals, which are later placed in a ‘reconstructed stage’ during the mixdown, using various effects and techniques such as panning (feeding the same mono signal to left, right and center tracks at differing volumes), or splitting (taking multiple copies of a signal and treating each one differently (i.e., echo, reverb, and processing, then placing each copy in its own “space” or position in the mix both left and right and also distance (volume)))

It is essential that you obviously get one good clean distortion-free low-noise-floor copy of each sound/instrument/track.

In the “old days” when stereo was first invented and poorly understood, engineers overdid the effect, often panning instruments totally left or right in a stereo image (sound stage), then adjusting volume. This results in an exaggerated and unrealistic “sound-stage”. Good engineers will tend to pan with less extremeness, saving special effects for appropriate moments without drawing attention.

In the first 50 years of multi-tracking, when a 2-inch reel of tape was several hundred dollars, and studio time was anywhere from $50 to $500 dollars / hr, each track was a precious commodity.

Now that tracks and hard-drive space are virtually unlimited, many more techniques and processes can be used.

It can be quite smart to attempt to record the “real” stereo image or at least a version of it right at the source, with two or more microphones, placed at various distances, positions and angles. These can later be blended in a number of creative ways to create not only realistic sound-stages, but also dynamic effects, such as the motion of instruments, or the apparent motion of the listener’s position in regard to the instruments and stage.

If you can, record a live “stereo image” of any accoustic situation, whether it is a guitar, voice, drumset or group. Sometimes a single copy will have unusable portions where accidents happen (overloaded mics, bumps etc.), but which can easily be fixed without re-takes by turning to your second or third copy of the source. This should be done with more than one microphone.

If not, you can also use a combination of a microphone and a piezo-electric or other pickup, (i.e., a guitar, flute, violin etc.). At least then you can still independently process part of the sound while keeping a copy of it pure, and mix and blend as desired, both to enhance the sound and to create stereo images and other effects.

Don’t be afraid to use a lesser quality microphone for one copy, as it may have some positive qualities (like frequency response or warmth) which can justify moderate use of the poorer copy.

If you can’t use two mics or sound sources, you can still create a “pre-stereo” image at the preamp or mixing-board by splitting the signal and routing to left and right sides of a stereo track in various amounts with effects. Moderate use of panning and reverb/echo on some (not all) tracks is helpful and can trademark a sound before mixdown, as well as simplify mixdown itself.

You might as well use all the resources at your disposal, since the time it takes to set up an extra mic or effect is small compared to the length of the recording and the session.

Also, trying experiments can result in very positive discoveries and useful versions of tracks.

I would not limit a recording to mere “stereo”, but if you have more than one mic use it anyway, tracks are free, and equipment sitting in the closet still costs money to maintain. If I was micing a complex acoustic performance I wouldn’t hesitate to use a half-dozen mics and sources to ensure I got everything I needed from a good “take”. You can always just not use extra tracks.

If your bottleneck is the two inputs into your computer, then get a clean mixing board, and put effects in one channel and the clean signals in another. Try some tests, and make sure you keep a clean copy of everything.

You can always add effects later, but removing them is next to impossible.

Don’t limit your thinking to “stereo” or some other concept just because you have two channels, two tracks, or two sides to a track.
Think outside the box.

Make extra copies of your tracks on another track and save backups before you go on an editing binge.

I would route a mono mic to a mono track. It will be converted to stereo when it is connected to the master bus. You can use the panner on the mono track to pan L or R as desired. If you are using a stereo mic setup (e.g. XY) you can connect to a stereo track or 2 mono, depending on your needs.

You should normally capture as mono if you only want to record a mono signal, you can pan it anywhere later if you want to.

Personally, I would never use a stereo track for this, but that might come handy if you are using one plugin that’s stereo only.

I can not see any reason to record twice the same signal.

It is even worst as twice the “bandwidth” between the hard drive and the computer is needed.

People was doing that , when analogue electronics had been being used. The only one reason is the electronics is rigid in its configuration.