on 29 September 2014
The last five years have brought a flurry of Beatles CD box sets – the ‘core’ items being the 2009 Stereo digital re-masters (on CD and, in 2012, vinyl), and the Mono CD set. Other more recent variations include ‘The US albums’ and ‘The Japan Box’. In spite of claims elsewhere, the 2009 Mono CD set did a good job of delivering a digital representation of the analogue warmth and power that made the band’s original mono records sound so great. It was (is) a beautifully produced set, complete with its perfect CD-sized facsimile UK album covers and inner sleeves, with each album (up to and including the White Album) mixed the way The Beatles preferred and sanctioned: in mono.
So why release a mono set on vinyl in 2014? The new box offers something very different at a time when interest in listening to music on vinyl is gaining popularity. It also represents – to my 50+ age group, at least – something of a holy grail. Originally, the Abbey Road sound engineers were going to use the Mono CD digital remasters in the production of the Vinyl box set (a similar approach was taken to the 2012 stereo vinyl set, but using the stereo digital remasters). But someone came up with the intriguing idea of using the original 1960s analogue mono masters as their source and utilising the same LP production processes as in the 'sixties. In other words, these LPs are not sourced from digital remasters; they are made directly from the original analogue mono masters.
It’s that decision that gives the Vinyl set a validity and musical integrity to a band that, in the early sixties, “would kill to be on a piece of plastic”.
How do they sound? I have a middling Cyrus hi-fi system with a 30-year-old AR deck and KEF monitors. While certainly not ‘crushing’ the 2009 Mono CDs as one reviewer claimed, the records sound (and look) rather wonderful. The pressings are silent and flat. Without a doubt, this vinyl set brings you closer to the spirit and drive of The Beatles' music, engaging the listener with a much more rewarding experience.
While obviously being much larger in size, this monumental set follows a similar template to the Mono CD set, down to the sturdy and imposing white outer box. Each LP cover and record label is beautifully reproduced, being faithful as possible to their 1960s UK forebears. We are talking of excellence here, and the bar has been set very high indeed. This will be as close as most people will get to owning the original albums, but in a pristine condition previously undreamt of. Pure magic.
A very worthwhile extra is the handsome 108-page hardback book, exclusive to this box set with plenty of previously rare or unseen photographs. Also present is Mono Masters – a very impressive triple-album containing all the mono singles, EPs, B-sides and original Yellow Submarine tracks spread over six sides of gorgeous heavyweight vinyl. Remember - Abbey Road and Let It Be are not included because they were originally released in stereo.
Finally - if you have decided to buy this wonderful set, take a couple of days off to properly experience opening and listening to it. The outer packaging is (rightly) designed to protect the contents against all but the most brutal handling, but take care opening it. Once you’re in, switch off your telly, mobile phone and computer, and just breathe in the smell of the 180-gram virgin vinyl before carefully placing it onto your record deck and playing it. Play it loud and enjoy it like it was the 'sixties. It’s unlikely there will be a bigger vinyl release for a long time, so savour it. By the way, you’ll need space to store it – the biggest band in the world comes in a very big box.
on 9 January 2015
I recall buying all the Beatles singles and most of their LP's and EP's over the years, but this boxed set is special. The book that accompanies the set is worth it alone, very good photos , info and technical comment. With three high quality audio record decks I have started playing the set bit by bit. No surface noise ! Absolute silence. No pre-echo either ! Detail and quality is excellent, and whilst there are differences between the LP's as regards recordings, the amount of detail is enough to get me to jump at certain times.
I am using an Ortofon 2M Black top of the range moving magnet (stereo) cartridge at 1.6 grams VTF , which has a similar recommended stylus profile for these vinyl grooves. (You can get a Mono version from Ortofon).
My cartridge is still running in after 19 hours, and the sound will get even better over time. On another deck, an Ortofon 2M Blue sounds very good too.
These vinyl discs are more enjoyable than the CD's I have of them, and they are not bad, either. More bass is apparent on many of the tracks and a more refined top end, more impact and cohesiveness overall. I noted a bit of distortion on peaks to parts of tracks like 'This Boy' which is on the Mono Masters three LP set. I suspect this is overload on the original master tape, and also noted it on the original record. But that doesn't matter, it is not digitised and true to the recording.
