Saturday, October 7, 2017

Wicked Cool Minute #8: Which is Better; Mono or Stereo?

Jerry Hammack, Author of
The Beatles Recording Reference Manuals
We are quickly becoming a generation that does not know what "Mono" means.
Do you?

I asked author/expert Jerry Hammack to weigh in on the topic. As an American producer and engineer, Jerry knows quite a lot on the topic of the wonder of sound and he definitely has an opinion. In my effort to give you wicked cool data in just a couple of minutes, I challenge you to make note of Hammack's composition and use it in your next water cooler conversation. Leave your comments below as well, as we'd love to know your opinion on this very important matter!

From Author Jerry Hammack:

If you're in the audiophile community, you'll hear discussions of vintage recordings that tend to go something like this...

"I love the new vinyl re-release of Blah and the Blahs!"

"Oh, it's okay, but you haven't really heard them until you've heard them in mono!"

Heard them in mono...It's the equivalent of saying you haven't really 
read the Bible if you haven't read it in Hebrew. And in many cases, it's a true statement. But what is the difference between stereo, the way most of us experience our music today, and this mysterious thing called "mono"?

You can trace the origins of mono recordings back to the earliest Edison 
wax cylinders, played back though a single "horn" or speaker. Mono, or Monaural, means  "of, relating to, affecting, or designed for use with one ear." The easiest way to think of it is as a single point of focus in a recording, or even easier, a recording meant to be heard through a single speaker.

Many of the earliest pop recordings were meant to be heard this way, as 
home (or later, car) audio systems commonly only had a single speaker. The engineers of the era worked to insure that everything they wanted you to hear came through loud and clear through just a single point of output.

Famously, the majority of The Beatles best work was focused on mono 
output. In the UK during their era, mono was king - unlike the US where stereo (or stereophonic, "of, relating to, or constituting sound reproduction involving the use of separated microphones and two transmission channels to achieve the sound separation of a live hearing") had made early inroads commercially with home systems. Knowing 
this, they focused their work to insure the mono versions of their recordings were everything they envisioned. They actually spent very little time on the stereo versions of the same songs until late in their career.

Image result for album in monoWhich is better mono or stereo? Neither, really. Purists would say you should experience music the way it was intended to be heard: Bach on ancient instruments; jazz, live in a club: The Beatles in mono, and so on.
While that's desirable in many ways, finding those ancient instruments or even a real mono system is problematic and costly. Many mono recordings have now been recreated in a "summed" output, meaning you can play them on a stereo system, but they are still from one "single point of focus."

The interesting thing is - once you are some distance from your stereo (far enough to not be able to distinguish the left from the right channel), you are listening in mono anyway!

So enjoy your stereo or enjoy your mono, but mostly, just enjoy your music.
Jerry Hammack lives in Canada and is a frequent guest at The Fest for Beatles Fans. Read more and purchase his book at:

The Beatles Get Back to Mono:

Wishing you PEACE,
Lanea Stagg
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