June 21, 2016

"Mono is the ultimate... because it's deep. Stereo is distractingly wide..."

"... and because of that, you don't focus on the depth. It's a little bit false, stereo.... And if you're listening in any room, your stereo is your own ears, bouncing off of the walls, but it's one source...."

Said Neil Young, on the new episode of Marc Maron's podcast.


Bob Ellison said...

So a boombox is a deep source, delivering the best sound. The symphony orchestra from the third row is inferior.

Thanks for the audio lesson, Young.

Fernandinande said...

Speech is often easier to hear in mono, though even if the final output is stereo it starts out in mono with one mic; with stero mics, the stereo effect would be room reverb/noise which you can minimize by getting the mics close enough. So, not a big deal.

But Neil Young's kinda full of shit when it comes to audio.
But I love his old songs cuz they're EZ to play.

Clyde said...

This one goes to 11.

Fernandinande said...

I'll download the podcast, convert to two tracks and add some reverb. Maybe some flanger...

madAsHell said...

I remember him promoting some new listening service, or device on a late night talk show. He was promising that it was going to be the next big thing, and would be available real soon. It seems like it was a 4-letter word that sounded Hawaiian.

No, it wasn't Zune.

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
madAsHell said...

Pono. The service was called Pono, and it is a Hawaiian word. The interview was on Letterman in the Fall of 2012. The device finally premiered in 2015 to mixed reviews.

tom swift said...

We extract a large amount of information from two signals, even if they're "fake" (ie, studio mixing, not genuine microphone signals). We automatically use it to distinguish noise, such as echoes, from the signal. There are other cues as well, mainly signal timing and frequency response (but not, generally, phase, oddly enough), but multiple signals perhaps dominate. Cover one of your ears in a school classroom or a courtroom and see if you can understand a word anybody says with just one ear.

Fernandinande said...

I thought this was funny (16 vs 24bit listening tests):

"For example, those who claimed to be very confident or certain of their answers were still either 50/50 or more wrong than right"

"Musicians who were more confident than average got even worse results"

ganderson said...

I think the original Edison phonograph had the best sound

Dance...dance to the radio said...

I'm Canadian and Neil Young is an old hack who only makes his royalties from the Canadian Content rules enforced on Canadian radio stations.

Carol said...

There was some terrible stereo mixing back in the 60s - bass on one side, all the vocals on the other. LOL! But modern stereo is fabulous. Love it when they pan the drum set across, or the piano.

My old mono stuff sounds way too scrunched together in comparison. Good stereo opens up the sound.

eddie willers said...

"More barn!"

David said...

I had mono at age 18. I thought I was pretty deep then. Now I am shallower but wider. Distractingly wider? Depends on context.

Mono sucked. I stayed in school and nearly flunked out.

George Grady said...

Dance...dance to the radio said...

I'm Canadian and Neil Young is an old hack who only makes his royalties from the Canadian Content rules enforced on Canadian radio stations.

If a radio station must play old Canadian music, why would it play gawd-awful crap like Neil Young when Gordon Lightfoot exists?

Clyde said...

Where have you gone, Carly Rae Jepsen? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you... Woo woo woo...

J. Farmer said...

I like a lot of Young's music, but god that guy is insufferable. Jim Jarmusch's Year of the Horse documentary, which seemed sympathetic, made Young look like an egomaniacal nitwit.

Dad said...

Would a nitwit write these lyrics:

Old Man look at my life
I'm a lot like you were
I need someone to love me
the whole day through.

Static Ping said...

So Neil Young is opposed to diversity, I see.

J. Farmer said...


Being a talented musician or songwriter does not preclude you from being a nitwit. But you don't have to take my word for it. Watch the film.

Dad said...

J. sorry I didn't make myself clear. I think the guy is both insufferable and a nitwit, and his lyrics are beyond parody, as demonstrated above. I don't think I could bear to watch a movie about him.

J. Farmer said...

My first reaction was that you were being a sarcastic, but then I thought I'd seem like a prick if I asked if you were

Mark said...

Neil likes to talk. In his old age, he is a little wackier than before.

Like his albums, not everything he says is profound or awesome despite some being amazing

Roy Lofquist said...