The presentation of the boxed set is excellent with individual record sleeves in cellophane and foam in the pack to keep it stiff for transport. The Mono masters three record set have lots of internal sleeve notes and photos. I bought "The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions" separately, and this has additional detailed notes on most of the studio recordings, and alongside with the book in the boxed set make a comprehensive background to listening to the tracks.
I went to school with Ivor Cutler as one of my teachers, and he was in the Magical Mystery Tour Film, so that record will bring back some special memories. (He used to wear one red sock and one blue sock and write very wierd poetry !)
The impact of the recordings is so good, considering many of these were recorded over 50 years ago, it quite honestly, puts most CD's and MP3's to shame ! I don't think many have really heard vinyl audio potential at it's best. I did think that having so many LP's in mono would detract from the listening experience, but it doesn't. There seems to be very good separation between the instruments and also the voices, and that's without stereo ! Admittedly, when I first heard the Beatles as a lad, I used to play their singles and LP's on pretty naff equipment compared with now, but the records were not really produced for quality, as few had hi-fi audio.
Just playing "I Feel Fine", and it sounds fresh and alive. The plucking of guitar strings is very apparent. Ringo's cymbals and drums have never sounded better. But it ain't perfect. The blending of the chorus could be better in technical terms. But I didn't buy the set for perfection. I bought it for authenticity. "She's a Woman" has Paul belting it out, and the Rickenbacker Guitar sounds rich and tuneful. "Only a Northern Song" has an organ at the start and is quite spooky sounding with loads of reverb.
You need a well-balanced audio system, and that does not mean a vinyl system that costs a fortune. Take the time to select a good amplifier, speakers, cartridge, turntable and arm, and you will be amazed how good vinyl can sound. Avoid those all- in-one horrible record players as this boxed set would be wasted on it.
My favourite Beatles LP is 'Rubber Soul' I mislaid my mono copy and it was the first LP I owned so was pleased to listen to it again, but what a difference ! The clarity on the recordings is so much better, and I do have a second-hand copy to compare it with.
Overall, really pleased with this set, and will give me years of listening pleasure. I may record one or two to computer hard disc for posterity, through a high quality Focusrite preamp interface for my personal use.
If you grew up with the Beatles, this is a must have set. If you have only heard a few Beatles tracks, this is an opportunity to be educated on quality songwriting technique. Brilliant !
on 28 October 2014
Just received my box set in pristine condition. It was packed so well by the people at Amazon. It is without a doubt a stunning package. I was laughing like a six year old on Christmas Day just opening and looking at the contents. Beatles fans will have their money's worth just through the tactile pleasure before they have even put the records on their deck. I know these recordings like the back of my hand but alas only in stereo. I have (like most fans) read lots of the myth and argument on the merits of mono v stereo. Buying the cd re-masters a few years ago (cd stereo) was a minor revelation as they sounded so wonderful compared to my existing collection. I now have the opportunity (and forgiving wife) to luck out on owning and listening to these vinyl / mono releases. I'm now listening to A Hard Days Night and I'm in tears, its so thrilling. If you are in any doubt of throwing your money to the wind and purchasing I can honestly say it's the best music purchase I have.ever made and I've been collecting twenty eight years. I'm half way through the set and each LP has been like listening with new ears. They are dramatically different to the stereo versions. Every album Has a lovely spacial and open sound stage. Wonderfully cohesive, warm and direct. The performance really shines threw You can hear them really rock, boy what a fantastic rhythm section McCartney and Ringo were. The vocals and harmonies are in the room with you, I heard guitar parts that I never knew existed so rhythmical and tight. The most well known popular music catalogue is much superior in mono, no doubt about it. That the stereo mixes have been the standard for so long only points to the laziness and greed of record companies who understands little of the music they licence. Each album played well and all were flat and true. Every Beatles fan should buy this set, the book is terrific as well. At least buy them individually over time if you can't quite part with the money in one lump sum. I doubt that you will ever play their stereo counterparts again.
on 8 September 2014
By way of introduction it would be very nice if AMAZON could remove those more than 120 reviews about digitally remastered CDs, because it's a completely different product.
I am absolutely sure that with this Mono vinyl set will start another fight between Mono-purists and 7.1-sound-enthusiasts, between keepers of the Holy Beatles' Grail and "I couldn't care less" people etc.
George Harrison once said: "When they invented Stereo, I remember thinking "Why? What do you want two speakers for?", because it ruined the sound from our point of view. You know, we had everything coming out of one speaker; now it had to come out of two speakers. It sounded like very naked." (Beatles Anthology DVD).
So The Beatles as composers and interpreters wanted it "MONO" at the time they created this music. And they also showed this by monitoring the Mono sound mixing while the Stereo mixing was done by the sound engineers only.
As the old Romans said: De gustibus non est disputandum - You may not discuss (refuse) different likings AND Suum quique - Everyone to his taste. So you should just find out the facts and let everybody decide by himself, whether he likes it (or not) and wants to pay about $ 400.- for it.
Most important for me is that this set is an analogue remastering after different digital remasterings on CDs and vinyl LPs. And this is exactly how the engineers acted in the 1960s. Here they do not exchange the carburettor of an old FORD Mustang V 8 for an electronic fuel injection, but just optimize the carburettor.
I could listen and test this new set for more than two weeks, because a good friend of mine had got a precopy professionally before it was available in stores. And he could not withstand the possibility to compare the new vinyl set not only to the digitally remastered vinyl LPs and CDs but also to original Mono vinyl LPs of the 1960s in best possible condition.
For these tests we had old (REVOX B 795, BRAUN L-710, BOSE 901-1 with McIntosh C 8 / MC 30 for example) and new (T+A pre- and power amplifier, CD- and record-player with T+A Solitaire and B&M Line 30) equipment. Ecstasy started at once and remained all the time. I have to confess in this context, that I grew up with Mono and also did not like the new "Ping-Pong-Stereo" of the beginning.
These really heavy ( 6.35 oz !! ) new LPs are the best analogue version of the Mono originals. The sound engineers used the original master tapes and the memos of their former colleagues. The sound is more tough and resolute (aggressive ?) than the "soft" versions we have listened to for many years from CDs, MP 3 etc.
But it just does not only sound "like yesterday, but much better" : They printed old style labels, copied the old covers etc. - you make a grown man cry!
Is the sound better with old or new equipment? Subjectively (or sentimentally ?) - the old sound is much better with these Mono recordings and the absolute winner. Music from this time, created for Mono, needs tube amplifiers, non-metal loudspeaker calottes and old pickups in the record player. Modern equipment sounds colder and more pitilessly in the reproduction of music.
My personal result : With considerable expenditure and love to the details made revised version of immortal music for a still satisfactory price. Nothing for average music consumers, but a "MUST" for all fans with puristic (nostalgic ?) orientation.
This record should be played loud !! (The Rolling Stones, "Let it bleed") and that's it!
on 8 September 2014
I will never forget today, Monday 8th September 2014, as to my mind this is the single most important piece of music and packaging I have bought in over 35 years. Even after buying thousands of vinyl Lp's, CD's, tapes, DVD's and 78 rpm discs, nothing else tops this. This is exactly how The Beatles were meant to be heard and for someone like me, too young to have bought and experienced these Lp's back in the 1960's and too unforgiving to accept dismal condition originals masquerading as "mint" on every online website today, this is The Holy Grail of vinyl.
I have played most of these today as I took a day off work to do so and I am absolutely blown away by what I've heard and I'm in awe of the work the EMI team and Optimal have done here. I hope these guys get an award for this. Thanks too to Michael Fremer who has kept the lamp burning for vinyl in the cold dark years of digital. Your words and enthusiasm have kept some of us going!
Now if only we could all convince some of those guys on the What Hi-Fi forum who still believe vinyl is for old codgers and luddites and their precious PC hard-drives and DAC's do exactly the same job even better (cough, cough), then maybe, just maybe, we could convince the record companies to put vinyl FIRST again. Digital is evidently crap for listening to music. I've spent over ten thousand pounds trying to make it sound good and it just doesn't. I've given up.
As a child of the late Sixties today I feel like a teenager from that time. There is no greater more significant more culturally important or better representation of the greatest music by the greatest band ever, than what is beautifully created and packaged in this set. I genuinely pity anyone who hasn't got it in their hands today.
