More often than not, you’ve heard of mono and stereo in the audio world as a young music producer. But you most likely would not know the difference between the two. Well, we’ll show you because music producers should be able to tell the difference right off the bat.
In case you’re wondering why you should care about these terms in the audio; here’s the simple reason! Mono and Stereo heavily make an impact on the quality of music you produce. If you take the time to listen to the records of certain artists, especially vinyl, you’ll easily spot the difference.
Simply put, these two terms, in music, depict sound systems deployed in music creation. Okay! So, we’ll stop here, so we do not spill all the juicy details before we even get started on this journey. So, if you please, join this ride, tighten your set belt and let’s dash off into the article already. Stick with us till the end if to learn the basic and subtle Mono vs. Stereo.
You already know that both Mono and Stereo are two sound systems that affect audio quality in recording and playback. But do you know what these individual terms entail? Yes? No? let’s find out together.
Surely, you didn’t know that it’s named “Mono” for no reason. Well, if you initially thought that, I'll debunk and clarify your confusion now. For starters, it is the shorter version of the monophonic or monaural sound. As you might have guessed, it sure has something to do with singularity or one judging by the prefix “mono” that’s attached to it.
When we refer to a sound system as a Mono or Monophonic sound, a sound system is produced and played back with and on a single audio channel. As a result, if you play your song recorded in mono through two or speakers, you’ll get the same sound during playback. It’s a common sound system that certain restaurants make use of.
They play their mono song through the many speakers they have and get one sound and signal in return. You won’t hear any sound heading left, right, mid-range, etc., there would be no complication in sound. Mono has a single signal because, during the recording phase, it was recorded with a single microphone.
When you play a Mono sound through your earpiece or speakers, you’ll hear the same sound, with the same detail produced through headphones, earbud, headset, or speaker's ears. Mono sounds are ideal for radio stations, podcasts, sit-down interviews where there aren’t too many other distracting sounds.
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When it comes to stereo sounds, it is the exact opposite of Monophonic sound. For starters, stereo sounds are recorded using two or more sound systems. Hence, they give off two different signals when you play them.
Specifically, the audio channels used to record stereo sounds are independent. In other words, stereo sounds are produced using two microphones, giving you two different signals at the end of the recording phase.
Now, the impact of a sound-producing two signals or more is that it won’t output the same signals through any output system. For instance, when you play a stereophonic sound through two or more speakers, you’ll audibly hear how each speaker you use produce a unique signal from the different signals on the song. It’s like they do a brief division of labor.
Note that, sometimes, stereo sounds might not necessarily produce two sounds. The two signal channels could be a mid and side channel. You have a mid or central channel that produces the major signal while the other minute details flow through the side channel. The same happens when you output a stereo sound through your earpiece, headphone, or headset.
Both ears would output different sound signals. In general, what stereo sound does to your ear is that it gives you the impression that the sound you’re hearing comes from a different direction. With stereo sounds, the sounds are not without location at all that it starts to sound so out of place because different sound system outputs them through their different components.
One of the major advantages of stereophonic sound is that you can choose to output your stereo signals through different speakers or one speaker alone. The ball is in your court.
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Which One Should You Use? Mono or Stereo?
Truthfully, the sound system you should use heavily depends on the result you want to achieve. The truth is, you can’t explicitly compare both sounds as they work for a different context. If your goal is to ensure that every detail on your song is prominent, very detailed, wide, and has a lot more depth, then you should deploy the stereo sound.
It allows every element of the sound to be heard. The stereo field is ideal for movies and music. It makes the sound from the music you listen to and movies you watch immersive. It engulfs you into a romantic relationship with your movie or song.
As a producer, you do not need to explore the stereo field when producing a podcast or radio show. The reason is, you only have to record a single or two vocals in either banter or a sit-down interview.
Deploying a stereo sound, in this case, would be entirely useless because there won’t be any additional elements like multiple instruments to make you route a certain signal through the right channel and the other through the left channel.
You only need to route the voices in the podcast, radio show, etc., through a single channel so that it comes out as clear and loud without phase cancellation.
In conclusion, deploy a stereo field if you’re trying to achieve more width and depth in your song or sound. But the mono sound is better when adding things like width, depth, etc., to your sound is irrelevant and would instead distract your listener from the original sound.
Mono vs. Stereo: Which is Better? Which is louder?
Without a proper context, you can’t outrightly say that Mono is better than Stereo or vice versa. You have to put these two sounds in context to derive your answer. For starters, when you’re gunning for an immersive sound experience, the Stereo sound is better when streamed through headphones or a headset.
Generally, when streaming music or watching a movie indoors, you’re definitely better off with stereo sound, especially when you set the speakers strategically. However, at concerts and outdoor events where the location has many people, and the speakers are placed far apart, mono sound is definitely better. The reason, the phase cancellation is a problem with stereo sound.
You can stream one signal through one speaker and the second signal through other speakers disqualifies it as the ideal sound for certain locations. At a concert, you’ll need all the speakers to stream the signal you send to it.
