mono cartridge vs stereo

Lots of the music I want to listen to is in mono. At present I use my stereo cartridge with the mono button pressed on the phono pre. I can't find much on the differences in this vs dedicated mono cartridge. Any insights/experience would be appreciated.
Hard to offer any advice without any system specifics. Additional information would potentially be helpful. In my system, a dedicated mono cartridge makes a definite difference with mono recordings.
In a way you will find always the same groups in discussions about that topic.
Group one
They use a Preamp with Mono button and that's it for them
(Mainly they don't hear any differences in general imo)
Group two
They use Mono carts and they stay with their decision.

I tried both ways, Mono button makes the reproduction dead and the tonal colors are completely gone.

Stereo cartridge with Mono records (those with RIAA, let's stay in the area of 1958 and later), works, but the noise floor is very high.

Mono cart with Mono records
Good results, the tonality is right, the soundstage is huge (you need an Arm with VTA anyway, most Mono button pushers don't know that too)

Yes, there are differences in Mono Cartridges, some are real mono, most are shortened Stereo Carts (high output, hum ...)
A mono only cartridge will bring a significant improvement. I have two arms on my TT, one is stereo the other mono. I've found that set up to work best, that way the cartridge alignments are set up correctly.
Here is some info that I didn;t know, until another member posted this inciteful explaination of why a dedicated mono cartridge makes a difference.
If your plan is to have a mono set up to play vintage mono LPs that were pressed between 1948 and ~ 1960 then you need a real mono cartridge with a spherical stylus. There are a lot of "mono" cartridges out there that are nothing more than a stereo cartridge that is wired for mono, and that simply will not do. They will work, but you will be no better off than you are with playing a mono LP with a stereo cartridge.

On vintage mono records the grooves are wider than they are on stereo LPs. They are also U shaped rather than V shaped. A geniune mono cart has no vertical compliance. The stylus only moves in the horizontal plane. Thus, using a mono cartridge on these LPs will yield better sound and less noise. The Grado you referenced is a stereo cartridge using a modern elliptical stylus with the generator wired for mono. This would not be an ideal cartridge to use for playing back vintage mono LPs.

If your goal is really to play mono audiophile reissues pressed on 180g or 200g vinyl then do not waste your time and money on a mono cartridge. To my knowledge all LPs pressed today are cut on modern stereo cutting heads. No one is making mono LPs with U shaped grooves. Using a spherical stylus on these records will wear them out prematurely and they will not sound as good on a mono cart as they would with a modern stereo cartridge.

The only genuine mono cartridges that I know of besides the classic Ortofons is the Shelter 501 mono and the Miyajima Labs Premium Ebony mono. There may be others, but these were the carts that I found.
"A genuine mono cart has no vertical compliance."

I've seen that written in many places, but it's difficult for me to even conceive of a cartridge with absolutely no vertical compliance. How does it deal with warps? It seems even the slightest surface irregularity would send the whole tonearm flying up off the record if the cart has no vertical compliance. Doesn't there have to be at least some degree of "shock absorption"? Can someone fill me in?
"The only genuine mono cartridges that I know of besides the classic Ortofons is the Shelter 501 mono and the Miyajima Labs Premium Ebony mono. There may be others, but these were the carts that I found."

