Stereo for live shows?

Is there ever any value in sending stereo to front-of-house speakers?

I guess maybe audience members who happen to be close & centre to the stage-front might get some benefit, but anyone off to one side would have a worse experience, and people further away will effectively be listening in mono anyway?

in a nutshell:

individual instruments: pretty much always in mono. Only exception would be setups or styles where individual sounds need to fill a broad soundstage - e.g. huge pads or a doubled guitar.

overall mix: Most projects mixed all mono, sometimes a bit of stereo positioning of the individual instruments across the stage. Again, broad pads or doubled guitars treated differently when needed.

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The genre is 90s dance, and this is a diagram of my proposed live setup.

I have 4 mono and 8 stereo outputs coming out of Cantabile from a stage laptop. (I have a separate topic discussing whether a single laptop is a good idea, so avoid that here pls).

All 8 stereo sources would have value in a commercial mix, but I question the value for live?

  1. Vocal FX would normally panned to the sides.
  2. Global FX (reverbs and delays) would be stereo, pushed to the sides.
  3. Some snares & claps (and their FX) have width.
  4. “Other percussion” (hats, toms, one-shots, will certain make use of the stereo field.
  5. General synths from the keyboards will be panned all over, with some sounds, like the pads you mentioned, having widening effects.
  6. Even “Bass Synth”, although mono below 400hz, has some higher-frequency elements that are wider.

So, 8 stereo outputs (16 outs), plus 4 mono outs, makes 24 outs into the desk.

My goal is to try and reduce this to a more “sensible” number, either by combining sources, like “snare” and “other percussion”, and/or by collapsing some stereo sources to mono.

In Welsh Floyd, we generated stereo backing tracks, and my keyboards has some limited stereo effects, but when we were playing the larger venues, where we hired in a PA with sound enigneer, the sound engineer took the stereo feeds and mixed to mono.

He said the size of the halls and speaker placement meant it was necessary otherwise people at either side would not be hearing a correct balance if you had extreme stereo effects.

There is your answer.


I think it depends on the size of the venue and the instrumentation being used. I’ve been running in stereo for live gigs since maybe 1985 or '86. I never use mono, except in a pickup gig, to save moving gear. I don’t usually pan hard left and right, though.

The problem with mono is that many modern keyboards/modules/VSTs are tweaked to sound better in stereo. This is especially true of chorus and unison modes. I’ve owned and played gear that sounds awesome in stereo, but dry and uninspiring in mono. YMMV.


Even in larger venues, a reduced width can be effective and, as Drawbars said, some sounds just collapse in mono and deserve at least some stereo.

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FWIW I use stereo all the time now, but sometimes in a larger venue we go to mono for reasons Derek mentioned. But for the others, just a light chorus really opens the mix up, with a delay under 10-15ms, and if the plugin allows, not panning too hard. I don’t go hard L/R, it’s usually around 20-30%. One of my instruments is guitar, and in one band I’m in we have 2 guitar players… stereo panned around 20-30% is quite nice when both are playing, but still holds up no matter where you are in the venue. If the other guitarist is playing but I’m playing sax or whatever, putting his stereo signal centered is fatter and leaves space for me. If you’re unsure, just try each side on it’s own, or just walk from one side to the other at soundcheck. And also test summing them to mono for phasing issues, because quite often the soundguy will do that at the board… BTW there’s a plugin called Wider that also has a mono switch, and avoids any phasing issues. I use that quite a bit since it’s subtle but quite nice when used judiciously.

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My comments come from working with a sound engineer who mixed local bands like mine but for a living was mixing pro bands/artists and was a Midas agent. So, all opinions may vary and be valid but I think he knew what he was talking about. I still provide a stereo mix but accept a sound man may elect to collapse to mono (and I can’t be arsed to changed it!)

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It’s the aesthetic versus the practical.
It’s obviously jerking off a portion audience if those anywhere on the extremities are deprived of hearing all the information,- in the case of hard panning, it’s pretty much gone to those nearest one side of the PA - but there’s many factors which compromise the listener who’s not in the sweet spot. Bass booming uncomfortably at the back of the room, or experiencing huge dips or reflections in other areas. Recording studios can suffer as much, let alone live situations.

You may as well provide some sense of spatial value rather than sacrificing it all. Any FOH person worth his salt is assessing a given venue and adjusting accordingly.
People pay money to sit in theatres with seats forewarning of ‘restricted view’. The actors aren’t expected to modify their position to cater for someone behind a pillar. Some seats are just the best seats - and that’s why people pay more to sit in them. So, use it, don’t abuse it, would be a reasonable approach.


I heard The Sphere in Las Vegas has some amazing surround sound, for such a large venue. I saw Brit Floyd several times in a Memphis theater, and the stereo was excellent. I sat near the board, and discussed the stereo with the sound man. Very interesting.
My pre-pandemic 3-piece band worked stereo in smaller venues, and outdoor gigs. Our in ears were in stereo as well. Got many compliments on the sound system. It took quite awhile to make it work.