stereo recording

I’m doing live multitrack recordings (guitar, voice, drums, etc.). All is fine, but the finished product won’t come out in stereo - and comes out of just one speaker. It isn’t the speakers. All my CDs play in stereo. Under preferences → audio I/O, I’m set on 2 channels (stereo). I don’t get what I’m missing.

I assume you’re getting your source from the Line Out of a mixer, and are using the Line In as the source in Audacity.

Listen carefully to the audio you’ve recorded, is it a mono mixdown, or is it one half of the stereo field. For example, if everything is coming out of the left speaker, can you hear sounds that were panned both hard left and hard right?

Most likely you’ve got something plugged in wrong (or a dead Line In, but that’s less likely). Let us know more about your recording setup and we can help you.

Thanks to alatham for the reply. You wrote, “I assume you’re getting your source from the Line Out of a mixer and are using the Line In as the source in Audacity.”

I am recording live directly into a mic (mostly…see below). The mic is connected to an M-Audio MobilePre USB preamp/audio interface device. This in turn is connected via its USB jack into a USB port on my computer. Would that constitute getting my source “from the Line Out of a mixer”, terminology-wise?

Per the Audacity online book, I set the input source on the mixer toolbar to “Microphone” rather than “Line In”. As I wrote in the first post, I set Preferences/Audio I/O to "2 channels (stereo).

At this point things get more complicated than I had originally realized. Some of my recordings are one track only, i.e. acoustic guitar, or acoustic guitar with voice. These would be one track recorded directly into the mic. Others are multitrack/multi-instrumental, recorded sequentially in time on 3-4 separate tracks, then exported. Some of the latter recordings involve no electric instruments, but I’ve also done a few that included an electric guitar - with guitar plugged directly into the preamp, and Audacity setting at “Line In”.

After listening to some of these recordings again since my first post (ear pressed directly against the computer speaker I thought was producing no sound), I found out I had been partly mistaken. All these recordings DO in fact come from both computer speakers, albeit extremely weakly from one of the two. That is the case whether I play the music from the computer hard drive or from a CD I’ve burned from the hard drive.

But again, you only hear sound from the right speaker (to my right) with your ear pressed against it. The sound is so weak as to be ineffective. Furthermore, when I play one of the Audacity-generated recordings (via CD) on my conventional CD player/stereo tuner/speakers, no sound whatsoever comes from the right speaker - it’s 100% to the left.

Before you conclude that I’m a complete idiot who hasn’t thought to adjust speaker balance, etc., here’s the kicker: If I play any commercially produced, store bought music CD by any artist on either the computer or the stereo set, the sound comes out perfectly loud and clear, balanced, etc. from both speakers (on both the computer and the stereo systems).

I didn’t fully understand the question about “mono mixdown…pan left and right”, but I’m hoping the above gives enough info. I do hear the entire recording (all instruments + voice) coming out of the left/“strong side” speaker.

Thanks - I appreciate it,

The problem is that a mic is a mono source. You can’t get a stereo signal out of a mono source.

Furthermore, since you have Audacity set to record to Stereo, it’s expecting to get 2 signals, but it’s only getting 1. Therefore it will only send the audio to one of the 2 stereo tracks.

You need to set Audacity to record to 1 channel. This will send all the audio to a single channel that you will then pan to the left or right as you please.

The only problem you might run into using this method is that you might end up with a mono output file at the end, if you have every track panned dead center. some Cd burning software might complain, and apparently Windows Media Player doesn’t like mono mp3s (because it sucks). In these cases you can force Audacity to output a stereo file by adding an empty stereo track to your project when exporting.

Almost all microphones only have one channel (that is, they are a mono source). So when you tell Audacity to record two channels, one of them is left blank (the right one). The obvious effect of this is that, when looking at your recording, the top channel (left) shows sound data while the bottom channel (right) is a flat line. The effect on playback is that the track gives no output on the right channel, because it was recorded with no input on the right channel.

There’s two ways to fix this. The first is obviously to rerecord every part of your file with Audacity configured for one channel instead of two. This would not be fun, so luckily there’s another way.

Take any stereo track (the title of the track generally shows up as “Audio Track” and says “Stereo” under it, and has two channels), and click the title bar of it so that the menu comes up. Tell Audacity to split the stereo track. Select the track with data (top) and make it a mono track (using the menu again). The other track has no data in it, so you might as well just delete it. Your new mono track should now play out of both speakers, and you can use the L-R slider to adjust its panning to your liking. Do this for every stereo track you have and everything should play correctly. There’s probably an even quicker way, too, but this works.

