Although virtually outdated, mono records, when played right, can pack a punch that’s commonly associated with stereo records. And since most stereo turntables are designed to play stereo records, can they also play mono records?
You can play mono records on a stereo turntable. However, to achieve high-quality audio, it’s best to use a mono cartridge that’s compatible with your stereo turntable. Playing audio in mono in a stereo turntable allows for better noise reduction as it significantly eliminates surface noise.
Are you curious to learn more about playing mono records on stereo turntables? If so, then you couldn’t be in a better place. Read on for an in-depth discussion on how to make the most of stereo turntables when playing mono records.
What Is the Best Way To Play Mono Records?
There has been a long-standing debate on whether mono records should be played in mono or stereo in a stereo turntable. For some people, listening in either mode won’t have much of a difference.
However, for serious collectors and audiophiles, the mode in which a mono record is played on a stereo turntable will have a huge impact on the overall listening experience. Listening to a mono record in a stereo audio system as opposed to using mono cartridges comes with several disadvantages.
The surface noise that results from the scratches or marks on the surface of vinyl records will become apparent when playing mono records in stereo. The surface noise will manifest as pops and ticks and can significantly take away from your listening experience because, besides hearing the music, you’ll also hear the pops and ticks being played from decentralized locations.
However, when you listen in mono, the surface noise is reduced as it will be strategically masked by the music at the center of what would otherwise be the stereo field.
Put simply, playing a record in mono on a stereo turntable will reduce the effect of surface noise significantly, allowing you to make the most of both your record and stereo turntable.
Groove wear is also another major cause of out-of-phase noise that can cause significant audio distortion. The amount of wear on vintage mono records depends on several factors, such as poorly set up equipment and the use of substandard equipment.
Using cartridges with a worn-out stylus can also deform the grooves, permanently distorting the sound.
Playing mono records in a stereo turntable in mono helps to reduce the out-of-phase noise resulting from groove wear. And while the noises might still be apparent, they’ll be less obvious when played in stereo turntables using mono cartridges.
How To Play Mono Records in Mono on Stereo Turntables
There are several ways to play mono records in mono on stereo turntables, as discussed below.
Using a Mono Cartridge
If you’re using a stereo turntable with a flexible tonearm that can accept removable headshells, then the easiest way to play your mono record would be through a mono cartridge.
Mono cartridges play a pivotal role in correcting imperfections when listening to mono records. This is because, unlike a stereo cartridge, a mono cartridge will produce one signal that is directed to the channel’s two systems, thereby resulting in a stable, more forceful image with a complete sound.
Using mono cartridges to play mono records also helps eliminate responses to vertical movement, making the cartridge unaffected by the pinching effect that occurs when the stylus is gradually pushed upward in extremely narrow grooves.
And since the vertical component will not be heard when using mono cartridges, you’ll be less likely to hear responses to dirt, wear, and dust when using mono cartridges on stereo turntables.
If your stereo turntable has a mono switch, then you can use it when playing mono records. One caveat, however, is that not all stereo turntables come with a mono switch.
Using a mono switch has its advantages and disadvantages. While you won’t have to swap cartridges and adjust the counterweight when using a mono switch, you might still have to contend with imperfections like noise, phase errors, crosstalk, anti-skating, distortion, and tracking error. This is because mono switches aren’t as effective in summing up the right and left channels as mono cartridges.
Therefore, if you’re to choose between using a mono switch and a mono cartridge, it is highly advisable to use the latter as it guarantees a smoother, centralized output. A mono switch might help reduce the noises and distortion to some extent, but it won’t do a thorough job like a mono cartridge.
RCA Y Cables
Another way to connect the right and left channels is through using a pair of RCA Y cables (one male to female and one female to male). By using these cables, you’ll be recreating the role of a mono switch, thus allowing you to sum the two channels into one.
RCA Y cables are ideal if you can’t access a mono cartridge or your playing device lacks a mono switch.
However, using this method can prove daunting, especially if you interchange between mono and stereo records frequently, because when using double Y-cables, you’ll need to remove the adapters whenever you’re switching from mono to stereo and vice versa.
Can You Use a Mono Cartridge To Playback a Stereo Record?
As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t attempt to playback a stereo vinyl record using a mono cartridge, unless you get a go-ahead from the manufacturer.
Cartridge manufacturing companies like Grado, Ortofon, Miyajima, and Audio-Technica usually provide assistance on the correct usage of their respective mono cartridges.
Therefore, unless the manufacturer states that a mono cartridge can read both vertical and horizontal elements, it’s best to use it exclusively for reading mono tracks. However, you can play a mono vinyl record using a stereo cartridge without any fears or concerns.
Is Modifying Stereo Turntables To Play Mono Records Worth the Hassle?
Some people might argue that tweaking turntables to play mono records is too much work. While this might be true, the benefits of using mono cartridges and even RCA Y cables are totally worth it, as you’ll get to enjoy the genuine quality of mono records.
Playing mono records directly on a stereo turntable is undoubtedly the easier option. However, if you choose to take that route, then you must be prepared to encounter imperfections that will almost certainly affect your listening experience.
The difference between the two channels will result in an unstable image that can be improved by a mono switch to some extent.
Ideally, you should settle for a mono cartridge if you want to experience the best possible audio quality, because alternatives like a mono switch or RCA Y cables cannot remove the noise or defects that might arise once a vertical signal is tracked.
In addition to distortion reduction, a quality mono cartridge like the MC A Mono by Ortofon won’t be affected by the pitching effect that arises when a stylus is pushed upwards in narrow grooves.
You can also expect a high-quality mono cartridge to significantly reduce the effects of dirt and gradual wear and tear of the vinyl records.
It’s possible to play mono records on a stereo turntable. However, as revealed throughout the article, playing the records with a stereo cartridge will take away from the listening experience as you won’t achieve similar signals in both the right and left channels, meaning it won’t be true mono.
However, by using a mono cartridge, it’ll be possible to eliminate problems like tracking errors, crosstalk, and phase errors that usually degrade the overall audio quality. While alternatives like mono switches and RCA T cables might work, it’s best to use a quality mono cartridge.