Why mono?

Can someone explain why the need for a mono cartridge when all I have to do is throw the switch on my preamp in the mono position?
Purists. Also, a 'true' mono cart has coils that work in the horizontal plan only. Stereo coils work in a 45 degree off axis coupled at 90 degrees. They sort of do the same thing, but the folks who are up in the Audiophile stratosphere, want the cart device to work correctly for mono records. They say it sounds better.
(Be VERY aware that using a horizontal Mono only cart will RUIN your stereo records if you forget and play a stereo record with a horizontal motion only mono cart. Some mono carts have the same movement as stereo carts and will not destroy a stereo LP)
So if you have a multi thousand TT setup, and want perfection.. buy the mono cart.
(there ARE some mono carts that are cheap enough to just try out anyway.
THEN: another issue is does one use the original stylus shape? the spherical stylus? or a line contact stylus in a mono cart? This is also argued about.
I have thought about a mono cart, but have not followed through on it. (mostly because I would want a dedicated TT for it)
Thanks for the information,very well explained.
Wow, that was a great explaination, well played. How on earth would you learn about that unless you are in that business? I always wondered that as well.
I learned it because I was thinking about buying a mono cart. So I did some research.
(Also I have been AROUND in audio since Mono was the only choice, I am like really old.)
The biggest reason not to for me was changing carts just to do the mono cart at times. Too much bother. So IF I got a third TT, one I wanted for mono only, I might do it.
Thanks again, I really don't have that many mono records to take that kind of plunge! I was just curious why Grado makes one.
Hi Elizabeth,
Just one more question, if you use a mono cartridge would only one channel work?
I have a Miyajima Premium BE mono cartridge mounted on a Triplanar tonearm and it is terrific on mono recordings. It sounds better on the vast majority of my ~300 mono recordings when compared to my Dynavector XV1-S stereo cartridge on a Talea tonearm. Great explanation Elizabeth.
I heard the Miyajima Premium BE mono cartridge at Robin Wyatt's house, the importer, a few months ago. It is special to the point that it actually challenges stereo recordings. Jazdoc is right; it is that good.
to echo Jazdoc's comments; i too have the Miyajima Premium Be Mono. it's mounted on my Reed 2P arm on my Garrard 301. it did take some time to break in; and demanded a good setup to sound optimal.

most of my mono Lps sound better on this $1100 retail cartridge than on my Rockport/Lyra Olympos stereo cartridge ($11,000 retail).

this morning i was playing some of my 45rpm Jazz reissues and played a mono on the Rockport/Olympos. for grins i tried it on the Garrard/Miyajima Mono and damn! it sounded a significant degree better.

caution; the Miyajima is one of those 'different' mono cartridges that will harm a stereo Lp.

there are a number of other things to think about with a mono cartridge beyond what Elizabeth mentioned above.

some of them might want a heavier arm than medium compliance arms most of us have. for instance; the Miyajima works on the Triplaner or Reed; but it might work better on a heavier arm.

some mono cartridges have just one magnet, but with the normal 4 output pins. which means you will have a ground loop if you connect like a stereo cartridge is connected. i had to use a splitter into my stereo phono stage and leave one channel disconencted. then i use my 'mono' switch on my preamp. if you don't have a mono switch then you would need to find another solution.

the Lyra Titan i mono has 2 separate mono magnets; which avoids the whole 'ground loop' issue and allows a normal connection. other mono cartridges use normal stereo magnets and simply 'sum' them so a mono signal is sent to the preamp.

as Elizabeth mentioned some use the smaller stereo stylus and others the larger mono stylus.

anyway; even if it sounds complicated it's not; you simply have to understand how the particular mono cartridge you choose will integrate with your system.....and what adjustments might be required.
Because mono disks are cut differently. If you are really into a large collection of mono lps, like I am, best to assign a separate arm and cartridge to their playing. The Lyra is ideal, but Shure makes some mono cartridges that are great sounding, and good values.
Sorry Yogiboy but as you see from the good advice offered so far, there are not just a few simple answers.