Benz, Lyra, Koetsu all make genuine mono carts. All made to order.
Some general information about "modern" Mono Cartridges I used or listened to.
In a way I prefer those from Lyra based on their Design principles ( but a Shelter 501 mono sounds also very good). Lyra mono cartridges use a vertical coil which is only capable of detecting horizontal stylus movements (corresponding to mono groove modulation), and they have TWO identical mono coils to avoid the possibility of ground loops with stereo phono stages or preamps. For me, it is a step ahead ( I had with a cheap Dorian Mono better results than with much more expensive 'mono' carts from other Importers...) . Other cartridge manufacturers may use different methods, like using stereo coils and summing the outputs to derive a mono signal, but in my experience this way is no better than using the "Mono" button on a preamp, and will be limited by how well the two stereo channels match (crosstalk, phase, frequency response, output balance etc.). Generally, my experience here was not positive. Too mediocre. But cheap. For some this is a priority.
Another discussion is the time era from these Records, of course there are differences, but to keep the story simple, I use late 50's ++. I don't think that the differences between the original LPs and modern reissues means that much
for cartridge or stylus design. The commonly voiced concern with "wider mono grooves" has no meaning, in my experience. The most important thing is that the LP groove continues to have a 90-degree cross-section. Older LPs have shallower (and dirtier) groove bottoms, so a stylus that reaches particularly deeply into the groove may cause problems. In my experience, a line-contact stylus with a smaller major radius like 30um may cause problems with older LPs (and this is same for both stereo and mono records), and so for older LPs I would recommend a cartridge that has a somewhat larger major radius 70um, but it is not a general rule. Depends how fanatic you are, in what condition your records are and of course, what kind of Quality your Playback System has. The Lyra Mono have interestingly a different kind of Sound than their Stereo "brothers", more "juicy" with a greater sense of immediacy and presence. Has to do with the two coils, even when the output is only 50% from them...
Summary: Based on the superior tonal colors in the old mono records, much a much better low register the Mono Trip can be really interesting for the discriminated Listener.
Can you help me with making sure I can get the best experience from the Beatles MONO VINYL? I have a Technics 1700MKII - Grado's stereo cartridges - B&K Amp ST3030 and Pre-amp PRO10 (MONO SWitch) and Carver AL III Speakers. With that said, I would like to get the best sound when listening to these Beatles Mono Vinyl. Would a mono Cartridge make a difference? Do I need to get the OROFON special Cartridge or would a Grado be sufficient? My S Tone arm doesn't allow for VTA...any suggestions?
Can you help me with making sure I can get the best experience from the Beatles MONO VINYL? I have a Technics 1700MKII - Grado's stereo cartridges - B&K Amp ST3030 and Pre-amp PRO10 (MONO SWitch) and Carver AL III Speakers. With that said, I would like to get the best sound when listening to these Beatles Mono Vinyl. Would a mono Cartridge make a difference? Do I need to get the OROFON special Cartridge or would a Grado be sufficient? My S Tone arm doesn't allow for VTA...any suggestions?
If the Beatles box are your only mono records, I think you can get away with a stereo cart. I was playing Rubber Soul back and fourth with a mono cart and a stereo cart. The mono is definately better, but the stereo came pretty close. Older records cut on a mono lath...1950-early sixties sound like crap with a stereo cart. A dedicated mono cart is a must to enjoy those Columbia mono masterworks ML and CL series records. When I use a mono cart I do not use the mono button to sum the channels on my preamp. It kills the tonality as Synatx mentions, IMO.
I was also playing the new Mono Rubber Soul last night. It sounded quite fine with my LOMC stereo cart. Obviously soundstage was not wide, but what was there was real good. Nicely detailed, and layered sound. Color me impressed.
Artmat, the cheap and dirty upgrade is to switch your preamplifier to "mono" mode. You will thereby gain most of the benefits associated with using a mono cartridge. If your preamp does not have a mono switch, mono can be derived from the stereo output using a Y-adapter. I keep meaning to buy a mono cartridge, but in the meantime I find that my mono LPs sound much better with my Klyne 6LX preamp in mono mode. (The trick is that older products like the Klyne tended to have a mono switch. Some time in the late 90s, mono switches seem to have all but disappeared.) It goes without saying that you need not be concerned about using a stereo cartridge with recently issued mono LPs, as regards damage to the LP.
Artmat55, unfortunately while mono playback seems like it should have simple answers it can be deep water. For example, beyond the basic question of mono switch (in phono stage or preamp or via Y-adapter as Lew mentioned) VS mono cartridge there are more areas to consider.

