Mono

Listening to a monophonic record

A lot of great music was delivered before the year 1958 were the first stereo recordings appeared on the market.

Most of the great Beatles songs were mixed in Mono – and the Mono mix – sessions were the really important ones in those days – the artists and the producer took great care to deliver the finest sound they could achieve, the later made “pseudo” stereo mixes were not so inportant, and often done without the artists or the producer witnessed that procedere.

If you ever compared John Coltranes amazing  „Blue Train“ (Blue Note 1577) in the original Mono pressing with their Stereo counterpart on a proper built monophonic sound system, you will be shocked how much better the mono pressing will be!
Some of the most respected Jazz recording catalogs at this time, like  “Blue Note“, “Prestige” or “Impulse“ to name just a few, originally were produced in Mono!
Some of the most beautiful recordings of Maria Callas were – you guessed it – also done in Mono.
And if you ever want to discover amazing music the great Toscanini conducted long time bevor Stereo was invented, which set the standards not only in its days – you will face a Mono vinyl record.
A list of all the fantastic music captured in Mono could be endless, and I can promise you, there is a lot of amazing stuff to discover, you are in for a real treat!

So a dedicated Mono system is not something for completely outdated, crazy freaks, to have the possibility to listen to a mono record in a technically correct way has something to do with loving music, overcoming the ignorance that there was a world of fantastic recorded music in existence before Stereo was invented.

A Mono Setup

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As the Quad ESL 57 was originally designed to listen to Mono recordings, because Stereo wasn´t invented in those days, also later on it was not very spread at first, it will be a great opportunity to built an outstanding mono system with this first commercially made electrostatic speaker.

if you use monoblock amplifiers,the modifications, which have to be made are very simple  – put one amplifier on the side, as you have to do so with one of the speakers – and you are done.
If you use a stereo tube amplifier, things are not as simple, because tube amps do not like to be operated without any load at their speaker terminals existent, which will be the case if you use just one channel. There will be a great chance to destroy the output transformer of the bespoke channel.
The solution is the usage of a dummy load, which is implemented by a resistor of 4 – 16 Ohm capable to withstand enough wattage, which simulates to the amplifier the load of the missing second speaker in our Mono set up.
Some stereo tube amplifiers can be swithed to mono operation, normally used to get more power from them – so great care has to be taken not to overload our electrostatics (keep in mind – 33v is the absolute maximum these construction can handle) but such a mono cunfigured amplifier will make things very comfortable and easy.
Place the ESL exactly in the center of your speaker base in your room with the same distance to the rear wall, and a symmetrically position to the side walls, you have found to work at great effect with your stereo setup and you are able to enjoy amazing monophonic recorded music reproduction.
If your your preamplifier has a Mono switch – and you are not willing to do all these modifications to your stereo set up, even if it is not the most puristic way, you can let your normal setup untouched – and listen to a monophonic source with two speakers.

However – one thing is essential, no matter which monophonic configuration I described you choose – and this is the presence of a dedicated Mono cartridge!

A dedicated Mono cartridge

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Now things get again a bit more complicated, because the stylus of a real Mono cartridge is only sensitive to movements in the horizontal plane, as Mono records are not being cut using  the 45° technique invented with the Stereo process to encode the two channels.
Any cartridge, which is in effect a Stereo cart modified by the manufacturer with a kind of Y connection at their output contact pins, will deliver a noisy, smeared sound, used with monophonic vinyl which gave Mono records its bad reputation.
A true Mono cartridge has a dedicated suspension optimised for monophonic records and is not simply a modified stereo cart – so most of the “so called” Mono carts are not what they pretend to be, because the manufacturer has to invent a complete redesign of their suspension system, which is a much too expensive development for most of the participants of that industry, as the expected sales will be much lower as with a normal Stereo cart.
One of the truly outstanding manufacturers for a real Mono cartridge is Miyajima Labs  from Japan.
Beside their amazing Stereo cartridges these manufacturer has developed a range of real monophonic pic up systems, which are top notch.
The pinnacle of the range represents the Miyajima Zero – a cartridge which has a real monophonic suspension system and is created with the usage of African blackwood on its body. This exotic hardwood gives the construction a very good energy absorption capability, helping our tonearms to deal with the mechanical energy sent from the cart into the armwand.

A word of warning must be mentioned here: Keep in mind, that a monophonic cartridge used with a Stereo record will destroy the latter, because the suspension is not able to follow the stereo – cut!

Electrical connections

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The Miyajima Zero is equipped with 4 contact pins at its back, which makes the installation in a normal Stereo tonearm very easy – no cables have to be dropped or taped together to avoid hum or, much worse – get in contact with the record surface.
The cartridge has 6 Ohms of internal resistance and an output of 0.4mV both figures are not exotic and compatible with a wide range of phono stages.
The use of a step up transformer is very much appreciated, it gives the sound a certain wholeness and a very nice sparkle at the top end of the audio spectrum, as also a fantastic bass performance.
A good SUT will be a 1:20 type which will produce enough gain for the following moving magnet phono stage.

If you want to touch the 100% mark – do yourself a favour and use a tube driven phonostage – the possible sound quality will be amazing and also the historically correct way to listen to our favourite monophonic vinyl records.

