Modern Living

‘Fly Me to the Moon’ in living mono

AUDIOPHILE - Val A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star
âFly Me to the Moonâ in living mono

Most of you have heard this song many times before. Chances are you’ve heard it sung by different artists and in different rhythms. But I bet only a few have had the opportunity to marvel at Julie London’s (1929 – 2000) version recorded in living mono!

It’s actually one of the tracks in her vinyl album “The End of World,” which includes other songs such as Our Day Will Come, The Good Life, My Coloring Book, among other hits. This is what makes the record collection hobby unique, but extremely enjoyable. There are still tons of golden treasures in old vinyl yet to be discovered in flea and on-line markets. Finding and later listening to them gives me an inimitable thrill. We’re talking about albums recorded in different formats long before I was born. Julie, for instance, was one of the top female vocalists during the 1950s and early 60s. She started her career in movies, performing lead roles in A Question Of Adultery, Task Force and The Fat Man. She crooned her way to further success in 1955 when she recorded her very first album “Julie Is Her Name,” which includes her widely-acclaimed rendition of Cry Me A River.

I’ve always thought that stereo recording was the ultimate format in recreating music. LPs done in mono are often discarded from among the albums being offered to me by different sellers; thinking that being mono, it lacks the depth, layering and soundstage that stereo recordings are best known for. In fact, I couldn’t comprehend George Harrison’s misgiving about the new format when the Beatles where starting to record in full stereo.

A mono LP can be listened to on stereo playback. Alas, this was what shaped my bias. I played several mono LPs that were gifted to me in my present stereo set-up, and the result was disastrous. Not until my good friend, orthopedic surgeon Lito Gozum, made me listen to his dedicated mono set-up did my perception about mono changed.  The sonic experience was unforgettable. All the ingredients that make stereo recordings stand out was there, in living mono! The trick is to have a dedicated mono cartridge when playing mono recording. It doesn’t require one, as in the olden days, to have a full mono set-up from music pick-up to amplification. A mono-music source being decoded by a mono cart is all it takes to enjoy the music.  

Mono or monophonic is a system in which all the audio signals are combined and fed to a single audio channel. It doesn’t matter if you have multiple loudspeakers or even numerous broadly separated loudspeakers. The objective is for the signal not to have level and arrival time/phase data that would imitate directional cues. As in my experience, a mono system proves that it can recreate wide-band and full-fidelity music like what stereo does. I believe that its main advantage is that one hears the very same signal, and, in properly designed systems, listeners would hear the music at fundamentally the same sound level, making the system specially suited for excellent voice lucidity. I now fully understand why Julie’s vocal style has been described as being sultry, sexy, ‘come-hither’, intimate, breathy, warm, smoky, haunting, husky, sullen, sad, suggestive and seductive.

She even self-described her voice in a LIFE magazine article in 1957, as “It’s only a thimbleful of a voice, and I have to use it close to the microphone. But it is a kind of over-smoked voice, and it automatically sounds intimate.”

Does this mean that I’ve given up on stereo? Absolutely not!  I now enjoy several music formats in my system. CDs and LPs in both stereo and mono adorn my audio rack, and several mp3s and music that I rip using lossless formats serve as my background music whenever I use my computer. There shouldn’t be any debate on which one is best. I always say: ‘Different strokes for different folks.’ If you can have most, if not all, then why not?

I’m not closing my mind though to the possibility that someday technological advances will enable us to find and settle with one music format that is better than vinyl. Hopefully, that day will come sooner than going on a trip to the moon and back while listening to the music of yesteryears.

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For comments or questions, please e-mail me at [email protected]




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