If one elects to try a "mono" cartridge, is it a true mono design or merely a stereo model with channels strapped internally? I don't see that being different from a mono switch on a preamp. True mono cartridges do not have vertical compliance pick up. This means they can reject vertical groove noise. For example I've read that Grado mono cartridges are strapped internally, but I've not seen a confirmation of that.

Then assuming you choose a mono cartridge, does it have the proper tip dimension for the records being played? Mono records have varying width grooves depending on when they were cut and pressed.

Lastly is the question of equalization. While the RIAA curve was formalized around 1956 not all record companies adopted it immediately. Some mono LPs (and 45s) released in the '60s were still recorded with other EQs.

So what is a music lover to do? I think it depends on how many mono records one owns (how much trouble is worthwhile) and are those monos originals or reissues (post about 1990)? This has been a long way of saying if the only monos you have are the reissue Beatles then utilizing your mono switch with a stereo cartridge can be satisfactory. Not that they might not be better optimized but are the sonic gains worth all that trouble?
A friend showed me what I thought was "conclusive" proof that his mono cartridge gave better results on mono recordings, so I bought a Miyajima Zero, which is very nice. But it seems to lack the ultimate refinement of my higher end Koetsu (stereo), on a selection of early mono vinyl.
With a lot of mono reissue (hence in RIAA eq), beside mono cartridge, will it be beneficial to use dedicated mono phono preamp? There is one offered by Oswald Mill at $1500 and rated A by Art Dudley, wondering if it can give significant sonic improvement on mono reissue.
I ended up buying a ortofon mono 2m and hear a big differnce! Thanks for the advice, I now look for momo vinyl in the shops! Just picked up Miles Davis 'round midnite!
Gondo, A mono phono stage adds yet another layer of complication, in terms of decision making. First, why use a mono phono stage if your "mono" cartridge is naught but a stereo cartridge that is internally strapped to produce a mono signal? In that case, one's "stereo" phono stage is merely processing the very same signal to produce two mono output signals, to drive two speakers in mono. I actually like that, because it produces a bigger more room-filling sound than I can achieve driving only one speaker of a stereo pair. Now, what might be the advantage of a mono phono stage? I guess it would be that the two stereo channels in your stereo phono stage are not exactly matched, thus producing subtly variant signals that end up as two slightly different signals on your two speakers, maybe robbing some ultimate fidelity. But if you worry about that, then why couldn't one simply abrogate the output of one channel of a stereo phono stage and thereby use only one half of it, to drive one speaker?
Do OMA suggest driving two speakers with the mono output of their mono phono stage, or just one? Probably the latter.

One could write several more paragraphs on the other things to consider, like for true vintage mono LPs not equalized for RIAA standards. In that case, if the OMA product has selectable equalization curves, therein would lie an added value. But it's a sticky wicket.
Thanks Lewm, finally someone has shed some lights :)
Just realized, unless I missread, when somebody shared their experience with mono phono preamp (Art Dudley in Stereophile and Jacob H in absolute sound online), they didn't mention whether they listened to 2 speakers or just one.
Do you have any experience listening to mono phono preamp via 2 speakers vs 1 speaker?
Grado makes a couple of mono cartridges in their Prestige line: the MC+ w/conical stylus for $90 and the ME+ w/elliptical stylus for $150 .
I think results are pressing dependent. I've been checking out a DL102, a true mono cart similar to a 103, only a HOMC. This has a .7 spherical and vintage pressings sound much better with it. The entire presentation is more coherent, natural and quieter.
On modern mono pressings, not so much. I'm used to a more analytical sound and with modern pressings the 102 can actually sound worse.

Ortofon has two - 2M Mono carts. Unless the description is poorly translated the output is strapped. They are also described as true mono, so it's unclear exactly what they are. The regular one has a .7 spherical and the SE has a shibata. This was obviously designed for modern mono pressings made with a stereo cutter like the Beatles box.
They also have a Cadenza Mono which has a fine line, but some of the SPU have various sized spherical.