Remember that mono sounds have a single signal, and streaming through multiple speakers means that those speakers would play the same thing. Because it eliminates the phase cancellation problem, mono sound is better in the above context.
Also, when it comes to which sound is louder, I’ll say the mono sound is louder. The reason? It streams the same signal through multiple speakers. Because there are no mid and side signals and all the elements of the sound are lumped together into a single signal, Mono becomes naturally louder. It doesn’t mean stereo sound isn’t loud either.
You only need to set up your speaker in a specific way to get the loudest volume. However, the sound is no doubt immersive.
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Mono vs. Stereo Audio Files
The audio files of these two sounds systems aren’t different from their sound systems.
As earlier stated, since the stereo sound system is produced with two channels, the audio files it produces also do this. For instance, MAV and Mp3 audio files can broadcast different signals on both left and right channels.
The good thing about this is that they can easily detect which audio information should be broadcast on the left channel and the detail that should be broadcast on the right channel.
This way, it ensures that you hear exactly how and what the producer recorded. Similarly, when you import your Stereo audio file on any DAW, you’ll notice that the signal that’ll show would be split into two.
When broadcasting stereo audio files, the files automatically know where to split and move to the channel/ speaker it was designed to go through.
On the other hand, mono audio files have and display a single waveform. Hence, once you see an audio file on a DAW; you’ll easily tell what type of sound it is via the number of waveforms that appear on your screen.
Mono vs. Stereo Playback
Like always, there's a difference between these two sound systems when it plays back. For mono, it’s not hard to tell the position of the sound because both left and right speakers generate the sound you produce. Instantly, you’d easily figure out where the sound is coming from.
For stereo sounds, on the other hand, because the signal isn’t centralized, it becomes a bit difficult to locate the sound source location. However, the brain will try to locate where the sound is from. Stereo speakers play back by playing their sounds through two different speakers. The best part is, you are presented with an easy way to localize the sound from the right ear and born. You’ll be able to determine which channel it is.
Also, there are quite a few variables that make localization of the stereo sound a bit easier. Some of these include SPL difference, frequency difference, dynamic difference, reverberation amount.
Mono vs. Stereo Recording
Recording for both Mono and Stereo follow a fairly different pattern. When recording a mono sound, you don’t need a lot. The only thing you need is a single microphone. Once you set up your microphone, you can record your mono sound. In turn, it gives you a single signal that can be played on any output device like a speaker, headphone, etc. Hence, you don’t need to do a lot of stressing when it comes to its recording.
On the contrary, stereo sounds require two microphones to record them explicitly. After recording it, you’ll get a sound with two signals but is really detailed. Nevertheless, you can’t play stereo sounds with a single speaker.
You won’t enjoy the details it traps inside itself. Hence, you’ll need two speakers to hear how the recording went. But it all starts with the microphones. If your microphone is good, you’ll get a good audio sound quality recording. Then, after you’ve recorded the stereo sound, proceed to pan one of the microphone recordings to the right and the other to the left.
Mono vs. Stereo Headsets
Speakers aren’t the only output system. Besides, you might be in your house and not bother to play music through the speakers sometimes. Thanks to technological advancement, you can get yourself a headset or Air buds. They are a great way to enjoy your music or podcast. Now, when outputting sounds through headsets, you’ll notice the difference between mono and stereo sounds.
With Mono sounds, you’ll hear the sound blare through both ears of the headset. They’d play the same sound. Again, it’s the single signal of the mono sound that has ensured that the left and right ear of the headset plays the same sound on the same level. There’s no mid and side range. All the sound flows as a single coordinated sound.
When you play stereo sounds through your headset; you’ll get the same result as when you play stereo sounds through speakers. While you’ll get a deep and immersive sound, both ears of the headset would play different things.
You remember how producers pan the first signal on the stereo sound to play on the right (or left) speaker and the second signal to play through the left (or right) speaker? Well, you’ll get a similar result when you play stereo sounds via a headset.
It could be The main sound blares mainly through the right ear, while the side signal blares through the headset's left ear. Don’t worry; it won’t be inconvenient for you. Instead, you’d admire the depth and immersion of the sound more closely. You’ll hear every single detail in the song.
Now that you know the mono vs. stereo difference, your music production and appreciation game would change. You’d not interpret Mono sounds as being more important or better than Stereo sounds without a context.
Hopefully, we’ve shown you the uniqueness of each sound, and you now understand how to use them better. It would help if you didn’t get confused about which sound to use in producing your song.
While both are at your disposal; you’re better off deploying stereo sounds to create top-notch music and movies. If what you intend to do is record sound for podcast episode or YouTube episode or radio program, then mono sound’s got you covered.
Graduated with a Bachelor of Audio Engineering and Sound Production. He has worked with a number of studios as a Recording Engineer, with over 10 years of servicing experience in both re-recording mixing and sound editing.