Why Does Mono Sound Bad To Me?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by MrMojoRisin, Apr 9, 2017.

  1. MrMojoRisin

    MrMojoRisin Many on here are retired and still need to grow up Thread Starter

    Area 51
    Whenever I hear mono in headphones it sounds dreadful compared to stereo, even on a well recorded dedicated mono track. I use $200 in-ear headphones (Audiofly AF78) listening through an iPad and anything that's stereo sounds incredible. I don't know anything about audio or music, all I know is mono sounds bad to me, unless out of speakers in which case it sounds as great as stereo. I've also tried mono on other open cup headphones, although they're much cheaper and it sounds bad as well.

    Just for reference, I'm comparing Sgt. Pepper's 2009 stereo to 2009 mono and The Doors debut 50th remaster stereo and mono. Sgt Pepper's mono is FLAC whereas everything else is whatever Apple Music offers.
    I haven't found anyone who thinks the same to me where it's more of a sound quality thing instead of a subjective 'I prefer the more open space with stereo' thing or something like that.

    To the point, is it just me or does mono sound in the actual quality of the music worse than stereo or does it need better equipment to sound better or what?
  2. harby

    harby Forum Resident

    Portland, OR, USA
    When you have two identical signals delivered to both ears, the only possibility for the brain to conclude is the sound is coming from inside your head, there is none of the information in the music such as environmental echoes that offers clues about the distance and direction where the sound is coming from.

    In-ear monitors, especially, bypass the shape of your outer ear, which give characteristic equalization to sounds depending on where they originate.

    The opposite of this effect is binaural recordings, where a microphone is actually placed inside each ear or inside the ears of a dummy head to make a recording that includes the shape of the ears and the time it takes for sound to go around the head. Each individual has differently shaped ears, so it is not an optimum technique either, but does have interesting results.

    Last edited: Apr 9, 2017
  3. Bingo Bongo

    Bingo Bongo No music, no Life

    Dont feel bad, I don't care for the mono on headphones or on my home stereo. To each their own, they say!
  4. Clonesteak

    Clonesteak Forum Resident

    Kalamazoo, MI
    I agree with Mono headphone listening. Just doesn't sound right.
    The best Mono experience for me is crank my stereo and be in the next room listening to Mono. Mono recordings sound great on a stereo and not so on headphones.
    I am not for the dreaded sound from the middle of my head headphone experience and prefer the center image from me stereo for sure.
  5. razerx

    razerx Who me?

    The East
    Mono with headphones sounds weird. I do 99% of my listening via headphones and it sounds unnatural. You need to play it on speakers and let the sound bounce off the walls.
    Johnny Rocker likes this.
  6. MrMojoRisin

    MrMojoRisin Many on here are retired and still need to grow up Thread Starter

    Area 51
    Wow, from what I'd read on other posts about mono in general I was in the minority with my opinion. Glad to know I'm not weird, or at least my headphones aren't particularly bad or anything.
    That's very interesting indeed. I'm going to look into that a bit more I think. Cool stuff.
  7. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    No, mono does not sound in the actual quality of the music worse than stereo but if you don't like it, there's many more stereo options around for nearly all titles than mono, so listen to stereo and enjoy yourself.
  8. MrMojoRisin

    MrMojoRisin Many on here are retired and still need to grow up Thread Starter

    Area 51
    Yeah it's rarely a problem but I listen to mostly 60's stuff so there's a bunch of different versions and whatnot that I feel like I'm missing out on. It's alright, it doesn't sound unbearable or anything and it's a rare case anyway, I was just more curious because I hear some people preferring mono over stereo in some certain cases.
  9. Leigh

    Leigh Tornado scientist

    It took me years before I could listen to mono and not hate it. I'm such a stereo junkie, I guess. As I've upgraded gear/rooms I have gotten to the point where I can hear depth and space in mono recordings... of course it's an illusion but so is a good stereo mix. I can definitely hear back to front depth in a well mastered mono recording. I suppose that's mostly just from loud == close and soft == far. But there are reverb cues in there as well.

    I can't imagine enjoying mono in headphones for the reasons already mentioned.

    I am still not crazy about mono but there was a ton of great music recorded before stereo that is too good to miss. So I just roll with it. And then play some holographically recorded stereo stuff afterwards :)
    SirMarc, goodiesguy, LarryP and 3 others like this.
  10. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Mono takes some getting used to, especially if you didn't grow up with it. I didn't like it at first either. Now I enjoy it but mono mixes aren't automatically the best. Case by case...sometimes mono is the best for me for particular albums.
    goodiesguy, MrMojoRisin and Leigh like this.
  11. Adam9