Mono cartridge options - Grado does offer mono models in their line up, but I've read they will build any of their cartridges in a mono version as a special order. Best to check with them directly if interested. If true, that may substantiate their mono models are simply internally rewired stereo cartridges (?).

Fleib, I've only seen one source stating that mono cutter heads are still available. Whether that is true or not apparently most current mono reissues are cut with stereo heads. That would explain the groove dimensions and why the 0.7 DL102 stylus may not be optimal for playback of modern mono pressings.
Pryso, I think you're right about the pressings. Even some mono reissues from the '70s and '80s seem to be cut with a stereo head. You don't get the SQ improvement as with vintage pressings.
On another forum it was reported that plans were in the works from the people who did the Beatles box, to do future mono reissues with true mono pressings. He said something about an old Neumann mono lathe.

AT has a couple of mono carts, the AT3MONO and 33. They both have .65 spherical tips; HOMC and LOMC respectively. They're said to be true mono, but that's all I know about them.
The 102 only has two long pins for the output which makes it extra long, or so it seems. For stereo hook-up you double up the wire tags. I can imagine this could be a problem for some cramped headshells or tags with heat shrink. VTF is 2 -4g so it seems like a 103 in that respect. I'm not entirely comfortable tracking my Japanese reissues at 3g, but I guess one go-round won't hurt.

This whole business of mono carts is confusing, not the least of which is your records and what makes sense. I wonder if the Ortofon 2M is a true mono cart, and if so, could you swap the stylus between the spherical and shibata. That might be a good way to cover all bases.
Good turkey day everyone.
If our modern day audio press were interested in education, a la the dear departed Audio Magazine, they would run an article explaining "mono" cartridges and the technical differences between vintage mono and modern mono recordings. But they're in business to sell stuff, whether buying makes sense or not.

I suspect there is no difference between using a modern mono cartridge that is really an internally bridged stereo cartridge with modern mono LPs vs a mono switch on your preamp with those same recordings. With vintage mono the groove width is different and the idel stylus shape is different, and to get that optimal geometry you have to have a mono cartridge built to do the job. At least that's the state of my understanding.
I think just about everything you need to know is in this thread, except which carts are true mono. That, and tip size are what make a hugh difference with vintage mono recordings. If you have such records in your collection and play them with a real mono cart, you'll hear the difference immediately. The entire presentation changes for the better.

Strapping the channels on a stereo cart is slightly different than using a mono switch. It might not matter, but you're cutting the cart impedance and inductance in half on most carts. That might depend on the physical orientation of the inductors (coils). A mono switch in a preamp usually comes after the phono EQ circuit.
Maybe having the phono stage channels hooked together halves the input impedance as well?

I checked out the specs of the Ortofon 2M Mono carts. They seem to be strapped 2M stereo carts just like it says in the mono overview. They're designed to play modern reissues methinks, and the SE model's shibata stylus would seem to confirm that.
2M Mono - 350mH, 700 ohm
2M Blue - 700mH, 1.3K ohm
2M Mono SE - 300mH, 600 ohm
2M Black - 630mH, 1.2K ohm

I think the hard part might be figuring out if your reissues are cut with a stereo or mono cutter.
Guys, I have a single tonearm available to me, and it is set up for stereo. I've got two questions:

1) When using the Y adaptor, do you need two Y adaptors, one to sum the L+R channels and one to redistribute them back to L+R outputs?

2) If you definitely don't have a mono cartridge, is it better to buy stereo re-issues of mono LP's?
Oh, and two other things. I'm assuming that with the Y adaptor approach, you're not just taking one channel and splitting it into two. That you are in fact blending the two channels and then distributing the blended signal to two RCA's.