Yargh! Literally thousands of dollars poured down that rat hole over the years and I've been wrong all this time.

AReasonableMan said...

I like some Neil Young but he has some nutty ideas on audio. Although, not obviously nuttier than a lot of audiophiles. Oenophiles and audiophiles are the two biggest sets of suckers on the planet. Somewhere out there is a database where the overlap between these two groups has been compiled. This list sells for a considerable fee to anyone with a get rich scheme.

tmpc said...

There is no "right way" to produce or listen to music. Stereo exists because most people like it. It's good enough; the marketplace has spoken.

From a purely technical standpoint, mono, stereo, speakers, and headphones are flawed. The only way to truly experience a "you are there" listening experience is by way of a neutral (flat) binaural recording of live performers in a real "space". You must then measure your own HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function), and via DSP, impose that HRTF on the binaural recording, and then listen to it on flat headphones; speakers won't work. This is possible with today's technology, but is expensive and a pain to set up. But, you still need binaural recordings that don't exist.

Sgt. Pepper's still sounds pretty good to me.

rehajm said...

That modern mono is for the whippersnappers! Nothing beats the melodies from the horn of my gramophone. Those crumbgrabbers don't know what they're missing.

Bob R said...

Neil always takes a reasonable statement like, "mixing a song in mono can often make for a better, more listenable mix - even if you pan it to stereo," and adds seven layers of bullshit so that it sounds like nonsense. Still, he's written some songs that I really like, so I'll ignore the bullshit. (Like a Hurricane is my favorite.)

And, just to note that the statement might not be complete bullshit (though I suspect it is), when you are mixing, you give the impression of physical depth by adding reverb. More reverb seems father away, less seems closer. Same technique for mono or stereo.

Of course, this is just as "false" as stereo - or any other (wonderful, awesome, magical) mechanisms by which we take musical performances, turn them into electrical signals, and then turn the electrical signals into musical performances.

Original Mike said...

Mono, stereo, it doesn't matter. All that matters is how expensive your cables are.

David said...

Would a nitwit write these lyrics:

Old Man look at my life
I'm a lot like you were
I need someone to love me
the whole day through.

Could. It certainly did not take a genius.

Unknown said...

Do people buy stereos these days? Has listening to personal devices with earbuds--in stereo, natch--changed people's desire to own a big home stereo system?

Laslo Spatula said...

Depends on who is doing the mix.

The original "Pet Sounds" mix is mono, in part because of Brian Wilson having only one functionable ear: he mixed to what sounded good to him. In my opinion the later stereo mixes sound more open, but less urgent, less focused.

Stereo, Mono: Black-and-white movies versus color, say. How intricate do you want your shadows.

The thing that I have never gotten to like, aurally: bass guitar panned to one side.

Bass is THE BOTTOM; when the BOTTOM is not at CENTER we have gone, as the British say, pear-shaped. Although the British Music of the Sixties certainly fucked that oblong egg.

Panned bass only works if you take much of the lower frequencies out of the bass so there is some sense of volume balance: might as well just have it be another guitar.

In the Sixties and early Seventies a lot of bass was removed, frequency-wise, so that the needle wouldn't physically jump the groove. Beatles in particular.

Remove bass and you can physically get twenty songs on a vinyl record like the late great K-Tel.

1975 K-Tel "Power Hits" LP:

Bachman-Turner Overdrive - You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
Mud - Rocket
Suzi Quatro - Too Big
The Rubettes - Juke Box Jive
Barry White - You're the First, the Last, My Everything
George McCrae - I Can't Leave You Alone
Linda & The Funky Boys - Shame, Shame, Shame
The Hues Corporation - Love Corporation
Carol Douglas - Doctor's Orders
Eric Clapton - I Shot the Sheriff
Disco Tex & His Sex-O-Lettes - Get Dancin'
Paper Lace - The Black Eyed Boys
Cozy Powell - Nanana
Slade - How Does It Feel
Nazareth - Love Hurts
The Troggs - Good Vibrations
Mac & Katie Kissoon - Sugar Candy Kisses
Hot Chocolate - Emma
Mud - Tiger Feet
The Rubettes - Tonight

Twenty songs. Dance to the Treble, Motherfuckers.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

Another part of the K-Tel Magic: the Damocles Fade.

