Why Does Mono Sound Bad To Me?

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

  1. audiomixer

    audiomixer As Bald As The Beatles

    Mono Rocks!!!
     
    Grant likes this.
  2. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Frankly I don't care very much precisely how good "stereo sound" is produced, I only care about the end illusion which is created inside of my listening room. I'm not a purist in that regard at all. I consider the production of a great sounding stereo recording to be a bit like sausage: I don't really want to know or to think too deeply about what all is going into it, but I sure love how a good sausage tastes! Likewise is how I feel about a great sounding stereo recording.

    I don't really care all that much on non-classical recordings if it they achieved that great "stereo sound" by employing some purist milking techniques (although in the case of classical, I do care about this because there are few things worse sounding than a really badly-mixed over-miced classical recording for thoroughly destroying a convincing stereo illusion). Nor do I care if on your typical multitracked recording they achieve a great stereo soundstage for the guitars or keyboards by recording these in genuine stereo, or if they used 2 independent mono tracks of the same instrument playing the same part independently and throwing one in each channel, or if they played some tricks such as chorusing theses mono instrument tracks, or if they played some sophisticated tricks with the reverb and with panning, or all of the above to achieve that awesome stereo soundstage. But I do care a great deal about the end result of the stereo illusion which is created inside of my listening room.

    I truly love it when a great stereo illusion (regardless of how it was created) transports my mind into another dimension as my imagination becomes totally immersed and enveloped by the sound. The less of a degree to which this effect exists on a given recording, and the more that my imagination is required to fill-in the gaps and to try to imagine that the recording has a convincing soundstage, the less I generally enjoy that recording. This can be a real bummer when music from a favorite artist sounds terrible. But fortunately most of my favorite artists have generally produced at least half-way decent sounding stereo recordings, so this isn't a sacrifice that I have to make very often.

    Does this mean that I am missing out on some great music? Absolutely it does. And there are certainly occasions where I am disappointed that there are so few stereo recordings in existence of certain artists playing in stereo. Fortunately many of these artists wrote songs which have become standards for which there are now some good to great sounding options available. For the rest of those classic mono recordings, I simply see no purpose in wasting my time attempting to enjoy these in vain when I have thousands of wonderful sounding stereo recordings to chose from which can briefly transport my brain into another reality, and not nearly enough free time available to listen to all of these recordings as is.
     
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  3. PNeski@aol.com

    PNeski@aol.com Forum Resident

    Location:
    New York
    Most of the best music is in mono only
     
  4. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    I could not agree less. But to each his own.
     
    dalem5467 likes this.
  5. Sid Hartha

    Sid Hartha Forum Resident

    Location:
    The Midwest
    This thread reinforces the stereotype that audiophiles listen to recordings, not music.
     
  6. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    There is some truth to that statement. But so what? Some do. Some don't. I personally am always looking to find great music which also sounds at least decent, and good music which sounds great. But I draw the line at lousy music which sounds spectacular. That stuff can be just nasty. And I'll pass on that stuff entirely, thank-you very much.

    But just because I don't want to listen to something like original John Coltrane in Mono doesn't mean that I can't find some great newer recordings of much if his music in stereo.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2017
  7. Hm, shouldn’t we call this “monotype” instead?
     
    dkmonroe likes this.
  8. RhodesSupremacy

    RhodesSupremacy Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Finland
    I used to think that was a strawman but time has shown otherwise.
     
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  9. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    Are you the person that sent us the hate mail when we released "Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook" on Gold CD?
     
    audiomixer likes this.
  10. audiomixer

    audiomixer As Bald As The Beatles

    Given so many questionable stereo mixes throughout the ages, a great, solid, well-mixed mono recording beats them all!
     
    Grant likes this.
  11. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    Or a direct to mono recording such as much of the Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, etc. catalog.
     
    audiomixer likes this.
  12. Classicrock

    Classicrock Forum Resident

    Location:
    South West, UK.
    Listen to a properly mastered Mono LP on a good hi-fi (2 speakers) and you might question whether it's narrow band stereo. A great example is the MFSL 45 rpm Surrealistic Pillow. A lot of mono mixes (like older stereo) weren't that great (such as Are You Experienced). This might be down to mix, source or vinyl cutting. The pinnacle of Modern mono reissues is the Beatles In Mono but the recent Kinks and Stones boxes are not too tardy. If pushed I would say the stereo versions of later 60's recordings are usually better and would be my preference. Mono need not sound bad - just a case by case basis. I doubt there would be much interest in mono recordings if great stereo mixes of popular music were common before 1967/8. From that point stereo recordings rule.
     
