Vinyl lovers--in case you haven't tried this yet

One advantage to being home sick with the flu, is that I get to spend time with recent purchases. This week I have finally installed my Lyra Helikon Mono cartridge, cleaned a bunch of old mono recordings and WOW, I am shocked at the warmth, clarity, natural, intimate sound. Perhaps many of you know this already (I bought the cartridge slightly used from a friend, after reading a glowing review by Fremer), but folks this is shockingly good sound. I put on some old Shaded Dogs, mono Archiv recordings of Bach, and frankly, I don't understand this: how can there be a wide, deep soundstage with mono recordings? I'm not missing whatever Stereo does (don't get me wrong, I'm not dumping that side of things), but would someone explain to me how a good mono recording, played with a good mono cartridge, can sound so alive, natural, and present. (As I write this I'm listening to a wonderful Alicia de la Laroccha which I picked up for a buck at Amoeba. ) If you haven't tried this yet, it's worth a listen.
I think you might be running a fever.

Some of the best sounding LP's I have are in Mono, but with a stereo cartridge. If I run into a mono cart. for a reasonable price, I'll take your advice and try it out.

Hope you get better (or should I say I hope it drags on?)

Thanks for get well wishes Robm321: my doctor has ordered me to take it easy, drink tea, and listen to beautiful music. I may take my time recovering. And BTW: the mono cartridge makes these mono records sound quite different from the stereo cartridge rendition: more clarity and presence. I'm not an engineering type, but I have read some of the commentary by the Lyra engineer who designed the Helikon Mono and it reads the groove in a different way. Can someone enlighten me in laymen's terms?
Gee, suddenly I don't feel so good...
stevecham, sounds like you're also coming down with a case of "mono"

there was an edition of the old "listener" magazine devoted to mono in which the helikon mono was reviewed and the design explained. if you'd like a copy and don't mind the wait, contact me.
1. I presume you are still listening through two speakers, even though the program is mono. Before stereo came along the very best systems were using two speakers for mono. This avoids the effect of listening through a "hole in the wall" and provides the wide soundstage you mention.

2. The Mono LP signal consists purely of horizontal groove modulation, whereas stereo involves both horizontal and vertical. The horizontal signal quality is greatly superior to the vertical signal quality. (This is why Edison's original vertical modulation scheme was replaced by horizontal). So, when you listen to a mono recording the signal is not corrupted by mixing with the inferior vertical signal.

The aweful quality of the vertical signal (L-R) was very evident when we were developing matrix multichannel systems. In such a system, Center Rear is the L-R (vertical) signal, and you really don't want to listen to it in raw form.
It's pretty simple - it's much, much, much easier to cut, master, and press a single waveform (mono) onto a physical surface without losing or altering the ultra-subtle information that creates "presence" and timbral accuracy, than it is to cut 2 channels into a compound waveform and then retrieve them simultaneously with a single stylus (stereo). On top of that, even if a stereo pressing was 100%, it's virtually impossible to align a cartridge so precisely that information is not constantly lost or distorted. Not the case with mono. (Tape is very different, of course, since the two stereo tracks are recorded and retrieved independently.)

From the Classic Records (reissues) website:

"We cut a reference disc using the Mono cutting system and then switched over to the Stereo cutting system and repeated the cut holding everything else the same. We could finally compare the cutting systems and were surprised at what we heard. First, they were definitely different. The stereo cut seemed a little more "stereo like" in a spatial sense. The mono cut was more focused by comparison and the bass definition was superior. The real test was to play each against the tape that they were cut from to see which was more authentic. The mono cut was definitely more like the tape than the stereo cut... In the end, it was a unanimous decision to use the Mono cutting system exclusively for mono titles because the sound is more authentic than using a stereo cutting system. It would appear that collectors who go to the ends of the earth to find original mono pressings cut on mono systems do so with good reason...
- Michael Hobson, President - Classic Records Inc."

From the Mono Maven at
"One of my guilty pleasures is the occasional visit by some audiophile friends, where I drop one of these mono gems on the turntable amidst a program of otherwise big-ass stereos. Observing the enthusiasm of my unsuspecting audience, I turn the knife a little and ask if they observe anything unusual in the recording. Only about one in four or five catches on that they are listening to mono... and this even with orchestral music!
By every audiophiliac measure of performance, save one, mono recordings surprise us: frequency response extension; authority of bass; lack of treble clatter; size and depth of stage; correctness of timbres; and presence (where a good mono is often better than stereo): the palpable illusion of a musician playing right there before you. The harmonic structure from a mono LP is likely to be more coherently presented, resulting in a timbral purity and convincing focus and power that stereo rarely achieves without painstaking setup (which of course you should have anyhow.) Vocals have the opportunity to bloom without strain or electronic resonance. In part, as in early stereo, this is because everything in the recording chain from microphone to tape recorder to disc cutter is tube amplified: the overload and distortion characteristics are more consistent with the dynamic expansiveness of live music. The sense of weight together with micro-dynamic resolution catches your average audiophile completely off guard; it's so unexpected.
The one area where stereo can be counted to improve on mono is instrumental placement, for obvious reasons. Locational cues, however, are not the only means to sort out what's going on; neither are they the best means to understand the musical argument on its own terms. My audiophile visitors puzzle about how it can be easier to follow the inner voices in mono than in the corresponding stereo version.
Full article at:

