The overwhelming majority of audio you listen to uses stereophonic (or stereo) sound. This means there are at least two separate audio channels: one for the right speaker, and one for the left. Each channel may play something slightly different, giving the illusion of directional sound like you experience in everyday life.
While you can hear the difference in a stereo track from almost any speaker, the simplest way to do it is with a pair of headphones. Grab some and listen to the opening of Sum 41’s classic Fat Lip. In the call and response section at the start, the lyrics, “As a kid” plays through the right earbud, “was a skid” plays through both, and, “and know one knew me by name” plays through the left earbud. This is one of the more over the top examples, but lots of songs have subtle stereo effects. Pretty cool, right?
Well, not always. Stereo audio is great if you’re able to listen to both channels at the same time, but if you’re hard of hearing in one ear or want to only wear one earbud, then it’s actually worse than single channel (or mono) audio. Fat Lip sounds great in stereo when you have both earbuds in, but if you listen to that section of the song with only one in it sounds awful.
The good news is that this is something Apple has considered. You can force your iPhone to play mono audio, in which case it combines the two stereo tracks into a single track that it plays through both earbuds.
Go to Settings > General > Accessibility.
Scroll down and under Hearing, toggle Mono Audio to on.
Now whenever you play audio, you’ll hear the exact same thing out of every speaker.
Image Credit: David Mulder/Flickr