  13. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    Do you like the bulk of the Buddy Holly catalog, the bulk of the classic Bill Haley material, Harry Belafonte's Calypso, A huge chunk of the classic Bing Crosby, much of the Les Paul and Mary Ford catalog, big band era music, player piano music, Jelly Roll Morton, Delta Blues, etc.?
     
  14. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    Location:
    Atlanta
    This makes me realize something that hadn't quite clicked before - I thought that mono WAS an "audiophile" thing - that no one who wasn't really concerned about the best sound would even think to explore mono mixes. Apparently I was wrong about that! :laugh:
     
  15. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    I respect your position and I can understand and might even relate to that sentiment, were I to share those musical tastes. However I feel fortunate that I am just young enough that none of those artists other than Goodman have ever had any appeal to me musically. So I do not personally feel any sense of loss by not listening to them. And I believe that good portion of Goodman's work has probably long since become standards, which have been played by tons of bands over the years. So there should be some good sounding stereo options available for his work at least, if a person like myself should ever feel compelled to listen to Goodman.

    In my case I can only think of one artist who I really regret made so very few good sounding stereo recordings, and would be Stokowski. Yes he did make some stereo and even quad recordings, but most were terrible sounding. But at least there are many other great interpretations of these same works out there, so I don't feel like I am missing very much.
    That was definitely NOT me! When I make a bad purchase I normally just suck it up, keep my mouth shut, and never play the CD again. I do own an Ella recording or two that I do not care for, but I am not the type to send hate mail about it. Such unfortunate purchases just end-up collecting dust on my shelf and becoming forgotten.

    So far as I am aware, the only mono mastering of yours which I purchased by mistake was one of Nat King Cole's SACDs. And it has sat silently on my shelf unplayed ever since that initial spin. Yes I will fully admit that the tone is wonderful! But for whatever reason, that isn't quite enough all by itself for me to get pulled into the recording... However most of your stereo, and multichannel SACDs that I have purchased I have enjoyed greatly.
     
  16. Sid Hartha

    Sid Hartha Forum Resident

    Location:
    The Midwest
    I am intrigued by the phantom audiophile cited earlier in this thread - the mono only purist. I would guess his LP collection would drop off somewhere around early 1968, his hifi system having only one speaker etc. I haven't read through the entire thread, but I'm going to take a wild guess that no one answering this description has shown up yet.

    The first time I gave this topic any thought was one day back in '71. I had finally gotten my first real stereo setup (Garrard table, Lafayette receiver, Criterion 8" 2-way speakers) and celebrated by buying fresh STEREO copies of The Beatles' Something New (my old mono copy was trashed) and The Rolling Stones' Aftermath (always loved the singles and dug the cool cover). The results for both were disappointing.

    Why are they putting the drummer in the corner and why is it turned down so low?
    Why are the vocals so loud?
    What is it about the tambourine that's so important that it has to drown out the guitars?


    It was the moment when I became aware of mixing, and not in a good way. The stereo versions sounded amateur.

    There are plenty of exceptions of course, but generally speaking, stereo mixes (especially with pop music, pre-1967 or so) derived from masters consisting of four tracks or less aren't going to produce good results. The stereo image invariably ends up sounding cheap and fake. Stereo just for the sake of being stereo.

    To answer the OP's question, I have no idea why mono sounds bad to you. That's a real head-scratcher. Mono is just mono.
     
  17. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    ol
    Wow, we are alike. For me, the novelty of stereo (at any cost) was really important to me until 1975 when I got MY first real high quality stereo (with big but accurate, not boomy 12" woofers). I realized then that some stereo mixes I loved were really, really weak, especially after first playing my old mono 45 of PAINT IT BLACK and then the wussy stereo Aftermath version.

    That actually shook me. I was no longer a stereo-only-and-at-all-cost fiend but was open to the best sounding mix, whatever it was.
     
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  18. Sid Hartha

    Sid Hartha Forum Resident

    Location:
    The Midwest
    It's - like all things - probably best to avoid absolute proclamations like this (mono vs stereo, tube vs SS, analog vs PCM etc.).

