Audio reproduction formats have been in flux since the first cylinder spun over at Edison's workshop. The mechanical "horn" system of playback, used on those early recorders and 78 players, gave way eventually to electro-mechanical contraptions using a stylus and a speaker. Doubtless there were listeners who decried this "move forward" as ruining the sound of music as they knew it. By the late '60s, matrixed dual channel encoding on vinyl led to the two speaker "stereo" system. Initially producers, engineers and artists ignored this "advancement", preferring to spend most of their time mixing the mono versions of albums and leaving the stereo mixes as late night fun for the assistant engineers. As stereo won over, engineers had to develop new ways of mixing to accommodate the dual speaker beast. Producers like Phil Spector, who had spent ages learning to coax depth out of a single speaker, suddenly had to figure out a new game plan for using stereo. Panning instruments in approximate positions of a stage appearance or crazily putting mics all over single instruments to make them "stereo" began in earnest. But quad was in the development stages. Soon there was utter chaos as hopped-up rock bands felt the need to pan solos and sound effects around and around in crazy patterns, with no regard for solid stereo imaging. Luckily this didn't last too long.

Now we have the beast of Surround Sound rearing its ugly head. A lazy engineer can just throw the reverb, and any other sounds they can't place, into the "rear" speakers, along with crowd noises from live recordings. Yet, there's an even bigger problem. With home stereos, people frequently have the speakers too far apart, too close, in different rooms, pointing in two different directions, and even wired out of phase. This leads to uneven reproduction of the stereo effect that engineers work so hard to achieve — in effect, all is lost. With 5:1 surround systems, where "proper" listening really only occurs in a small area, these mishaps can be multiplied into madness. This will only make the work of the engineers and producers even harder and more frustrating.

Here's the answer. Mono. If you get a perfect mix on a single speaker there's far less chance that the listener can ruin it with a mis-placed speaker and they can't screw up the phase like they can with two or more speakers. In car stereos it'll be far easier to hear complete mixes — no more vocals buried in the driver's knee. And just think, studios would only require one speaker, half as many cables, less channels of compression and EQ, and all those mono 1/4" decks would be back in fashion. How are we going to pull this off? We are the new breed of recordists. We can demand that projects be mixed and released only on mono. We can pretend to mix in stereo but never tweak a pan knob to the left or right. We can change the world, restoring true audio quality to listeners who will thank us for it, eventually. And just think, you'll never have to buy another "pair" of speakers again!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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