What is the Difference Between Mono and Stereo?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2019
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Mono and stereo are two different classes of sound that are often used in situations involving the reproduction process for music and other audio presentations. In years past, both formats have been used with recordings, including a period during the middle of the 20th century in which vinyl records were sometimes offered to consumers in each of the two formats. The key difference between mono and stereo has to do with the use of channels to reproduce the sound. Mono recordings make use of a single channel, while stereo recordings utilize two or more channels.

It is important to note that the sound quality produced by both mono and stereo is normally considered to be very good. The difference is that stereo generally provides a listening experience that is closer to actually being present at the source of the sounds being reproduced. Just as the ears allow individuals to pick up on each individual sound that goes into the overall presentation, stereo provides a similar experience with recordings. By contrast, mono provides a single conduit for all the sounds; while the reproduced sound is still of good quality, it normally lacks the depth of a stereo recording.


During the middle of the 20th century, a number of record companies issued both vinyl albums and 45 rpm records in both mono and stereo formats. In terms of pricing, the stereo releases were usually a little more expensive than the mono versions, but provided superior sound reproduction on the emerging stereo systems of the day that used multiple speakers and channels as part of the listening experience. Mono records continued to sell well, since the sound reproduction on record players that used a single speaker system were similar for both stereo and mono recordings. Over time, advances in technology made mono records somewhat obsolete, with stereo recordings having a clear advantage by the 1970s.

While stereo recordings are the norm today, both mono and stereo technology remain in use. Mono is still often used in situations that require a single source of sound. This includes the sound reproduction that occurs with talk radio broadcasts and standard telephone calls. Here, the goal is usually to make use of a lower amount of bandwidth while still providing an adequate listening experience. Since mono sound reproduction uses considerably less bandwidth than a multi-channel stereo sound reproduction, this can mean more efficient use of the available bandwidth without creating a very noticeable reduction in overall sound quality.


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Post 5

I think part of the problem with stereo versus mono albums is that a lot of record companies created "fake stereo" mixes from mono sources. This isn't the same as true stereo mixing. What they would do is take a mono mix from a group like the Beatles and artificially break it up into two separate channels. The vocals might come out of the left channel, for instance, and the guitar would come out of the right channel. It might sound like true stereo, but it's not.

When you listen to a true stereo recording, you can almost tell where the musicians were standing during the session. Some of the vocals might come out of both speakers, since the singer

was probably in the middle of the room. The drums might sound like they were 20 feet away from the microphone, and they probably were. The lead guitarist might have stood on the right side of the room, and the rhythm guitarist stood on the left. If you have a really good stereo system, you can really feel like the band is set up in your living room or bedroom.
Post 4

The Mono/Stereo posting may benefit from further thought.

When a sound is heard, it is heard in stereo, by two ears. So all sound is stereo for a person with normal hearing.

Some sounds come from one point source, but very few. For example, a piano is a sort of single source, so it is played in mono in effect. So whatever the recording engineer does, the original piano sound is mono, but heard by stereo ears.

However, we need to define our terms. For example, a piano has many strings, so each string is a mono source. Far beyond two channels. Then we have to remember that sound isn't a straight line; it goes around corners, echoes, bounces of objects on its way from the mono string, to the stereo ears.

So let's not worry about mono versus stereo. Our ears make everything stereo.

Post 2

Does anyone know a time when you would actually want to use the mono sound setting on your television?

I have always wondered why my television has an option for mono sound when it sounds best in stereo. Also, it seems to me that most televisions are built for stereo sound as they have two distinct speakers to broadcast from.

I was playing with the settings on my television and I can honestly say that mono sound was noticeably worse than stereo. It just didn't have any depth to it.

Do you think the availability of two sound settings has anything to do with analog verses digital signals being broadcast?

Post 1

It is interesting to learn how our sound technology has progressed to give us a more authentic listening experience when in our homes and in entertainment venues. While stereo sound is excellent for headphones, because it uses a two points of sound focus, one for each ear, there are even better options available nowadays.

Most of you have probably heard of surround sound, but may be unsure of how it is different from stereo sound. Surround sound creates multiple points of sound, allowing for a more 3D experience. Our ears don't just hear from one direction, but can actually register an array of sounds from various directions.

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