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Published on February 24th, 2015 | by Ron Spizziri

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Ron’s Records: Mono vs. Stereo

Ron looks back at mono vs. stereo, showing us that in the realm of format, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

vinyl

Are you old enough to recall a time when stereo record albums cost a dollar more than their mono counterparts?

It was the mid-60s and revolution was in the air, influencing virtually every part of our lives — politics, religion, literature, and of course, music.  Change was seen as integral to the growth of all aspects of society, especially in the area of music and its incumbent technology. Stereo sound recording was being heralded as the next major innovation in the music industry, and fans were bring given a choice: continue accumulating mono recordings as their parents and grandparents had done in the past, or embrace ‘the next big thing,’ by forking over an extra dollar per album to experience true stereo sound.  As in the case of future technological advances, such as compact discs, home computers, iPods, etc, North Americans were tripping over one another to obtain the latest innovation in sound recording — stereophonic sound.  Why buy the latest Beatles or Hendrix release in staid old mono when for only a dollar more, you could own the release in glorious stereo?

Who could have foreseen that forty years later, the mono version of pop recordings by the likes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and The Young Rascals would be more valuable to record collectors than the stereo releases?  Studio engineers are in general agreement that the mono versions of most 60s recordings sound more true-to-life and vibrant than their stereo counterparts.  Bob Dylan, after supervising the mono mastering of his classic album, ‘Blonde on Blonde,’ was asked if he’d be returning to the studio to oversee the stereo mastering of the project.  His response was, “Hell, no, my work here is done.”  He left the studio engineers to their own devices to create the stereo version of the album.

Today, record companies, as part of their desperate bid to increase music sales, have realized that there is a market among audiophiles for original mono recordings of past pop-rock favourites.  Over the last few years, vinyl mono re-issues of classic records by the likes of Dylan, The Beatles, The Byrds, Vanilla Fudge, and countless others have been pitched at audiophiles around the globe and met with warm reception.

And for good reason.  Most of these mono recordings stand head and shoulders above their stereo peers, providing a more immediate ‘in your face’ listening experience. Compare the mono format of such renowned releases as ‘Blonde on Blonde,’ Jefferson Airplane’s ‘After Bathing at Baxter’s,’ and the entire Byrds catalogue to the stereo versions.  Chances are, you’ll agree with industry personnel and audiophiles, that the reproduction on mono recordings provides a more natural, enjoyable listening experience.  After all, stereo recordings are deemed to be artificial, in the sense that some tampering with the original sound has occurred.

So, why not satisfy that audiophile urge inside you and treat yourself to a vinyl mono recording of one of your favourite classic albums?  You may be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.

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About the Author

Ron Spizziri

grew up in Toronto in the 50s and 60s, building up a record library (which became an addiction early on and continues to this day). After moving to Saskatoon in 1979, he got into the “music biz” in a big way – running a record store (Records on Wheels), producing and hosting radio and TV shows, promoting concerts, doing some freelance writing, and starting up a record label (Rockin’ Rod records). Luddite that he is, Ron still favours vinyl analogue recordings over all other forms of recorded music.



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