But I might suggest answers start with how many mono records you own (i.e. how much time will you spend listening to mono?) and how anal you are about LP playback? Then consider:

Is it a true mono design cartridge (see above) or internally strapped for mono (some claim this for Grados but I don't know)?

What size and shape stylus do you choose?

Are your mono LPs original (larger, conical stylus could be better) or recent reissues (mono cutter heads no longer available so reissues are cut with stereo heads, thus modern stylus tip could be best)?

Does your arm offer easily adjusted VTA (older LPs cut at different angle, see Fremer's article in recent Stereophile)?

If your mono LPs are originals, you may want to consider alternate EQ adjustments. Although the RIAA curve was approved in the mid-50s, some labels continued using other EQ into the '60s.

Back to the original question, a mono switch on your phono/pre should allow for quieter playback, thus more enjoyment. But there are many steps beyond and only you can decide how far to take it.
Thanks Pryso,all my mono's are reissues so I guess it would be fruitless to go mono!But the explanations are top notch.
Granting that I've never listened to a modern high-end mono cart, I'd be curious to know whether the posters touting mono carts above did their comparisons to stereo carts as the OP suggests (and as I normally do in my system), which is with a preamp mono switch engaged? If not, then you're working at a relative disadvantage in S/N ratio at the least (disregarding for the moment all the other sonic variables between what of course could be quite different carts). If what we're really talking about here is listening to mono records in mono vs. listening to them in stereo -- not simply whether a mono cart sounds better than a nominally equivalent stereo one for playing mono records *in mono* -- then that strikes me as somewhat of an apples-and-oranges comparison.

I still don't think I've heard/read a convincing argument as to why investing in a separate mono cart has an advantage over simply using a mono switch if you have one (assuming your stereo cart is properly aligned), since summing the 2-channel signal cancels out virtually all of whatever spurious vertical modulation info may be present. (On top of which, it is my experience that a minority percentage of mono records in clean condition will actually sound better played with a stereo cart *in stereo* despite the lower S/N ratio, presumably due to disk-mastering/pressing anomolies that can sometimes result in a degree of unwanted HF cancellation when played in mono.)

ok, here are a few reasons to go for a Mono cartridge.

--music. early 50's thru early 60's Lps contain among the very best all time musicians and recordings. many only in mono.

--lower noise. a true mono cartridge will be quieter in the groove of a mono Lp than a stereo cartridge used with a preamp in mono.....many times dramatically quieter. i am speaking here of noise from wear and tear or abuse. many mono lps are unlistenable thru a stereo cartridge.

--more dynamic. just the physics of the mono Lp and mono cart.

--mono cartridges have considerably larger and more natural soundstage on mono Lps than stereo cartridges.

--chicks dig mono. :^)

--modestly priced mono cartridges outperform uber-expensive stereo cartridges on most mono lps.

--set up is super critical with mono cartridges. my opinion is that your perception of a stereo cartridge sounding better is mostly the result of a less than optimal setup on the mono cartridge.
Hi Mike. I too own many thousands of vintage mono microgroove records from the 50's and 60's, both on LP and 45, so I need no convincing on that front (and neither does my chick!) -- or that in many cases where both stereo and mono versions were available, mono was often musically superior. (Or more accurately, that stereo was often inferior, for understandable reasons.)

About your last point, as I stipulated, I've never heard a contemporary high-end mono cart, so my "perception" that listening to certain mono records in stereo can sometimes be preferable to listening in mono, can't be explained by what you're saying there.

However, I still don't have a technically persuasive explanation for your assertions, and I'm still not sure I have an answer to my question about whether comparisons were made vs. a mono switch, rather than vs. stereo.

