If you have begun recording your music or even doing live performances you may have already entered the world of audio or sound engineering without even knowing.
If you have ever dealt with an amplifier, then you likely have.
Yet, you may not know what an amplifier is or what mono means, and its counterpart stereo. The two are quite important to understand and can be used in quite a few different applications.
Even if you aren’t a musician, understanding the difference between mono and stereo can be both interesting and useful.
Understanding monophonic and stereophonic audio is one of the first things you will learn as a sound engineer but is a really important concept for any recording artist or musician to get to grips with.
In this article, we are going to cover what mono means, what a mono amplifier is, and what the counterpart, stereo, is.
Keep reading to learn more about music in general as well as sound engineering.
What Is Mono?
Mono is short for monophonic. It’s just one note at a time. In other words, it has only one channel. A mono track contains all of the instruments that will play together on the same channel.
So, if you played this out of any sort of sound system, the whole song will be played through one channel.
This essentially means that all the different equalizer levels: the high frequencies, mid-frequencies, and low frequencies will all come through the same channel.
In other words, the guitar, bass, vocals, and anything else all come through the same channel.
This essentially just means they are slightly harder to pick out, but when done right, you won’t notice them. This is because there isn’t much separation between each instrument.
You could say that mono is very similar to how things were recorded back in the day.
It wasn’t until the 1930s, when an EMI engineer invented stereophonic sound, that mono became secondary to stereophonic sound.
What is Stereo?
Stereo is short for stereophonic, in stark contrast to monophonic sound; stereophonic separates each audible element into separate channels.
One simple understanding of this is that this is how a left and right speaker works. With mono sound, a left and right speaker will be playing the same things.
With stereophonic mixing and mastering the audible elements have been split equally between the two speakers through the use of multiple channels.
Moreover, stereophonic audio is what also allows for the use of a subwoofer. Without stereophonic sound, you can’t separate the bass into its own channel.
A subwoofer is a unit that is optimized for low frequencies, so you only want the different low frequencies to go through it.
With stereophonic sound, you can isolate the bass and put it through the subwoofer solely.
We should note here that you can power a subwoofer with a monophonic amplifier as there is only one channel, technically.
A mono amplifier is a single-channel amplifier. These amplifiers usually contain one power supply, which supplies power to the entire circuit.
They often have a volume control, which controls the overall level of the signal.
The defining feature of a mono amplifier is that you guessed it, it only powers one channel. Yet, confusingly, a mono amplifier can be used to create stereo sound, let us explain.
A mono amplifier is used when you only want to power one channel.
For instance, if you have a basic L and R stereo system that is two units, one for a left channel and one for a right, you may want to add a subwoofer to isolate the bass more for a certain genre like EDM.
A mono amplifier would be ideal in this situation, you can use the mono amplifier to power the subwoofer as it is only one channel and you are therefore getting the most out of the electric current this way.
With this in mind, let’s imagine a stereo sound system where each channel, left, right, subwoofer, and whatever else, is each being powered by a series of mono amplifiers.
This could be the most efficient use of a current for your stereo system. Each channel has an independent source of power, super effective and efficient.
This approach we just described is very commonly used in the higher end sound systems made for audiophiles.
They often find that powering each channel in this manner can be the most effective and this efficiency of current is reciprocated in the audio quality.
What Is A Dual Amplifier, Then?
If there is a mono amplifier, is there a stereo amplifier? This is essentially what a dual amplifier is.
A dual block amplifier system would be utilized in most basic L and R use sound systems which have two units.
Each unit will receive power from the same amplifier but the current being fed to the amplifier is split to each unit separately.
The same current is being used to power two units so is less efficient but still extremely common, especially when you buy a stereo sound system like this.
To understand mono amplifiers you need to understand the difference between monophonic audio and stereophonic audio.
The main difference is that mono audio means all the audio goes through a single channel, while stereophonic audio means that each audible element is split into its own channel, enabling things like left and right channels.
The main difference between a mono amplifier and a dual amplifier is that a mono amplifier is designed to power one channel while a dual amplifier is designed to power two channels.
If you are looking to set up your own sound system, or even a studio, these are important concepts to understand.
If you are simply learning about music, understanding monophonic and stereophonic audio is the main thing you should try to understand here. Save the amplifiers for the engineers.
You can really test what we have been saying by listening with your own ears.
Listen to a mono recording from The Beatles' early days, such as Please, Please Me then listen to a later track that is stereophonic like Tomorrow Never Knows the difference should be chalk and cheese, not necessarily in quality just what you can hear.