Mono vs. Stereo Sound: What's the difference?

Stereo sound, also known as ‘Stereophonic sound,’ is the creation of sound waves using two or more audio channels that are not dependent. On the other hand, Mono, also known as ‘Monaural or monophonic,’ has audio in a single channel, often centered in the “sound field.”

The specialty of stereo sound is that it creates the impression of sound heard from various directions, as we do in our day-to-day life in natural hearing. In the modern world, stereo sound has almost completely replaced Mono because of the improved audio quality that stereo provides. Also, the stereo sound makes the sound feel better to people, so it is widely popular.

In this blog, we will explore the difference between Mono and stereo and compare the technicalities of each sound type and when to use them.

What Is Mono Audio?

As discussed earlier, Mono is short for monophonic, which means ‘one sound.’ In most cases, the sound is recorded and or played back using one audio channel. For example, one microphone recording a guitar is a mono recording because you’re using only one channel (with one mic) to get the guitar’s sound.

Even while recording multiple instruments using one mic, it is still a mono recording because all the sound is captured and played back through one channel.

What Is Stereo?

Stereo sound is recorded with two microphones and or played through two channels in an audio device. All our modern systems with listening mechanisms such as smartphones, laptop speakers, headphones, video games, films, and PA systems are configured as stereo.

The sound-producing devices in consumer electronics and media have two channels and are therefore configured to stereo to get the best experience.

There are two types of stereo sounds – True Stereo and Pseudo Stereo.

When a sound source like a musical instrument or dialogue is recorded with two microphones, it is called true stereo. Pseudo stereo or “simulated stereo” is any sound that plays through dual channels but isn’t recorded in true stereo.

The History Of Mono To Stereo

The debate on Mono vs. stereo has been lingering around for decades. But the history of mono sound goes back to the 1930s and 1940s. 

During the 1940s, music recordings, track releases, and technologies like early record players, sound in movies, etc., were all done and produced in Mono. However, it was during the 1960s when the records were mass-produced and released in stereo. 

From here, stereo became the standard, carrying on to cassettes, stereo playback systems, and the modern digital era. Although cassettes, VCRs, and portable music players like walkman have become history now. The stereo sound lives on in digital music systems.

Mono vs. Stereo Audio Files

The music systems that make use of two speakers are said to be stereo systems. Audio files, such as MP3 and WAV files are stereo, have embedded left channel and right channel information that tell the left and right speaker when to push and pull air.

In a stereo audio file of a digital audio workstation (DAW), you must’ve noticed that there are two waveforms in the file. Each waveform in a DAW represents a single channel of audio track. That is the stereo sound. On the other hand, the mono audio files only contain a single audio channel.

Comparisons: Mono vs. Stereo sound

Cost

Mono sound is easy and inexpensive, whereas stereo sound is more expensive for recording and reproduction.

Recording

Mono sound is easy to record, requiring only basic equipment while working on production, whereas stereo sound requires technical knowledge and audio skills to record, apart from recording equipment. The recording artist needs to know the relative position of the objects and events.

Usage

Mono sound is generally used for alert systems, radio talk shows, hearing aids, public address systems, telephone, mobile communication, some AM radio stations, etc. In addition, movies, television, music players, FM radio stations, podcasts, and other apps like Spotify, Gaana use stereo sound.

Conclusion

Even though there are many benefits and user experience advantages of stereo sound over the mono sound. The importance of mono sound is not reduced. Some of the important vocals and sounds are still recorded in mono sound. Learn more about Mono vs. stereo with our sound engineering course that explores the depths of technicalities in producing sound and creating music professionally.

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