Everything you hear may be absolutely right, I don't know -- it's just that, in my income bracket at least, I'd like to see an empirically convincing explanation for it, before spending on a mono cart when I already have mono switches on both my preamp and my phonostage. But the more anecdotal, nontechnical generalities that I'm treated to instead (by perfectly well-meaning audiophiles, who may or may not have mono switches), the more skeptical I tend to get that there's an explicable rationale. (And Art Dudley touting almost anything also has that effect on me! ;^)
Like Zaikesman, what I've read and been told over the years is that using the mono switch is all that's needed to mimic the operation of a mono cartridge. I can't vouch for its accuracy, but below is an explanation I found on another forum; maybe others will know if it has any merit.

"A stereo phono cartridge has generators that are sensitive to 45-degree motion corresponding the the 45-degree groove walls. It is wired in such a way that lateral motion of the stylus is in-phase and vertical motion of the stylus is out-of-phase. Therefore, when you blend the channels with a mono switch, purely vertical motion is completely canceled and purely lateral motion is maximized. This is exactly the way a mono cartridge operates. There is absolutely no difference whatsoever."

I also like using a stereo cartridge for mono records because my preamp allows me to send either the left or right channel to both speakers. On a few of my mono lp's, one groove wall is damaged much more than the other, and a stereo cartridge lets me listen to the less damaged wall.

And of course, there is the promise on the album jacket of many of my mono records that when played on a stereophonic machine, it will give "even more brilliant, true-to-life fidelity" than when played on a monophonic machine.

However, also like Zaikesman, and for the reasons listed above, I've never tried a mono cartridge in my stereo system, and none of the local dealers have a mono cartridge mounted up to audition. I greatly enjoy my mono records with my current setup, so the expense and hassles of adding to my system a turntable and cartridge dedicated to mono is not one I would undertake lightly.
read this....

about Miyajima Mono cartridges

the translation from Japanese makes for interesting reading but it makes some good points.
"my preamp allows me to send either the left or right channel to both speakers"

JR, what preamp are you using? Thanks!
chicks dig mono

Dude, tell us your secret. Where are you hanging out? I tried listing "monophile" on my eHarmony profile and didn't get a single frigging response.
Bob, I'm using an Audio by Van Alstine OmegaStar PAT-5. This was AVA's solid state circuitry built into a Dynaco chassis (current model is called Inisight). AVA's own chassis also have this capability, whether the simpler SL chassis or the EC (enhanced capability) option.

The evidence would suggest a 16-22 gram effective mass for the wonderful Myajima mono cartridge. While the Tri-Planar is objectively and observably a superior arm to the humble Artisan, the latter (with a slightly higher effective mass) is a better match for the Myajima. I’m curious about Jazzdoc’s observations about the Artisan/Myajima pairing, and he’ll likely be able to report back on this combination in a few weeks.

So far, I’m getting mixed results with mono, in that some mono records aren’t improved through a mono cartridge, while others are dramatically better. In some cases the noise drops off dramatically (the noise generated by vertical movement which mono cartridges ignore). In others, there’s no difference.

In short, if you have a mono collection, exploring a dedicated mono arm/cart is a worthwhile avenue. For me (others may differ), it’s the only justification for running a dual arm rig, and the only reason my new designs will continue to have this feature.

BTW, Mike L. inadvertently added an extra zero. The Myajima mono series of cartridges runs in the $900 to $1,200 range (there are three mono cartridges in the line). All of this makes me wonder how good the mono version of the Dynavector XV1s is.

The mono experience (through a mono cartridge) is very “spatial”, but in a different way from stereo. Shifting to a mono cartridge (on a mono recording) “grows” the sound field in a spherical way – the central image grows, frequently to the bounds of your stereo speaker pair. You get a sense of engulfment you didn’t think possible through your mono recordings.

Thom @ Galibier
"Bob, I'm using an Audio by Van Alstine OmegaStar PAT-5."

