Turntable choice for mono records

I am planning to purchase a second turntable dedicated to playing my 500+ mono records (mostly post-1960 pressings or reissues) and some of the lesser quality stereo records to limit wear on my reference system (Basis turntable with Benz Micro SLR Gullwing). To support cartridge switching, I am exploring tables with a replaceable arm or headshell. The mono carts I am considering, e.g., AT33, Ortofon 2M, and Shelter 501 II, are all considerably lower cost than my current cart.  Given the price differential on carts, would I notice a sound difference between a Technics SL-1500C, SL-1210GR2, and the SL-1210G? Or between the Technics line and the Luxman PD-171A or other manufacturers?

I am especially interested in the opinions of those who find a notable sound difference between stereo and mono carts. What turntable and cartridge (below $2k) provides the greatest differential?


Turntable per se would make no difference, mono vs stereo. You want the best you can afford. Same goes for tonearm. Generally , if you’re buying a TT-TA ensemble, better TTs come with commensurately better TAs. As to the particular cartridge comparisons you ask for, I leave that to someone else.

Personally, I just use the mono switch on my linestage when playing mono LPs.

I took advice here, got a basic Grado Mono Cartridge, elliptical stylus on aluminum cantilever. Definitely better than playing mono lp with stereo cart, even if preamp has mono mode.

Next, I searched for an at33 mono body with broken cantilever. $38. yahoo/aledo. shipping was more, total just under $100.

Gave it to Steve at VAS, had him put boron cantilever with advanced stylus. Terrific, and less wear to your lp grooves.

I wanted to go stereo/mono instantly in a listening session, i.e. Jazz greats, late and early lps.

Decided two tonearms ready to go. One of them with removable headshell to switch my mono and stereo and friend's cartridges.

A related issue is how you select/send either arm's signal to your phono stage, and if PASS to use MM cartridge or MC

I went for JVC Plinth PL-2 for two arms, and ended up adding a 3rd compact arm.

Best stereo on the right long arm, best mono on the left; removable headshell rear arm: height/vta super easy for any cartridge.

Luckily, I went SUT (step up transformer) to MM Phono Stage. SUT has  3 front selectable inputs, 4 various loads for MC. rear out to phono stage so you never change cables. fidelity research frt-4


entre-100 similar features


I suggest one great TT, two arms, two great cartridges, option to change cartridges on one arm

I have two turntables, both the same, SME model 10. One has my best stereo cartridge, and one my best mono cartridge. Currently, that mean a Benz Micro LP-S on the first (via SME Series V) and an Ortofon Cadenza Mono on the other (via SME Series IV). In a few days a modified Benz Micro Ruby 3 will come back, having been converted to mono. I think, and hope, it will wipe out the Cadenza Mono. We'll see.

I don't think there is any reason to pick a different kind of turntable for the best mono reproduction. The best you can afford will be the best in either case. I appreciate that if you buy a basic mono cartridge to try out you might mount it on a cheaper arm and table, and one day you will ask yourself if you are hearing what it is capable of, given the cheaper table/arm. So, unless you want to buy a second table just as good—the same—as your stereo table, interchangeable headshells are probably the way to go.

Whether a mono cartridge is “better” than a stereo cartridge used in mono mode will depend as much upon the differences between the selected stereo and mono cartridges, on the two different tonearms, and on the accuracy of alignment, as it does upon the choice of which way to produce a mono signal. Thus I think it’s very difficult to say that a mono cartridge is the best way to go. This also assumes cost is no object.

@lewm on my Technics GAE with an SME 309 arm, I switch from my Cadenza Black & Cadenza Mono, running to my Modwright 9.0. I can definitely hear a difference. With the  Mono, the base has more authority, & the music justs flows better.....😉

Are you also using a mono mode switch ? And are you comparing the switch alone to switch plus mono cartridge? No one is claiming a stereo cartridge in stereo mode is superior to mono cartridge on mono LP.

@lewm, I’ve tried every combo, but as you may or not know, the Cadenza is not a true Mono cart. I just went down that road not to fuss with adjustments. "Wax on-Wax off"!

I want to thank everyone who posted for their very thoughtful and wise guidance! If my Basis turntable supported two arms without exorbitant expense I would have gone that route. @elliottbnewcombjr I am very envious of your setup. You have quite an amazing custom turntable. I had read your discussion on two-tonearm setups, but felt it best to go the route of two tables rather than replace the Basis which continues to serve me well for stereo records. 

@lewm your post made me realize that while I can't spring for one of the multi-arm beauties on the aforementioned thread, I should aim to acquire the best headshell-replaceable table that my budget will allow. From my research, that seems to be a Technics 1200-G. I'll have to wait a bit because they seem to be back-ordered on all the online stores. I have been using the mono button on the McIntosh preamp and never really noticed much difference in sound. Perhaps the button was faulty or I'll find my journey leads nowhere besides having some options for cart swapping that I lack today.