I should also add that I have an outboard phono preamp. I assume that I should place the double Y adaptor device between my phono preamp and my linestage preamp?
There is no VS if you have many mono records you get a mono cartridge as well.
EBM - what you are saying is absolutist and contrary to what others have written. It seems you can use the Y adaptor approach, but you lose some fidelity. How much, I don't know. But most people don't have the capacity for two tonearms or the ability to quickly swap cartridges.
Do what you like i don't really care!!!
Peter, The way I see it, you would have to use two Y-adapters back to back, as you suggest, to use a stereo preamp to play a mono LP in mono with a stereo cartridge. Such a set-up would put you in about the same place as a "mono" switch on your preamplifier, except you would have the signal-robbing effects of all those connectors in the unamplified phono signal path. That set-up is akin to using a mono cartridge that in reality is a stereo cartridge with the two channels combined to give mono output. This option was discussed at the top of this thread, but I have never encountered any one who tried it. As for me, I learned a lot from Syntax's two long posts. It is his opinion that a true mono cartridge is superior to either of the options I mention here. I cannot argue that, because I have no mono cartridge, but I intend to buy one. I may even buy a Lyra Delos Mono, since Syntax praised it highly. For me, I can only say that flipping the mono switch on my preamp, when playing a mono LP with a stereo cartridge is a very big improvement over listening in stereo to the same LP.
Actually, I was wrong in my post above this one. The two Y-adapters would feed the 2-channel output of the stereo cartridge to the phono stage in parallel. This would alter the impedance relationship between the cartridge and the phono stage that may or may not have negative consequences. When you use the mono switch on your preamplifier, you are combining the channels AFTER RIAA correction and phono stage amplification, which has got to be less harmful. Sorry if I misled anyone.

If you have separate phono and linestages, you could install the Y-adapters between the two components, which would work exactly like a mono switch, more or less.
Lew, thanks. Yes, I'm going to put it b/t my phono preamp and my linestage. I think I'll have BlueJeans Cable make one up for me to try it out. I'm assuming all it takes is making a normal set of cables, opening them up in the middle, soldering the hot wires together and soldering the ground wires together. Pretty simple. Someone should make a high quality adaptor that plugs right into your linestage to offer you a mono input. I guess the other way to do it, if you have a spare RCA input on your linestage, is just to solder a jumper across the two hot contacts on the RCA jacks. I'm wondering if that is all one would need to do. That is, given the ground configuration, if the grounds are all joined together anyhow. I might call VAC and ask them about that. It would be so easy to do with a small piece of wire, and I have the extra input...

Am I getting it right? Thanks, Peter
I should understand this subject better than I do, but here goes. The problem with using a stereo cartridge on a mono record is that the stereo cartridge has both vertical and horizontal compliance, which on a mono record having music only in the horizontal plane opens up the possibility for picking up a significant amount of surface noise. On new reissues of mono LPs this is really not a problem, or at least it shouldn't be. For old and well used mono LPs, though, the noise difference is frequently quite pronounced. If the wiring in the cartridge is set up to ignore the vertical information, the net effect is identical to using the mono button on preamps so equipped, and is also identical to using Y cables as already discussed. I have a mono cartridge and can attest that it sounds significantly better on old mono records than using a stereo cartridge, but on new re-issues, the advantage is less pronounced. One of my stereo cartridges is an Ortofon 2M Black, which has a shibata stylus. The shibata shape is not easy to set up for quiet tracking with the vertical tracking angle being particularly critical. For that reason, I prefer the much more forgiving conical stylus geometry for mono. I hope that helps.
Thanks Bill. I don't have the flexibility to set up a mono cartridge on my turntable. Too much effort readjusting the VTA every time I would change. So I guess I'm stuck with using Y adapters, or on advice from VAC, I could strap together the positive pins of one of my inputs on the preamp to essentially create a mono input. I'm considering that approach, because I have extra RCA inputs.
Yes, the difference between a stereo and true mono cart is if there is output from vertical cantilever motion. Noise with old mono records is dramatically reduced with a true mono cart, but virtually all records since the around 1950 are V cut microgroove, invented in '48.