Very cool, JR. I was thinking it might be a KAB Souvenir or something. It sure is rare to find anything with that kind of flexibility any more. Thanks for the info!

you wrote;

BTW, Mike L. inadvertently added an extra zero. The Myajima mono series of cartridges runs in the $900 to $1,200 range (there are three mono cartridges in the line).

my use of $11,000 referred to my Lyra Olympos, not the Miyajima Premium BE Mono. what i wrote was;

most of my mono Lps sound better on this $1100 retail cartridge than on my Rockport/Lyra Olympos stereo cartridge ($11,000 retail).

sorry if i did not make my meaning more clear. my point was that this modestly priced Mono cartridge bettered the mighty Olympos on the vast majority of mono Lps.
Thom has done a great job articulating the dedicated 'mono experience'. I think his description of the soundstage, especially the 'enveloping' quality and depth are spot on. On some records there is an incredible tonal richness that is unique to mono...perhaps reflecting differences in the recording technique, i.e. recording equipment, miking, etc., rather than mono versus stereo.

As Thom and Mike have noted, this applies to the majority, but certainly not all mono recordings. In my experience, the better the recording, the greater the benefit from the dedicated mono cartridge.

I look forward to hearing what the Miyajima can do mounted on the Artisan ;-)
I have a Quicksilver linestage that has mono,left only and right only.
Mike: Thanks for the link. Unfortunately, due to the language gap but also what I perceive to be a near total lack of genuine attempt at explanation or justification on the part of the author, it doesn't tell me anything useful. But if you think their carts sound great for the money, that at least is something.

Thom and Jazzdoc: Again, all well and fine impressions, but what is the comparison (if you know) to simply summing the channels of a good stereo cart that you already own? The more the folks who champion mono carts post like the question doesn't exist, the more I wonder whether they know the answer, or even to ask the question...Maybe everyone ought to state for the record (sorry!) whether or not they even have a mono switch available in their rig (or summing Y-cables, but less good for the obvious reasons), because I realize that these days many don't.

Jrtrent: I also used to take advantage of channel/groovewall-selection capability with mono records back when I was using a C-J PV8 full-function preamp, and older McIntoshes had this too...Just like a mono switch (and also an absolute polarity switch), I'd like to see modern standalone phonostages incorporate this "L to L + R"/"R to L + R" feature (since linestages won't ever again, as mono is only really important for vinyl playback). It can also be useful for certain diagnostics even if you never use it for listening to music.
Thom, Mike, Jazdoc:

Would each of you state if your experience with variability in mono playbacks happens with newer mono reissues, with older original monos, or with both?

Zaikes, the Herron line stages offer both mono and phase switching, even by remote. And there may be others, I know Joule-Electra has a mono selector on their linestage.


So saying linestages won't ever again provide a mono switch is not correct. Of course many brands don't. And a disturbing number (to me at least) omit a balance control as well.
My experience is with original, older monos.

Recently snagged a mono first pressing of Mile Davis' "Round About Midnight" from 1955 and it absolutely wipes the floor with my other two stereo versions.

Another recent purchase was Barney Kessel, Ray Brown and Shelley Manne's "Poll Winners 3" from 1962?...one of the best sounding LPs I own.

I also recently rediscovered some original Mercury Living Presence monos and they are spectacular.

Again (and similar to current vinyl releases) pressing and recording quality will vary.
I was with Win at Robin's and the Miyajima Mono is one of the best cartridges made, perhaps the best. It was certainly the best sound that I have heard from vinyl and at it's asking price that's pretty darn amazing
Would each of you state if your experience with variability in mono playbacks happens with newer mono reissues, with older original monos, or with both?

as far as early 50's to mid-60's Classical and Jazz, and a few pop/rock; they are simply better in detail, dynamics, and natural ambience than a stereo cartridge playing the same Lp. in my system; when i use the 'mono' button on my darTZeel preamp with a stereo cartridge playing a mono Lp i cannot hear any difference (or have not so far).

