Mono recordings - two questions...

1) While I have been an analog fan since the 70's, I never ventured into mono recordings... from an audiophile perspective, how does one listen to mono recordings?  For example, does 'imaging/soundstage depth' matter and is it accomplished through a well-mic'd mono recording?  Obviously tonal balance, impact, resolution are all qualities that should shine through...

2) Would appreciate recommendations of well recorded MONO LP's -- recently bought a Julie London LP in mono it sounded surprisingly nice/natural... not so hot as many later stereo pop recordings...  my musical preference would be for vocals in pop, jazz and soul/r & b realms... in modern artists I would equate these to Diana Krall, Gregory Porter, Adele, Kurt Elling, Sam Smith, M Buble etc etc - 

Thanks in advance
128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xjjss49
The reason you could find a Julie London LP in mono is because most of her work was done in the mono era of LP production (early 50s to mid-60s).  I very much doubt that you can find mono recordings of the artists you list in your last sentence, because they are very much with us in the here and now, in stereo.  I have some Julie London mono LPs; I agree it works well in mono.  But I would not agree that you need to limit yourself to solo performances; most small group jazz and chamber music does very well in mono, and somehow the brain picks up spatial cues from mono surprisingly well.

I thought at one point in reading your post that you were going to ask about listening to mono through one speaker of a stereo pair (assuming your system is basically stereo), vs listening to a stereo pair of speakers each of which is reproducing the same mono signal, simultaneously.  Anyway, I take the latter approach.  Then there is the endless debate about using a mono cartridge vs a mono switch on your preamplifier, or both.  It is true that mono signals are generated from lateral movement of the stylus, exclusively. Vertical motion generates noise from the LP groove, only. Whereas true stereo reproduction requires that the music signal is encoded in both planes.  Thus stereo cartridges tend to reproduce noise from mono LPs, and many think that using a mono cartridge or a mono switch is the only way to go. (Either way, you are cancelling the signal due to vertical motion of the stylus by bridging.)
Glad to hear you are getting interested in Mono and the Julie London disc is a good place to start. However one of the great things about Mono is that you do not have to be restricted to re-issues and instead you can go and dig in a wealth of dirt cheap 50s and early 60s material

There is a ton of depth and imaging in a good Mono recording although all in one dimension of course. Reproduced well you can place all of the instruments in relative position to one another

One of the other benefits of mono is actually wider frequency range (i.e. more and cleaner high frequencies) than stereo. The reason for this is that it is easier to design a mono cutting head, it weighs less and can cut the high frequencies more accurately than the corresponding stereo. This is one of the reasons why mono versions of discs that exist in both mono and stereo may be better sounding (and of course the mixes are different)

Anyway on to recommendations.

Anyway good luck!
Julie London "Julie is her Name" 
1955 blue label first press

This album is one of my desert island records. I play it every few months. Mono recordings from the 50-60's are superior to just about anything. 

Of course this is just my opinion.

Seek these to start-
Ella Fitzgerald:Let no Man Write my Epitaph
Clap Hands, here comes Charlie
Look for Verve, pre MGM press

Billie Holliday-All or Nothing at All
Body and Soul
Lady Sings the Blues
Look for Verve, pre MGM press

Nancy Wilson: Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderly
Nancy Wilson/George Shearing:Swingins Mutual
Rainbow label press

These albums are so great, I can almost  do without my Beatles/Stones/Zep...

Thanks for the recommendations... especially Tablejockey and Folkfreak  :).

Yes I fully realize modern day artists would never be recorded in mono. I am simply seeking recommendations from the ’golden age of mono’ in the musical genres (jazz, vocals, pop) I like to listen to.

@Raymonda - I am duly chastised LOL
jjss49, I’ll share a few thoughts in the hope some of it might be helpful.

Stereo LPs were introduced in late 1957, early 1958. For about a decade afterward most labels released both mono and stereo versions of given recordings. Among some jazz lovers the mono LPs are preferred for sonic reasons. They lacked the artificial "hole in the center of the soundstage" of many early stereo recordings (which exaggerated the stereo separation with hard left and right mixing) and they often had better bass impact. Some of those LPs command more $ today used than their stereo siblings. Non-jazz mono LPs are generally less sought after and so can be cheaper on the used market, particularly classical.