The sword hovered over the song:


NO FUCKING BRIDGE. Bring that blessed Sword down to a fast fade.

If you really wanted more than the verse and the chorus you would've bought the band's album.

Dance to the Treble, Motherfuckers.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laslo Spatula said...

Clapton "I Shot the Sheriff"

His album: 4:23

K-Tel: 3:30

Don't need an extra minute of that filler shit.

Me, I could get that song down to a minute-fifteen.

Dance to the Treble, Motherfuckers.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

Remember when TV Themes would get extended and played on the radio?

'Rockford Files' Theme: K-Tel had it.

"Theme from S.W.A.T.": K-Tel had it.

"The A-Team": K-Tel had it.

"The Streets of San Francisco": K-Tel had it.

"Welcome Back, Kotter": K-Tel had it.

"Starsky & Hutch (Gotcha)" K-Tel had it.

Dance to the Treble, Motherfuckers.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

K-Tel "24 Great Tear-Jerkers":

Tell Laura I Love Her - Ray Peterson (6/60 - #7; n/a)
Lonely Boy - Paul Anka (6/59 - #1; #6)
Bye, Bye Love - The Everly Brothers (5/57 - #2; #5)
Lonely Teenager - Dion (10/60 - #12; n/a)
Two Faces I Have - Lou Christie (3/63 - #6; #11)
Hurt - Timi Yuro (7/61 - #4; #22)
To Know Him is to Love Him - The Teddy Bears (9/58 - #1; #10)
Mission Bell - Donnie Brooks (6/60 - #7; n/a)
Mr. Blue - Pat Boone
You're the Reason - Bobby Edwards (8/61 - #11; n/a)
Raindrops - Dee Clark (5/61 - #2; #3)
Teen Angel - Mark Dinning (12/59 - #1; #5)

Donna - Ritchie Valens (11/58 - #2; #11)
Tears on My Pillow - Little Anthony & the Imperials (8/58 - #4; #2)
Patches - Dickey Lee (8/62 - #6; #1)
Crying in the Chapel - The Orioles (8/53 - #11; #1)
Leader of the Pack - The Shangri-Las (10/64 - #1; #8)
Lonely Teardrops - Jackie Wilson (11/58 - #7; #1)
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - Tony Williams
One Kiss For Old Times' Sake - Ronnie Dove (3/65 - #14; n/a)
This Time (We're Really Breaking Up) - Troy Shondell (9/61 - #6; n/a)
It's My Party - Lesley Gore (5/63 - #1; #1)
Soldier Boy - The Shirelles (3/62 - #1; #3)
The Great Pretender - Tony Williams

All that bittersweet pain, on ONE slab of thin, thin vinyl.

Dance to the Treble, Motherfuckers.

I am Laslo.

Anonymous said...

The one thing Young did right was picking a name for the device. The amount of traffic it gets from Google typos should make it a success.

Laslo Spatula said...

Clapton "I Shot the Sheriff"

To bring it full circle: Neil Young's "Heart of Gold"...

His album: 3:07

K-Tel: 2:59

Because neil actually wrote a concise song for once, and you could still chop close to ten seconds off of it.

Dance to the Treble, Motherfuckers.

I am Laslo.

ndspinelli said...

Neil really likes the sound of choo choo trains. He can be wacky. But, he has endured a lot of heartbreak, and retains a good sense of humor. I give him a pass.

Laslo Spatula said...

GREAT article on the Matermind of the K-Tel compilation album: By applying the principle of pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap to music, Philip Kives revolutionised the industry Genius.

I am Laslo.

Tim said...

Maybe in mono Neil Young doesn't sound terrible. I'll never find out.

Darrell said...

I hope Neil Young will remember a Southern man doesn't need him around anyhow.

Rockeye said...

Phil Spector and the Wall of Sound used mono as well, as part of the process. I have at least 20 of Neil Young's albums, and he's great when he leaves his childish politics out of the music.

Marc Lowenstein said...

