18 responses Add your response
I did the same. I was inspired by The Beatles box, went all out with a Miyajima Zero setup (including SUT and mono phono pre), but finally concluded it was slightly irrational to justify the expense with only 100 or so mono albums. 80% of those were reissues anyway, so they were cut with a stereo lathe.
That said where the mono cartridge fanatics are correct is with original mono albums (pre 1964 I believe). The few old jazz albums I have sounded amazing with the mono cart, and noticeably superior to the mono switch on my phono pre.
So I agree with you but with the large caveat that for those with an extensive original mono collection, a true mono cart is indeed the best option.
I wouldn’t claim that the AT 33MONO is the last word in mono cartridges, but for me the things that it does well with mono LPs outweigh its shortcomings relative to the excellent stereo cartridges playing mono that I’ve compared it to(AT ART7, Ortofon MC2000, Accuphase AC-5, and many vintage MM/MIs.) The 33MONO performance is calmer, more organized, and less of a shrunken bullseye than the stereo cartridges. It has good bass, but perhaps less "sparkle" and "life", as stated by OP. However--particularly on old records--it is much quieter in the groove. IMO that is the raison d’etre of a mono cartridge. Of 6000 or so LPs I’ve collected just 100 monos, from ’50s/’60s jazz through recent audiophile reissues of Miles, Coltrane, and Beatles. At my modest level of commitment to mono, the 33MONO is my fav cartridge and a reasonable value. It doesn’t deserve a drubbing.
OK folks, is there one single component or aspect in this hobby we all can agree on? None that I can think of.
So both halcro and dgarretson are correct for their own perspectives.
In my view the value in bothering with a dedicated mono cartridge is based on two considerations. How many mono records do I own? And are they original mono releases, and therefore produced by mono cutter heads, or are they reissues, say since around 1990 and likely cut with stereo heads?
Then it becomes a question of coil design (vertical pickup or not) and stylus tip design and size. Horses for courses as they say.
I have done quite a bit of research and thinking on this subject. Before you can dismiss mono cartridges as a class, I think you have to consider how the particular mono cartridge(s) you are evaluating was constructed. Only a few were constructed so as to be unable to respond to vertical motion of the cantilever/stylus. One example of such are the Miyajima mono cartridges, which were designed to be mono in the first place. (TSD and Ortofon may also make "true" mono cartridges.) Almost all other mono cartridges are stereo cartridges that have either been modified internally such that the capacity to respond to vertical displacement is reduced (and then the two channels are bridged at the output) or are merely stereo cartridges where the two channels are bridged at the output. (Art Dudley reviewed 3 mono cartridges in one article wherein he tested each for its capacity to reject noise due to vertical motion of the stylus; the 3 were very different from one another in this capacity.) Obviously these 3 basic approaches can make quite a difference in the degree to which a given mono cartridge can be superior to using the mono switch on one's preamplifier. This is why, if I buy any mono cartridge, it will probably be a Miyajima, but then I would still use my mono switch. Unfortunately, the preamp driving one of my two systems lacks any mono switch (Atma-sphere MP1). I am thinking of replacing the function of its "phase" switch with a "mono" function. Miyajima or no Miyajima, I would use BOTH the mono switch and a mono cartridge, optimally. (Have you tried that, Henry?)
But Henry, you did give the impression that you were comparing the dirt cheap AT mono to some very expensive stereo cartridges, although I don't believe you named them specifically. Meantime, I am quite pleased with the effect of using the mono switch that is available on my second system; it's such a big improvement over playing mono LPs in stereo that I don't play mono LPs on my main (no mono) system any longer.
I like Lewm's thinking, and yes, the Myajima is a fine mono cartridge.
I’m coming to think that, playing "mono a mono" can be very good, but equally important is the stylus profile and general design of the cartridge - irrespective of whether it’s a mono or stereo design.
I think we have two things at play with mono cartridges. The obvious one being that it’s a true mono design (including rejection of vertical motion). The second factor that gets overlooked is that the stylus profile is more suited to the groove profile cut by a mono cutting head.
Taken another way, if "limited" to two varieties of cartridge (i.e. a dual tonearm rig), I’m more inclined to run a vintage stereo cartridge (i.e. Ortofon SPU) in the second position over a mono cartridge. I think this ultimately provides the flexibility to play more of your record collection.
This isn't to dismiss mono by any means ... just a slightly modified approach, and of course, if that second arm has a removable headshell, then one is free to collect a stable of easily swappable cartridges.
Thom @ Galibier Design
Everyone should reach their own conclusion. My experience is that a mono reissue will sound different than a pre 1964 mono pressing, even when using the same cartridge (be it mono or stereo). Mono cartridges will sound different, based upon construction. A true mono cartridge generates signal from horizontal motion, only. A stereo cartridge modified to become a mono cartridge will still respond to vertical motion. Why is this an important distinction ? Even though a modified cartridge is supposed to suppress vertical signal by summing, bridging, coil alignment, etc it is still there. Unfortunately the existence of the vertical signal introduces phase anomalies that are audible. It is easier and cheaper to adapt a stereo cartridge than to construct a true mono cartridge, which why there are very few. At the low end there is the Denon DL102. Anything better costs considerably more. Some listeners swear by vintage Fairchild and ESL mono cartridges, that are more than 50yrs old. However there are a few specialists that can rebuild them.
Unfortunately, the preamp driving one of my two systems lacks any mono switch (Atma-sphere MP1). I am thinking of replacing the function of its "phase" switch with a "mono" functionLew, just so you know, we do option the preamp with a mono switch, executed using a custom rotary switch, often with a separate phono input. We've done tape EQ in this same manner.
Thanks thom and iopscrl for substantiating my perspective.
But let me phrase it a bit differently than I did before. First off, I probably need to own more than a few mono LPs before I'll consider the trouble and expense of a mono cartridge. Otherwise hopefully I'll have a mono switch on my pre or phono amp and be content.
However if I've purchased many mono reissues, better optimization may be worthwhile. If those reissues were cut since maybe 1990, they very likely were done with a stereo cutter head. So choosing an appropriate stylus suggests a modern profile, whether it is in an "adapted" stereo model or a true mono design.
But then if I own a number of original mono pressings, produced with mono cutter heads, my stylus choice will likely be different. Why would I not want a larger, conical/spherical stylus to better match the groove made by that cutter? Also in this case I do not want any vertical pick up so that affects my choice as well.
Without beating this into the ground I feel it depends on how many monos and how they were produced that we want to listen to.
Pryso, This has been beaten to the ground on multiple threads and of course viability depends on a record collection. If someone has very good stereo carts and a collection of mono reissues, they will get performance beyond that of a stereo cart and a mono switch, with a high quality mono cart. This is with vertical compliance to play a modern reissue in a reasonable manner.
Even if vertical rejection is 30dB - same as a mono switch, the 45° groove wall has two sides, just like a stereo record. With a stereo cart there is always a difference between channels - output, phase, etc. That difference gets combined with a mono switch.
I can't say it's worth it for any individual user, but companies like Ortofon and Lyra make high end mono carts.
I run two turntables. One for two channel, and another as a dedicated mono playback system. I run an Audio Technica AT 33 mono on a Michell Orbe turntable with a SME V tone arm, sans damping fluid. Hooked up to a solid state phono pre-amplifier with 66 dB of boost and a 100 ohm load. I think it sounds great with new re-issues and old first issues. So has everyone who has listened to this set up. Synergy may have been the problem with this cartridge in your system. Little things add up fast.
I guess we could go digital if it all gets too much. Mono cartridges are less forgiving than stereo cartridges in many respects. They can put a heck of a load on a tone arm because of their requirements.
" Mono cartridges are less forgiving than stereo cartridges in many respects. They can put a heck of a load on a tone arm because of their requirements."
Actually more forgiving of pressing or condition defects. Most noise is transfered from vertical content. Most users of mono cartridges (modified for mono, or true mono) report a significant reduction in surface noise and audibility of surface defects. However, some (not all) mono cartridges are lower in compliance than the average stereo cartridge, thus requiring a higher mass tonearm for best performance. On the other hand, many have reported excellent results from using a Rega 300 arm with a mono cartridge.