How to Fix Bad Stereo with Audacity

Bad Stereo Audacity Feature Image

Do you have a video with sound running through only one of your speakers? You can use Audacity to fix these bad stereo issues within a matter of minutes, making your audio more professional and consistent.

Although we’re assuming you have a video with unbalanced sound, this tutorial is equally applicable to standalone audio. The most likely scenario is a video with sound that needs fixing. But if you just have standalone audio, skip the next section. If you’re here because of noisy audio, see our guide on noise removal using Audacity.

If you do have a video with unbalanced sound, first you need a copy of the audio stream you can edit independently of the video. There are many different programs that can do this. It doesn’t matter which you use as long as you can save an independent sound file.

The easiest choice is probably VideoLAN, or VLC for short. You probably already have it installed. If not, install it. Everyone uses VideoLAN.

Extracting Audio with VLC

From the main menu inside VLC, click “Media -> Convert/Save.” This will open a new window at the File tab. Add your video by either dragging the clip into the File Selection field or by clicking the Add button. Click Convert/Save at the bottom of the window, which will bring up a second window, Convert.

VLC importing media

Convert will be preselected by default in the Settings field with a drop-down menu for the Profile section. Scroll through the options until you find the Audio presets.

“Audio – FLAC” and “Audio – CD” (WAV audio) are the easiest choices, but if they don’t suit you, click the spanner icon next to the drop-down menu for a list of other codecs. Advanced users can choose from many more codecs and settings under the Audio tab.

Codec choice, VLC

Lastly, click the Browse button in the Destination field to define an output filename. Click Start and your new audio file should be waiting for you.

Fixing Audio in Audacity

To get started, import your audio into Audacity by choosing “File -> Import -> Audio” from the main menu. Or simply drag and drop from your file manager onto the Audacity window.

Unfixed audio in Audacity

Before applying a fix, distinguish which issue you have. Is your audio simply unbalanced, or is it completely off to one side with zero audio through the other channel? If the sound is simply unbalanced, the fix couldn’t be easier.

Look to the controls on the track’s left where there will be a pan slider between L and R for changing stereo balance. Play the track and simply move the pan slider until it sounds right. Job done. Export your audio. (See further down for instructions.)

Pan correction of stereo

However, if your audio is all the way to one side with absolutely no audio through the other channel, adjusting the pan won’t work. Dragging the slider won’t reposition the audio. If you drag it all the way to the other side, the sound simply disappears. Solve this by converting the track into mono.

If you just spat your coffee out at that suggestion, mono is greatly misunderstood and extremely useful. If your audio stream is only playing down one channel, it was probably already mono anyway but has been badly shoehorned into stereo. Some people think mono means low quality, but mono can have exactly the same quality as stereo or surround. It’s still used for many tasks today, particularly in the recording industry.

Mono doesn’t have any spatial positioning. It was designed around using one speaker, and that’s it. On a properly functioning stereo system, a mono sound source will always be perfectly centered. This is the case with Audacity. It’s perfect for YouTube monologues and the like. They sound unprofessional when the audio is unbalanced.

Note that just because you now have a mono track, doesn’t mean the whole project has to be mono. Mono and stereo tracks co-exist in Audacity with no problem and the two together will mix together with correct sound positioning.

Converting to Mono

If mono is the fix you need, open the track toolbar by clicking on the title of the track, then click “Split Stereo to Mono.” You will now have two separate mono tracks: one with all the audio and the other blank.

Splitting stereo into two mono tracks

The track with audio will be perfectly centered, though you can reposition it with the slider if you choose to. As for the blank track, just delete it.

Stereo split into two channels

Note that Audacity will export the audio as a mono file if you only have mono audio and the pan slider is untouched and centered.

Exporting Your Audio

When you’re ready to export your audio, go to the main menu and click “File -> Export -> Export as … ” You can choose from options like WAV, MP3, and Ogg, depending on whatever you want to do with your audio stream from here.

Export options

it’s wise to choose uncompressed WAV as your format if you’re putting this sound back into a video and the audio will be compressed yet once more. Your video editor can re-encode the audio into a suitable compressed format without needless layers of degradation. If this project will remain as pure audio, pick your preferred codec, click Save, and enjoy your newly fixed sound.

Like the look of Audacity and want to learn more? Check out our beginner’s guide to recording in Audacity.

John Knight

John Knight is a writer, most notably for Linux Format (UK), Linux Journal (US), and Maximum PC (US). Outside of open source and general computing material, John has also written for automotive publications, and is currently writing material on vintage gaming and drumming. Other areas of interest include Psychology, French, and Japanese.

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