Should You Make Your Kicks and Bass Mono?

Over on MPC Forums DokBrown asked about making kicks and bass mono, and the impacts on making a better sounding mix/master.

Personally, I think for home studio creation, your bass or kick being mono doesn’t terribly matter. A reason to consider making your bass or kick mono might be if you’ve got a cross over to/from your subwoofer, making your low end sounds mono, but beyond that, I feel like it’s a lot of old school information floating around as the right way to get “that sound”. So yes, there absolutely are tons of reasons to make your kicks and bass mono, but there isn’t really a good reason to do it “just because”. Certainly do it if you want to, and better if you have specific reasons for it.

Below is my response on MPC Forums, just to help outline some of the reasons that people may go for a mono sound.

A traditional reason to make Kick/Bass mono is because on most high end concert systems they have a single sub woofer for output or all their woofers are crossed over and summed to mono. If you output a stereo bass you run the risk of phase cancellation, causing you to output either no bass or heavily distorted bass, which is incredibly hard to compensate for.

A second reason for moving to mono for Bass/Kick is because they tend to take up a lot of headroom for your track, so by making them mono it is much more clear how to mix/master for them, as you have less of a moving target (ie the sound field changing per channel).

A third reason for moving to mono for Bass/Kick is if you were going to press your audio to a record/vinyl, it is quite possible to cause the needle to hop and skip because the low end could literally throw the needle by vibrating so much. Honestly, with modern record player and needle technology, this really isn’t a problem… but people would still go with mono.

A fourth reason I’ve seen a lot of people mix in mono for any given sound was due to lack of resources (ie CPU or memory), and by switching to mono you can increase your sample time, polyphony, etc… on older devices. This is not a problem in modern platforms, but for things like bass and really low kicks, you feel it more than you hear it, so making it mono doesn’t really impact the ‘listening’ experience.

At any rate, know what you are mixing/mastering for. There are tons of reasons to mix in mono or mix in stereo. This is just me personally… but I think you’re asking the wrong question “does it mix better”… nobody can tell you. What are you comparing it to, what process are you trying to emulate, have you even tried it? Seriously… use your ears, and do an A/B test yourself and see if it sounds better, not some goofy stuff you’ve read somewhere. Music, just like any other art form only really takes value from the producer when they use their own sensibilities to make their own decisions. While I think it’s cool that you’re thinking about mixing and mastering, and different techniques, none of it is going to give you a magic bullet to make your sound “better” out of the gate.

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