I have found a way to both fix the problem, AND keep it stereo! :ugeek: :wink:
First, split the track. Do this by clicking on the “Audio Track” title, then select “Split Stereo Track.”
Then, delete the blank track, as it will not be necessary.
Now, you must press “ctrl”+“D” together, as this will duplicate the selected track!
Afterwards, on the second channel, once again, click “Audio Track,” and select “Right Channel.”
Finally, click “Audio Track” on the first of the two tracks (left channel), and choose “Make Stereo Track.”

And TA-DA! sound comes from both speakers, and the track is still stereo, so you won’t have any future problems! :smiley:

Except that it’s not really stereo. It’s mono on two channels, like playing a mono radio station through two speakers or headphones.

I have a related question which hopefully isn’t off topic:

I’ve only been playing around with Audacity for a month or so and I’ve been trying to create multitrack recordings with guitars and programmed drums. For some reason, I thought it would be best to start recording individual tracks in mono and convert to stereo later during mixing. I knew that it was possible to make stereo from mono so I guess I thought it would leave my screen less cluttered with duplicates of every track and then decide where I would “position” each track in the mix with the use of panning and the slight delay which I’ve heard other people talking about. Seemed like a good idea at the time…

My question is, when multi tracking your basic guitar, bass, and drums arrangement, is this a logical approach or would I have been better off starting everything in stereo? What is a good “work flow” for projects like these? And, if there are links to any tutorials specifically dealing with this situation I’d love it if someone could post them.


Duplicating mono tracks is unnecessary unless you want to apply a stereo effect to the track.
Panning does not require a stereo track, Mono tracks can be panned just the same.
Stereo tracks require twice as much disk space as mono tracks, and increase the load on the computer because there is double amount of data, so unless you specifically need a track to be stereo it is better to keep it as mono.

Applying stereo effects to everything can make the mix sound muddled, with no definite spacial separation between instruments.
Mixing down to a stereo track and then applying a little stereo reverb can give the mix a sense of spaciousness without losing a sense of where individual instruments are placed in the stereo field, provided that the instruments already have a definite “position” rather than being smeared across the whole sound stage.

Thanks for the reply.


Never even thought of that.

So once I have everything balanced and panned the way I want (assuming, for the moment, I’m not applying any stereo effects) basically, what is the next step in rendering all those tracks into L R Stereo so that it can be exported as a WAV or MP3? I would assume it’s a good idea to first save a separate copy of the Audacity file before doing anything so that things can always be tweaked some more if wanted.

Is there a tutorial on the process of mixing and rendering?

Thanks again.

You don’t have to do anything else. Once you have everything panned and levels adjusted as you want them you can just Export. Audacity will automatically mix down all tracks (provided the tracks are not muted) to create a single stereo audio file.

However, with multi-track projects, I prefer to mix down the tracks manually in Audacity before exporting, That allows me to check the level of the mixed down track (and I can Normalize it if necessary) before it is exported.

Yes, definitely.
When a project is saved, the Undo history is not saved, so you can only go back to a previous state if you saved a copy of the project at that state.

What I like to do with more complex projects is to make a series of backups as I work. So say after half an hour working on the project I will use “File > Save Project As” and give the project a unique name. I then end up with a series of projects:

It uses a lot of disk space to do this, but unwanted back-ups can be deleted when the project is complete.

Thanks Steve. Very good tips. :slight_smile:

Looking at the waveform (and listening to the track which I recorded) I’m noticing that it looks quite “spikey.” (This is just an instrumental - few guitars, programmed drums etc.) The spikes are the highhat hits and obviously they also sound as if they stand out too prominently in the mix the same way they look in the waveform. (I used an online drum machine for the drum loop which wasn’t very adjustable, I’m going to use H2 in the future) Is it generally an okay practice to fix this in the stereo mix or would it be better to go back to the individual track on the pre-rendered original? If so, what tool/tools are best for this situation? (leveller, hard limiter, compression, normalize etc.) It seems like I should be able to reduce spikes and then amplify the whole track a little? Ideally I’ll be getting the levels mixed much more evenly at the drum programming stage in the future.
Waveform 01.jpg

Ideally you would have the hi-hat on its own track, then you can just use the track Gain slider to adjust the level of that track.

I guess you’re going to tell me that you don’t have the hi-hat on its own track, in which case, what do you have other than the full stereo mix-down?

That’s correct, I don’t have the hi-hat on it’s own track. The “drums” are all on one track and come from two patterns (verse/chorus kinda thing) which I made on an online drum machine before I had H2 installed on my computer. I still have a copy of the un-mixed file. Here is an image of the waveform for the drums alone.
Wavefrom Drums.jpg

You could try using a “Limiter” effect to push down the level of the hi-hat.
Instructions for installing: