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.Read more ›
There has been so much discussion over the last 40 years and recently on these pages as to which mixes (Mono or Stereo) are the most historically important, which versions did the Beatles spend most time on and crucially which sound better. There is no doubt that George Martin and the Abbey Road engineers spent more time on the Mono mixes as that was the way most people would hear the records due to AM radio and cheap single speaker turntables. Stereo until 1968 was seen as a niche format for a hardcore of hi-fi enthusiasts. As to which are most historically important, IMO they both are. Every album apart from Please Please Me was released the same day in mono and stereo (PPM was a month later) and according to EMI session documentation the same people responsible for the monos did the stereo. As to which sessions the Beatles attended that can't be determined for certain. There is no doubt from Revolver onwards they did take more of an interest in the mixing process but that is 4 years after they first entered Abbey Road, it would have been very difficult for the Beatles to attend mixing sessions pre 66 due to touring and other commitments. As to which sound better, well that is subjective, some albums sound better in Mono some better in Stereo, some albums like Help it can be down to individual tracks. For certain both versions are fun to listen to, sound completely different and discovering the mix variations are one of the joys of being a Beatles fan. In the simplest possible terms mono is all about impact and depth where as with stereo it's about width, soundstage and space between the instruments.
On then to the Beatles in Mono.... So what actually is included. Well contrary to a few reviews EVERYTHING that has a dedicated mono mix is in there, including the original stereo mixes of Help and Rubber Soul and the never released Yellow Submarine EP which has true mono mixes of It's all Too Much, Hey Bulldog, All Together Now, Only a Northern Song and Across the Universe. What you won't find is Yellow Submarine (Mono version was a fold-down of the stereo), Abbey Road and Let it Be and the singles from Ballad of John and Yoko onwards as they were Stereo only. Help, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt Pepper and the White Album make their CD debut's in mono. I must say from an aesthetic point of view this really is a Beatles fans dream. Every album resembles their UK first press vinyl counterpart to the finest detail with the exception of Magical Mystery Tour which was a US only LP in 1967. The quality of the cardboard, the artwork, inner sleeves and extra's are first class. Anyone who has previously bought Japanese manufactured collectable pieces will know what I'm talking about. There is the reason for the price difference between the mono and the stereo boxes, the build quality and the quality of materials used to compile the mono box far exceeds the stereo. As for the sound, we have good news here as well. A victim of the loudness wars these are not, as the original press release stated there has been no noise reduction, compression or limiting used in the remastering process. The transfers are first rate and EQ has been used very sparingly, if at all in some cases and there is certainly more bass than on the vinyl as in most cases this was reduced at the cutting stage on the original LP's. It is great to hear these without the surface noise of my original LP's and the groove distortion as the needle tracks closer to the label on the inner most tracks. Are they better than the vinyl over all? Well I have a combination of 1st press UK vinyl and Japanese Red wax editions from 1982 and they are as detailed as the JPN vinyl but lack a bit of the warmth of the UK vinyl. No fault of the remastering, it is just difficult to achieve when tube gear was used at every stage of the mastering and cutting stage for the 1st press vinyl which adds a lot of natural warmth. Overall these are the best digital versions of the mono releases and it is difficult to see how they could be improved.
So are they worth the money? Well there in lies the question only you as a consumer can answer. I spent 2 days listening to these albums that I have listened to thousands of times over the years and had 2 of the best days I have ever spent as a music fan. One thing I will say is that the Mono mixes are best heard the good old fashioned way with 2 speakers and an amp, crank it up and fill your room with sound. You just do not get the same experience from headphones. Could this whole remaster campaign have been done differently and cheaper? A lot of reviews on here show people have strong feelings about this if their anger is misdirected somewhat. Poor EMI bear the brunt when in actual fact they can't release ANYTHING by the Beatles without Apple signing off on it. It was Apples decision to retain the 87 remixes of Help and Rubber Soul on the individual releases, we have the Abbey Road engineers to thank for the original Stereo mixes being on the Mono set as a bonus. It would have made sense to have the mono and stereo on the same disc for the individual releases there by having more people exposed to the mono mixes, although how they would have sold a 4 disc White Album is beyond me. As the 4 main shareholders of Apple are Paul, Ringo, Yoko and Olivia we have to take it that this is the way they wanted them released, they have every right to release these as they see fit, they are the artists.
One thing is for certain, they will cost you a hell of a lot less than it will to collect these on vinyl and as it has often been quoted "You haven't heard Sgt Pepper till you have heard it in Mono" never a truer word said.Read more ›
It doesn't look much from the outside, a simple glossy white slipcase box that is half the size of the one for stereo, and at first glance it looks poor value, considering the high price and the fact that it contains fewer CDs than the other.
Open it up though and your opinion will change. This was put together with exquisite attention to detail. The CDs and probably the whole package was made in Japan. Each CD comes in a resealable transparent sleeve, protecting the cardboard mini-lp inside. Then you get a paper inner sleeve as well as a thin poly sleeve round the CD itself.
Replicas of the original inserts are all present and correct, more so than with the stereo set. For example, the stereo "White Album" has the four colour pictures of the individual Beatles printed on a fold-out sleeve, whereas the mono version replicates the original by having them on separate cards; and the gatefold opens at the top, just like the earliest UK release.
But how about the sound? The important thing to realise is that the mastering has endeavoured to replicate the sound of the original mono vinyl, though with a few light touches to repair faults - though let me emphasise, these are mastered from the original analogue tapes. If you want to hear the Beatles as they sounded to their first listeners, this is definitely the best way to do it, short of searching out original vinyl in good condition, an arduous and expensive task.
Listening to the Mono has several advantages. More attention was paid to the mono at the time, and early stereo mixes with crude right and left separation are poor and irritating by modern standards.
That said, if you value clarity above authenticity, you may well prefer the stereo, especially since a key defect of the stereo, the lightweight bass, has been corrected in the 2009 masters. The mono mixes sound that bit rougher, though in compensation they have a rightness to them that makes stereo hard to go back to once you get used to them.
My suggestion: stereo for the casual fans - it's cheaper and may well please you more - but if you really want to know how the Beatles sounded back in the day, the mono is the only choice. The biggest fans will want both - there are lots of differences small and large. You also get the earliest stereo mixes of Help and Rubber Soul, nice for completists.Read more ›