@dogberry I am intrigued by your conversion of the Benz Micro Ruby 3. Did you own that new or buy it with the plan to convert it to mono? My first "audiophile" cart was a Benz and I've returned to the fold with the recent purchase of the Gullwing to replace a Hana ML. The retipped Hana will now be my lower-quality stereo record cart on the new table. I usually play records about 1,200-1,500 hours per year. Wouldn't want to burnout the Benz unnecessarily on unworthy records. Had you considered or owned other mono carts before the Ortofon? 

@danmar123 I wish I had posted my question before sending in the Hana ML for a retip. It would have been interesting to purchase a new one for lower quality stereo play and see if one of the retippers could have switched the old one to mono the way others described here. I know that Hana offers the SL mono, but haven't seen an ML mono version. Does anyone posting here know if an ML can be switched to mono or is the SL likely to be the better choice?

Again, thanks to all for the great advice. You have provided me a very valuable education on factors to consider for my entrance into the multi-cartridge territory!

@vacountryboy, Your welcome. I also have an ML. For the price of an ML in Mono, which is not available, you can get a Cadenza Mono 😁

@danmar123 I beg to differ, the Cadenza mono is a true mono cartridge. The coil mount on the cantilever is rotated 45° and only the horizontally sensitive coil is connected, and to both sets of pins. I believe, at least, I am told, the vertically sensitive coil is installed (it is cheaper to wire some Cadenzas differently than to alter the production line to leave it out). It is not strapped cartridge, where both left and right coils are in their usual orientation and both connected in common to both channels.

@vacountryboy The Benz Micro 3 was bought new 12-13 years ago and used until I replaced it. I have a Cadenza Mono, and it is a fine cartridge, but out of curiosity I decided to experiment with the Ruby 3. I recently acquired an LP-S and found it a little nicer still than my London Decca Reference. So I wondered if the Ruby 3 could be converted to mono and outshine the Cadenza. I discussed it with Steve Leung at VAS and he indicated he would rotate the coil mounting rectangle 45° and either remove the coil that would now be sensitive to vertical motion or if difficult just disconnect it. Removing it is preferred to save weight on the cantilever. He would then connect the remaining coil to both L and R outputs, and also put a new FG stylus on. I'm just curious to find out of the Benz sound survives into the mono version, as opposed to the quite different Ortofon sound.


@dogberry, there are many discussions on this topic here on Agon. I'm just too lazy to find the discussion. You're correct about the design of the Ortho, but this is a TRUE Mono: Miyajima😐


Unlike me, you have room for two TT's. Nice!

You might consider selecting a TT with 2 arm capability as your 2nd TT, keeps future options wide open. MONO now, future: any other cartridge, your or friends, MM, MC, alternate Mono.

One of those arms could have very easy arm height adjustment to quickly change for individual cartridge height and VTA. Personally, I have experience with My Acos Lustre GST-801; a friend's two Micro Seiki 505's (9" and 12"; another friends Technics EPA-B500






I do not even use a mono switch. I play mono records on the same table I play everything else. I do use a separate cartridge for 78s which is mandatory because the groove is much larger.  Modern styluses on high end stereo cartridges cause less record wear due to their larger contact area. The best way to listen to mono records is off axis, out of the listening position. A system capable of the best imaging is weird to hear in mono mode from the listening position. It is like listening through a crack in the door, a narrow vertical line directly in the middle. Off axis the sound opens up, unpacks itself. There can even be a quasi image. 

Mijo, Since we both own the same brand and type of speaker, I have to say one is nearly always a little off axis because of ESL treble beaminess, but also that I invariably do hear an improvement in mono mode vs stereo mode, with mono LPs.  These improvements are (1) reduced high frequency LP noise, (2) better more focused possibly more extended sounding treble, and (3) on really good well recorded mono LPs, I sometimes can forget I am listening to a mono signal.  The brain (and probably phase effects encoded at the microphone) create a quasi-stereo feel that is very pleasing.  Oddly or perhaps obviously, this effect is more commonly achieved with complex big band or orchestral pieces, rather than with duo or trio music.


I agree, listening from'anywhere' is a big advantage, in the corner, on the porch, in the kitchen ..

and, our audiophile brains are trained to seek imaging, so sitting dead center, it is hard to completely dispense with that habit.

MONO MODE simply combines L+R and sends that combo to both speakers. 

It DOES NOT reduce any surface noise, warps, debris, any vertical movements picked up by a stereo cartridge, it in fact doubles that, as any L or R are combined, then doubled.

MONO LPs in great shape have less of the above vertical detriments, but ANY are combined and doubled.

@mijostyn You're missing out, but being a grown-up, you do you! I have no perception of stereo, having only one ear. But I still perceive a benefit from a mono cartridge playing a mono recording: much less surface noise. Since my mono records are all a bit old now, that is welcome.

Elliot, I respect the fact that you have put a lot of effort into mono playback of mono LPs, but I have to question the following statement, with reference to some shortcomings you listed above of using only a mono mode switch to listen to mono LPs:

"It DOES NOT reduce any surface noise, warps, debris, any vertical movements picked up by a stereo cartridge, it in fact doubles that, as any L or R are combined, then doubled."

