These mono remasters are possibly more exciting and noteworthy than their stereo younger brothers. Although the new stereo albums have hugely benefited from a scrub with the sonic toothbrush, they were at least in catalogue before, apart from the first four albums and a few odds and ends, whereas the Beatles British album output from HELP! onwards has never been released in mono on CD before.
These days, the most humble portable radio/CD player comes equipped with stereo speakers, and iPods and MP3 players all support stereo playback. A few world music and reggae albums may be released in mono these days, but by and large stereo has become the standard, with mono relegated to legacy releases, the audio equivalent of black and white. In the re-issue field, however, mono remains surprisingly resilient. Motown, for example, were early exponents of multi-track recording and released albums in stereo from the early sixties, yet compilations continue to favour the mono mixes of much of this material, and there are many advocates who stoutly prefer the punchier single-source mono sound, designed to be heard over the radio, invariably mono in those days.
The purpose of these remasters is to get the best possible results from the existing master by repairing physical damage and bad edits, adding low-end frequencies, removing amplifier hum, clicks, pops and sibilance; but not compromising the musical performance in any way. It does not involve any remixing. The remastering was done using 192 kHz/24-bit technology, paving the way for DVD-A/SACD/HDCD releases, but the current box set is in standard resolution CD format.
The market for this expensive box set was severely underestimated, with a limited run of 10,000 copies having sold out purely on pre-orders, and a second run having been exhausted within a month or so. At present, the mono albums are only available in this lavish package, with beautiful replica sleeves and artwork, but given its popularity, when the limited run is exhausted, I would be surprised if they were not subsequently made available separately in standard jewel-case editions, as I believe they should. A strong special case could be made for the first two albums, recorded on two-track equipment and only released in split-channel binaural audio on the stereo CDs.
It was thought that the mono mixes would appeal only to the fanatical moptopophiles, and so unlike the stereo masters, there has been no limiting applied to these mono tracks, and even the length of the gaps between the tracks is the same as on the vinyl albums. They should not be compared to the American Capitol label releases as these were often remixed with superficially exciting added reverb. Furthermore, several of the American mono albums were simply fold-downs of the stereo albums, rather than the original mono as prepared by George Martin and the band themselves (the stereo mixes were usually created later and in a much shorter time, without any of the Beatles being involved).
Whereas the stereo box set includes some mono tracks, where no stereo mix is available, the mono box set is exclusively mono. The only exception to this is the inclusion of the original 1965 stereo mixes of HELP! and Rubber Soul. These have added to the mono albums as a way of making these historical artifacts available, as later mixes have been used elsewhere.
The difference between the mono and stereo formats of later albums such as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (The White Album) are notable, ranging from speed variations to alternative overdubbing, editing and playing times. Stereo was becoming more established by this time, but the mixing was still done quite separately, so there are marked anomalies between the two, with the mono mixes favoured by many aficionados.
Yellow Submarine is not included in this box set because the mono release was simply a fold-down reduction of the stereo mix. By the time of Abbey Road and Let It Be, stereo cartridges had been introduced that could support mono record players, so the record companies no longer needed to release separate mono albums, a huge cost-saving that put an end to hours of fun comparing versions.
Consequently, these two albums are also not included in the mono box. However, they were both released in mono in some overseas markets, and in the UK in open-reel tape format. I have read that these were also fold-downs, but I am not sure about this as Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Chronicle reports the preparation of mono mixes at the Abbey Road studios. If they do exist, this would have been the perfect vehicle for their release.
Finally, in this marathon box, comes the 2CD Mono Masters, collecting all the various singles, EPs, B-sides and stray tracks not to be found on their regular albums, a most diverse collection of tracks, from their earliest EMI recording to be released, the red-label single version of Love Me Do with Ringo on drums, to the jocular backroom surrealism of You Know My Name (Look Up The Number), originally destined for Yellow Submarine.
Although largely based on the previously-released Past Masters, this is a new compilation. The Ballad Of John And Yoko, Old Brown Shoe and Let It Be were on stereo singles, never released in mono, and so dropped from Mono Masters. In their place come five tracks that were prepared for an EP of the new Beatles tracks from the film Yellow Submarine, but the EP never saw the light of the day. It would have been on two discs (as with Magical Mystery Tour) comprising Only A Northern Song, Hey Bulldog, Across The Universe, All Together Now and It's All Too Much. These are true mono mixes that were prepared by the Beatles after the release of the Yellow Submarine album and have never been released before, even on vinyl. Across The Universe (Wildlife Version) was exclusive to the World Wildlife Fund charity compilation No One's Gonna Change Our World, also released only in stereo, on the Regal Starline label.
Their inclusion despite being previously unreleased adds strength to the argument for releasing mono versions of Abbey Road and Let It Be. Several of these singles and EP tracks, including Lady Madonna, Revolution, Hey Jude, Get Back and Don't Let Me Down were in stereo on Past Masters and have only previously appeared digitally on CD singles or an EP box set. Get Back and Don't Let Me Down differ slightly from both the stereo single versions and the Spector remixes.
Whether we prefer the mono or stereo versions is really academic. Both are part of our heritage and should be permanently available.