What are some sound sources you would never want to record in Stereo?

and the next part of the question:

What are some sound sources you would never want to record in Mono?

My rule of thumb is ambiences are stereo. Spot effects are mono. But, some explosions could sound so much cooler in stereo.

I was taught by a music engineer so I know what stereo recording can do - so how do you apply stereo recording to field recording? Do you ONLY record ambiences in stereo? Or are there some sources that benefit in stereo?

3 Answers 3


Stereo is generally used to portray one of these: size, movement, or setting. If you aren't trying to do one of those, you don't need to record in stereo.

This is especially true for anything that is going to sync to a screen. If you have a punch in the middle of the screen, you don't want the punch coming from the LRs, you want it coming from the center. Unless its a Michael Bay film.


Size: If you want something to sound epic, from a gun shot to an explosion.

Movement: If something is moving and you want to preserve that

Setting: Whether you're recording a straight up ambience, or trying to portray the feeling of the surrounding.

So I really don't have a list of what I should and shouldn't record in stereo. I just have to think what the sound might be used for, and record accordingly. Of course there are always exceptions...

  • @Colin, considering movement, I'd like to take the conversation a bit further. Take, for example, a car pass-by you record in the desert. Would you record that in stereo rather than in mono, pointing your mic at the action. In the latter case, there'd be a shift in background because you're moving the mic, but the sound of the car would be much louder when within a certain range, thus rendering this argument irrelevant. The mono sound effect would then be a more flexible piece of material than a stereo recording that forever carries the same perspective. So, stereo vs mono? Commented Sep 4, 2010 at 22:00
  • @Justin - A valid point, in which you have to take into consideration the use of the recording. If you want to stick your recording to a specific moving vehicle on screen, I'd choose mono. It allows you to pan your sound wherever you need it to follow the object. If it is going to be a distant background sound, not really linked to any specific car, or linked to one you're not really paying attention to, then I might go with stereo, because it can add depth to my background without too much work involved. It just comes down to the purpose of the recording. When in doubt, record both!
    – Colin Hart
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 2:40

Generally speaking, ambiences are best recorded in stereo and "hard fx" (or what you're calling spot fx) in mono. However, consider the following:

  • An air conditioning unit. Usually used as a background element, but doesn't necessarily need to be recorded in stereo. Really more of a point-source event. This could also apply to such things as neon light buzzes, computer fans, fountains and fireplaces, etc.
  • Exterior footsteps. Usually used as hard fx or foley but, depending on the environment in which you walk, could benefit from being recorded in stereo. Could apply to footsteps down a multi-story parking garage staircase, distant footsteps in a snowy forest, or someone walking through a desolated street filled with rubble, capturing both the footsteps and the reflections off the buildings.

So I suppose I would shy away from terms like "never" and "always", instead being prepared for either method depending on what I've planned ahead to do.

  • Thanks Jay. Great answer. I suppose that's why most people have an M/S setup on their field record rigs in case they want one or the other, they have it?
    – Utopia
    Commented Sep 4, 2010 at 22:12

I don't personally find 'rules' that helpful, better to keep an open mind & consider each sound on a case by case basis... Also worth remembering: how the sounds are used/edited/mixed is not necessarily related to how the sound is captured...

  • 1
    Thanks. One mixer I worked under once said "I don't care if you bend the knob backwards. If it sounds good, it sounds good". I suppose the same principle applies to recording. If it sounds good, it sounds good. Who cares if it's mono or stereo.
    – Utopia
    Commented Sep 4, 2010 at 22:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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