I was taught by reading that the L and R channel noise(s) generated by dirt or damage in the groove walls are (predominantly) out of phase with each other and will thus be cancelled when the two channels are combined, as when one uses the mono mode for playback.  This concept is consistent with my repeated experience that HF background noise is reduced when I listen in mono mode (without also using a mono cartridge).  Also, I don't quite get what you mean by "doubled".  If the noise is cancelled because out of phase, then nothing is left to double.

The whole discussion is complicated by what definitions we use for "mono LP" and "mono cartridge".  So we could be talking past each other.  As you know, most mono cartridges for sale today are actually stereo cartridges in which the two channels have been bridged internally, in order to generate a mono signal.  That is really no different, except in one way, from using a mono mode switch on a phono stage or linestage.  The one difference is that in the former case, the mono signal is generated BEFORE RIAA correction and amplification takes place in the phono stage. Whereas in the latter case, the combining of the signals happens after those two processes have occurred. (Using a Y-adapter between the cartridge and phono inputs is really a bad idea in my opinion, because in that case each side of the cartridge is seeing the impedance of the other side in parallel with the input impedance of the phono stage.)  So I can believe that a mono cartridge, especially a true mono cartridge (one that is built so as not to respond to vertical motion of the cantilever) might have advantages vs using a mono mode switch.

This discussion has been very educational. I greatly appreciate the friendly debate over the value of mono. I have also heard from audiophile friends that a mono setup brings out a deeper soundstage and sometimes better imaging which seems to run counter to the argument that the improvement is only related to surface noise reduction. Have any of those using mono cartridges experienced these improvements compared with the same LP played in stereo (with/without) a mono switch?

Since the point was raised, which if any of the cartridges I am considering would be "true mono" and not bridged: AT33, Ortofon 2M, and Shelter 501 II? If all are bridged, what are the true mono cartridges?

vac..., You wrote, "I have also heard from audiophile friends that a mono setup brings out a deeper soundstage and sometimes better imaging which seems to run counter to the argument that the improvement is only related to surface noise reduction."

The language is a little confusing, because it could be taken as a claim that mono is superior to stereo in conveying soundstage and imaging, which is of course false on the surface. So, I think (or hope) what you meant to ask is whether using mono mode, via a mono cartridge on mono LPs is superior to using a mono mode switch, when playing mono LPs. That is the $64 question that I cannot answer, because I have not used a mono cartridge. This is where Elliot claims that a mono cartridge is superior to just the switch. Please see above where I described the mechanistic difference in terms of signal processing, between using a mono cartridge and using mono mode. (Of course, there is nothing safer than wearing suspenders AND a belt, so possibly using both mono mode and mono cartridge is best of all.) I can only say that I do hear suggestions of soundstage and imaging with just a mono mode switch that are not readily apparent when using stereo mode, with mono LPs. But Elliot may be correct that it gets even better with a mono cartridge. Sorry, but this boils down to listeners, systems, and subjective judgement.

As to which of those particular cartridges are true mono types, that is also a bit mysterious because manufacturers seem to try to obscure the methods they use to make mono cartridges from their stereo cartridges. (All 3 examples you cite are models that are also available in stereo.) I have a hunch that the Shelter mono is a bridged stereo cartridge. Ortofon is a bit tricky, because their literature is ambiguous, and they definitely try to leave the reader thinking their mono cartridges are true mono. Some may be true mono; I am pretty sure that some others are not. I never investigated the 2M. And finally, the AT33; I dunno. There are only a few brands where you can be sure of true mono. One of course is Miyajima. I think one of the Denons. Maybe others can help.

@lewm sorry that I wasn't being clear. I was referring to the situation of a mono recording (especially one cut pre-1968) that is played with a mono cartridge vs. the same mono recording played with a stereo cartridge with or without a mono switch  on the phono stage or preamp engaged. My reading and conversations with others suggests there may be a noticeable improvement in sound quality for the "pure" mono system over the stereo setup if they are of comparable quality. 

I very much appreciate the insight that manufacturers, like Ortofon, which make the same level cartridge in stereo and mono, might be more prone to bridging, than a company that specifically manufactures a mono cartridge within the same class. The "bridged" vs "true" mono cartridge seems like it could be an important caveat to my statement above.

I think I did respond to the question you re-phrase above. You are collecting a bunch of opinions from strangers, but there is no reason to believe that a bridged mono cartridge is any different from using a mono mode switch with a stereo cartridge, except the one I mentioned earlier: With a bridged mono cartridge, the derived mono signal is then amplfied and RIAA corrected, With a mono switch, the mono signal is derived after amplification and RIAA correction have taken place (but keep in mind that the LP is feeding a mono signal to both channels, regardless).  The only way to tell whether that difference is important to you is to try it both ways, IMO. I would not necessarily go by the opinions of others.  AND you should keep in mind that any mono cartridge may sound different from any stereo cartridge, just because they are two different cartridges. That's always a confounding factor. For that reason, I would be loathe to generalize.