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9/22/2016 soundWhatisthedifferencebetweenmonoandstereo?


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What is the difference between mono and stereo?

I've always wondered what the difference between the two is, and sometimes (games, movie players, etc), you are given a choice of mono or stereo
sound. I toggle both but don't hear any difference.

So, how do they actually differ?


edited Oct 28 '14 at 18:14 asked Oct 28 '14 at 15:53

Tim Mark Gabriel
45.1k 3 49 122 510 1 5 11

If you listen to basically any music in headphones and switch between mono and stereo, the difference should
be clear. Meaningful Username Oct 28 '14 at 17:18

There are 2 possibilities why you aren't spotting the difference immediately. One is that the speech centre track
of a movie is mono, only the effects & music will be in stereo; The second is that either the source [some
'transfers' from DVD/BD are very poor] or your hardware is wrongly congured for stereo. There is a very distant
third, that you are deaf in one ear, even if only at higher frequencies - but you'd presumably already know if that
was the case. Tetsujin Oct 28 '14 at 19:45

4 Answers

The difference is in the number of channels (signals) used. Mono uses one, stereo uses more
than one.

In monaural sound one single channel is used. It can be reproduced through several
speakers, but all speakers are still reproducing the same copy of the signal.
In stereophonic sound more channels are used (typically two). You can use two different
channels and make one feed one speaker and the second channel feed a second speaker
(which is the most common stereo setup). This is used to create directionality, perspective,

Here is an example using a two speaker setup.


Stereo 1/3
9/22/2016 soundWhatisthedifferencebetweenmonoandstereo?Music:Practice&TheoryStackExchange

More technically, true stereo means sound recording and sound reproduction that uses
stereographic projection to encode the relative positions of objects and events recorded.

In a common stereo setup of two channels: left and right, one channel is sent to the left speaker
and the other channel is sent to the right speaker. Now, by controlling to which channel you
send the signal you can control the position of the sound. You'll hear sounds coming from
different directions depending on which speaker you send the signal to, or in which proportion
(you can send just a little more to the right speaker, so the sound is positioned just a little bit to
the right). Sounds with equal proportions on both speakers will appear to come from the center.

In other words, stereo opens the possibility of playing with sound localization.

edited Oct 28 '14 at 17:51 answered Oct 28 '14 at 16:14

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Since we have two ears, on opposite sides of our head, we hear a particular sound from two
directions.Each takes a slightly different time to arrive, so we have a good idea where the sound
is coming from.To record this stereo sound, two mics(at least) are used.Actually, the best
theoretical position for these two mics is at 180 degrees away from each other - just like our

In a situation where, say, a band is playing, sound will come from lots of different directions, so
several mics can be used, and the position in the mix - pan- can be moved using the recording
desk. When you listen to something in stereo with headphones, you can imagine where the
guitarist is playing, inside your head.Often, the vocals are dead centre. Obviously, the effect is
similar using speakers, but it's easier to appreciate where things are in a mix using cans.

With mono, there is no spaciality. The sound in each ear is identical. It can be recorded with just
one mic.

The concept came about when someone listened to recordings that were done with the mic in
different places, and he realised that two mics would 'hear' two different mixes.

The best way to check if a recording is stereo is to hear applause. It's very obvious whether it's
mono or not.

Surround sound takes this idea further. Basically it used a delay to make the sound appear to
come from farther away, but with 7 points now, it's achieved using 7 different positions for the
mics, which are amplied with 7 different amps and speakers, spread round the room.

edited Oct 28 '14 at 16:39 answered Oct 28 '14 at 16:13

45.1k 3 49 122

Thanks for the input. I am trying to convey a very complex concept in a simplistic way.Two directions because of
two ears. For one to pose the OP's question, one would appear not to be much enlightened. The two directions
idea was to set the scene. In 1933, at the World Fair, Chicago, a dummy with mics for ears was used to convey
the binaural, now stereo idea to the general public.Things have moved on in time, and I think that delay was
used in earlier times, probably not currently. Tim Oct 28 '14 at 17:10

Did anybody mention Haas effect yet? ;-) Tetsujin Oct 28 '14 at 19:25


As we almost do only have 'Stereo-Sound-Systems' to our disposal I'll make a little add-on with a
totally practical approach.

On a two-channel-system like stereo (L/R) MONO simply means that the signal of a mono-source
like a mono-microphon is distributed with the same level to both channels/speakers. 2/3
9/22/2016 soundWhatisthedifferencebetweenmonoandstereo?Music:Practice&TheoryStackExchange
When a listener at a certain distance is sitting exactly in the center between the two speakers,
the mono signal will appear to be exactly in the middle of the plain between the two speakers.
Headphones leave you no choice. You are always in the middle!

Panning your signal either to the left or the right just means you are changing its position in the
L/R sound-eld but the signal is still mono.

Anything that really took advantage of the stereo system will denitely NOT get better by being
remastered back to MONO because you are limiting the sound-space to a single channel - which
on a CD gets equally distributed to both channels. There is no MONO-CD. Only MONO-MUSIC on

If the music was absolutely mono in the rst place, remastering with modern equipment could
denitely help to make the sound more transparent and clear! Sometimes by even producing
some pseudo-stereo-effect out of the mono signal...

edited Sep 3 '15 at 21:04 answered Sep 3 '15 at 20:56

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The experience of listening to music in mono from a speaker, eg. that of an old table radio,
versus headphones is completely different. When a speaker is projecting into a room, the sound
is reected off all the surfaces in the room, so there is still a sense of space and presence. When
a mono signal is piped into headphones, the sound all seems to be coming from the center of
the skull (as Consumer Reports described it many years ago) an effect which I nd drab and

answered Dec 27 '15 at 8:22

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