Can You Use a Single Studio Monitor?


Studio monitors are often expensive, and for that reason, a lot of people wonder if they can get away with using just one single studio monitor.

This will mean you can only listen and mix in ‘mono’ rather than the stereo field that comes from two speakers. But does it work? Can you still get effective results using just one studio monitor?

Whilst using a single studio monitor speaker can work ok for casual music listening it is strongly recommended to make full use of two studio monitors in a stereo configuration if you are mixing and want to produce music to a good standard.

In this article, we will explain in full detail why music studios use at least two monitor speakers and why that is so important.

Why Are Two Studio Monitors Important?

Virtually no music is mixed completely in mono.

You may be able to pick this out when you listen to your favorite songs through headphones for example. You should be able to tell that not all parts of the song are entering both your ears at the same time. In fact some more subtle instruments may only appear in one of the ears.

This is because most music is created in stereo not mono, to enhance the listening experience.

When music is in stereo it brings the sound to life and allows all the separate elements to have it’s own space within the overall mix. When you are mixing this is known as “panning” things across the stereo field. You can ‘pan’ a percentage of the particular instrument track to the left speaker or the right speaker.

If you only have one speaker you are taking away your ability to pan instruments and create an effective, and ultimately professional, sounding track.

Mixing everything in mono can make everything sound muddy, with all those instrument tracks competing for attention. What’s more, it means you aren’t making the most of one of a producer’s most vital tools; the stereo field.

An Argument For Mixing With One Monitor

Everyone has their own method of doing things. There is an argument for mixing, or at least starting your mix, with just a single studio monitor.

We’ve already discussed the importance of everything having its own space in the mix. Besides the volume levels, there are a couple of ways to ensure all of the instruments are working in conjunction and not getting in one another’s way. One is the stereo field, and another is the spectral content or the frequencies at which the instrument or audio source covers.

It Makes You Pay Attention To EQ

If you strip away the ability to use panning (moving audio left and right in the mix) then the spectral properties become more important.

To get an amazing mono mix, you have to use EQ to strip away excess frequencies and ensure that everything has its right place in the mix, without much overlap. The kick and bass should be at the low end, with other instruments occupying different frequency ranges from 20 Hz all the way up to 20 kHz.

If you start mixing in stereo you may be tempted to squeeze in too many competing elements which may work in stereo, but do you really need them all? Mixing in mono forces you a bit more to make those decisions.

This incredible guide from Sweetwater shows you a visual representation of roughly where all those instruments sit in the mix. To put it simply, using one speaker, or a mono mix on a stereo system, forces you to make use of all the full spectral field, and to understand it, if you are going to get a quality mix.

You may have two high synth parts in similar parts of the EQ spectrum casuing them to clash in a mono mix. But if you think they both add something then you can pan one left and one right and they will be easier for the listeners ears to pick out.

Having said that, there is no reason you can’t start your mix in mono with two studio monitors, and to get a professional sounding track, it is still recommended just starting with a mono mix and moving onto a stereo mix.

Even if you find it helpful to create a mono mix to EQ every instrument properly, why would you not then go on to make full use of the stereo field, too? 

It’s a Bonus to Ensure it Sounds Good in Mono

Listening to a mix in mono can have its benefits as an additional reference point.

When you mix a piece of music, it is a good idea to check your mix in as many environments as possible.

Listen through laptop speakers, through cheap headphones, through your best headphones, and through a mono setup such as a single speaker or monitor setup (alternatively, your DAW probably has a “mono” mode you can switch to.

You need to consider all of the different listening environments, and ways in which people might be consuming the media, and check it sounds acceptable in all of them. A song might sound amazing through your $500 subwoofer, but the bass could go missing on car speakers. Checking how it sounds through a monophonic setup will do no harm.

Can you DJ Using a Single Monitor?

If you are wondering about the use of a single studio monitor for DJing, this is a totally different ball game.

Because the stereo field is less important, and some venues will use mono through their PA systems, using a single monitor is fine for practicing fading one song into another and beat/tempo matching. This is why you will often see DJs practicing with just one speaker. 

Affording a Pair of Monitors

One of the reasons why people search for information on whether or not you can effectively use a single studio monitor is that they are worried about affording a pair of monitors. If you have your eyes on some of the top brands then it is easy to see why this is a concern, as they aren’t cheap.

Studio monitors are also sometimes sold individually, which can be confusing if you are unsure of whether it is standard practice to mix with one or two monitors.

So are you better to buy a single high end monitor or two lower end monitors?

Well, we would recommend always buying two. For all the reasons mentioned above. If you can afford to wait and save the pennies then check out my top recommendations on this page and what I use.

But if this isn’t an option, fortunately, there are some good, affordable studio monitors you can buy as a pair, ensuring that you have the ability to mix in stereo as well as mono, if you wish.

How much money you spend on your studio monitors will depend on your budget, but also the level of professionalism you want to attain.

Budget Options

Fortunately, technology has come a long way, and some cheap monitors do a fantastic job for both beginners and intermediates. In a home studio, something like the Presonus Eris E3.5 speakers can do an excellent job on a budget.

The Presonus Eris E3.5 monitors are sold as a pair, and while cheap, they offer a pretty flat frequency response, so the sound won’t taint your mixes. For a very low price point, they offer surprising quality. The Presonus range is full of great value monitors.

They don’t have an amazing bass response, and they don’t perform that well at high volumes. But for the low price, they do an amazing job! And for a beginner’s home studio, this probably won’t cause you any issues.

They also have EQ tuning, meaning that you can tailor the response of the speakers to the room you are in.

Studio Headphones

Another cheaper option is to get a decent pair of studio quality headphones. Some producers swear against using headphones for mixing, but I think for most beginner producers, as long as you get a decent pair that will not enhance the bass too much then you can do a good job.

I’m a big fan of the Beyerdynamic headphones, for a very reasonable price they do a very good job.

The DT990 pros have open-backs which is meant to help introduce air flow and improve the sound quality for mixing.

Additionally they are extremely comfortable to wear during a long mixing session thanks to the cusshion earpieces.

Positioning Studio Monitors

We have created a full guide to positioning studio monitors that you can follow if you are a true audiophile and want to ensure that you get the best possible sound, but if you are a beginner this is not something to get too hung up on. The alterations you make will probably only be marginal gains as long as you follow a few basic rules:

  • Stay away from the corners as this will cause issues with sound reflection.
  • Avoid the mid-point of the room as this can cause distortion and muffling.
  • Stay in the middle of evenly-spaced monitors. Otherwise, you can get bias and hear more from one speaker than the other.

Summary – Can You Use a Single Monitor?

In the art of recording, producing, and mixing music, you want to use all of the tools available to you, and that includes the stereo field, one of the most effective ways to give space to your music, and a professional sound.

As we explained, listening in mono is not necessarily a bad idea, and you may incorporate this into your process of producing music, but generally speaking, using a single monitor is not advisable for creating a full, professional mix. 

Rob Wreglesworth

Rob has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous rock star....but that hasn't stopped him from writing and recording music in his home studio. Rob has over 15 years experience of recording music at home.

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