Is Mono the New Thing?

When stereo records began seeping into the mainstream in the late 50s, music fans were told that binaural recordings offered much more realism, enhancing the listening experience. And this wasn’t wrong. After all, we have two ears which allows us to discern the direction from which sounds come. It proved to be a handy thing for our ancestors when they were always worried about eaten by lions.

Many early stereo recordings were shite, limited by the studio equipment of the day. But by the time we got to the late 60s and early 70s, things had all been sorted. If you closed your eyes, you could easily imagine the soundscape in front of you: singer in the middle, guitars slightly off axis to one side, drums at the back with cymbals panned across both channels. And after an aborted attempt at extra realism with quadraphonic sound, we eventually ended up with 5.1, THX, Dolby Surround and ATMOS.

Yet there are people who believe that mono recordings are superior to stereo. Why?

It all depends on the source material, of course.  As Amanda Petrusich outlines in the very excellent Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, done properly, mono recordings can have a sonic impact equalling anything stereo (and beyond!) can offer.

And then there’s the Beatles. A brand new reissue of the original mono mixes of the early half of their catalogue is out today on vinyl–and the sound is stunning.  The audio shocked me. Trust me on this.

So here’s the question: are we now on the cusp of a mono revolution? In an effort to stand out, will we see artists going back to meticulously made single-channel recordings? Pitchfork has this op-ed that suggests that we might–or at least should be.

Hell, if we can have Cassette Store Day, anything is possible.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Is Mono the New Thing?

  • September 10, 2014 at 1:28 pm
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    I have one of those issues of Revolver on order, one of the biggest offenders of early hard pans.

    Reply

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