Mechanical basics

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 The Miyajima Zero has a compliance which is comparable with an Ortofon SPU – so a heavy tonearm is essential.
The starting point will be something around 20g eff mass – and as it is the case with the Ortofon SPU, the best performance will be reached around 22 – 24g!
If the tonearm is too lightweight the sound will become nervous and thin, the stage will be smeared and the impact in the bass frequencies is compromised.
With nearly all my vinyl – rig setups I made the experience, that  if the resonance frequency of the mounted cartridge would fall into the range of around 9hz, a good mechanical isolation of your turntable provided, you will get a very balanced overall performance.
The tonearm which guides the Miyajima through the grooves should bring along a very good ability to deal with mechanical energy wich the cart sends into the armwand – even if the wooden body helps here, the Miyajima is not an easy cartridge in this area.
Undamped steel armtubes, which we can find in the legendary first series of the SME 3012 are not a good choice in this case, the sound will be harsh and abrasive, a good damping is essentially with the complete range of MIyajima carts, will it be a Mono, or the very special built Stereo models.
I use my Zero cartridge with a Frank Schröder DPS custom made tonearm which implies a snakewood armtube (22g eff mass), that shows an outstanding performance with this cart.
The reason for the great compatibility is Franks patented magnet bearing which has the ability to dampen the cartridge with a fine adjustable induction of Eddy current at its bearing.
A Thoms Schick 12“ or 9.6“ together with the new Schick graphite headshell, Thomas recently invented, will be also a fantastic setup!
Both tonearms can handle the Miyajima carts in an outstanding way – one could think they are made for each other!

 

Adjustments

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 The VTF must be set at a frightening 3.5g – but stay cool – your mono records will appreciate it and in contrast to some high end rumours, these vinyl records will outlive you and your children!
The VTA should be adjusted in a way ,that the top of the cartridge body flush with the record surface, from that point on, some experimentation is necessary.
Listen to the human voice and the presence of it. If the treble reception (S, T, SCH) will be slightly localized in front of deeper frequencies, you are done, if the presence will be at the same position as the deeper frequencies, the VTA must be adjusted, so that the back of the arm has to be raised slightly. The goal is, to reach a natural reproduction of the human voice, in wich treble, presence and the deeper midband are balanced.
You will incedently know if the things begin to lock into place – some effort at this point will be the ticket to a completely satisfying listening experience!
Antiskating should be adjusted in a way, that the cart cued up in between the groove at the end of the record, will slide gently towards the label with the same speed as the groove.
It might be a slight under – compensation, but that will be much more appreciated than the opposite.
The Zero is capable of such an outstanding performance, that if you are not satisfied, the reason must be searched somewhere else in your setup – some minor adjustments will have a great effect – so be patient!
The Miyajima Zero has the ability to give you such a high performance in every aspect of the typical audiophile parameters, that listening to Mono pressings will be a thrill!
The punch and impact those records will have is amazing, and the presence of the sound is something you have to hear yourself to believe it! Mono is not for people, who cannot afford stereo, Mono is something very special most of us have long forgotten!

 

The needle – make your choice

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Miyajima Labs gives you the opportunity to choose between three different stylus tip constructions.
There is the 0,7mil sized tip, which is the optimal choice for those of us, mostly listening to Mono reissues.
Than there is the ability to use a 1mil tip, which is the way to go, if you have a great collection of antique monophonic records from the 50ties.
And for all 78rpm lovers Miyajime offers a 3.0mil Shellac compatible cartridge – but keep in mind, that vintage original pressings (33.3 and 78 rpm) are normally not cut with the RIAA curve implemented (a technical standard later was invented) – so you need a special phono preamplifier with the opportunity to chosse different deemphasis curves!
One of this rare units is the Sentec phono EQ unit made in Sweden – with this device you have the chance to dial in nearly every deemphasis curve the different record company used in those days. The specific deemphasis curves of the different record companies used in the “pre RIAA” era is a story, I will write about in the near future – so, stay tuned…..
If you want to have the things more comfortable – use the modern reissues – and enjoy some great music.

 

Listen to some music

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One of the best addresses for amazing good mono cuts is the US American company Acoustic Sounds, Chet Kassem (the owner of Acoustic Sounds) is doing a fantastic job in remastering those  old recordings with the assistance of some of the best mastering engineers in the world.
The pressings are very quiet, you can count the ticks and crackles on each sind with the fingers of one of your hands – truly outstanding.
Chet did in the last years a lot of remastering work with some of the legendary Mono cuts from the famous „Prestige“ catalog – so you are able to listen in 2018 to a cut originally made in the 50ties showing the early work of Miles Davis or Eric Dolphy!
The Miyajima Zero is riding the grooves of this fantastic made Mono reissues in a way that is jaw dropping. Out of a jet black backgound you will get an amazing amount of macro and micro dynamics which could be frightening, this little gem produces a sense of presencem which makes the whole performance sounding real and authentic. And you wont believe it – there is a sort of space and a three dimensionality in those recordings, which is technically not possible, but it is there.
The bass section is so bold and tight, with so much articulation in the deep spectrum, that you will jump out of your chair – the realistic representation of the music is so touching, that you wont miss the huge stage a Stereo record is capable of.
Mono can be an eyeopening experience!
The musical performance is presented in such a pure and immediate way, that you will be really touched, it moves you in a very special way.
If Maria Callas is performing one of her famous pieces from the Aida opera recorded in 1951, it might be impossible to hide the tears in your eyes!
Much fun with MONO
yours
E. Strauss

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