Whether you just bought a record player and need to buy records to play on it, or you’re an avid vinyl record collector, knowing the difference between mono and stereo records is essential. To some, it might not matter, but to music lovers everywhere, there are many noticeable differences between them. Is there an easy way to tell the difference?
To tell if vinyl records are mono or stereo, listen to them with a pair of headphones or speakers. If the sound from both speakers is exactly the same, the record is likely mono. If the sound isn’t exactly the same from both speakers, the record is stereo. Always use a stereo cartridge if you’re unsure.
Along with discussing how to tell the differences, throughout this article, you’ll also learn the following about mono and stereo vinyl records:
- The advantages and disadvantages of mono and stereo.
- Whether one version is louder than the other.
- Whether you can play any record with any cartridge.
- Examples of popular mono and stereo vinyl records.
What is the difference between mono and stereo records?
The main difference between mono and stereo records is sound quality. While some people prefer the sound of mono over stereo, the most popular and favored vinyl today is the stereo version due to its more advanced sound quality.
The best way to hear the difference between mono and stereo vinyl records is to listen with a pair of headphones. This will help you determine whether you’re listening to a mono or stereo record. However, setting two speakers to each side of you will also do the trick.
Below I’ll discuss both mono and stereo audio and the differences between both of the sounds.
Mono, short for monaural or monophonic sound reproduction, is a sound that is played back using one audio channel, meaning it’s heard from one position.
For example, if there are two speakers, the same sound will come from both sides, rather than the more complex pan of sounds that stereo offers. However, you only need one speaker for mono audio.
When you play a mono record on a record player, the vibrations converted to sounds are carried through one speaker, making it monaural.
Mono vinyls were the most popular during the 1950s and into the 1960s, but music companies introduced stereo records in the late 1950s.
However, the record players for stereo records were more expensive at the time, so the music industry continued to make mono albums until the late 1960s.
Some people prefer the sound of mono over stereo because it’s a simple, straightforward sound. While today most records are stereo, there are songs specifically recorded to sound like older blues or folk songs that people prefer to record with mono audio.
Other examples of the use of mono sound today include:
- AM radio stations
- Telephone networks
- Hearing aids
Today, record collectors everywhere actively seek out mono records. As they’re rare, they are seen as collectibles.
Stereo, or stereophonic sound, is more complex than mono sound.
Unlike mono audio, stereo audio uses two or more audio channels. Therefore, it creates a sound that comes from numerous directions, similar to that of normal hearing.
As a result, when you play a stereo record on a record player, the sound waves come through two different channels simultaneously.
While introduced in the late 1950s, stereo records didn’t become very popular until the 1970s due to people having to spend extra money on equipment specifically for stereo records.
Eventually, stereo audio took over all audio components, and we rarely see mono audio today.
Is One Louder Than the Other?
While technically, neither stereo nor mono records are louder than the other, stereo might seem louder due to its panning effect.
Hearing music comes from different channels, and the added speaker can give off what seems like a more audible sound.
Which One Is Better?
Many people will argue that stereo vinyls are better simply because they mimic the natural way we hear music. However, one isn’t technically better than the other, as it all comes down to preference.
For example, if you prefer old folk songs originally recorded using mono audio, you will probably prefer the mono vinyl records.
However, stereo audio offers added benefits, such as panning, making the experience of listening to music seem more real.
Mono and Stereo Records Have Different Types of Grooves
The grooves on mono and stereo records are the main difference between the two and are why the sound quality is different. They are also essential to consider before using a mono record on a record player meant for stereos and vice versa.
The grooves on a mono record are lateral cut and have no vertical component, making just one signal. However, the grooves on a stereo record contain both lateral and vertical components and have multiple signals.
Read more: This is How Vinyl Records Work
Are All Types of Vinyl Compatible With All Cartridges?
It’s essential to note that not all types of vinyl will work on every record player’s cartridge. When the music industry introduced stereo records, one of the main reasons they didn’t take off right away was because stereo records needed different equipment, which was pricey.
Trying to play a stereo record with a mono cartridge can damage both the cartridge and the vinyl.
However, you can play a mono record with a stereo cartridge, although it’s not preferred. While it won’t damage the record or cartridge, the sound might be a little different.
Mono Records Are Rare Today
Since vinyl is making a resurgence in today’s world, it’s common to see them everywhere, and the music industry is making stereo vinyl of today’s music to keep up with the current trend. Due to how rare mono vinyl is today, they are more expensive.
While some music producers still make mono vinyl today, they’re not as widespread as stereo vinyl.
Why Are Mono Records More Expensive?
Mono records are considered more vintage than stereo records. Having an older mono album is rare, and they’re more sought after because artists and bands initially recorded older songs with mono audio. Therefore, they sound better in mono.
The music industry has remastered many albums initially recorded in mono to be stereo. However, many vinyl collectors prefer the original sound to the newer one, even though stereo is technically more advanced audio.
Popular Mono and Stereo Vinyl Records
One of the most popular mono vinyl today is The Beatles Mono Masters LP, which is available on Amazon.com. The Beatles were the most popular in the 1960s when they recorded most of their songs in mono audio, so many listeners first heard the group in mono.
Although the group began to mix mono and stereo records as stereo started to become more popular, they always regarded mono as primary, making it a staple in The Beatles music.
For that reason, The Beatles’ mono records are the most preferred of many.
While stereo records are widespread today, and you can find almost any album in stereo, a popular choice is The Beatles Abbey Road Anniversary LP, which is also on Amazon.com, which contains a mix of stereo and mono.
However, the song “Abbey Road” was the first song The Beatles recorded that is completely stereo, which gives you the experience of hearing the authentic sound of The Beatles.
While I mostly stuck with The Beatles theme, there are many popular mono and stereo records available. However, the best sounding mono and stereo vinyl records will be records initially made with that audio. Switching the mono records to stereo and vice versa usually disrupts the authentic sound.
Vinyl records can be either mono or stereo. However, today you’ll mostly see stereo records due to the advancements in the music industry’s sound quality.
The best way to tell the difference between mono and stereo records is to listen with headphones. That way, you’ll be able to decipher whether the music seems centered (mono) or if it’s panning (stereo). However, you can also tell the difference by looking at the grooves and the labels.