even very good stereo cartridges tend to sound a bit bound up and bunched together in the middle. the Mono cartridge presents the musical components in a more natural space from speaker to speaker. there is an openness and freedom to the music. i don't want to go overboard in representing the overall presentation; 'better' in this case does not approach what the best stereo recordings can do in terms of space; but the music is well communicated.

i have quite a few mono reissues including all the 45rpm AP and Music Matters reissues. those are also mostly better on the mono cartridge in the same way. i have a bunch of the mono Super Analog Disc Decca reissues which are uniformily better with the mono cartridge.

i am in the early stages of my relationship with mono Lps and so i expect to attain further truths about this subject. will more expensive mono cartridges take me significantly further in performance? will i still be loving monos a year or two from now? or will it be a passing phase?

those are still questions.

stay tuned.

Sorry I missed your earlier question.

I have played mono albums as follows:

a. Stereo cartridges with stereo setting on phono & line preamp

b. Stereo cartridges through summed mono setting on phono & line preamp

c. Mono cartridge

I strongly prefer the sound of (c) with the vast majority of mono recordings.
OK, now we're getting somewhere guys: Mike and Jazdoc both categorically stated (paraphrasing here) that to their ears in their systems, a mono cart really does play a mono record better than a stereo cart with the channels summed. I'd still like to know the mechanism behind this finding (and of course it's always possible that they just prefer the sound of those carts, irrespective of the fact that they happen to be mono carts), but at least now I know there's some subjective basis for looking into the subject more, rather than wondering if all the hype could merely be the result of audiophiles whose preamps simply lack mono buttons. (And yes, I find, like Mike does, that engaging the Mono button with a stereo cart playing a mono record usually doesn't change the sound all that much, save for a slight reduction in noise and a slight tightening of the central image -- not surprising. But if a mono cart somehow proves to be much better than this, I certainly will be surprised, pleasantly so.)

Hi Pryso: Actually my own linestage (a Levinson 380S) and my current phonostage (a PSA GCPH) both feature remote-controllable mono and polarity functions, which I think is wonderful. More should.

But what I was referring to above was the Left or Right Channel to Left + Right Channels switch that Jrtrent mentions, which you only find on some older (usually full-function) preamps or receivers. That's a feature we probably won't be seeing again, but I'd still like to see some audiophile phonostages incorporate it. (Also I can't understand why more don't offer a defeatable rumble filter. Other than the polarity switch, which many DACs have, these functions are exclusively for vinyl replay and should be located in phonostages since most linestages omit them.)
Hey Jazzdoc,

Have you tried putting the coils of a stereo cartridge in series to sum for mono?

Much of the benefit form a true mono cartridge or a mono wired stereo cartridge comes from the idea that only lateral movement of the stylus generates sound. A true stereo cartridge generates information in both the lateral and vertical direction and since mono recordings have no musical information in the vertical plane any vertical movement shows up as noise.

In theory the various ways of summing the signal outside the cartridge should also cancel any information in the vertical plane but in reality these all come with their own sets of compromises and never seem to sound as good (quiet?) as a cartridge set up for mono.

The easiest experiment to do to see if a dedicated mono cartridge is for you is to wire a stereo cartridge in series and use a single channel of your phono to see how things sound.

Hi Dave: Are you talking about something that can be accomplished in between the cartridge pins and the headshell pins using headshell wires? (No way would I attempt to rewire anything inside a cartridge itself.) Please elaborate, and maybe comment on why this would be any different than using a preamp mono switch?

It is done externally with a jumper.

Leave the Red wire connected as is, Move the green headshell lead to the blue cartridge pin and place a jumper from green to white. and use only the right channel of your phono pre.

This will sum any lateral movement and cancel any vertical movement of a stereo cartridge.

If you want this signal to feed a stereo pair of speakers place a Y connector at the Right channel output of your pre to get L & R signals for your amp.

