What is the Difference Between Mono and Stereo Headphones?

When shopping for headphones, you might have come across two different basic types: mono and stereo. But do you know what the difference is between mono and stereo headphones? And do you know which ones are right for you?

In this guide, we’ll walk you through what makes them so different, and how to choose the best pair for your specific needs.

Mono Headphones

They used to be the industry standard, but recently mono headphones have been falling off in popularity as the sound industry trends towards stereo.

The reason is simple: versatility.

You likely already know that “mono” means “one” – in this case, one channel and one mic. This means that you get a single source of audio.

So, if you recorded a band in mono, you would get all of the sound coming from one direction. That means that, if you wanted to make it sound like you had dueling guitar players on opposite ends of the stage, you’re out of luck – it will all be mashed together.

A more common example is applause. If you listen to a live recording in mono, it sounds uniform – like it’s one enormous blob of clapping. In stereo, however, you’re immersed in the direction of the sound.

This is why stereo is winning the war. However, mono can be more affordable and is still the go-to for many industries, including the medical field, classrooms, museum tours, radio, and tape recordings. Basically, anytime you record with a single mic, mono will serve you just fine.

Stereo Headphones

With stereo, you get sound from multiple channels, funneled left and right. Of course, this corresponds to your left and right ear, and is useful for determining distance, direction, and focus.

This is why stereo surround sound is so popular in movies. Instead of just blasting you with a wall of sound, filmmakers want to immerse you in the situation. That means they want you to hear the gunshots in the distance to your left, and the people screaming and running away in the opposite direction. You can’t do that with mono.

The Avid Education SM-25 headphones or the Califone 3068-AV headphones are excellent choices in this class of headphones.

This can also be useful for creating an experience in music. Say you wanted to start a song by having the bass player play a note on the left of the stage. Then the drummer comes in from the back, the guitarist on the right, and the singer adds vocals from right up front.

In mono, it would sound like they’re all in the same place, because as far as the electronics are concerned, they are – they’re all being fed into the same mic.

With stereo, you can have multiple mics picking up sound from many different directions. By controlling when and how you feed this sound to the left and right headphone, you can go a long way towards controlling the experience.

Which is Right for You?

To decide whether you need mono or stereo headphones, you first need to determine what you’ll use them for. If you are looking for disposable bulk headphones, cost is certainly a factor.

If you’re watching movies or listening to music, stereo headphones will provide a richer, more elaborate experience. Stereo headphones can truly change the nature of a scene or song, if used properly.

However, stereo headphones are usually more expensive than mono headphones, so you need to be sure you’ll get your money’s worth.

If you’re not doing anything that requires varied sound – talking on a webcam, or listening to a tape recorder – than mono will be just fine. In fact, if you’re listening to anything that was recorded with a single mic, you’ll be listening in mono – even if you have fancy, $500 stereo headphones.

Getting the Most Out of Your Headphones

If you’d like to find the best headphones for you, contact us today. We’ll find the right product for your needs and budget, but better yet, we’ll introduce you to a world of sound you never knew existed.