Mono vs. Stereo

I've been wondering for some time what the sound difference and listening experience is between Mono and Stereo.  Let me acknowledge first off that I have not done an A-B comparison since I do not have both Mono and Stereo of the same release.  At least I don't think I do.  Would appreciate a couple of thoughts on the difference.  If someone has a good link to a source write-up, that would be appreciated as well.  

I've heard folks say the mono versions are better, but again, never did the A-B comparison.  

Thanks in advance.
I learned here that playing Mono LP’s with a Mono cartridge is better than playing with a Stereo Cartridge even if using a ’mono’ control on a preamp.

I found it is definitely true. It makes a bit/some/a lot of improvement.


An historic compilation of early jazz: listening via stereo, not involving, came off as a history lesson, probably would never play it again.

Received my Grado Mono cartridge, wow, it was so much better. Not imaging, but individual instruments became distinct, you could readily hear Louis’s trumpet ... The Stereo cartridge reacts to any vertical input, dirt in the groove, warps, and makes ’hash’, and it doubles the hash, sending it to both channels. A very large difference.

I just sold an original issue Thelonious Monk. Normally I don’t sell any audible problem, however buyers ask for specific things, soooo

The LP has an audible scuff about 1/2" long in one track, otherwise it’s fine.

I listened with Stereo, noise was the same volume as the content. That track definitely not enjoyable. I listened playing Mono, the amount of audible noise was reduced two ways: first, the sound of the scuff was considerably lower volume than the content, acceptable enjoyment. secondly, the duration of any noise was reduced in program length.

I advised the buyer he would only get thru that track happily with a Mono cartridge. He bought the LP, bought himself a Mono cartridge, left me great feedback. He is evidently a collector, wanted my original riverside issue which is rare it seems.

Others: I don’t own a lot of lps in both formats, but I can definitely say many many of my Mono Jazz LPs sound terrific. They had excellent equipment and techniques long before stereo.
Lots to keep in mind.

Multi-track recordings happened before stereo, so some multitrack recordings were made for mono, but when stereo came out they attempted to take advantage of the new medium, often with poor results.

Next, mono should be listened to from a central speaker. Your head interferes with the signals in a variety of ways, depending on the location of the source.  See "head related transfer function" for more.

But basically a true mono recording will reach your ears differently when played back from a stereo setup than from a single speaker dead in front.


I've done comparison on my Beatles collection Please, Please Me and With the Beatles Lp's definitely sound much better in mono while the White Album and Abbey Road are superior in stereo. With early rock Lp's you get a nice full punchier feeling with the mono mix as recording techniques improved stereo sounded much better.
The difference between stereo and mono? With stereo, you are there. With mono, they are here.

another aspect of mono vinyl playback is the groove size. early wide groove mono’s are optimized with a 1.0 mil stylus, later (after the mid 60’s) cut with a stereo cutter head are optimal with a 0.7 mil stylus.

it makes a significant difference in playback performance. 60’s mono pressings need to be played on both to determine which is optimal.

therefore i have 2 mono vinyl rigs. the one with my 0.7 mil stylus uses the Miyajima Infinity mono 0.7 mil on a Durand Kairos arm, mounted on an EMT 948. the other is the Miyajima Infinity mono 1.0 mounted on a 12" Durand Telos wood armwand on a Wave Kinetics NVS tt.

new reissue monos sound fabulous on the 0.7 mil. early 50’s monos are to die for on the 1.0 mil.

all the good things mentioned above are going on with these pressings. i have some great stereo cartridges and gear, but these mono cartridges take the music to another level, even with tip top stereo cartridges and arms directly comparing them. and proper mono vinyl listening has this magical direct sort of sound that is addicting.
frank said

The difference between stereo and mono? With stereo, you are there. With mono, they are here.

Yes, and with properly reproduced Mono, they are each distinctly here.

As for a single speaker, as Eric mentioned (which is unrealistic for me and I presume many others) I will add:

From your normal centered listening position, if both speakers are fed the identical signal, PRECISE BALANCE, to properly create a solid phantom center image is very important.