"If you play a mono record with a stereo cartridge you will not achieve the same signal in the two channels due to imperfections such as crosstalk, noise, phase errors, tracking error, antiskating and distortion. This difference between the channels will result in an unstable and partially fuzzy image. A mono switch, to some extent, can improve this."

If you combine channels in your line stage it should have the same impedance implications as combining cart output - cut it in half. There's source impedance and input impedance. If channels are combined wouldn't both be halved?
Interesting topic. Just to put in my $s worth, I would not be comfortable & would never suggest combing stereo cartridge outputs as you will then be loading each channel with the other.  This would then mean that each channel is "looking into the other" & creating a serious loading problem.

Even when combing channels (Y cord etc), you have to make sure of this loading problem as well. Outputs from the various stages have a very low source impedance  whereas inputs are high impedance -10K or so. Hence when you combine outputs you need build-out resistors to prevent undue loading from one channel "looking into the other". Shorting or combining inputs is OK though. So be careful with Y adapters.
Hi-fi_er is correct.  I have never understood how it is that the advice to connect the two stereo channel outputs externally before the signal gets to the phono stage is so often given out by persons who claim to have done the same.  It really should not work well for reasons given by Hifi; each channel "sees" the input of the phono stage AND the output of the other channel in parallel with each other. This makes for a difficult load with respect to the job of each channel as a mono source and ought to cause distortion.

In a preamplifier with a mono button, the bridging of the stereo input is done usually after the gain stage and before a buffered output stage.  Thus the cartridge is shielded, coming and going, from the potential negative effects of combining channels.
I just did a pseudo mono setup in the past week that involved strapping a stereo cartridge (a modified Denon 103R potted in an aluminum body and retipped by Soundsmith with a ruby cantilever and line contact stylus). 

The whole setup flies in the face of conventional wisdom on this (strapped cartridge, line contact stylus etc.) but generally sounds fabulous both on vintage (late 50's and very early 60's) monos as well as reissues. 

There is no question that in terms of overall presentation I am getting grossly superior results to playing these records with a stereo cartridge (which I've been doing for years). The soundstage is now huge on the monos and overall tonality and information retrieval is grossly improved. There's no question in my mind that distortion levels have been reduced as well. 

The one area in which I'm not totally convinced that a "true mono" cartridge would not be vastly superior is that of noise. Most of my records, including the monos are in great shape and noise free but I do have some monos that are VG to VG+ and those still exhibit a fair bit of noise, although it does seem to be less obtrusive than when I was playing them with a stereo cartridge. This is one area in which I think I might get grossly better performance with a true mono cartridge, although I'm not absolutely convinced that a spherical/conical styus is absolutely the way to go, even with vintage mono vinyl. The best mono I've heard (limited I admit) was with a Koetsu Rosewood that had been modified/rebuilt for mono (not exactly sure how) by Andy Chong at and it utilized the same boron cantilever and microridge stylus that I have on my stereo cartridge here. 

All systems are different and mine utilizes a somewhat unique phono stage, an Aqvox 2 CI, which is a current mode stage and is fully balanced (both inputs and outputs) and also does not have adjustable loading but essentially presents a short, or at least a very low impedance, to moving coil cartridges at the input. As a result, it is generally thought that it tends to work with moving coils with a fairly low internal impedance. My stereo cartridge has a 5 ohm internal impedance and by strapping the 103R I supposedly halved the impedance from 14 to 7 which would, in theory, at least, be a positive with my phono stage. 

So the results I'm getting may be a result of a number of different/unique circumstances, but I am getting excellent results strapping the 103R for mono playback. In the end I was able to accomplish it for next to nothing as I literally had everything laying around in storage here (arm, cartridge, armboard and phono leads). At this stage I am really having trouble trying to justify the purchase of a true mono cartridge but I may end up going that way at some point.