Not only all this, but the Thrift store and garage sale crowd completely pass these over, leaving them for the more astute of us!
Read an article about mono in the last six months (either Stereophile or TAS). If remembered correctly, mono is recorded on the bottom of the groove and sort of looks like stairs (going up and down).
Stereo, on the other hand, is recorded on the groove walls (one wall for left, one for right channels).
This is why a stereo stylus doesn't track true mono as it should.
I love this forum. Humour, sickness and knowledge all in the same paragraph. I was unaware why I so enjoyed vintage LP's that were done in mono. Now I feel pretty smug about having a mono switch on my line stage. I certainly cannot add much technical knowledge to this debate but what I can add is (hopefully) some feedback on the rash of recent mono reissues that are presently available. I have the new Who repressing of "My Generation" by Classic Records as well as Hendrix "Axis Bold As Love" also by Classic. Now I am primarily a cheapskate and do not part willingly with our heavily taxed Canadian dollar, but in this case it was a no brainer. Worth EVERY penny. As a natural born cynic who figures that the marketing department is once again trying to manipulate us into rebuying our entire record collection-----all I can say is for once they truly have something to offer us. These two titles would cost a fortune in the used record / collector market.
I was pretty happy with the sonic resuls of my underacheiving Denon cartridge up to this point but that may soon change. Now I am on the search for the Holy Grail of mono cartridges. Oh well, its better than swapping cables or obsessing about which CD format is better. Think I can find the Holy Grail for cheap?

So, sit back, put on a slab of vinyl, watch the rock drag over the grooves and marvel at the state of technological progress.
A hearty thanks to all who responded. Just what the doctor ordered. When I read your responses in this forum, I can usually understand these technical issues--you guys are so good at translating the tech-speak (I have never been able to figure out what John Atkinson is saying with all his graphs and charts!). So I appreciate the time, and this increases my interest in expanding my mono library. And yes,Eldartford, I am listening through two beautiful Genesis speakers.
When I get the flu, my hearing gets so affected that I don't trust any differences in any sounds that I hear! In other words, when I have the flu, everything is mono and sounds worse - sometimes only one channel works - one ear is blocked. Have you tried your experiment when healthy? You might get different results.
Bob P.
I still haven't seen an explanation for why a "mono cartridge" would be better than simply mono-ing the signal from a stereo cartridge when playing mono disks. Electrically there would seem to be a difference only if a stereo cartridge were enough out of alignment coil-wise to result in incorrect cancellations. The only other parameter I can think of is that possibly the suspension could be tuned a little differently assuming there's no need to track a vertical modulation component, but I'm not sure what such a difference might really be, or if any such differences actually exist in these carts.

I read that Stereophile article, by Art Dudley if I'm remembering right, and I couldn't see where this supposed preference for a mono cart was technically addressed at all, much less explained -- it was just assumed. Is it merely as simple as a case of audiophiles owning modern preamps that lack mono switches? And would rather spend for another cart than insert a pair of Y-cables to mono the stereo signal?

My preamp has a mono switch (I wouldn't own one that didn't) and my carts are stereo, and I own plenty of old mono vinyl and usually choose whether to listen with the mono switch engaged based on whether there's a bothersome degree of surface noise that can reduced in mono. Otherwise, with clean mono disks, there's usually little to choose from between listening in "stereo" or switching to mono, and sometimes what difference does exist is in favor of leaving it set to stereo so there's no slight cancellation that results in a reduction of "air". Where it does favor engaging the mono switch with clean mono disks, the difference is generally only a tiny increase in center image coherency/solidity, nothing to get very excited about, certainly nothing to make me want to spend for another cart in lieu of flipping a switch.

When playing a mono CD, for instance, there is really no difference to be heard between whether the preamp is set to mono or stereo. So I am having a hard time imagining why it would be any kind of revelation to acquire a mono cartridge. Is the real revelation for these guys mostly in acquiring the mono vinyl itself, and the cart companies are just cashing in on that unecessarily? Or am I missing something important here?
1..When playing a mono recording a different stylus may be better...not the large diameter one for old 78s but perhaps not line contact either.

2..Really old mono cartriges did have low compliance for vertical modulation, and we were warned not to play stereo LPs with them as damage to the LP would occur. We were told to buy a stereo pickup immediately even if we didn't buy the rest of the stereo outfit. I don't know if having vertical compliance might affect horizontal modulation performance. It's not too far fetched.

3..I think that some cartriges being sold as mono are actually stereo models with appropriate jumpers. Certainly this is less expensive to produce than different coils.

4..In the case of a mono CD, the ones and zeros for the two channels are identical (same A/D from the original master) so engaging a MONO switch on the preamp will have only a slight gain effect.
Zaikesman...Another thought. Playing a Mono LP without engaging the MONO switch on the preamp is foolish. Here is a little experiment for you.