There is much debate about the best way to play back mono LPs. At the very least you should have a mono switch on your receiver or preamp. There are ways around that you can do a search for if you don’t have one. Many listeners prefer mono cartridges too, but there can be a question of what constitutes a "true" mono cartridge. The importance here is that mono LPs are cut with information only in the lateral plane while stereo LPs utilize both lateral and vertical motion to pick up information from the V groove. Mono cartridges can be quieter for background since they don’t read vertical information from the groove.

With the resurgence of interest in vinyl over the past 10+ years there has been significant reissuing of classic and popular recordings. Some of those will be mono. However few if any mono cutter heads remain so these new monos are actually cut with stereo cutter heads. I believe this is why you will find newly produced mono cartridges with various elliptical styli, rather than conical which was common with older mono cartridges.

So if you are buying and playing mainly reissued mono LPs, a modern mono cartridge should be fine. Depending on how many mono LPs you have and how particular you are, your regular stereo cartridge with the suggested mono switch may be all you need.

But if you already have a collection of earlier mono LPs (1948 through the late ’60s), or you want to search out and collect originals, then you may want to set up a mono cartridge. ’48 to about ’57 LPs are best played with a 1.0 mil conical stylus. ’58 to late ’60s era monos are best with a 0.7 mil conical stylus. That reflects a change in cutter heads at the time.

With all this I’ve not touched on EQ. Many folks assume once the RIAA curve was approved around 1955 every label adopted it. Not true, some continued with their own chosen EQ into the ’60s.

All this just depends on how many mono records you own, when they were produced, and how particular you may be about accurate playback. Have fun!
Three Pop/Rock groups and one solo artist whose early LP's (pre-1968 or so) are better in mono than stereo are The Kinks, Beach Boys, Beatles, and Dylan. The Kinks and Beach Boys because their "stereo" LP's (with the exception of The BB's Surfer Girl album) are in actuality reprocessed mono, and sound terrible. Dylan because his early stereo LP's have his guitar, voice, and harmonica panned left, center, and right---ridiculous! The Beatles because they and producer George Martin spent a long time getting the mono mixes right, the stereo mixes left for an assistant engineer to do in a quicky session. Also, some of the stereo mixes on my original UK EMI pressings have the voices panned hard left, the instruments hard right. Also ridiculous.
Thanks bdp24.  I was trying to present an overview, but specific artist info like you offered should be helpful, specifically for reasons you mentioned.

About the only thing worse than hard panning were the "electronically enhanced" stereo records, released to catch gullible consumers. 
Good comments above.

I use a mono cartridge for mono recordings, Miyajima Zero. It blossoms with obsessive setup, surprisingly so for a conical stylus.

My special favourites in mono are Casals' Bach Cello Suites, Joan Baez, and lots of really interesting music from Kirsten Flagstad, Isobel Baillie. Furtwangler, etc. Best of all, they are cheap precisely because they are mono!
bdp24-good reminder how great the early mono  Beach Boys albums sound. I have the first 6, which I think are the essential for any BB fan.

Just thought I'd mention I played that Julie London album while having dinner, and I've fallen in love(again) with her.
Something interesting- on "Cry me a River", during the outro where she repeats "I cried a river over you", during  the 2nd from the last verse, some  ham fisted engineer cranked the reverb knob...oops! 

That album is a perfect example why mono is king. I've taken this album to shows and played it on uber systems...breathtaking.
ok well it serves me right to ask questions... answers are gonna cost me money LOL

so what is a good value mono cart?  i unfortunately don't have a mono switch on my pre -- and i don't want to swap equipment in the chain - but i can mount a mono cart on a headshell and go about it that way!
If good value = low cost in your mind, here are some suggestions.

Mod a stereo cartridge - with a fine copper wire (maybe 24 ga or thinner, or even a single wire cut from a stranded bundle in a speaker wire) strap the hot pins (L & R) on the cartridge. Do this before reconnecting the headshell wire clips. Be certain the wire is taught between the pins and wrapped a couple of times around each pin. Trim away any excess.

Y adaptors - with a male to male Y connected to a female to male Y, insert that between your tonearm and preamp/phono stage.

Buy a new mono cartridge - Shure, Stanton, Grado, and AT all offer reasonably priced models, <$200. There is some question if all of these are "true mono" or simply strapped internally as in the mod suggested above. A true mono is the Denon 102 mono. It has only L & R connector pins. They are extra long to allow connecting all four headshell wires so you will have signal from both speakers.
What Pryso said.  So far, my research tells me that there are very few "true mono" cartridges being sold these days.  Some that probably ARE true mono are the Miyajima series, then EMT makes one or two. I am sure there are more, and now perhaps we will hear about those. If you are on a budget, don't worry about this issue at all.  Just buy a bridged stereo cartridge or do as Tim (Pryso) suggests.  (Don't try to solder the jumper wire; you'll fry the coils.)  I would add Ortofon to Tim's list of companies that market mono cartridges derived from one or another of their stereo cartridge models.
The London cartridges can be made mono, and for a very good reason: their design is sum and difference.
Try these albums:

1. June Christy "Something Cool."

2. Chris Conner "The Bethlehem Years."

Both of these albums will have you asking ... "who needs stereo."

3, Dave Brubeck "Jazz Impressions USA." another great mono recording.

bdp24, Aren’t all stereo cartridges based on sum and difference? Perhaps Decca’s behave differently because both channels share a single common ground. Interesting story: Many, many years ago, both I and my best audio friend owned Decca London cartridges. We were both tinkerers, and after we discovered that you could easily remove the top plate on the London and thereby gain access to the innards, we also noted that there were tiny set screws inside that one could play with. We decided to play with them in order to get best sound. After some fooling around each of us independently ended up with adjustments that we liked best in our respective systems. It was only a few weeks after that, and I forget how it happened, that we discovered we had each turned our stereo London cartridges into mono cartridges. The experience should have told us something, but it didn’t. (Maybe we were playing mono LPs, for example, to explain our aural preference.)

I own both the stereo and the mono versions of Something Cool, and the mono wins; it's no contest.
I own the Chris Connor too, and it's great.  However, these are examples of small group jazz with a vocalist at the center; not much need for stereo, musically speaking.
Perhaps I put it incorrectly Lew. One of the two coils in London/Deccas produces the signal created by lateral movement of the stylus armature, the other by vertical. So mono output is just a matter of outputting only the coil responsible for the sum signal, leaving the other coil inoperative. At least, I THINK that's the deal!
lewn ....

The "All About Johnny" cut on the first Chris Conner album is killer. 

Thanks for the tip, OP. I will listen to that cut on the CC album in the next few days. Not that I really care, but it’s "LewM", not LewN. If you were searching for me, in order to communicate privately, that would make a difference, I suppose.

I've got both the original Liberty mono recording of "Julie is her name" and a 45-rpm re-issue. Because my copy of the original pressing is not in great shape, I listen to the 45 most often.  I really should expand my repertoire of Julie London LPs, beyond this one.  She was really quite talented, a fact which often gets obscured due to her obvious physical attributes.  As an amateur vocalist, I can tell you that "Laura" is not an easy song to sing, and she does a great job on it, one of my favorite renditions.

Julie's cover of "Laura" is beautiful. As mentioned in an earlier post, I repeatedly fall in love with Julie when I play the album.

I have to agree with an article  I read about her. Julie's voice and delivery say...come hither.  Va-va-voom!
I have to say jjss49 you started with one of the best albums
to listen to in mono,  This is Julie and Lonely Girl 
are highly recommended as confirmed by several posts .
You might also try Duke Ellington at Newport ,
I've been very happy with most of the At Newport jazz
recordings form the 50's.
For something different try Jefferson Airplanes Takes Off
or the Beatles Sargent Pepper, If you have it in stereo you will really hear 
how different the two sound .

A well recorded mono recording can't give a sound stage
but you should be able to differentiate between front and back.
On the Duke Ellington the recording you can pick up instruments
coming from the left or right side mic .

If we're talking great mono, I also recommend any of the LPs sold via "Sam's Club", which is based in France.  I forget the name on the label of the production company.  All the Chet Baker recordings are to die for, in mono.  (Recorded during Baker's sojourn in Paris, I think.) They've produced maybe 8 or 10 LPs thus far, no losers among them.
Also, the original "Ella and Louis" recordings are sublime.
Back to mono baby !

Well recorded and well reproduced vintage mono recordings sound wonderful.  Many are surprised at the sense of depth and realism possible with a mono LP.   You can hear layering among instruments, space around musicians, and studio ambiance.  While everything happens in the middle, you can hear so much depth that it sounds like the back of the recording reaches all the way to the horizon.

I am a proponent of using true mono cartridges to play pre 1960 mono LPs. There are very few true mono cartridges sold today.  Most described as mono are in fact stereo cartridges modified to output a mono signal. The modifications can be as simple as internal summing of connections, or as complex as reorienting the pair of existing stereo coils.  With either (or both) the cartridge still responds to and generates a signal from vertical content which can potentially affect what is heard by the listener.  A true mono cartridge only responds to horizontal content.

Cost can be less than $100 to several $1000 for a true mono cartridge.  At the low end, many are happy with the venerable GE VRII for which new styli are available.   The Denon 102 is available for less than $300.  Ortofon CG25DI MKII lists for about $900 but is available for much less.  

If your intent is to play pre 1960 LPs, then the investment in a true mono cartridge may be justified (but only you can make that decision).

If you expect to play mono LPs from the mid 60's forward, and current mono reissues, then a new mono (modified stereo) cartridge would be fine.
 The modifications can be as simple as internal summing of connections, or as complex as reorienting the pair of existing stereo coils.  With either (or both) the cartridge still responds to and generates a signal from vertical content which can potentially affect what is heard by the listener.

as for current mono options, I agree that the summing will pick up and attempt to offset any vertical content but if the coils are oriented so they are in the lateral and vertical plane and only the lateral ones are used then I do not see any pickup of the vertical info.  The one big difference found in "vintage" mono pickups is there is little vertical compliance which is the origin of the rumors that playing a stereo record with a mono cartridge will surely destroy it.  I am not aware of any recent manufacture cartridges that fall into the "lateral compliance only" category.

... from an audiophile perspective, how does one listen to mono recordings? For example, does ’imaging/soundstage depth’ matter and is it accomplished through a well-mic’d mono recording? Obviously tonal balance, impact, resolution are all qualities that should shine through...

Basically, you listen to mono recordings as you would stereo recordings--for the music. Most of the the traits you mention--soundstage depth, tonal balance, impact, and resolution--are strengths in mono recordings. If, however, you derive much of your listening pleasure from 3D imaging of each voice and instrument, you won’t find that on mono recordings.

But mono recordings have strengths that stereo recordings don’t. Generally they have a richer tonal balance, stunningly real-sounding midrange, and perhaps the biggest surprise, a deep soundstage, particularly on sacred vocals recorded in a cathedral or instrumentals in an auditorium.

Would appreciate recommendations of well recorded MONO LP’s -- recently bought a Julie London LP in mono it sounded surprisingly nice/natural... not so hot as many later stereo pop recordings... my musical preference would be for vocals in pop, jazz and soul/r & b realms..
If you think about it, many recordings from the mono era (1949 to mid 1960-is) feature vocals with instrumental accompaniment. This was the heyday of Sinatra, Bennett, Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Nat King Cole. I have a mix of mono recordings--originals from the ’50s and ’60s rescued from thrift shops, and high quality mono reissues such as the wonderful EMI/Parlophone Beatles mono reissues of Sept. 2014, plus several Beach Boys releases by Capitol, as well as a 45 rpm 3 LP set by Acoustic Sounds of Nat King Cole. Nothing puts Nat in my living room like that one.

If you are into hunting down vintage mono releases, you are in for a treat if you get a mono cartridge to go with it. Apparently most of the surface noise of an LP occurs in the vertical axis. I have several genuine mono albums from the ’50s and ’60s (some all the way out to 1969) that are unlistenably noisy with a stereo cartridge which are dead quiet with a mono cartridge.

After a year of listening to my 2014 Beatles mono reissues, I decided to get a mono cartridge. I chose the Audio Technica AT-MONO3/LP, available from US authorized dealer for $189.99. It’s a high output moving coil cartridge with a conical stylus, which seems--to me--most appropriate for original mono recordings from the ’50s and ’60s. I opted to get mine from a Japanese storefront on eBay for $112 and change, but currently they’re around $117. Search Amazon for Audio Technica AT-MONO3/LP and you'll get several returns in that price range.