Mono LP, both speakers on, I often move to a different listening position so that my mind does not seek imaging, and do not hear any slight off center wandering that may occur. 

My McIntosh Preamp Mode Switch has L+R to L only ... or L+R to R only. I'm gonna try that next time I have a great Mono LP on, probably later today.

Thanks to you all for your thoughts.  Very helpful for me. 

I will investigate my Mac PreAmp for those adjustments @elliotbnewcombjr.  Is that your Phono PreAmp or system PreAmp that you reference?

I also like the idea of a mono cartridge.  I'll have to figure out how many Mono LPs I have in the collection.  Currently listening to the whole collection A>B.  I've been thinking of getting a dual arm turntable so when I play my LPs from high school I don't toast my best cartridge.  Also looking at a cartridge for 45's and 10" recordings.  My cache of 78's really doesn't warrant the expense of getting a 78 cartridge (never play them).

But, again, thanks for chiming in with very productive thoughts.  Much appreciated
OK Now, One Speaker as Erik Mentioned:

I played an awesome Mono Charlie Parker

a. via Mono Cartridge, preamp stereo mode, dual mono both speakers.

b. via Mono Cartridge, McIntosh Preamp Mode Switch L+R to L, it was better from only 1 speaker.

c. via Mono Cartridge, Mode Switch Stereo, balance control full left, also better than Mono from two speakers.

So, Assuming Mono Cartridge, to get only 1 speaker:

IF you don't have a Mode Switch, but do have a balance control, that does it.

Or, can you somehow disable one speaker? Try it once at least,

Erik mentioned One CENTERED Speaker. That would not be possible for me and I suspect most.

I have my speakers toed in and simply used a speaker away from but near a corner, the one diagonally away from my mono listening position (which is not centered) further away from my normal listening position, it sounded great. One speaker does produce more distinction than dual Mono. I think it is a mistake to listen from your normal 'perfect' listening position, the habit of seeking imaging is strong, and any slight drifting from center is distracting.

Thanks Erik
Wouldn't it be different depending on the sound source? I think it would be better to listen to it on a mono channel if it was based on an output device like mono radio in the past. To add one more thing, the person who makes the music once told me that it is easy to balance using the mono channel.
My speakers are hard to balance to each other, two attenuators, 1 for horn tweeter, 1 for mid horn. You cannot have certain frequencies going off center sporadically. i.e. Casandra Wilson’s (other singer’s) voice, any Piano,

I love my McIntosh Mode Control as an assist in blending my Speakers frequency performance L to R, as well as volume balance.

Stereo Reverse is a great tool. Mono, L+R to L; ....
Expanding on this, what about repressings that are done in Mono? For Example, just picked up the Stones' Let It Bleed box.  It has 180gr pressing of the Mono and Stereo versions.  (Haven't played it yet.) I assume that my existing stereo cartridge would work fine on this mono repressing?  Does that make sense?  I've never read that mono repressings have the same groove metrics of an original mono pressing.  
Depends on the record if this is the case you need 2 tonearms one with a great mono cartridge and the other with a great stereo cartridge.
Kind of defeats the purpose of having an exotic system(?)....if you want the soundstage to mimic the effect of listening to a 1960s AM radio station.  Don't 'ya think? ;(

I, personally, never minded the spatiality of wide stereo; because I hear it as a way of being able to focus on somebody's individual PLAYING when stereo tracks were mixed as lop-sidedly as a lot of stuff in the '60s was (usually: with bass, drums, and rhythm on the left, vocals and lead guitar on the right).  The "neck chills factor", to me anyway, is: when the separation is so extreme to the point of being isolated that it's like a karaoke effect, I just imagine it's like a "you are there"/time travel-trip back to being in the actual recording session booth with whatever legend made this music at THAT moment.

I never got that sense from a mono recording at all.  They sound too "dry" and with everything coming at you at once; like it's just the commodified production rather than revealing insight into the musicianship itself.