Bridge your power amps with a speaker. (You may want to disconnect the regular speakers to avoid too low an impedance load on the power amps). Now play a mono LP without using the MONO switch. What you will hear is the vertical groove modulation which ought to be silence. You will hear noise. Do you want to mix this noise into the music?
Yes, I am puzzled too why a mono cartridge is better than a stereo cartridge on a mono record. Perhaps someone can enlighten us, before I spend another 1 or 2 grand on a cartridge.;)

Is the stylus shape different perhaps, so that the mono cart reads the groove better?

I don't doubt the reports above about the superiority of mono, the problems with horizontal plus vertical modulation, Hobson's test, and so forth. But it strikes me that, given these findings, CDs, which provide effectively two fully-realized mono channels, should have represented a very great leap forward sonically even allowing for all of the problems of the digital format.
Drubin and Eldartford: Yes, your point about stylus profile could be reasonable, but again none of us seems to know if it's actually the case in these products, just as with the suspension question, or Eldee's suspicion (shared by me until I'm told otherwise) that they may simply be no different than the corresponding stereo carts mechanically, just with two fewer output pins. Drubin gets my point about mono CD's -- that mono reproduction of CD's is essentially perfect *from that standpoint* (meaning the "mono-ness" of the reproduction), yet I don't recall any audiophiles jumping up and down and yelling about what a revelation experiencing *that* kind of mono was in relation to playing mono LP's with a benighted stereo cartridge.

Eldee: As I said, I usually find the *audible* consequences of choosing either position for the mono switch when playing good-condition mono LP's to not greatly favor one or the other, but assuming there is no cancellation from misalignment with either the cartridge coils or the way a disk was cut, then it seems reasonable that some of the compartively greater sense of "air" heard when playing a mono LP witout engaging the mono switch would be the result of spurious noise. I'm willing to run your proposed experiment as a learning tool, if you'd be kind enough to spell out for me the connection method you have in mind. (I have available normally-configured speaker cables, and a pair of conventional tube monoblock amps or one conventional solid-state stereo amp, none of which are themselves bridged designs or fitted with a bridging switch. I guess using the stereo SS amp would be easier, and that I don't risk harming it?)
assuming there is no cancellation from misalignment with either the cartridge coils or the way a disk was cut, then it seems reasonable that some of the compartively greater sense of "air" heard when playing a mono LP witout engaging the mono switch would be the result of spurious noise.

This happens with mono CD reissues, too. Those RCA Latin Classics on CD are KILLER mono recordings--and so are the Ansonia label reissues....

It is precisely that 'air' introduced by playing a mono disc in stereo that is the reason that vinyl is preferred to CD play. That 'air' is also due (beside the noise)to the phase difference between the channels that is introduced into the vinyl playback rendering it 'better' than the CD. Does anyone claim that mono playback of stereo vinyl is superior to mono CD?
Bob P.
Zaikesman...Use the SS amp. Feed it the Left and Right stereo signals from the preamp. Connect a speaker from one red amp terminal to the other one. This "bridges the amp. You don't need any special bridging switch on the amp. What you will hear is the difference between Left and Right, which obviously should be silence for a mono recording.

The idea that "air" can be created by adding a bit of HF noise is a dirty little secret. And, as notes, slight imperfections of vinyl playback such as phase shift and differing frequency response can create a false stereo effect. Indeed, some mono recordings were reissued as "stereo" by deliberately introducing large amounts of these distortions.
Fran: WPPAPI yerself dude :-) Been a while, nice to see you again! But as I said, with most of my mono CD's I hear virtually no difference engaging the mono switch (I imagine I'd hear more of one if I used a tube preamp and/or player).

Inpep: Yes, agree about the phase aspect as well. But, doesn't *somebody* claim mono playback of mono LP's is superior to stereo playback of mono LP's, despite the same principles applying? If not, who's buying mono versions of stereo cartridges, marketed/sold at an additional $$ premium to boot? (Another characteristic of these devices that makes me question their legitimacy until somebody informs me differently -- in this case, specifically as to why an otherwise-identical product, only needing fewer connections and connectors, and perhaps a simpler stylus profile or a slightly adjusted suspension [if that much], should fetch a few-hundred dollar upcharge over the more complex stereo version. But then again, the prices of high-end cartridges in general bear very little relation to the reality of what goes into their design and manufacture to begin with.)

Eldee: Every once in a while, with certain early-to-mid 60's pop disks, I'll actually *like* the peculiarly distorted sound of the fake stereo versions, probably because in many instances that's the sound I grew up with...But I normally try to own a mono version as well, and the majority of the time with material of this vintage I'll prefer the mono to the true stereo version, with its even fakier-sounding hard left/right "dual-mono" panning.
The question that has often nagged me as I cautiously collect mono vinyl in hopes of landing a decent cart one of these days is how far back do I take this? If as some contend that the breakthrough year for high fidelity was 1953 with Mercury’s “Living Presence” and that it took a couple more years for RCA to follow suit (over-driven, at first), then are we looking at a half-decade window in the 50s, or does the Golden Aural Age stretch further back?