Microphones are intricate audio input devices that are used in a variety of ways, but there are some important techniques and methods that go into using these devices well. Using microphones regularly often leads many to question how they operate and whether microphones are mono or stereo input devices.
Microphones are mono-input devices. The fundamentals of how a microphone works to pick up and send audio signals mean they can only be mono devices. Stereo microphones are simply two mics in one unit that send separate signals. Mics can be used in stereo when multiple mics are used simultaneously.
There are several types of microphones, and they are designed to fulfill the same function, even if they do it in different ways depending on their design and functionality. Let’s explore microphones as input devices and determine if mics should be treated as stereo devices or if they are only ever monophonic devices.
Are Microphones Stereo Or Mono?
Several types of microphones operate in different ways. However, learning to use any microphone well requires understanding the device and the type of signal it produces.
Microphones are mono-input devices. Every microphone can only receive audio in one way and replicate one sound source at a time. There are microphones designed for stereo audio, called stereo microphones, but these are simply two single microphones mounted together with a combined output.
The basic nature of how a microphone works only allows it to receive sound from within a specific pickup pattern or radius. Anything outside of this radius is not received well by the microphone.
A stereo input device can input audio from two separate channels or sources. A microphone is only ever able to input sound from a single source.
Stereo microphones can send a signal from two channels or two sources, but these are units with individual microphones working together to send out one signal.
A single microphone should be treated as a mono input device, and a stereo microphone should be treated as two single mono input devices that are tracked or mixed in stereo.
No single microphone can function as a stereo device, as the microphone itself is limited to the same fundamental laws and attributes as sound itself.
Can You Use A Microphone For Stereo Tracks Or Channels?
Microphones are mono-input devices, but they can be used in a wide variety of ways. Knowing how to treat a mono microphone as a stereo device is often useful, as this functionality can help with recordings and even live situations.
If you want to use a microphone to produce a stereo sound or a stereo track, there are a few ways to do that that can be highly effective.
A microphone is not a stereo device, but if that is the sound you are trying to achieve, it simply requires some ingenuity.
Let’s explore how to use a microphone in stereo and how to use a microphone track in stereo, either for live or recorded situations.
Using A Microphone In Stereo
Using a microphone in stereo is a simple process. the best option is to set up two microphones and use them to input audio simultaneously. The microphones should be set up in a configuration that best allows them to capture sound as cleanly as possible and as closely similar to each other as possible.
Set up two microphones to record or input sound into a system and ensure that the sound from the sound source is similar at both microphone locations. This may take some tweaking, but listen to the sound source, be it an instrument or a voice, from both locations where you want to place the microphones, and determine what the sound source sounds like at each location.
Find the best spot to place each mic, and set them both up to record simultaneously. This will provide you with two microphone tracks, one left and one right input, and they can be used as stereo tracks for live situations, or they can be input as a stereo track into a DAW.
This is the same functionality as a stereo microphone, except the result is achieved by utilizing two individual mics.
This method often works better than a single stereo mic, as you can tweak the input angles and sound received by each mic by simply adjusting its placement. This is almost impossible to do with a stereo microphone.
Using A Microphone Track In Stereo
If you do not have access to a second microphone or a stereo mic, the best way to generate a stereo track from a single mic is to simply duplicate the track in post-production and mix the two tracks as stereo. Or, if you are mixing live on a digital system, duplicate the channel by adding the channel as a second input.
This will allow you to pan the tracks left and right, respectively, and can function very well as a stereo effect.
However, this is provided that the hardware and software you are using have this functionality. Every DAW should be able to do this, but not every live setup has this functionality.
Duplicating a track and using it as stereo is not the same as true stereo, but if you know how to mix well, creating a stereo emulation from the two tracks should not be too difficult.
These are the only ways to generate a stereo sound from a mono microphone.
Why Are Microphones Mono Devices?
Microphones are considered mono devices. Even microphones with multiple output channels are still not true stereo input devices. Why can a microphone not be a true stereo device?
The way a microphone function is relatively simple. Sound from an external source enters the cone of the microphone and causes vibrations in an internal diaphragm within the mic. This diaphragm vibrates at nearly the same frequency as the sound waves that hit it.