    Like, I prefer the stereo mix of "Hey Jude", but prefer the mono mix of "Revolution".
     
  19. RhodesSupremacy

    RhodesSupremacy Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Finland
    That would be me, save for that my music collection goes right up to 2017 indiscriminate of mono or stereo.
    I use a single mono speaker for all my listening at home. Stereo gets folded down and mono is played as is, obviously.
    I've had Magnepans in the past which certainly did the whole stereo-thing very well, but it just didn't really add anything for me, and at it's worse detracted.

    Using one speaker instead of "dual-mono" is at least for me the obvious choice, as speaker placement options become wide open once symmetry is no longer a concern.
    Placing one speaker in the corner of a room is convenient, as it's easily out of one's way and perhaps more attractive then the usual pair of hulking monoliths. It also delivers a nice full balance everywhere in the room which is great when people come over or one wants to just lounge and isn't interested in sitting in "the chair".

    In addition, the sound of true mono is quite different from the faux mono experience. Keep in mind that in the real world we don't rely on phantom sources for sound, and that any sound we experience arrives in each ear only once, as opposed to twice as per stereo. True mono has a more focused and dense presentation in my experience. If you listen in stereo, you might have noticed this with in particular old jazz recordings, with horns hard panned to the side. For me these always sounded more present and convincing then the phantom images. And given that these recordings tend to have heavy bleed between microphones, ending up with echo in the opposite channel, summing it to true mono makes the presence and conviction even stronger IME.
    If intrigued, one can research this by searching for "stereo comb-filtering".

    As has been discussed multiple times online, this forum included, summing the signal from a stereo phono cartridge to mono can lead to much lower levels of surface noise on a record. I can vouch for this 100%. Since going mono, surface noise is a complete non-issue for me. In many cases the mechanical noise of a disc whirring around in my CD player is louder in the room then vinyl noise coming from the speaker!

    It is also possible to find perfectionist level speakers (though usually vintage ones) in singles, costing much less than half of a matching pair.

    As for drawbacks, there are few that are at least theoretical.
    Some select recordings (in my experience these have all been classical) are not very well compatible with summing to mono, and what you usually end up with is either suppressed high frequencies, a distant over-reverberant sound, or both. Of course this is largely or wholly dependent on the microphone technique used. In my case, the effect has never been strong enough to make the experience unpleasant.

    Another one is that in theory, when summed to mono the hard panned content on a stereo recording can theoretically be reduced in level up to -3db. I don't doubt the accuracy of this, but it has never been an issue for me in practice. And even if it were to become apparent, it would mostly result in emphasizing the central soloist, which doesn't seem too objectionable of a proposition.

    So, in my case mono is not only a convenience but a sonic preference. I have no plans of returning to stereo.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2017
    The FRiNgE and Sid Hartha like this.
  20. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    I know you didn't write that note. I was just kidding you..
     
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  21. Bill Larson

    Bill Larson Member

    I'm honestly not kissing up to our host when I say that the first recording that comes to mind is the DCC Pet Sounds cd. I described my way of fattening the center image on probably the first page of this thread. That disc presents so well, and there is so much clarity of the individual instruments that I really feel like everything is in the room with me.

    The percussion on the track Pet Sounds is one example of something that seems hard to render with such clarity, but it sits there in three-dimensional mono space. That disc blows me away every time, and it sounds like the master is being played in my living room. Thank you for your great work, Steve.
     
  22. chacha

    chacha Forum Resident

    Location:
    mill valley CA USA
    A lot of my mono records sound "stereo" to me. Meaning there's a nice balanced spread/stage between the speakers if recorded and mixed well.
     
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  23. Classicrock

    Classicrock Forum Resident

    Location:
    South West, UK.
    Wow! You are missing a lot as far as more modern recordings are concerned. Of course using a mono cartridge might also mask the pressing faults if you play vinyl. :) Frankly I think there has been something seriously wrong with your systems or even hearing if you prefer fold downs. A mono system for mono recordings makes sense but otherwise I am perplexed.
     
  24. RhodesSupremacy

    RhodesSupremacy Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Finland
    99% of what I listen to is jazz, and every single recording all the way up to recent ones comes through perfectly fine.
    The stereo effect is just that, an effect.
     
  25. My understanding is that the mono mix of "Hey Jude" is actually a fold-down of a stereo mix that never got released.

    Agree 100% about "Revolution".
     

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