M O N O vs S T E R E O / MONO

A occasional post on matters pertaining to Hi-Fi, introducing “man-in-a-shed” productions

With more than half my records in mono, and a stereo system with no mono switch, some attention to the mono-stereo issue has been long overdue. If you already enjoy the benefits of a mono switch, and you use it, you may want to skip this post. Or just feel smug and read it anyway.

I am not wanting (at this moment anyway) to get drawn into the arguments about artistic intent, dedicated mono and stereo masters vs fold-downs, studio monitors, my dad’s bigger than your dad – the usual suspects can meet in the playground after school and settle things, man to man. However a studio engineer I met recently, thanks Marc, pointed me to the source of the issue I have with “early” primitive stereo:

Mixing console which would have been used by Rudy Van Gelder:

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“Darling, this record you got me for my birthday is no good! It says its in “Stereo” but it’s really just Left Right and Centre”

Van Gelder had to work with the technology available and in the early days this is what he had.  Stereo was a by-product of the emerging technology  for multi-instrument recording – mic-ing and mixing – before committing to tape. Hence ” Lead instrument Left, piano and bass Centre, drums Right” Stereo. I wanted to be able to listen to some of my “primitive stereo” records in mono. What I hadn’t bargained for is that the solution had a large number of unexpected other benefits, more on which later

What no mono switch?

The manufacturer of my hi-fi, Linn, does not provide a mono switch anywhere in the system, and not for just for minimalist aesthetic reasons.

Linn-Akurate-kontrol-and-power-amp-C4200-x1600pxWBal

From a purist performance point of view, any kind of physical switch in the signal path degrades that signal, and there are no mechanical switches apart from power on/off (volume is digitally managed – no moving parts). That makes sense. The idea of tone control knobs, or a bass-boost switch is risible. But the need to address the issue of mono meets with “hardly anyone has mono nowadays” (or so the Linn Marketing Department informs them, demanding an ipod connection point instead) An absent mono switch is a casualty of their philosophy and it has been necessary to listen to mono records in stereo.

One solution of course is to spend many thousands of pounds on a dedicated mono cartridge, an additional arm, and a new deck able to host both stereo and mono arms. I am sure it is wonderful, no issue, but what if you could get a similar benefit for just £30? Linn had not bargained for man-in-a-shed, whose solutions work around obstacles created by organisations who think they know  better than you what is good for you.

men-in-sheds-logo

Man-in-a-Shed Productions, a friend who understands how to hold a soldering iron by the correct end (which is where I go wrong) came up with a solution to the problem of L-R-C stereo: a simple mono/stereo switch, constructed from demanding audio-grade components, sited discretely between the turntable output leads and the preamplifier. From opinion circulating in the hi-fi community he thought there would be other benefits, but neither of us was fully prepared for what followed.

I’d rather switch than fight

MonoSwitch-1600

With the toggle switch set to Stereo, left and right channels simply pass through as normal: the signal from the cartridge – whether the record is stereo or mono – heads off for the preamplifier in “Stereo”. However flick the switch to mono, and interesting things start to happen.

Box circuit diagram

The Left and Right input signals are merged with their positive or negative opposite numbers. Left Output comes from L+ and R+ Inputs, and Right Output comes from  R- and  L- Inputs.  Variations between the two signals are “cancelled out” (an idea which I still have difficulty grasping)  Importantly, this “cancelling out” includes a proportion of unintentional variations such as surface noise, imperfections in stylus tracking and any hifi-induced asymmetry in the phasing or processing of left and right channels.( If that made sense to you I probably haven’t written it right)

Here’s the thing. Banished from the left speaker, Monk or Coltrane emerge centre stage, while sidemen return to their natural spatial and musical relationship in supporting the lead. Grandissimo.

The unexpected benefits

Converting a stereo record back to mono eliminated the “eccentric” placement of instruments in primitive stereo, as expected. However I was somewhat taken aback by the improvement in sound on mono records when played in mono.

john-coltrane-mono-stereo

Playing a Mono record in mono results in a significant improvement in sound quality compared with listening in stereo:  fuller more tuneful bass, brighter top end and more forceful sound image overall. All that cancelling out really does eliminate unwanted noise and phasing differences between left and right channels. (Illustration not to scale, but for illustration. That’s what illustrations do. Illustrate)

Even more benefits

Far from the signal degradation expected from sending the turntable output signal through an extra phono connection and length of cable, by using a very high-end copper woven cable (Kimber 1030) the previous turntable signal would appear to be cleansed of some extraneous signal contamination (controversial, but in an A:B test using a simple “Linn Silver” cable, Linn’s cable throttled most of the benefits) Both mono and Stereo sound better (though stereo is a tad quieter and needs a nudge on the volume)

Surface noise reduced by about 50% on mono records, as the “bad signal” is often asymmetrical between left and right channels and is cancelled out or much reduced in the merged signal.

Hissy vinyl of some Prestige and New Jazz Sixties pressings – manufactured with vinyl incorporating a quantity of recycled vinyl, is significantly reduced, from an intrusive level to a lower level which is fairly tolerable on a lot of them. I can only assume the foreign matter and detritus suspended in the vinyl is asymmetrical in its distribution and therefore a candidate for “cancelling out”.

The overall improvement in mono top end – brighter and clearer –  is particularly welcome. I have a theory, not that explanation is necessary. I wonder if the upper frequencies encoded towards the top of the groove wall are more prone to differences between the left and right groove wall than the bass towards the bottom of the groove wall. Who knows?

Burn in

As with all interconnects, time is needed for burning in (another experience-based idea) I fully expect this solution to get better and better as the wires and components get used to the new properties of each other.  And that is very good news indeed.

More posts of jazz recordings coming up soon.

56 thoughts on “M O N O vs S T E R E O / MONO

  1. One more thing. If out of phase signal does exist, it won’t necessarily be all noise. There are many unpredictible ways in which the signal can be altered by summing. If you care, I strongly suggest a mono cartridge for mono records.

    • I’m not following your jump from here:

      “If out of phase signal does exist, it won’t necessarily be all noise.”

      …to here:

      “There are many unpredictible ways in which the signal can be altered by summing.”

      If the record is cut with a mono cutter head, meaning the cutter head has minimal vertical compliance, any out-of-phase signal is indeed unwanted and hence noise, that’s my understanding.

      I’m curious if what you’re referring to is the phenomenon that when a full-track master tape is played back with a two-track deck, phasing issues arise in the high frequencies when a ‘mono’ master disk is cut with a stereo cutter head. When the channels are summed in this instance, undesirable phase cancellation occurs in the highs and causes a washy sound on playback. None of Van Gelder’s original master disks were cut this way and this will not occur when summing with these records. Otherwise I don’t know what unpredictable ways you’re talking about other than noise being attenuated. For a true mono record, all that is good is identical on both side of the groove wall. 🙂

      I just want to be clear that I simply don’t agree that summing a stereo cart for vintage mono records (those cut using a full-track tape machine and a mono cutter head) is not a reasonable option. I find it to be a very effective option.

  2. Cancellation only occurs with elements already out of phase on the record. If the mix has the same instrument on both side out of phase, that signal will be supressed or even eliminated. Conversely, elements that appear in-phase on both sides will be doubled in relative volume when summed to mono. Clicks and noise ar very unlikely to be supressed. If a click appears on both sides identically it will double in apparent volume. If only one side that signal will appear in the summed signal at slightly lower volume, relative to signal. Only out of phase sounds appearing left and right will be eliminated and I think this basically doesn’t occur. You can talk about impressions all day, but there is a measureable way to demonstrate this effect.

    • Conclusion: you are scrambling the relative volumes when you sum 2 channel stereo mixes. Mono records may get slightly quieter, but if you don’t want to take chances, get a mono cartridge for mono records and do not sum stereo to mono, ever.

      • If you have the time and the motivation, take a look at this thread at the Steve Hoffman Forum where we discussed the science of this at length:

        http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/one-more-time-true-mono-carts-vs-mono-buttons-y-cables.330790/page-4

        I think the idea behind modern mono carts and summing a stereo cart are similar. When the coils are realigned on a modern mono cart, they attenuate the vertical signal significantly. What is the vertical signal on a mono record? Pure noise, and it is exacerbated by marks on the surface of a record. Surface marks cause the stylus to ‘jump’, and I think the idea is that summing this out-of-phase vertical information with a stereo cart and a mono button or X-cable is similar to aligning the coils to not respond to it (think mid+side=in phase information, mid-side=out of phase information). I have done rigorous comparisons between summing a stereo cart, and even though a modern mono cart is supposed to attenuate the out-of-phase i.e. vertical noise even more than summing in theory, I personally couldn’t hear a difference, which is why I’m happy summing. But using a modern mono cart is a great option as well! 🙂

        By the way: Under Rudy Van Gelder’s 50/50 system, playing a stereo Van Gelder record with a stereo cartridge and summing the channels will in theory give you something similar to a mono Van Gelder record mix-wise (I know a lot of people will argue that it’s not the same and I agree but I argue that it’s pretty close). This is because he did the same thing when he created the mono master disk for the record pressing plant: he summed both channels at equal volumes. I do this from time to time with my stereo Van Gelders and they sound great–no washy, out-of-phase high frequency response to be heard, and to me it makes sense.

        • PS: Playing Van Gelder stereo cuts with the channels summed does create cancellation of various things that are ‘good stereo information’, but the thing that I think some people misunderstand is that when Van Gelder made the mono master disk for the same album, the exact same cancellation occurred (exact in theory, very close in reality) when he summed the two channels of the two-track master tape to make the mono master.

    • It makes sense to me that, in theory, most marks on the surface of a record are orthogonal to the groove’s axis and hence the noise created by them will be cancelled to some extent. It also seems to make sense that even marks that are made at sharper angles will ‘overlap’ to some extent and thus the noise will also be suppressed…? I haven’t heard miracles in this regard, but I did to a fairly rigorous comparison by making a digital recording of the beginning of a VG record where there was no music and I could both see and hear a difference, albeit a subtle one, regarding the presence of the surface noise.

      Again, in theory, it would seem that on the contrary, clicks would actually never double in volume since the vinyl would need to be misshapen in a quite unnatural way on one side of the groove wall to match the spike in the wave represented by the opposite wall…?

      • It’s not cancellation, it’s a relative reduction in volume if it exists in only 1 channel. Cancellation only happens when one side’s signal is the inverse of the other’s.

        • I think the main theoretical difference we have is that you’re suggesting that all marks only affect one side of a groove’s wall, in which case yes, in theory there would be a reduction in volume by summing but technically no type of cancellation, just change in the ratio of the volume of that noise to the volume of the music. But it seems to me that most marks on the surface of a record will manifest at a relatively similar perpendicular to groove’s axis on both sides of the groove wall, and a mark doesn’t need to be perfectly aligned nor perfectly deep on both walls for there to be some degree of cancellation in the signals generated by each wall. In other words, if the mark causes alterations in the waveform i.e. groove that overlap on the perpendicular to any degree, be it small or great, summing will cause a reduction in the volume of the noise, which is the result of phase cancellation with the left and right channel waveforms i.e. both sids of the groove.

          Most importantly though, theory aside, I’ve demonstrated the reduction in noise from summing, and I plan to publish on it at some point. 🙂

  3. Bit late but (see elsewhere) I have only recently had the benefit of a mono switch. Yes, the vertical signal is cancelled by the mono switch. It does also help to keep stylus and groove scrupulously clean. I use a Moth Mk II Professional RCM on the vinyl, originally because I couldn’t afford more, but I now use it by choice because IT WORKS.

  4. Hi! I can answer the question of whether Riverside LPs ever appeared in fake stereo.

    The Cannonball Adderley album “Portrait of Cannonball”, recorded in 1958 after they had recorded some sessions in stereo, was not recorded in stereo, and I had a fake stereo LP version sometime in the 1960s. It sounded dreadful, with a terrible reverb (as did the 1960s Columbia reissues of some Miles Davis LPs). I recently came across the track “Straight Life” from this album with this awful fake affect, on Youtube. If the link stays live, you can hear it at

    Compare that with the natural mono version of the same piece at

    I don’t recall any other Riverside LPs in fake stereo. Nor do I know whether this fake stereo LP was issued by Riverside before bankruptcy, or by a later owner of the material. I do know that at least one owner after the original company had gone bust issued some albums without due care in preparation. You can read about that in the notes to the “Complete Wes Montgomery on Riverside” box set, written by Riverside’s producer, Orrin Keepnews. He states that he had no control over those later LP issues.

    I had a problem with the Prestige LP of John Coltrane’s “Setting The Pace” album. I bought a copy direct from Prestige through the mail, in the late 60s or very early 70s. It was marked stereo, and I don’t recall whether it said “rechanneled”. But it was fake stereo. The fake effect wasn’t very serious – just a bit of swishing at the high end – the ride cymbal, for example. Interestingly, this session was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in real stereo. The “Original Jazz Classics” CD used the fake stereo master, but for the “Complete Coltrane on Prestige” box set, the real stereo tapes were used. I contacted Fantasy Records (the owners of the material at the time) about this, and the guy who mastered “Original Jazz Classics” CD denied this. But I have both versions and I can hear it.

    • I am not aware of any Riverside albums in fake stereo. There may have been some on their budget subsidiaries (Battle and Jazzland) or perhaps one or two in their “historical” (traditional Jazz) series, but, to the best of my knowledge and recollection, Riverside never issued a single fake stereo (except, perhaps, after they were acquired by ABC records in 1966). People often confuse primitive stereo with fake stereo based on the poor sound quality, and it is easy to see why (they both generally sound awful), but what you may have heard on that stereo pressing almost certainly wasn’t fake stereo and I am sure some degree of genuine channel separation could have been detected with a certain effort.. Riverside stereos are a strange animal. Some sound fabulous (Bill Evans, certain Johnny Griffin and Cannonball titles) while others are mediocre (Wes Montgomery, Elmo Hope) or just plain yikes. As for Youtube, I would not be caught dead making inferences on the company’s recording practices based on what you hear there.

      • “I am not aware of any Riverside albums in fake stereo.” There was one, at least. It was Riverside 1174, Brilliant Corners. Orrin Keepnews himself wrote to me in 1986:
        “…It was one of the very few occasions on which Riverside went in for this kind of trickery. If you ever do locate a copy of 1174, you will have a very rare item; all subsequent reissues have been in the original mono form.”

  5. Is there any drawing, instruction or whatever for this device? I tried to google this but coudn’t find anything. Thanks to you my mono collection is growing quite a bit (last one was an original blue note Miles Davis vol 2), and I think this would be an interesting addition to the set-up!

  6. After reading your piece and all the responses, I thought I’d add my twopence worth…Quite simply, stereo records sound better in stereo, and mono discs in mono….if someone sends me a rip of a mono vinyl LP, it is essential to restore it to mono, as all modern equipment -generally speaking – essentially does everything in stereo. As you rightly say, this adds degrading noise to the music….For transfer to “the evil silver disc”, I restore to mono using Magix, and the results are immediately noticeable…For playing or recording my own mono vinyl, (I still have vast stocks of 45s!) I use the mono switch on my vintage Sony amp……
    Interesting post

  7. Hello Mr Djucik

    In your post you said “However, you are wrong in saying that there is a “hole” in the middle on the wide-channel stereo:” Are you sure?

    Perhaps it depends on your gear, or the LP, but my experience of wide channel stereo is that there is often a hole in the middle.

    Not always, of course. Sometimes there’s an instrument there, but not always. Often it’s very definitely left and right. Mind you, if the alternative is ” The rhythm section is very much scattered between the channels,” then I’m not sure which I’d prefer!

    However, all this is irrelevant. A good mono switch is intended to make mono records sound better, not resolve any problems with stereo imaging.

    Guy

  8. Great piece, even I can understand it !
    I’m particular about imaging, so this is of interest to me. All good good stuff to know.
    ♥♪ Diana

  9. “Converting a stereo record back to mono eliminated the “eccentric” placement of instruments in primitive stereo, as expected.”

    Andy, at the risk of sounding like a total self-embarrassing jerk, I will say this: a crude, wide-channel (actually: total) separation and “eccentric” placement of instruments is PRECISELY what you get to hear in the studio. Real-life studio recording is ALL about separation. There is no such thing as “finely balanced” studio recording session. You get one instrument (or vocal track) at a time and absolutely, positively nothing else, particularly if the soloist plays in the sound-proof chamber, which is most often the case. Even if the session is an improvised in-studio live jam (which rarely happens), the mike will register the closest and the loudest instrument first and foremost. Human intervention (actually, a series of interventions big and small) is ALWAYS required before the session is “balanced” and morphs into the final vinyl product.

    Which, then, brings me to my point: EVERYTHING is subjective (well, duh, call me Dr. Watson).. There are no firm criteria for beautiful, life-like, natural sound. One man’s mono is another man’s stereo. Some of the most cherished possessions in my record collection are “eccentric” wide-channel stereos. I plea not guilty.

    There. I said it. Should I be required to write 300 times “I shall never listen to primitive stereo” on the chalkboard? Or go stand in the corner until your next post 🙂

    • But listening to a sax’ on the far left, and bass and drums on the right, with a big hole in the middle, is silly!

      An attempted reconstruction of the live presentation is far better

      If we listened to things as they happened in the studio we’d have to listen to difefrent parts of the tracks at different times with contemporary recordings. Stuff is rarely done in one take now.

      Anyways, the main point of a mono switch is to allow mono albums to be heard at their best.

      Guy

      • HI Guy:

        You are absolutely correct. What you get from a well-balanced stereo (or, for that matter, good mono) recording mix is a post-factum RECONSTRUCTION of the real-life performance; a reconstituted sound based on how someone else feels you should be hearing the performance, which is precisely why the role of the good, impartial and sensitive enginner / producer (Rudy Van Gelder, Bob Ludwig, Steve Hoffman, Tom Dowd, etc) is positively critical. I was merely saying that the best and the most subtly nuanced stereo recordings have precious little in common with the actual, physical performance. The performance is merely a first step in passing the sound onto the consumer, and quite a great deal of human tinkering takes place between the physical performance and the point where you get to hear it from the record. In short, a piece of vinyl is an abstraction; whether it will be a good, a bad or a mediocre abstraction is practically entirely up to the engineer. To make it more blunt: when you listen to, a say, acappella barbershop quartet on the street corner, you don’t get to hear baritone finely split between your right and your left ear and sopranos and castratos and tenor delicately balanced between your earlobes. No, sir!. You get baritone shouting in your one ear, tenor in another, and everything else popping up and down all over your ear range depending on their position, angle, volume and phrasing.. In short, there is absolutely nothing either “subtle” or “balanced” about a live performance (unless, of course, you are lucky enough to play at La Scalla or Carnegie Hall)

        However, you are wrong in saying that there is a “hole” in the middle on the wide-channel stereo: Here’s why: first of all, human brain compensates for some of the gaps in the perceived soundspace by reconstructing the sound where it feels it should be. In short, your brain is an active participant in the hearing process. Secondly, your remote ear (ear farther away from one of the channels) will, actually, hear the sounds coming from the opposite channel and will transmit those signals to the acoustic nerve and on to the cortex where it will be processed and “heard” nonetheless. Neither the brain nor the ear “hear” the sound as it was recorded in the sound-proof booth or completely separated from the other channel. There is a whole lot of cross-pollution going on here,and much of the sorting out is done by the brain. Practically all of it. Where a recording engineer fails, the brain kicks in.

