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I'm actually have a tough time finding the right words for the type of recordings where you only hear a certain instrument (or part) in the left or right ear when using headphones. I find these types of recordings unbearable to listen to on headphones (just my personal taste, I guess). I am currently listening to Morton Subotnick's "Four Butterflies" right now and the way he pans the parts hard (or semi-hard) left or right is horrible to listen to on headphones. Again, my personal taste, some maybe love it! In fact, most of Morton Sobotnicks recordings seem to be this way. I think a lot o early Jazz recordings did this to (piano in left and drum in right). I just want do away with all of that somehow, personally it doesn't enhance the recording for me in any away and only distracts.

So for the Question: is there anyway I can convert these (stereo?) type of recordings so that I don't hear all the panning of the parts in my left and right ear? If I somehow can, I will start convert all those types of records ASAP.

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is there anyway I can convert these (stereo?) type of recordings so that I don't hear all the panning of the parts in my left and right ear?

Yes. You'll want to change these stereo recordings (different tracks playing in each speaker (R & L), typically recorded with 2 mics) into mono recordings (same track in both speakers). Changing them to mono will result in a loss of track "wideness".

You can use this audio converter. Make sure you select "mono" for the change audio channels option.

It should look like this:

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    Be aware that when you convert some stereo recordings to mono, you encounter a phenomenon known as phase cancellation. Certain parts of the recording, for instance the lead vocals, may become inaudible or sound very weak and strangely filtered. Fortunately this should not be the case with a recording where instruments are panned hard-right and hard-left and there isn't much reverb. – user546 Jan 4 '16 at 17:34
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Historical background:

Subotnick's recordings first came out in 1967. The problem you have noted with instruments being panned hard-left or hard-right was very common on many recordings in those days.

In the mid-1960s, most record buyers had monaural (mono) "high-fidelity" or "hi-fi" sound systems and turntables and reel-to-reel tape machines that could only play back monaural (mono) recordings, not stereo.

When stereo systems appeared on the market, record labels wanted to sell the new stereo phonographic disks, and the public was eager to buy them.

At this time radio was also transitioning from mono (on the AM band) to stereo (on the FM band) and people were buying the first stereo radio receivers for their homes and cars.

The problem is that while recording studios would record the music on multi-track tape (at this time on 3 or 4 tracks, or in rare cases 8 tracks) the recording engineers only had experience in mixing down to monaural, and they would deliver the final album masters as a monaural recording. Recording engineers were just beginning to work with stereo equipment, and they simply had not established any standard methods for mixing stereo sound. Panning instruments or singers' voices hard-left or hard-right was something you find in a great deal of all kinds of recordings from this transitional era, apparently because the mixing engineers had not thought of a better way to do it.

The most famous example is the albums of the Beatles. The albums, starting circa 1963, were recorded on a small number of tracks that were mixed down to mono. Around 1965, the Beatles' record label asked the Beatles' producer George Martin to make additional re-mixes of the Beatles in stereo. The same Beatles albums could be bought in a mono phonograph or stereo phonograph version.

The stereo re-mixes of the Beatles are notoriously hard to listen to over headphones. All the guitars might be panned hard-right while all the vocals are panned hard left. Or Paul McCartney's lead vocal is panned hard right while all the harmony vocals are panned hard left, for example. History says that at first the producer George Martin did not want to involve himself with stereo, so he supervised the original mono mixes but left the stereo remixes to his employees and did not give much attention to the process.

The Beatles did not record a new album that they intended to be listened to in stereo until the Abbey Road album in 1969.

The primitive stereo re-mix versions of the earlier Beatles albums were the only ones available for people to hear from the 1970s all the way up until 2009 when a multi-CD box-set collection called The Beatles in Mono was released.

Since I bought the Beatles in Mono boxed set, I'm like you: I can't stand to listen to the Beatles' primitive stereo mixes anymore, even though the stereo mixes were the only ones I heard my whole life, for about 40 years, until the mono set was released.

  • Good background, but you didn't really answer the question about how to make them easier to listen to. – Jacob Swanson Jan 4 '16 at 19:25
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    @JacobSwanson Laurence and yourself have already answered from a technical point of view (and an answer has been accepted); This is additional information that would be useful to bear in mind when doing a conversion, or deciding whether to do so. Let's not discourage interesting stuff like this! – user16 Jan 4 '16 at 20:33
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Certainly. Feed the L and R tracks into separate channels of a mixer, pan both tracks to Centre, record the result. Or pan both tracks TOWARDS centre, but not fully. Then you'll still get some spatial effect without anything being ALL in one ear. You don't need a physical mixer of course. There are plenty of computer programs that will do the job. Here are instructions how to do it in the free program Audacity. LINK

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Use some audio software with one of many crossfeed plugins. Such plugin will allow you to mix SOME amount of left channel into right and vice versa. A few of such plugins allow mixing only selected frequencies for more natural effects. And absolutely best solution I like is to use room acoustic simulation plugin - you draw a room (or select a preset: church, jazz cub, studio etc.) place your left and right channel in such room as they were musicians and run it. What you will get is a nice stereo with natural sounding reverb (each channel will bounce and echo from each wall of your artificial room giving a very natural feel)

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