    Adam9 Forum junkie

    Toronto, Canada
    I prefer mono on headphones because my right ear has significantly more high frequency loss than my left.
  12. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    A great way to appreciate mono sound is to listen to well mastered old time radio shows and also some well mastered music from before the stereo age. If you are lucky to have a music station on AM radio, that is a great way to appreciate mono sound as well.
  13. jon9091

    jon9091 Master Of Reality

    Isn't that an oxymoron? "Mono sounds great on my stereo".
  14. MrMojoRisin

    MrMojoRisin Many on here are retired and still need to grow up Thread Starter

    Area 51
    I wish I could hear mono like this

    Spirit Crusher and Rickchick like this.
  15. Clonesteak

    Clonesteak Forum Resident

    Kalamazoo, MI
    My audio system? My surround system? I always have called it my Stereo even though it isn't always in stereo.
    I love when people ask if you taped it when they are inquiring if you recorded a show on a DVR.
    I sometimes say taped when referring to needle drops.
    Yes it is an oxymoron. :tiphat:
    Bingo Bongo and jon9091 like this.
  16. Bingo Bongo

    Bingo Bongo No music, no Life

    I still prefer the 1st few stereo Beatles LPs to mono on my home stereo. Once your sitting in the sweet spot, you hear everything just fine. I find mono boring, and outdated.
  17. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    There is the John Mellencamp album recorded at Sun Studios that is a mono album.
  18. Archimago

    Archimago Forum Resident

    I'm with the guys who find mono boring and outdated. Though 2 channel stereo cannot fully emulate the natural sounds around us, at least it can convey elements of width and depth. Mono can't.

    I can respect folks who prefer mono especially if they grew up in that era. Likewise I can understand listening to mono mixes. But it would not be my preference. Having said this, there is nostalgia in mono. For example I own the Beatles mono singles on 45's in my collection to bring out once awhile for friends... But not things I would play generally.
    bherbert, D-rock, tmsorosk and 2 others like this.
  19. anorak2

    anorak2 Forum Resident

    Berlin, Germany
    Here's a short clip that demonstrates binaural recording, use your headphones:

    In my opinion binaural is the most natural recording method yet. The great thing is that it's compatible with stereo, so you don't need to buy any fancy hardware except headphones. It's phantastic with radio dramas etc. Recording music with it doesn't really make a lot of sense though, except to capture the atmosphere of a live event perhaps. For most music, conventional stereo created from a multi channel mixdown is better suited.

    PS: Beware the search term "binaural" on YouTube finds lots of beat frequency sine waves stuff that supposedly sends you to sleep. That has nothing to do with the binaural we're talking about.
    Squad 701 likes this.
  20. andrewskyDE

    andrewskyDE Island Owner

    Zack Island
    Sometimes when I have a bad cold my right is going near-deaf for a short while and only then I prefer listening to mono recordings on headphones as well.^^
    Johnny Rocker likes this.
  21. andrewskyDE

    andrewskyDE Island Owner

    Zack Island
    Most of the early Fabs tracks sound much 'fuller' in mono mixes. George (Harrison) described it very fine when it comes to stereo: it sounded very "naked".
    Johnny Rocker likes this.
  22. Rolltide

    Rolltide Forum Resident

    Vallejo, CA
    Mono can be special when you're listening to an LP originally mixed in mono with a mono cartridge or at least a spherical stylii. The only time I've really preferred mono in the digital domain are Jefferson Airplane albums where they apparently put the intern in charge of the mono mix. Piper At The Gates of Dawn and its bizarre panning effects is in this camp as well.
    SandAndGlass and Lonson like this.
  23. Trashman

    Trashman Forum Resident

    While I love hearing a well-executed stereo mix, I have to admit that I also really like the effect of listening to a mono mix on headphones. I actually enjoy the illusion that the sound is coming from within my head, as if my brain is suddenly transmitting music. :nyah:

    I can understand that it's not for everyone, however.
    Tamla Junkie, DrZhivago and dbsea like this.
  24. SpeedMorris

    SpeedMorris Forum Resident

    Were not so many of the old stereo mixes horrible, I wouldn't touch mono. (I have an unplayed mono Beatle Box gathering dust for nearly three years now- and not even gonna be a collectible, apparently :cry:.)
    bherbert likes this.
  25. Bill Larson

    Bill Larson Forum Resident

    Speaker positioning is important for mono. I used to toe them in a bit more, which helped for precision of stereo imaging. But it made mono recordings sound like they were coming from a tiny point in the center, and even the center material of stereo recordings sounded thin.

    I now have my speakers about 7' apart, toed in only 10 degrees at most (almost facing completely forward), about 18" off the ground with tweeters at ear level, and I sit 9-10 feet back. Mono seems wider, but not too diffuse. The fatter center image makes everything sound larger and more layered for mono. There's a lot of front-to-back imaging, and a sense of width. For stereo, the center material is still solidly centered, but not as pinpoint. Sonic detail is still very high.

    Piano concertos recorded with the piano as basically a mono center track sound much fatter, as the piano has more width and bass, and isn't narrow and thin like before. Far-left and far-right content seems to come from a couple of feet beyond the speakers, which are a couple of feet from side walls and maybe a foot from the back.

    Don't be afraid to experiment for a different experience-- you can always put the speakers back!
    mmarconi, DrZhivago and Diskhound like this.

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