Mono vs Stereo Records – What do you need to play them?

If you are a vinyl enthusiast or just starting out you will learn many new things like turntable components, record types, drive types, etc. You might also already know the difference between mono and stereo, however how does this apply to records, what are exactly mono or stereo records, what are their difference and how do we handle each. Let’s go straight to the answers.

Stereo is the gold standard in the vinyl industry however older records can still be Mono. The difference is that stereo records have two audio channels which can create a more three-dimensional soundscape. In terms of sound quality, the amount of audio channels does not matter. Even though turntables are mainly made for stereo records they can still play mono records, using a mono cartridge when playing mono records can actually improve the sound quality.

Differences between Mono and Stereo records

Mono stands for monophonic audio and only uses one audio channel and is meant to be played with the sound coming from one direction. This is different from stereo of course as here there are two audio channels which can bring two speakers to live so the sound comes from two positions. The difference is made by using different grooves, mono records only lets the stylus move sideways while stereo records also lets the stylus move up and down and therefore creating two different audio channels.

Mono has been around since the first audio devices were invented, from the first radio with one speaker to the first gramophone. Stereo was invented in the 1950’s s mentioned above the two speakers can create a more 3d soundscape which can bring music more to live as if it is played right in front of you. Music producers in the heyday and as of today heavily use the extra options stereo gives as they can pan different instruments and audio layers separately to either the left or the right channel. After 1970 mono records really weren’t produced anymore and therefore mono can be collectors’ items.

Can you play mono records on a turntable?

Well the answer is yes but adjustments you need to make depends on the type of record, especially the material that is made from. First of all in the case the shellac records from the 1940’s you will need a special 78rpm stylus to play them. In the case of the mono vinyl records from the 1950’s and onward you can always play those on any modern turntable. But they will sound better if you use mono cartridge playing them.

Stereo cartridges can play mono records on all cases. However why should you even bother with a mono cartridge then? Well some audiophiles find that using a stereo cartridge on a mono record will give more errors and sound issues as the mono signal is still separated into two audio signals that can never be 100% the same. A mono cartridge only gives out 1 signal so you know the exact same audio signal is produced in both speakers. A great example of such a cartridge is the Ortofon 2M Mono which produces good mono sound.

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