It's interesting to try and discern worth from cranky and/or cooky sayings from folks who although cranky and cooky themselves have been around the block a few. In this case, I think he just means that depth is severely underrated by stereo-mad mixers, and that focusing on mono (like a lot of the examples people cite above) can provide an insight into the psycho-acoustics of frequency EQ.

this is a pretty good, basic article --


This might be over-specific but is nice article with good examples:


and is very related to what some people ignore by just panning their problems away from good mono solutions

Virgil Hilts said...

Slightly off topic (& Bob Ellison who is right on almost everything else will disagree) but NY on SNL in 1989 was one of best live TV performances in history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ggbts1v3aw. Some background to the performance -- http://neilyoungnews.thrasherswheat.org/2009/09/20th-anniversary-of-saturday-night-live.html

rhhardin said...

For speech, room echoes are okay in stereo but fatal in mono, as to intelligibility.

tim in vermont said...

We extract a large amount of information from two signals, even if they're "fake" (ie, studio mixing, not genuine microphone signals).

Maybe that is what he objects to, as a musician who hears live music every day of his life. I can understand that. I can't abide 3D movies. The effects have zero to do with advancing the story, excepting perhaps, and I admit I am guessing on this, 3D porn.

Rick Turley said...

If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend 'The Wrecking Crew' documentary despite some flaws. A group of studio musicians who started out backing the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin who became the sound of the Beach Boys, Tijuana Brass, the Monkeys, the Association, Mamas & Pappas, and the frickin' Partridge Family among others. Not to mention all the TV and movie theme songs. Mind boggling

ndspinelli said...

The Wrecking Crew and Muscle Shoals, both on Netflic, are great docs. There's also one on Harry Nillson titled, Who is Harry Nillson.. that is pretty good.

In the Wrecking Crew, the person that most impressed me was Carol Kaye, a bass guitar player extraordinaire in a male dominated world. They talked about the shit she had to endure and you could tell she is a broad who could take it and dish it out. No special snowflake, she!

I Callahan said...

K-Tel "24 Great Tear-Jerkers":

My parents had this 8-track when I was a kid. I remember every one of those tunes...

Rick Turley said...

ndspinelli said...

In the Wrecking Crew, the person that most impressed me was Carol Kaye, a bass guitar player extraordinaire in a male dominated world.


Just the bass lines for the Mission Impossible theme song and The Beat Goes On would make a career. My wife who was checking FB and half-listening even perked up when she was on.

I agree on the Muscle Shoals. Saw what was left of them at a festival here last summer where they also backed a short session by local legend Tony Joe White (Poke Sallet Annie). 20 Feet From Stardom is also worth a watch.

Peter said...

Stereo phonograph records became available in 1958, generating a demand for stereo equipment which manufacturers had difficulty keeping up with. Given a choice between high-quality sound in mono or crappy sound in quality in stereo, practically everyone chooses the stereo.

Until recently, it was easy to get mono sound from your stereo: just short the stereo inputs together with some cables. But that's not so easy to do with a Bluetooth speaker.

The concept that a stereo should accurately reproduce the sound of a live performance died a long time ago. In addition to the liberties taken in the mix-down process, many home playback devices contain circuits which exaggerate the stereo effect.

And although the stereo soundstage presented by headphones is somewhat wierd, listening to headphones in mono is even wierder.

Anthony said...

You really need to differentiate between accuracy of reproduction and what sounds good to people. One reason LPs still have something of a following (apart from the nutty audiophiles) is the sound they reproduce, though not as accurate as CDs and such, can have a much more pleasing sound to human ears (the 'warmth' most people talk about). Plus most modern music isn't at all "live" anyway so there's no sound stage to reproduce. That's where the mastering engineer comes in and why Alan Parsons made such brilliant recordings. See The Dark Art of Mastering for example.

That's why CDs kinda sucked at first; they just plopped the LP-mastered recordings onto CD and the higher accuracy showed the limitations of those recordings in all their inglory.

I used to think that iTunes-type files were inferior, but try downloading America's Greatest Hits. I burned it to CD and it's really a stunning recording.

mikee said...

The swing of the sound around the room in Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon was my first experience with stereo effects, and I liked it then, and I like it now, and Neil Young can go suck eggs.