Single Ear Headphone Trick: When Mono Output Is Better Than Stereo

Single Ear Headphone Trick: When Mono Output Is Better Than Stereo

Gregory Han
Apr 18, 2013

For anyone who works in a loud environment, whether it be due to gabby coworkers or surrounding ambient sounds, a pair of headphones is a godsend. But the tradeoff is you might miss the sound of an important phone call, the doorbell, or your friend signaling for lunch. So what happens is many of us keep only one earbud or headphone cup on, keeping an ear out. If this is a common habit, you'll want to make this small, but helpful change...

The conundrum of "one headphone off" is easily fixed, at least if you're an OS X user: switch audio output to mono

Recorded music is most often engineered to take advantage of both left and right channels; vocals may be spaced more to the left than the right, while bass and rhythm may emanate more from the left depending on how the musicians and sound engineer composed the song. When you keep one headphone or earbud off (or have a hearing impairment), you're effectively chopping off a section of the band, eliminating a large part of a stereo recording. But by switching to a mono output, the audio is folded into a single channel, including every musical and vocal element that would otherwise be missing

You might think the mono option is in the OS X System Preference's Sound section, but you'll actually want to steer your cursor over to Accessibility (Apple Menu > System Preferences > Accessibility), where you'll check the box for "Play stereo audio as mono". 

Any users out there with a similar option for Windows users?

Give it a try while wearing your headphones partially off to check whether you prefer the throwback sounds of going back to mono.

(Images: Gregory Han)

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