# Accidentally downmixed stereo to mono, why does this work?

I have a cheap Chinese Bluetooth audio amplifier like this:

It has four screw terminals for the speaker connections, namely L+, L-, R+ and R-. I accidentally connected a single speaker to L+ and R-, and was surprised to find that I could hear both the left and right channel over the single speaker. I decided to experiment and found out that if you connect the speaker the proper way (so either to L- and L+, or to R- and R+) it would only play the single channel you'd expect it to play, but if you connected either L+ and R- or R+ and L-, it would "downmix" both stereo channels to a single channel and play them both over the single speaker.

I've been trying to wrap my head around how that works, but I can't figure it out. Is the board more sophisticated than I expected and does it output mono when it discovers no load on the different terminals, or is there something else going on?

• Almost every stereo amplifier has left and right amplifiers fed from a DC power supply common to both. So you can have a complete current path from say, power supply "+", through left amplifier, through speaker to right amplifier and back to power supply "-". What you hear is very dependent on how the stereo was mixed by the producer. Apr 26, 2017 at 12:21
• The same happens if you connect a stereo jack male into a mono jack female (depends on the actual design of the plug). The funny thing is that since one channel is inverted, all signals that are the same on both channels are canceled out. Since the lead singer is usually positioned in the center, this is a cheap way for karaoke. Apr 26, 2017 at 15:16

This can be easier to understand if you look at the waveforms.

In a push-pull, or bridge amplifier both lines are driven as shown below.

Notice $L-$ is literally the inverse of $L+$

Similarly the other signal, $R-$ is the inverse of $R+$

The difference between the +/- voltages is that excites the speakers.

Now, if you connect Opposites to one speaker the difference in signal becomes the mixture of both signals. Hey-Presto.. you have a mono system.

Note however, the amplitude of each "Side" is now effectively reduced by half. If you can't understand that, consider the case where there is no signal on the $R$ side. The difference between the blue lines is now only half what is was between $L+$ and $L-$.

If the original sound was recorded central, that is, an equal waveform on both left and right channels, the $L+$ waveform would be identical to the $R+$ waveform, same for the negatives. As such, joining $L+$ with $R+$ would result in no voltage difference for that sound. That is why you need to cross connect them.

• What was this image generated using? Apr 26, 2017 at 11:52
• Excellent answer, thanks for the clarification. I assumed - would always be 0 volts, had no idea they were the inverse of +, so that tripped me up.
– Bas
Apr 26, 2017 at 12:19
• @Bas it depends on the amplifier design. Power amps generally use the push-pull configuration, which is what this answer describes. Apr 26, 2017 at 12:59
• "push pull " refers to using two transitors to drive one output. USing two ouputs to drive one speaker is reffered to as "bridge". Apr 26, 2017 at 13:58
• Joined this community to upvote this answer, nice work! Apr 26, 2017 at 22:27

Yes that will happen. Connecting a speaker to left+ and right- will reproduce a mono version of the stereo signal. After all if you used a mixer to add left and right you get mono but, with a speaker you cannot simply wire together left and right because you'll create a short when there is a left signal and not a right signal.

On the other hand, if you fed the speaker left+ and right+ you would get no part of the music that was centralized in the listening field and this would mean bass and (usually) vocal would be severely attenuated.

So using left+ and right- to the speaker means you get full mono with a sonic bias towards signals that are straight down the centre.

Because the board uses bridge amplifiers to the speakers you get opposite polarized signals for each channel i.e. you get a left+ and a left- and you get a right+ and right-. If this were a conventional single-ended amplifier you wouldn't have access to the opposite polarized signals as each speaker return would be 0 volts.

• Back in the Seventies, people used to create a primitive version of surround sound by putting speakers between the left+ and right+ outputs, thereby adding a degree of depth to any sounds that were off-centre. Then proper surround sound came along :) Apr 26, 2017 at 9:33
• @Finbarr That works,kinda, with American style spaced omni recordings. Blumlein style recordings (crossed pair, M/S, or ORTF) have plenty of depth with just two decent speakers. Dec 21, 2020 at 13:36

The reason it works is because your amplifier uses a "bridge" drive configuration.

Traditionally amplifiers tie the "-" side of the speaker to ground and drive the "+" side. This works well but it needs either a split rail power supply or a bulky and expensive output capacitor. With such an amplifier it doesn't matter which "-" terminal you use, the signal delivered to the speaker will depend only on the "+" terminal.

With a "bridge" configuration both sides to the speaker are driven with inverse waveforms. This allows a higher power output for a given total supply voltage and avoids the need for a split rail power supply (you still need to create a reference at half power supply voltage but that reference doesn't have to carry any significant current). The downside is it means that the board needs four power amplifiers rather than two but power amplifier chips are fairly cheap nowadays.

So when you connect your speaker to R+ and L- the "+" side of the speaker is fed with a non-inverted right signal while the "-" side gets an inverted left signal and the overall voltage across the speaker ends up as a "downmix" of the two channels.

I expect the falling cost of semiconductors compared to everything else along with the move from main frequency transformers to flyback converters for power supplies has shifted the cost balance in favour of bridged amplifiers.