Mono or Stereo: What's the Difference?

Mono signals are recorded using one audio channel while stereo sounds are recorded using two audio channels. Learn about differences between mono & stereo sounds & how they're used.

Mono or Stereo: What's the Difference?

Mono signals are recorded and reproduced using a single audio channel, while stereo sounds are recorded and reproduced using two audio channels. As a listener, the most notable difference is that stereo sounds are capable of producing the perception of width, while mono sounds are not.

Mono audio

tends to sound flat, tight and less dynamic. This is because all audio elements are grouped together on the same channel and are played at the same volume.

It usually sounds as if it came from a single point on a 2D plane, usually the front or the center. Mono tracks send only one channel for all speakers. However, stereo tracks send two different channels, one for each speaker. Most people today use the stereo because it sounds wider, more detailed and much more realistic. The difference is in the number of channels (signals) used.

Mono uses one, stereo uses more than one. Stereo sound (or stereophonic sound) is the reproduction of sound using two or more independent audio channels in a way that creates the impression that sound is heard from several directions, as in natural hearing. Mono (monaural or monophonic sound reproduction) has single-channel audio, often focused on the “sound field”.And stereos (stereophonics) are the classification of sound.

Stereo sound

has almost completely replaced mono due to the improved audio quality provided by the stereo.

Mono sound is preferred in radiotelephony communications, telephone networks and radio stations dedicated to talk shows and conversations, PA systems and headphones. Stereo sound is preferred for listening to music in theaters, radio stations dedicated to music, FM broadcasts and digital audio broadcasting (DAB).Mono sound recording is done primarily with a microphone, and only one speaker is required to hear the sound. The signal does not contain level, arrival time or phase information that can replicate or simulate directional signals. Everyone hears the same signal and with the same level of sound. The sound played, for example, by each instrument in a band will not be heard clearly, even though it will have total fidelity.

It's cheaper and easier to record in mono sound. Stereo recording is done with two or more special microphones. The stereo effect is achieved by carefully positioning the microphone that receives different levels of sound pressure, so even the speakers must have the ability to produce the stereo and must also be positioned with care. These sound systems have two or more independent audio signal channels. The signals have a specific level and phase relationship with each other, so that, when reproduced through an appropriate reproduction system, there will be an apparent image of the original sound source.

It's expensive and requires the ability to record stereo sound. There are several methods for recording stereo sound: this video provides an explanation of some of the differences between mono and stereo sound, as well as how to record stereo sound. Mono sound has only one sound channel, while stereo uses one channel for each speaker or headset. In addition, mono was widely used in the past and is sometimes still used, but stereo has generally replaced it because stereo gives a higher quality and realistic impression. Most records until the '60s were released in mono and stereo formats, so people with both teams could listen to albums. Since each instrument has a different function in the mix, some instruments must be stereo and others must be mono.

But keep in mind that the playback will take place in dual mono mode, in which the audio signal is simply duplicated and played simultaneously on the left and right channels. Although mono is sometimes considered to be the poor cousin of stereo, producers such as Joe Meek were able to make powerful and lucid mixes to record them in mono. I'd be surprised if a sound card could only output mono audio, but a superficial Google reveals that people report this exact problem. This is done by recording the main elements of a track, such as the main instruments and vocals, in mono and other supporting elements in stereo. Known as “pseudo-stereo” this guy uses audio software to duplicate tracks in mono and add effects. If you usually only use one earbud at a time - which believe it or not you might prefer - then you might prefer mono sound over stereo.

Before stereo was introduced mono only offered one track with a “flat” sounding experience which offered little depth on multiple speakers since they all played exactly same track. It's important to note that some listeners will be using smartphones or other mono playback systems. Mono record players were more commonly owned in average households while stereo players represented slightly more investment. That said if you use monaural or single-earbud headphones have hearing impairment in one ear or perhaps you tend to share your headphones a lot it's best to use mono audio. The most basic definition of mono or stereo is simply that with stereo you receive information in one ear that is somewhat different from what other ear receives.

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