So, would any of the posters who own mono carts care to list which manufacturers in their experience offer 'true' mono carts as opposed to repurposed stereo ones, with distinct generators and suspensions that aren't for use with stereo records, and maybe what they think of those ones they've heard?
The thought occured to me -- since it stands to reason that stereo CD players can't suffer from whatever ill effect it's supposed to be that's said to make stereo carts less than optimal for playing mono LPs -- that if this alleged deficiency in playng mono LPs with stereo carts is true, then on average, mono CDs therefore ought to sound better relative to the their mono LP counterparts than do stereo CDs relative to stereo LPs (for those of us using stereo carts -- most, I'm sure).

This isn't something I've noticed however, not that I've specifically listened for it. (Then again, despite owning more vinyl than "discs" by a factor of over 20 to 1, neither am I one who thinks LP sound is necessarily always better than CD sound. I think mastering quality greatly trumps format, but also that, mastering quality aside, each format can have its strengths relative to the other.)
I have a Koetsu Urushi & Lyra Helikon mono Cartridges.
The Koetsu sounds very good on mono records but the Lyra is so much better on them. The image seems to be better layered and taller. I have a few mono records that also sound like crap with lots of surface noise whan played with the stereo cartridge but sound like there is nothing wrong with them when played with the mono cartridge. When I am shopping for mono albums I only look for in groove defects and damace and do not even worry about scratch that would make me not buy the album if it were a stereo recording.
Monos just sound best with a mono album. IMHO
In answer to an earlier question on whether I've tried summing the signal after the fact, the answer is yes, but too long ago to say anything meaningful about it.

It's worth revisiting, and I intend do so, but at the moment, it's all I can do to iron out the wrinkles in order to get the Stelvio II flying in formation in time for RMAF.

Thom @ Galiber
Agree with Mikelavigne. The Miyajima Mono BE-low plays wonderful in a heavy arm like the FR-66s - The Beatles Monos, never heard them like this before.

I've done some research through the mono vs. stereo threads and I'm still confused on one issue: If you play a mono record through a stereo cartridge, what is the effect of using/not using the mono switch on the preamp? What happens in either scenario in terms of signal processing? Thanks.

In my system I really didn't notice much (any) difference using the mono switch on my BAT line stage or a K&K phono stage.
I just installed a Lyra Helikon mono on a spare armwand for a Graham 2.2 The sound is really present compared to mono recordings on my stereo cart (Benz LP) with the preamp switched to mono.
I have been thinking about why. The best I can come up with is that there are phase errors in the mechanical process of pick-up from the groove, and that these are eliminated - or greatly reduced - by the geometry of the mono coil vs. the stereo coil(s) in the cart. Less degrees of freedom, less error.
Hello everybody! I'm curious as to your speaker systems? Are you using a single speaker for true mono playback? Or are you listening to your stereo system as two channel mono? I have been listening to two channel mono and have found it to be questionable. When I sit in the stereo sweet spot I hear a bump in the lower mids. And when I sit elsewhere I hear odd phase issues that I attribute to timing errors. And the low freq is cancelled. Thoughts?
Many modern mono carts have vertical compliance and will Not tear up a stereo record. The Denon 102 is such, and has been out for years. It has two long output pins to hook up your stereo leads (doubled up). The AT 33MONO and MONO3 are inexpensive MC and HOMC if you want to try a relatively inexpensive mono cart w/vert cu. The 33 has 30dB of vertical rejection. All of these have spherical tips between .6 to .7 mil for the 102.

A mono switch is not the same as using a mono cart. Vertical information does not get cancelled, it gets blended. That's why you might get dramatic noise reduction with a beat up mono pressing. It can be startling.
A stereo cart has channel imbalance and phase difference. Things like skating, azimuth, alignment will add to the difference and sound blurry or fuzzy. A mono cart is relatively immune to these differences (depending on vertical rejection) because there is only one output.

Many mono carts have vertical compliance. If you're unsure about a pressing you won't have to worry about destroying your record.
For a more complete explanation: