Knowing the difference between monophonic (or mono for short) and stereophonic (stereo) sound systems is a key factor in helping to build your sound system, studio, or creating music. Don’t believe me? Find out why it matters to Beatles fans.
For your everyday consumer of media, not knowing the difference between the two, or not having access to either one of the two, is fine and won’t affect them too much. However, if you’re looking to get into the professional audio business, it’s good to have a well-rounded understanding of the two sound types; especially if you’re working in the professional audio business, whether it be for sound engineering for music production, or for movies and podcasts.
With that having been said, let’s go over the differences between the two audio interfaces.
Mono: A ‘mono’ (monophonic) audio signal is when all of the audio signals are stacked on top of each other and outputted through a single audio channel. Monophonic sound systems can have multiple speakers, but they key is that each signal contains no level/arrival time phase that could distort the natural directional cues.
The most common types of mono speaker setups include single (never dual) channel speaker clusters and distributed loudspeaker systems. Don’t let the lack of audio channels fool you; monophonic sound systems can still be very Hi-Fi.
What all of that tech-talk means is that instead of having a setup where you hear a rock song with the guitar coming from the speaker on the right and the drums from the speaker on the left, you have both the drums and the guitar coming out of both speakers.
In festivals and concerts, audio engineers use these mono speaker setups to ensure that the people in the crowd, on either the right or left side of the auditorium, have the ability to hear the same sound.
Stereophonic systems are where it gets fun, regarding sound quality and variations. Stereo systems have at least two independent audio channels, instead of one, as we have seen with mono systems.
The downside to having a purely stereophonic audio system, especially when installing speakers for a concert or festival, is that there has to be more of them. More audio channels for all of the different instruments playing from each song means that not only do there have to be more speakers overall, but there have to be twice those speakers on each side of the auditorium so that the balance is equal.
You can’t have the left side hearing the drums and the vocals, with the right side hearing the guitar and the piano, without anything else, because that would make the sound way out of balance, and would ultimately lead to an unsatisfactory listening experience.
Which one is the best for overall media consumption, though? The answer, aside from what you may have read, is neither. A well designed and well implemented mono speaker system can easily beat a poorly implemented stereo system. It all depends on the placement of the speakers, the kind of media that you’re consuming and the sound quality that’s being pushed out from the speakers, as well as the quality of the speakers.
If you’re in the market for a new speaker system, do your research and plan on buying either a mono/stereo system based on what music or media you plan on consuming. Good luck!