Should Podcast Audio Be Mono or Stereo?

When you are first getting your podcast up and going, you have tons of decisions to make.

Not all are easy either.

One question that you will probably have to answer is:

Should podcast audio be mono or stereo?

The short answer is that for most people, especially beginner podcasters on a budget, mono audio is the best option. However, there may be times when stereo audio is appropriate.

Stereo vs mono audio

Most sound application cases outside of music and theatres use mono audio.

To understand why, you need to understand the point in stereo audio.

You see

Stereo audio was developed to provide a directional depth to audio.

In monaural sound, only one channel is used.

When multiple speakers are used to broadcast the sound, the same sound goes through each.

Our ears hear that difference and get the illusion of direction and depth.

With stereophonic sound on the other hand, at least two channels are used.

This means that typically at least two speakers are needed.

Why?

Because to create that amazing depth of sound, each speaker is actually going to broadcast a different signal.

Does stereo audio sound any different?

Stereo sound does actually sound better than mono sound.

Until the 1940s, mono sound was the predominate sound recording and playback method.

But when Walt Disney’s Fantasia used stereophonic sound, stereo began appearing all over the place.

However, many devices that the typical user will be using to listen to stereo audio don’t give the full stereo experience.

They mix the sound into one output.

Even bluetooth speakers and headphones do this often times.

To get the full stereo effect, you need two speakers positioned 180 degrees opposite each other.

Also, you need to be at least a meter from each.

See where this is going?

How would the average podcast listener get the stereo experience?

They can’t.

There are a few more drawbacks to stereo we need to discuss.

Stereo audio considerations

File size

As a beginner podcaster, you are often short on cash.

Than means you may be using a lesser expensive podcast hosting plan.

Whoever the host is, they likely have upload limits.

That means you have to cut file size to be able to upload the number of podcast episodes that you want to each month.

Guess what.

A podcast file with stereo audio will be twice the size of a mono audio file.

The other reason that this can cause issues is due to your own file space.

Here’s what I mean:

An hour long podcast episode recording will be around 600Mb.

If you are using a free podcast editor or software, you may have processing limitations.

Even if you have all of the space available, you’ll fill up your hard drive twice as fast using stereo audio files.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is not an issue for everyone.

However, if you are using a hosting provider that has limited bandwidth or you pay by the usage, bandwidth could become a big issue.

Let’s use AWS for an example.

Say you store your podcast episodes on AWS and have 5,000 downloads per month.

If your podcast is an hour long, it could average around 600Mb.

That’s approximately 3Tb of download data.

For the present AWS S3 cost of $0.023 per Gb, that would be $67 per month for downloads.

Not terrible, but if you record in mono, the download size would go to 1.5TB and only cost $33 per month.

Download Speed

Download speed is a podcasting issue that would affect your listeners more than it would you.

While most of the US has great internet speeds and infrastructure, there are some rural areas with mediocre speeds at best.

I’ve lived in rural areas like this and it’s no fun.

Even worse, some areas can only get metered internet connections.

For people in these circumstances, the more download size you can shave off, the better.

Sound Quality

Now, the big question:

Does stereo sound that much better than mono?

And the answer to that is in fact, yes.

If you compare an identical audio mono file to a stereo version, you’ll likely notice the difference.

The stereo file will sound more surrounding.

However, will your podcast listeners?

Probably not.

Furthermore, remember what we discussed earlier?

You need two speakers to get the full stereo effect – likely something few podcast listeners will have.

That being said, if your podcast is some kind of drama with multiple voices or lots of music, you might want to use stereo to make it sound that much better.

Listener experience

This is what podcasting is really all about – your listeners.

You should do everything you can to make their experience supreme.

Do this, they’ll love you, and keep listening.

Let’s discuss a few practical things for giving them the best experience.

I sometimes listen to a podcast at work.

When I do, I need to still be aware of my surroundings so I put one earbud in and leave the other out.

A lot of people do this actually.

Listeners who do this would get absolutely no benefit from a stereo audio podcast.

In fact, they would miss the stereo effects.

It can actually be sort of annoying getting part of the audio in one ear.

So, when you decide what kind of audio to use, do keep your listeners in mind.

When stereo audio may be better

There are no hard rules regarding which audio type you should use.

And while mono will usually more than suffice for most beginner podcasters, there may actually be times when stereo is better.

This usually applies when the podcast is a drama or has a lot of music.

There’s nothing worse than spending tons of time getting the audio effects perfect, then listening to it in your car and it sounds flat.

In cases like this, you may very well want to use stereo.

Conclusion

So we see that the mono or stereo podcast audio question is not a cut and dry answer.

Even though for most podcaster, especially beginners, it will make more sense to use mono, that’s not a rule.

As we discussed, there are many considerations to take before making a final choice – download speed, bandwidth, listener experience, etc.

So whatever audio type you choose – mono or stereo – have fun and make your podcast listeners’ experience supreme.