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Two-channel Stereo sound can be provided by two Mono cables, or a single Stereo cable.

What differences, whether significant or not, are there between pairing each voltage lead with its own ground lead versus sharing a single ground lead between [an arbitrarily large number of] audio channels?

Below I include details of my thoughts that raised the question.

Mono cables each transmit one channel and each have two leads: voltage and ground. Using mono cables, the number of channels (N) can be increased arbitrarily by using a matching number of N Mono cables, for a total of 2N leads.

Each Stereo cable can by itself provide two audio channels with only three leads: voltage L, voltage R, and a single ground lead (shared between channels L and R), effectively providing the same throughput with one less lead than the Mono configuration, which makes me wonder what [functionally inconsequential] differences there are between 1 x Stereo quality vs 2 x Mono quality.

Furthermore, 4-lead cables (such as stereo headphones + mic over a single bus) provide 3 channels using 4 leads: voltage L, voltage R, voltage M (mic), and one single ground lead shared by all three channels!

Assuming there is no quality loss when channels share a ground lead, then a Mono-only multi-channel configuration wastes half its leads save one (N-1).

  • Once you're inside the amp., isn't it all grounded to the chassis anyway? – Tim Dec 20 '14 at 8:16
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There is no significant difference between two unbalanced mono connections and a single stereo connection. However, with two mono lines you have the option of making both balanced, which is usually a good idea for longer connections. With single-cable stereo, this is typically not possible because suitable 5-lead connectors aren't available (at least not widespread).

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