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Q. How do I create a stereo mix from mono material?

Published December 2003
By Hugh Robjohns

Finger on Mono button of console.

I want to remix some old mono tracks in stereo. Can you offer any advice or suggest any tricks to achieve this?

Jon Bennet

Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: The first thing to accept is that you cannot create a true stereo (or surround) mix from mono material; you can only give an impression of greater width. In other words, there is nothing you can do to separate instruments and pan them to specific points in the stereo image, as you could if mixed originally for stereo.

One of the best ways to create fake stereo from mono is to make an M&S (Middle and Sides) stereo mix from the mono source. You'll need to treat the mono source as the 'M' element of an M&S stereo matrix, and decode accordingly, having created a fake 'S' component.

This fake 'S' signal is simply the original mono signal, high-pass filtered (to avoid the bass frequencies being offset to one side of the stereo image) and delayed by any amount between about 7ms and 100ms, according to taste. The longer the delay, the greater the perceived room size — but I would only recommend delays over about 20ms for orchestral or choral music.

Here's how to do it practically: take the mono signal and route it to both outputs on the mixer equally, or, in other words, pan it to the centre. Take an aux output of the mono signal and route it to a digital delay. Ideally, high-pass filter the signal before the delay. A 12dB-per-octave high-pass filter set at about 150Hz should do the job, but this figure isn't critical and will affect the subjective stereo effect, so experiment. Alternatively, high-pass filter the output from the delay.

You now need to derive two outputs from this delayed and filtered signal, which may be possible directly from the delay processor, if it's of the mono in, stereo out variety, for example, with the same delay dialled into both channels. If not, use a splitter cable or parallel strip in a patch bay to produce two outputs.

Route this pair of filtered and delayed signals back to the mixer, ideally into a stereo channel, or, if not, into two mono channels panned hard left and right. Invert the phase of one of the channels. If using adjacent mono channels, fix the faders together and match the input gains so that the gain is the same on both channels.

Now, with the original mono signal faded up, you should hear the central mono output, and if you gradually fade up the fake 'S' channels, you will perceive an increase in stereo width. The length of delay, the turnover frequency of the high-pass filter and the relative level of mono 'M' and fake 'S' channels will determine the perceived stereo width.

If you overdo the amount of 'S' relative to 'M', then you will generate an ultra-wide stereo effect, and if monitored through a Dolby Pro Logic decoder, this will cause a lot of the signal to appear in the rear speakers.

The advantage of this fake stereo technique is that if you subsequently hit the mono button, the fake 'S' signal cancels itself out and disappears completely, to leave the original mono signal unaffected.

Published December 2003