        Finally, on wide (primitive) channel stereos, typically only the solo instruments are drastically separated from the rest of the background (those, typically, would be sax, brass section, vocals, guitar, violin, organ, piano), The rhythm section is very much scattered between the channels, as it should be and as it normally is. For example, you will rarely hear drums or bass only on one channel.

        Why do I love (some) crude stereos? Here’s why: they allow me to focus on the performer or the instrument which typically IS the focal point of the proceedings. I will use example of my favorite artist (Sam Cooke). Do I really want his divine voice scattered across the sound spectrum where I need to mentally extract it from the rest of the orchestra? Well, not necessarily (it really depends on the title; some titles like ‘Nightbeat’ are a de rigeur in finely balanced stereo; others, like ‘Swing Low’ are a must-hear in primitive stereo). I prefer to hear that glorious voice untarnished and undisturbed by the background, in all its divine glory, all by itself, so that I can focus on melismas and succor in his delivery. When I hear that voice, nothing else really matters. Everything else just falls by the wayside and becomes entirely irrelevant. Ditto Billie Holiday. Ditto Helen Merrill. Ditto Miles Davis. Ditto Sarah Vaughan. I could go on and on.

        I would like to think that, when one listens to, say, Kenny Drew’s Undercurrent, the piano should be dramatically separate and unequal from the rest of the crew. But that’s just me. How others perceive their music is entirely up to them. Joe Stiglitz was absolutely correct in saying that humans are infinitely varied and absolutely fascinatingly unpredictable. Our human experience is fragmented and fractured in the extreme.

        .

  10. “I am not wanting (at this moment anyway) to get drawn into the arguments about artistic intent, dedicated mono and stereo masters vs fold-downs, studio monitors, my dad’s bigger than your dad – the usual suspects can meet in the playground after school and settle things, man to man”.

    Hmmmmmm.

    Where is that playground again?

  11. My attempts at playing mono records on my stereo has been a tale of woe that has slowly unfolded over a few comments on different posts from this blog. Short version of the story is that my cheap preamp and Panasonic shelf system do not seem to be friendly with mono records that have a particularly “hot” high end to them. I always attribute this to groove damage but I think that would be giving my dinky rig too much credit. I have to turn my stereo up quite loud to get the sound I want so I put most of the blame on the preamp.

    I have used the Y cable method of summing the channels before they hit my preamp, and I always go back and forth between whether this is worth the effort or not. The reason for this is probably because I have some mono records that don’t seem to have a large amount of this distortion and I can “get away with” playing them without Y-ing. On the flip side, I am much more likely to notice the benefits on those “hot” records than on ones that I don’t notice problems with in the first place. So basically I don’t bother to get out the Y cables unless the record is particularly bothering me.

    I am upgrading my preamp as early as tomorrow, however it is not a large upgrade. Still, I’m hoping it will make a substation all improvement, and I will arrange my equipment so that it is easier to Y it when necessary.

    Anyone have any more mono tips?

  12. I’m glad I have a turntable with a removable headshell (1200): if I ever end up with an amp without a mono switch I can always swap in a mono cartridge/headshell combo (the Y-cable thing never appealed to me).

    I agree with your hypothesis. By summing the channels, much stereo noise is cancelled since much of each channel’s noise is perfectly out-of-phase with the noise in the other channel. Think of a scratch going across the groove at a perfect 90 degree angle and how it would affect the walls of the groove, which in turn represent the left and right channel’s respective waveforms–the imperfections are mirror images of each other. So when they’re summed they cancel each other. It also helps me to think of digital waveforms in a multitrack recording program: the mixing aka summing of the tracks is a simple mathematical calculation. If at any moment the wave of one track is at x and the other is at -x, the sum is x + (-x) = 0, which translates to zero output.

    So not only does out-of-phase (stereo) noise cancel or become significantly minimized and thus the signal-to-noise ratio improves, the remaining noise is placed “on top” of the music, so the music ends up “masking” it. When listening to a mono record with a stereo pickup on a stereo system, most noise is purely stereo so it’s completely “separated” from the “good signal” aka the music so it is much more noticeable and thus much more distracting.

    Personally though, I would never want to listen to a stereo record in mono. In most cases you’re risking altering the balance of the instruments in an undesirable way. (The Van Gelder sessions are a rare exception. He actually “mixed” both mono and stereo at the same time in mono so you would get a good balance by summing the channels of a stereo Van Gelder record.)

  13. FINALLY!!! A post on this very important matter.

    Your explanation makes sense. Like the other poster said, the mono switch gets rid of all the noise caused by the vertical tracking of the cartridge, leaving us with only the horizontal (mono) information. I am still trying to understand this, but the way a stereo record is cut, all the left-right information is encoded out-of-phase, so if you combine the channels, this out-of-phase information (which in a mono record is only noise) will disappear as well. Did I get it right?

    By the way, your audio samples would greatly benefit from being encoded as MONO mp3s (in the case of mono records). That would be the same as using the switch.

  14. I am using two turntables, one with a MC cartridge for mono records and a turntable with a MM cartridge for stereo records. The switch is on the MC/MM level through a ROWEN PP 06 preamplifier, depending on which turntable (cartridge) I intend to use. I have a practical question: on which turntable (cartridge) should I play records which were originally mono, but which have been “remastered for stereo”? The guy who installed my system told me never to play stereo records on the mono system.

    • From what I understand, something which seems to diminish every day, a mono cartridge is designed to move only in the vertical plane, (and a stereo in the horizontal plane). I am told playing a stereo record with a mono cartridge quickly damages the grooves.

      A stereo cartridge may be used to play both mono and stereo, but a mono cartridge should be used to play only mono.

      “Remastered for stereo” stereo is usually fairly listenable. Of course any record electronically reprocessed for stereo should be avoided like the plague.

      • For the sake of accuracy, it’s the other way around: mono info is horizontal and stereo is vertical. Nowadays both mono and stereo cartridges have vertical compliance so there’s technically no danger playing a stereo record with a mono cart…but why would you want to?

        But you are correct: a *vintage* mono cart does not have vertical compliance i.e. it is not designed to move vertically with all the vertical changes of a stereo cut, and thus a vintage mono cart can damage a stereo record.

          • If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the value of a YouTube clip? RCA Marketing Division Circa 1958 to the rescue!:

            (watch from about 2:00 to 4:30)

            BTW, I am convinced the lack of vertical compliance in mono-era pickups coupled with heavy tracking force is one of the chief reasons we see so much groove damage in records from the 1950s.

            • in complete agreement with your BTW. But let us not forget that the worn-out styli were also a HUGE problem back then, specifically because most buyers opted for the cheapest possible (graphiite / carbon) needle which wore out after only about 100 or so spins, and very few were able to afford changing needle every other month. And, if you can believe this, I have actually seen 33 rpm records played with a 78 rpm needle (they typically look like they survived the Battle of Kursk, but barely)). Let us not forget that the Hi-Fi culture was at its absolute nadir in the late ’50s — essentially, much of the buying public had no idea what they were doing. And, frankly, neither did many of the recording labels.

      • “Remastered for Stereo’ (typically found on 1963-1967 Prestige stereo pressings of earlier titles originally issued only in mono) does NOT have a fixed, precise meaning. It is a generic term which can mean BOTH ‘electronic stereo’ AND primitive stereo, depending on whether the session was originally recorded in two- or three-track technology or not. For example, “Remastered for Stereo” on the 1965 Prestige pressing of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Sax Colossus’ (with a very different, and extremely ugly cover) DEFINITELY means FAKE stereo (the Japanese pressing of the same vintage actually deceptively uses the term “stereo”, even though the mastering is blatantly rechannelled stereo), however, John Coltrane’s Black Pearls (or Dakar, or any number of late Prestige titles originally issued only in mono) bearing the ‘Remastered for Stereo’ banner are, in fact, true stereos (albeit rather crude and unbalanced). In a few cases, the “Remastered for Stereo” will be qualified by other disclosures (notably in Prestige’s ‘Historical Series’) noting that the material was recorded prior to 1955, i.e. before the advent of the multitrack technology, but more often than not, this is not the case, My experience is that most (but not all) black and silver Prestige stereo labels (1962-1964) are, in fact, true stereo irrespective of whether they bear ‘Remastered for Stereo’ or not.

        Sometimes – but not always – one can determine which Prestige titles were issued in fake vs. true stereo by going to the CD as a reference point, because it has been an industry standard since 1984 to never use mono source where multitrack master is physically available. For example, both Coltrane’s recent Prestige box sets (Interplay and Fearless Leader) sport glorious mono sound on first two discs, and glorious stereo on the remaining three — signifying, apparently, that none of the earlier titles could possibly be mastered in stereo.

        In short, by all means DO exercise caution when buying “Remastered for Stereo” titles, as they can be extremely misleading. A spin on the store’s playstation, if one is available, would be in order.

        The situation with Blue Note is a little more complicated, The label generally did not issue ANY fake stereos (except for historical and traditional Jazz titles) UNTIL it was acquired by Liberty (1966), and, after that, always marked fake stereos with a “electronically rechanneled for stereo” banner somewhere on the back cover. So, hypothetically, it should be very easy to differentiate between true and fake BN stereo; what complicates the matter however, is that BN in its Liberty incarnation had a bizarre habit of pressing certain titles in BOTH true and ‘fake’ stereo variant more or less CONCURRENTLY (granted, the examples are not very common; for example, very early Liberty pressing of Kenny Dorham’s ‘Whistle Stop’ is true stereo, but all the later pressings (1967 and beyond) are fake stereos and actually have “electronic stereos” on the cover. When it comes to BN, a rule of thumb is: (a) if it says “electronic stereo”, it DEFINITELY is; (b) if it does not say “electronic stereo’, but your experience and judgment tell you that it could not possibly be stereo, give the disc a spin and use your own ears and judgment,

        Similar problem exists with Chess/Argo/Cadet family of labels. Argo generally did not issue fake stereos until it was renamed to Cadet (1965), at which point all electronically rechannelled Argo/Cadet titles started bearing a prominent sticker on the cover and/or banner on the label on the label indicating electronic stereo. A very classy and honorable touch, I would say — but there is a problem: Cadet would often mislabel true stereos as electronic stereos (most likely a mispackaging problem — a stereo record would be mispackaged in stereo covers bearing ‘electronic stereo’ stickers). IN a few notable cases (1967 pressing of Muddy Waters’ Folk Singer comes to mind), Chess would actually release a true stereo disc and then market it as electronic stereo. And in a number of known cases, a straight mono disc would be mispackaged in “electronic stereo” covers. So, when it comes to Chess/Argo/Cadet, a rule of thumb is very simple: DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU SEE ON THE COVER OR ON THE RECORD: PLAY IT AND DETERMINE YOURSELF.

        Vee Jay? Oh, the horror story from the hell’s innermost chambers. The company’s true stereo / electronic stereo pressing markings are a total, unmitigated disaster. The odds that the Vee Jay stereo cover would have a mono record inside, or vice versa, or that the stereo record would have a mono label, or any number of combinations and permutations thereof are close to 100%. If you are buying a Vee Jay disc, you simply MUST start with the assumption that it is either mislabeled or mispackaged. The good thing is that Vee Jay generally issued only true stereos (albeit EXTREMELY primitive, wide-channel stereos), so at least you do not have to worry that your stereo disc will play fake stereo when you get home (minor examples exist, such as Gene Allison’s first and only album, which was recorded and released only in fake stereo or first two albums by Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker). But the odds that your Vee Jay “stereo” disc will play MONO (or vice versa) are exceedingly high — I would say better than 50/50. There are two ways to differentiate Vee Jay’s stereo discs visually, without playing them: one is to check the texture of the grooves in the record’s groove area: if the disc has a “fishbone” texture (segments or the grooves are engraved at sharp angle to each other), the odds are significant (better than 90%) that it is a stereo disc; if the surface is more flat, dull and even, it is a mono; another way of identifying is by looking for the letter “S” (for “stereo”) in the trail-off vinyl: it can be anywhere: a standalone character isolated from the rest of the matrix, appended to the matrix stamp (or, more often, an etch) or even appended to the hand-etched date stamp.

        With Fantasy, the true/fake stereo identification problem is all over the place. Fantasy did not specifically differentiate between fake and true stereos, so even the records that, on their face, look and claim “stereo” must be played to determine which is the case. This is generally the problem with all Fantasy titles originally issued in mono (up to and including 1959) and then remastered for stereo (1960 and beyond), typically those pressings on blue wax. To their credit, most of those are, in fact, true, but primitive, stereos, but those originally recorded before 1954 could not possibly be true stereos despite their deceptive “stereo” label or sticker. Caution warranted!

        Other major Jazz labels (Columbia, Riverside, Mercury, Decca) generally did not have any issues with true and fake stereos. Decca was very consistent in clearly marking their fake stereos as such, so one can take their records pretty much at face value; Mercury and Columbia typically refused to deal with fake stereos in any way, manner or form (although three early Miles Davis albums for Columbia — Milestones, Round About Midnight and Miles Ahead can be found in electronically rechanneled versions, which were quickly discontinued around 1964 or so) and, off the top of my head, I can’t recall A SINGLE electronic stereo pressing ever released on Riverside (hats off to Orrin Keepnews). Someone please correct me if I am wrong here.

        Finally, King label’s engineers (post-1985) were able to completely and totally extract individual instruments from a straight mono recording and then balance them in TRUE (believe it or not) stereo by using their proprietary method, the essence of which eludes me, but the results are pretty impressive and persuasive (this then open a whole can of worms regarding the integrity and identity of the recording, but we will leave this story for later). For those willing to give the “new” stereo a try, please check Freddie King’s ‘Just Pickin’ CD (or vinyl), which may be out of print at this point. The first part of the set (tracks recorded between 1961 and 1964 were all mono recordings converted to absolutely brilliant true stereo) WITHOUT resorting to frequency filtering, which is found on fake (electronic) stereos. The second part consists of originally recorded true stereo tracks.

