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Losing It in the Mix? Understanding and Fixing Out-of-Phase Audio with Just Ask Robbo

“Get rid of the shitty sound. Life’s too short.”
- Hans Zimmer

Have you ever been recording your podcast, or mixing some audio and found that some voices or sfx are barely audible, no matter what you do to them? These odd audio quirks could well be a case of your audio being 'out of phase'. If you've been around audio for a while, it's probably a term you have heard, but are unsure about what it actually means. So let’s dive into that and why it’s something every content creator, mixer, and audio enthusiast should be wary of.

What is Out of Phase Audio?

When two sound waves have the same frequency and are in sync, they merge to create a louder sound. These could be two microphone tracks or the left/right information from a stereo file. This phenomenon is known as constructive interference (see the illustration below).

When two identical waves are 180 degrees out of phase, they completely cancel each other out. This process is known as phase cancellation or destructive interference (see the illustration below).

Even if the sound waves aren't exactly 180 degrees out of phase, any degree of phase shift can still cause issues. Misaligned waves partially cancel each other out, leading to a weaker, muddier sound and making certain elements of the mix less clear and impactful. This is called partial phase cancellation and is still referred to as destructive cancellation.

Why It’s a Big Deal

Out-of-phase audio can make your podcast sound hollow, thin, or even cause parts of the dialogue to disappear entirely when played back on different systems. For podcasters, this issue typically arises when you have two or more microphones open in the same room. For video editors, it can be a similar issue with phase mismatch between microphones, or if you have your stereo audio spread across two tracks rather than as a stereo file on your timeline, occasionally they can slip out of phase. This can make sfx disappear completely, your music sound washy and thin, or you can lose entire instruments altogether. This stuff isn't just a minor nuisance—it can significantly affect the clarity and professional quality of your podcast, making it hard for listeners to follow the conversation and reducing the overall impact of your content.

Checking Your Mix in Mono

One of the simplest yet most effective ways to detect phase issues is by checking your mix in mono. This means combining all stereo tracks into a single mono track. When you do this, any out of phase elements will partially or completely cancel each other out, making them glaringly apparent.

How to Check Your Mix in Mono:

  • Using an Audio Interface: Many high-quality audio interfaces have a dedicated mono button. This handy feature allows you to quickly switch your output from stereo to mono, making it easy to spot any discrepancies in your mix.

  • Mono Plugins: There are also several effective plugins available that can be inserted on your master track. These plugins allow you to switch between mono and stereo with the click of a button, providing a quick check without having to re-route your session setup.

Regularly toggling between stereo and mono during your mixing process can reveal issues that might not be noticeable in a stereo environment but could cause significant problems in mono playback, such as on a smartphone speaker or radio.

Beyond Phase: The Broader Benefits of Mono Checking

Checking your mix in mono doesn't just help identify phase issues—it can also bring to light a variety of other mix problems. Balance issues, panning disparities, and frequency masking become much more apparent in mono, allowing you to create a more cohesive and well-rounded mix. But that’s a topic for another day. Stay tuned, and next time we’ll dive into these additional benefits and how to address them.

The Bottom Line

As we push the boundaries of digital audio production, it's crucial not to overlook the fundamentals. Ensuring your audio is in phase and checks out in mono is more than just good practice—it's an assurance that your audio will sound great on any system, anywhere.

Remember, whether you’re a budding YouTuber, a seasoned audio engineer, or somewhere in between, keeping an ear out for phase issues is key to delivering stellar sound quality. So next time you’re mixing, spare a thought—and an ear—for mono!

Get Expert Help

If you're grappling with phase issues and aren't sure how to tackle them in your recording setup, don’t sweat it. Book some time with me, Robbo, and we’ll get it sorted out quickly and effectively. Whether it's a tricky podcast setup or a specific recording problem, I’ve got the expertise to help you achieve the clear, professional sound you're aiming for. Let's make your audio shine!

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