These vibrations are transduced from an analog signal into an electrical current, which is then transferred electronically to a preamp or an interface where the signal is boosted. It is then projected or recorded as a sound wave that we can hear as the same sound that entered the mic.
This fundamental functionality means that the mic can only pick up sounds that fall within its pickup range, and it can only replicate and transmit audio that is loud enough to vibrate its internal diaphragm.
The sound that is generated by the diaphragm cannot be altered or changed, and it can, therefore, only be considered one sound or signal source.
Even if the signal is output from two outputs on the mic, it is still the same signal that is simply sent to two locations.
Even a stereo microphone works the same way, except it has two microphones with separate diaphragms that work in the same way. The microphones are simply oriented differently to pick up slightly different wavelengths of the sound or to receive the sound in a slightly different form by changing the position of one mic.
This is then two microphones used to generate a stereo signal, which is the same as using two separate mics placed in different positions.
The physics of how microphones work and how they input sound into a system means that they can only ever be considered mono signal sources, even if they are called stereo as a model name.
Are Stereo Microphones Good?
Microphones are mono-input devices, but some microphones are made to receive and send a stereo signal by utilizing two mic heads in one device. Are these mics any good? Do they function well for stereo purposes?
Stereo microphones can be very good if they are designed well and used correctly, but they are very difficult to use, and good models are very expensive to buy.
Stereo microphones find their best place in film-making, as it makes mixing the audio for the film easier and more realistic if the audio can be captured in a more dynamic way than a single center-channel mono signal.
Stereo microphones are not usually very good for general stage and studio use. It is far better in these situations to use multiple microphones set up as their own channels but mixed into stereo tracks than to use a stereo mic in these situations.
Using multiple microphones set up at different placements and positions is a better way to capture audio for live sound and for audio recordings, but if you want to use a mic for your camera that has a more dynamic sound, then a good stereo mic is a decent option.
How To Use A Stereo Microphone
If you do find yourself in a position where using a stereo microphone in a studio or a live setting is an option, or even if you simply want to try this type of mic out for yourself, it is important to understand how to use it well, as using a stereo mic is not the same as using two microphones in stereo.
Even though stereo mics are, in reality, two single mics running together, they do require some skill to get the most from.
Using a stereo mic requires the ability to listen to the microphone while placing it. This is simply the best way to listen to it. If you can, use a pair of headphones connected to your audio device that the mic is connected to, and listen to the microphone as you find the best placement for it.
Using headphones is the best way to do this because it will allow you to hear both microphone channels and find the best placement for the mic.
A good stereo mic placement is not the same as a mono mic placement, as these mics are designed to pick up sound from multiple directions, even more so than an omnidirectional mono microphone.
Stereo microphones have a very dynamic pickup pattern and will actively sound different from any other type of microphone. Try to place the mic somewhere so the mic can pick up sound directly from the source you are recording, as well as any reflected sound and auxiliary sound from the source.
This usually means placing the mic slightly offset from where you would usually place a mono microphone.
Using the microphone in this way will enable you to make the best of the stereo signal these mics produce and help you better understand what the mic will sound like.
It is best to use these mics for recordings rather than for projecting live sound, as most stereo mics are not designed for live situations. These mics will struggle to output sound for a live band or a vocalist well and usually lead to severe feedback when not placed perfectly.
Use the mic to record the live sound and avoid feedback by not running any audio from the mic into any speakers in the room, and always use headphones to check the placement. This is the best way to use these mics in a live environment.
Is It Better To Use A Mono Or A Stereo Microphone?
Mono and stereo microphone both have their place in the world of audio, but which mic is better for what purposes?
The truth is that using a good mono mic well is usually better than using any stereo mic. If you need to pick up audio from an entire room, it is far better to use one omnidirectional condenser mic than a stereo mic, as it will produce a more comprehensive sound.
Mono microphones used with good mic skills are usually the better option.
However, stereo mics are great for film-making and can produce an interesting sound when used well. Stereo mics can work well in a studio and can be excellent podcasting mics, but mono microphones are almost always the better option.
Microphones are almost always mono-input devices, and stereo mics are simply two mics combined into one unit.
Microphones are most useful as mono inputs and can be used in tandem with other microphones to form stereo tracks and channels easily.
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