I recently got myself a Zoom H2n which I'm using for general recording purposes. It has a build-in mid-side recording feature along with normal XY stereo recording. From what I can read, there are only advantages to using mid-side recording. It's 100% mono compatible and it makes the stereo field easily adjustable in editing. The only disadvantage seems to be the inconvenience in setting up the microphones and decoding the signal, which is pretty much a non-issue with the Zoom recorder.

So are there any disadvantages to mid-side recording, or is there any difference at all? Are there any situations where I would be better off switching the Zoom H2n to XY recording mode instead of mid-side?


10 Answers 10


This is a debate that has been going on forever. And people totally over-think this and read too many posts about specs, and phase, and mono compatibility, etc. This topic seems to be as hotly debated as religion and politics. The answer to your question is actually pretty easy:

Use what sounds best to you and works best in your workflow.

I often use a Neumann RSM191 and like your Zoom I can choose to record MS or XY. I almost always use XY. The only time I use MS with the 191 is when I think I might end up only wanting a mono recording; I can easily get rid of the Side (or even the Mid) and have mono. If I know I want stereo, I go XY. I just prefer to get the sound I want when I am recording and not have to worry about decoding later. But that's just what works for me, and 100 other people on this board can show you charts and diagrams about how I am wrong and my recordings are ruined....


What do you want to record?

I like using mid-side for super directional recordings, where you want to adjust the room/place you are recording. Try recording speak with mid-side, it's really cool.


Mid side is a great technique when you want to capture a wider spread of instruments. For some, it is a pseudostereo image that sounds unnatural and to others its another useful technique to have up your sleave. It all depends on your taste and which sounds best to your ears. Reading posts online will only confuse and therefore it is best to test it out for yourself. I found this article incredibly useful in explaining how mid side works, the technique and where its applications are useful... http://refrec.com.au/midside/


Regarding technical differences between mid-side and XY stereo recordings: with mid-side, if you have access to the unencoded tracks (one track is your "mid" signal, the other track is your "side" signal), then you can vary the levels between the tracks to get a wider or narrower stereo spread, going all the way down to mono if you use only the mid track. (As I do not have the H2n, I do not know if it allows recording M/S to separate, unencoded tracks.)

With XY stereo, you do not have this kind of control over the stereo image after the fact--it is a stereo recording, and you can manipulate it in various ways in post using the usual tools, but not with the precise control you have with M/S.

As for how the two techniques compare in sound, that will depend on the microphones used to implement the techniques. That said, M/S will usually give you an excellent center image, because the mid pickup will be from a (usually) cardioid mic pointed at the center of the source. XY may not give as good a center sound, because that will be derived from two microphones pointed 45 degrees off axis from the center of the source. In that situation, off-axis coloration of the microphone pickups may be a factor.


The X Y configuration is useful when you want to slightly de-emphasise what is in the centre of the stereo field, which is great if you are recording content to work with dialogue.

There is only a subtle centre de-emphasis but it is enough to help with improving the perceived clarity of the overlaid dialogue, if the dialogue is in the centre channel or panned centre.

The M/S gives a lovely centre clarity to stereo recordings and is ideal when you really want to emphasise the centre of a stereo recording and you can automate this in post so that you can vary the amount of perceived direct to indirect sound.


Without meaning to denigrate your question, there is no point in asking is "X" better than "Y" when it comes to mic technique (among other things); the source decides what technique you should use. Breaking it down to a list of pros and cons doesn't account for the salient and hard to define characteristic that a specific mic technique will lend a recording. You will get different results with different mic technique, and it is dependent on the amount of experience and expertise one has to decide which technique will best lend itself to recording a given source.

  • I'm not asking when I should use what, but whether there is any difference in the first place. It was my understanding that mid-side and XY always gives you excactly the same result, but that mid-side had technical advantages, and that those advantages is the only thing that separates them. Given your answer I'm assuming there is an actual audible difference on the Zoom H2n? Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 14:26
  • I don't have any experience with the H2n, so I can't give an exact answer as to sonic differences. I would imagine though given the probable discrepancies in frequency response of the onboard mics, that you'll find more directionality to the M/S as was mentioned by @Lasse. Other advantages are those you've already mentioned: the flexibility it offers later and the mono compatibility. Obviously, with external mics, the mic considerations will play a part in the sound. With external mics, the sound of M/S vs. X/Y can change with the mics, given that you can have Omni or Hyper as your M mic too. Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 16:08

I'll weigh in fromm a purely non-technical perspective. I have been recording location choral / orchestral concerts for years and love the sound of MS. Clients do as well. It just gives this beautiful spacial ambience I find difficult to capture with XY.

The comments about being able to control the stereo image are dead on. That is another nice feature of the MS technique.


As a purely practical matter, in my experience recording with Zoom M/S and X/Y, if there is a lot of crowd noise to the sides and in back of the mic, X/Y will have less of it in the recording. One thing that is important to consider when getting theoretical about mic patterns is the off-axis response. Two patterns that have a certain relationship in their intended pickup field may have very different relationship in their rejected fields.

My initial take on this exact question was to heavily favor M/S because it produces a strong stereo image when reasonably close, like for recording rehearsals in small rooms. Having done more concert recording with the Zoom, I'd say the X/Y can absolutely produce a clearer more focused recording when placed at the same spot. (Which given one often doesn't get to choose location in live setups, having both options is good.)

I've also noticed the M/S capsule seems more sensitive to air movement. Sometimes you get a large low-frequency signal in the recording when some walks right by the mic.


A senior mixer told me he didn't like mid/side BG's and thinks XY sounds better especially when spreading the signal in 5.1, so I'm kind of going with that.

  • Depending upon how your XY capsules are aligned though, XY is quite literally MS simply without a phase matrix process to produce the result. These are volume-dependent stereo mic techniques due to capsules existing within the same space, where others like AB and ORTF are also time-dependent and often give a really wide side because of this delay. Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 19:49
  • And it depends also on how proficient and skillful one is. There is a very lot of room for user error with MS from micing (and mic choice) up through mastering. When done, MS I find sounded far more detailed and immersive than XY. When MS isn't done right though XY can certainly sound better/more consistent. Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 19:53
  • I'll have to get some recordings on the stage and hear for myself :)
    – Evan
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 17:02

H2n is capable to record in 4ch mode (not in 96khz though) that will give both XY and MS channels. So, there is no need to choose between them on a record step.

  • I could see how this would work using external mics for the H4n in an M/S setup while using the X/Y setup of the built in mics, but the 4 channel pick up of the H2n doesn't seem to match up with the pickup pattern of either X/Y or M/S unless I'm missing something.
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 14:15
  • Theoretically it has enough physical mics that one should be able to decode a four track recording to any of the setups. A full four mic ambisonic configuration can produce X/Y, M/S, etc. with each of the two mics in either having an arbitrary pattern. I doubt the Zoom has a full high quality amibsonic setup, but it is possible. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 0:12

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.