        • Phew! Thanks for the helicopter view Bob, a veritable Djukic masterclass.I am happy with my mono-preference on Blue Note, the Riversides are all Mono here anyway,and I put complete trust only in Contemporary and Impulse “early” stereo. The rest of the field seems to me like something you should best avoid unless you are into bog-snorkling .

          • Thanks Andy…it was a labor of love.

            I generally try not to be dogmatic when it comes to stereo vs. mono (something that comes very hard to people with rigid, unyielding and passive-aggressive characters, cough, cough…-). I would not be caught dead listening to my Dexter Gordons, Hank Mobleys, Muddy Waterses, Bob Dylans, Phil Spectors or The Sonics in stereo where mono is available. On the other hand, titles where sheer nuance and fine detail are the essence of the recording (typically: Jazz and female R&B vocalists, Classical music, some Pop, most Rock, British Psychedelia / Prog, etc) do require a stereo (or even quad / surround sound) presentation. I will not be listening to my Irma Thomas, Johnny Hartman or Jimmy Scott in anything but stereo (anyone listening to Saint-Saens Organ Symphony in mono should be hung by the….um….toenails and whipped into unconsciousness with a discarded tonearm until he regains his senses). And then, there are numerous cases where title # 1 by artist “X” sounds incredible in mono, but his very next title sounds divine in stereo (examples abound). The joy of collecting is experimenting, hearing and comparing for oneself. The proof is in the (blood?) pudding. Everything else is a hearsay. IN short, don’t believe anything anyone (yours truly included) has to say on the subject, Hear it for yourself and form your own judgment. That’s why God (and/or Evolution) gave us brains, isn’t it?

              • Hi Rich:

                Why, YES! Absolutely! The Sonics, Shadows of Knight, The Barbarians, The Remains, The Seeds, Johnny Burnette Rock & Roll Trio, 13th Floor Elevators, The Stooges (PARTICULARLY the Stooges — remind me to tell you one day how I accidentally hit Iggy Pop in the face – the Velvets, the Modern Lovers, New York Dolls,…all that good stuff. Never quite figured out why my love for J.S. Bach, Vivaldi or Domenico Scarlatti should be considered incompatible with my love for Billie Holiday, James Carr, Sam Cooke , Dexter Gordon, Ike Quebec, Eric Dolphy, Helen Merrill, Steve Young, Muddy Waters. Bob Marley, Five Royales, Bob Dylan.or the Kinks — just as I could never quite understand why (some) Japanese buyers would not touch with a 10-foot pole a seller who, in addition to Jazz, sells Blues (or, heavens forbid, Rock). But then, what do I know? I am just visiting this strange galaxy :-)) To me, it is all the same — a wonderful experience on our shared journey through life and musical and spiritual universe. Play me some Tim Buckley, some John Coltrane and some Django Reinhardt and nobody gets hurt! I promise!

                (But – PLEASE – don’t play me no Lady Gaga, Kanye West or Nicki Minaj. Yikes!)

        • That’s great info Bob, thanks. As an Argo/Cadet fan, I’m always perplexed in trying to puzzle out matrix info on those pressings. There is often so much crossed out detail and strange mix of machine-stamped and handwritten info, it seems the engineer and pressing plant did not even know which type of record was being pressed! All part of the fun, but it makes my brain hurt.

          • Hi Joe:

            Your confusion is understandable. I am about as perplexed as you are. What I can tell you with certainty (something you probably already know) is that machine-stamped Chess/Argo pressings come from either RCA pressing facilities (typically the earlier titles only, up to roughly 1960, these pressings use smaller typeset) or Columbia’s Pitman, NJ pressing plant (mostly 1964 and beyond — these use larger and more elongated typeset, typically ending with -1A, -1B, -1C or -1D). The confusing part is the hand-etched matrices, mostly on 1963-1968 pressings, which do not bear any semblance to any of the known pressing vendor, except that they vaguely resemble some of the Motown’s pressings between 1961 and 1966. These matrices (the hand-etched type) are so long and so complex, and typically consist of so many multiple sequences across the entire dead wax, that I did not even attempt to divine them. However, in terms of structure (but not appearance), they do resemble RCA’s matrices somewhat and I suspect that, like Motown, this was probably a regional Mid-West RCA pressing facility, most likely the one in indianopolis, IN. Beyond this, the logic and the internal meaning of any Chess/Argo matrix stamp completely eludes me.

            The pressing info on Chess/Argo Blues and R&B titles is a little easier to divine: most – but not all – of the company’s 1958-1962 Blues titles were produced by Sheldon pressing plant in Chicago — the same small firm that also did pressings for Ace and Vee Jay during this same period before (probably?) going belly up.

  15. I’m no expert in this but isn’t it the vertical signal that gets cancelled out when you sum the channels by pushing the Mono switch, and hence the extra noise is then removed.

    I recently bought an Ortofon om25d cartridge which has a larger stylus profile and together with using the Mono switch on my amp makes all my original Mono Lps sound amazing with exactly the same results that you report.

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