Most stereo turntables are designed to play stereo records. But, can you play mono records on a stereo turntable? The quick answer is yes. You can also modify your stereo table by using special equipment like a mono cartridge to ensure high-quality audio.
Mono records aren’t as widespread as stereo records today. While some people deemed mono records obsolete, they can pack a punch if you play them with the right equipment.
In this article, I’ll guide you on how you can play mono records on your stereo turntable and make the most of it. Keep on reading!
How Do You Play Mono Records On a Stereo Turntable?
With the help of special equipment like a mono cartridge, connecting an RCA Y cable, and using mono audio, you can make the most out of your mono record.
Let’s take a closer look at the three alternative ways you can achieve high-quality audio:
1. Switch to Mono Audio
Although a mono button is a common feature of vintage stereo turntables, not all turntables come with a mono button.
If yours has one though, you can set the toggle switch to mono mode. This can sum the right and left channels to replicate a mono’s single-channel effect.
While a mono switch can reduce surface noise, it doesn’t thoroughly eliminate some imperfections, like audio distortion and phase errors.
For example, if there’s conflicting information between the channels, they can’t completely sum up into mono audio and might only cancel each other out. So, it doesn’t guarantee a smooth listening experience.
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2. Connect RCA Y Cables
If your stereo cable doesn’t have a mono switch, another way you can play a mono record on a stereo turntable is by connecting your turntable to a pair of RCA cables.
You need two female plugs on one end and a single male plug on the other. This way, you can take your audio signals and combine them into one channel.
The other RCA cable should have two male plugs on one end and then a single female on the other. This will allow the audio to spread into your speakers.
However, if you’re often switching between stereo and mono records, RCA Y cables may not be ideal. That’s because you have to remove adapters every time you’re switching from stereo to mono audio, and vice versa.
3. Use Mono Cartridge
If your stereo table has a tonearm with removable headshells, your other option is to use a mono cartridge over a stereo cartridge. This plays an important role when correcting the imperfections of the mono record.
Compared to a stereo cartridge, it can deliver one audio signal to both of your channel’s two systems. Hence, it can create a stable audio signal.
A mono record only has lateral cuts on the groove compared to a stereo record that has both veritable and lateral information cut at a 45-degree angle for a sense of space.
Moreover, you can use the mono cartridge when using both mono record and stereo recording. This way, you don’t have to keep swapping out cartridges when switching from stereo and mono.
Make sure to read the manual on the mono cartridge as some manufacturers like Ortofon, Audio-Technica, and Grado disclose information on how you can use their cartridges. So, if the manual says the cartridge can read both horizontal and vertical elements, you can play a mono record without switching cartridges.
However, avoid using the cartridge if it can’t play both records, as it might cause a damaged groove wall.
You should also pay attention to the stylus. If it shows a sign of wear like skipping forward or bouncing, purchase a new cartridge. Otherwise, you’ll end up deforming the grooves, distorting the sound permanently.
Is it Okay to Modify Your Stereo Turntable to Play a Mono Record?
Listening to a mono record without any modifications on the turntable might not make a difference to other people. For serious audio collectors, however, tweaking the stereo table can have an impact on the overall listening experience.
Playing a mono record directly on your stereo is a lot easier if you don’t want the hassle. However, you should know that without modification, the audio imperfections like pops and ticks will become more obvious. Ultimately, this affects your listening experience.
On the other hand, switching to the mono mode or using an RCA Y cable can lessen the surface noise. Adding to that, keep in mind that it can obliterate defects once the cartridge tracks the vertical element.
Furthermore, a mono cartridge is your best option, as it can provide a significant reduction of any distortion. It can reduce the pitching effect when the stylus pushes upwards in narrow grooves.
In addition, a mono cartridge can also limit the effects of dirt and tear on vinyl records. In fact, it’s the best way to experience the genuine quality of the mono record.
What Are the Advantages of a Mono Record?
Mono is a short term for monaural or monophonic sound reproduction, which means one sound.
A mono record can contain multiple sounds from different instruments with one audio channel. For instance, if a musician records vocals along with guitars and drums, it’s still a mono record.
Aside from its simplicity, here are a mono record’s advantages:
1. Surface Noise Reduction
Marks and scratches on the surface of the vinyl record and the worn-out groove can lead to pops and ticks when you play the record on your stereo turntable. Luckily, mono can help reduce these audio distortions, especially if you’re using a mono cartridge.
A mono can only read horizontal cuts on the groove. So, it won’t register the groove wear or scratches that typically appear on the vertical component.
2. Fewer Phase Cancellation Issues
Mono uses one channel to transmit signals to all speakers. As a result, you can only hear it coming from one direction rather than a stereophonic sound that comes from numerous directions.
For instance, if you listen to a song on two speakers, you’ll hear the same audio in both ears instead of creating a surrounding sound effect. Although a surround sound effect seems ideal, too many speakers can only lead to out-of-phase noise.
Moreover, mono audio can be useful and more practical in places like clubs, bars, coffeehouses, and restaurants. They have several speakers playing, so they have higher risks of phase cancellation issues.
3. Speech Intelligibility
Mono records can reinforce vocals by making them sound focused, bold, and powerful. This way, you can hear the vocals more clearly because of its single-channel design.
What Are the Disadvantages of a Mono Record?
A mono record’s straightforward sound is commonly effective with folk songs or jazz music, but it comes with some drawbacks. Let’s take a closer at a mono record’s disadvantages:
1. Less Dynamic
Since a mono record is limited to one channel, it can sound flat and less dynamic. This is mostly a result of the audio element squished together in the same channel and played at the same volume level.
Unfortunately, the different layers and elements of a track don’t have enough space to shine, so they compete for the same space. In addition, it’s useful when it comes to accessibility features like hearing aids, PA systems, phone speakers, and AM radio stations.
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2. No Complex Panning
Another disadvantage of a mono record is it doesn’t offer the same complex pan of sounds as a stereo. This means the sound waves will come from only one source at the same volume level, rather than simultaneous channels.
On the plus side, you simply need one speaker to play mono audio. This is a deal breaker, particularly for modern music lovers who prefer a surrounding sound system.
In comparison, stereo records use two or more channels—one for each speaker. You can use it to stimulate space, perspective, and directionality. Therefore, it can mimic how you hear a sound in a real setting, like a live stage performance. This process is called spatialization.
3. More Expensive and Valuable
While stereo records were introduced alongside Mono records, they were more popular in the 1950s. However, in the late 1970s, stereo records rose to popularity because of their more advanced sound quality. At the same time, some manufacturers stopped producing mono records.
As a result, stereo records are more dominant formats today. Mono records become more expensive formats because of their rarity. Even then, some people consider them vintage collectibles.
Aside from that, popular musicians like the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Billie Holiday, and Frank Sinatra recorded their albums during the 1950s to 1960s. These albums are more likely to be the original releases before they were re-issued as stereo records.
Some great examples of the most sought-after vintage albums are Till There Was You by The Beatles, My Happiness by Elvis Presley, and Double Fantasy by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Record collectors also seek mono records because of their special characteristics like the simplicity and directness.