File Modes for Home Recordings - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Modes essentially refer to whether your home recording file is in stereo or mono; however, your choices include more than just plain stereo and mono. You have the option to choose mono, stereo, joint stereo, or sometimes force stereo (also known as dual mono). Again, choose the mode based on your music and how you prefer to balance quality with file size.


Here’s a look at the various modes and how they relate to quality and file size:

  • Mono: Mono takes up little room because all the stereo data from your CD is contained on one track. The sound quality can be good, depending on the bit rate that you choose, but you lose all stereo-imaging data. Choose mono mode if the loss of the stereo image won’t adversely affect your song or if the overall sound quality is more important to you than the stereo information.

  • Stereo: Stereo mode consists of two mono tracks. With stereo mode, you retain all your stereo information. The drawback is that your two tracks are at half the bit rate of the mono track that uses the same bit-rate setting.

    For example, if you encode in stereo at 128 Kbps, each of your tracks is only encoded at 64 Kbps. So, if you want each track to be at 128 Kbps, you need to encode at 256 Kbps. This creates a file that’s twice as large as the mono file at 128 Kbps but has the same sound quality.

    Stereo mode is a good choice if you have a song with complex stereo panning effects that you just can’t live without and you don’t mind a sound quality that’s slightly lower.

  • Joint stereo: Joint stereo mode is a cross between mono and stereo. This mode consists of creating one track of audio information and one track of information that tells the player to send certain sounds through one speaker or the other (called steering data). You get most of the stereo information with only a slightly larger file size than with mono mode.

    For most songs, the difference between regular stereo and joint stereo is indistinguishable as far as the stereo image goes, but you end up with a higher-quality recording with joint stereo because the higher bit rate is used. You may find that this option works better for you than the regular stereo mode. Experiment and see whether you can hear a difference.

  • Force stereo: Force stereo (or dual mono) mode is essentially the same as mono mode — one track of audio data is recorded and the stereo panning information is lost.

    The only difference between mono and force stereo is that force stereo makes sure that the mono data is sent through both speakers of the player. You choose force stereo mode if you don’t mind your music being in mono but you want to ensure that it plays through both speakers.