PS. Unfortunately I feel it is necessary to add something slightly negative to my review above: as of 22nd October 2014 I haven't yet been able to obtain a single perfect box of LP's. Although I stand by my initial enthusiasm for what has been achieved here, I think it is also important to warn potential customers that Optimal have FAILED to produce perfectly flat LP's. Even though my expensive t/table tracks all LP's perfectly and everything plays beautifully through without a glitch, it is nevertheless important to warn everyone that few if any of the Optimal pressings are actually flat. By that we mean, the LP does not have two sides that sit perfectly on the platter without there being any area raised. The main issue is "dished" discs which are bowl shape so that one side "appears" to be flat whilst the other only makes contact with the platter in the centre. This does not allow for accurate stylus / cartridge alignment and might conceivably ruin an expensive cartridge. I'm not giving up as I intend to buy these Lp's singularly now but Optimal should get all these warped / dished discs thrown back at them until they get it right. It appears that most American purchasers got perfect flat copies. Obviously in the UK where we are expected to pay 50% more for music that is British and pressed on European vinyl, we do not deserve the same high quality standards.
on 1 April 2015
I confess to writing a very favourable review of the CD box a few years ago. At the time, it certainly felt and sounded correct. However, with a few system upgrades, I suddenly found the CDs to be as some reviewers elsewhere have claimed - a little flat. They lost their sparkle, and I found myself just drifting away from them. I only had one mono pressing, and it was in bad shape, so I didn't listen to it much. When I heard about the vinyl box, I rolled my eyes at the price, and thought I'd never own one.
However, I did find a reasonably priced vinyl set, and I thought I'd give it a go. I'm glad I did. The sound is incomparable to the CD - particularly on a few stand-out albums like: Please Please Me, Revolver and as for Sgt Pepper - well, it was as if I was hearing it anew. I know, perhaps I am prone to exaggeration, but I am trying to avoid any sense of impending hyperbole. The level of detail that can be gleaned from these discs is quite something. The sheer tangible quality justifies that hefty price tag. Do you need more Beatles? Well, yes and no. I wasn't happy with the CDs, but I am very happy with the mono represses, and now I never buy them again. I had some stereo pressings (vinyl and CD), but never got along with them. Do you need this release?
I don't know. I am glad I own it, and I won't listen to The Beatles any other way at home now. I do like mono (and use a Y cable to get that sound), and I do prefer to hear albums as they were intended - or as close as possible. I think if you're a rational music fan who likes quality product, then you will want this. The discs themselves are flat, clean and heavy. Lovely attention to detail on the artwork too. They are really almost unbelievably dynamic. The sounds almost leap out of the grooves. Macca's bass work and Ringo's drums benefit most from this mono chain.
Ultimately, mono brings the band together - virtually. You may not ever feel like you were there watching them recording in Abbey Road, but these are some of the most exhilarating pop albums of their time. If the same care was taken over any reissues, you could almost kill off the need for audio streaming in one go.
on 8 May 2016
It's only fair to point out that this review is likely to lack objectivity as I have been an enthusiastic consumer of Beatles products (ie a fan) all my life and that's not going to change now. I was born in 1959 and the Beatles have always been with me - there is no pre-Beatles part of my life - and yet I'm just old enough to remember the excitement, the wonder and the satisfaction associated with hearing their music as it was released through the years of the 1960s. The Beatles were omnipresent in those far-off days - on the radio, on the TV, in the cinemas, in newspapers and magazines, their music powered out of record-shop doorways (I vividly remember first hearing Penny Lane this way and instantly recognising it as the voice of Paul McCartney) and they were all over my parents' reel-to-reel tape recorder - sometimes with yours truly singing along. And yes, all this Beatle music was in mono. However, over the years my collection of Beatle music has been lent, lost, stolen, damaged and oft-replaced with the result that until I bought this new box-set the only mono items left in my collection were a Please Please Me L.P. record and reel-to-reel tapes of Help and Revolver. Everything else was stereo - all the albums as L.P.s and some as cassette tapes and C.D.s - all my 7" singles being long gone. Also, most of my L.P. sleeves were annotated with sad sentiments in blue biro on a December evening in 1980 - something I almost instantly regretted.
And so we come to the new box-set - a chance to update most of my collection in one fell swoop - in mono - on L.P. records, my favourite format. I must now confess that receiving and opening the parcel, the box, the L.P.s themselves and even the accompanying book left me feeling how I imagine Howard Carter must have felt when opening Tutankhamen's tomb - I was imbued with feelings of reverence for the sacred objects before me, while doubting my worthiness for the task ahead of me. Nevertheless, I'd paid my dues and waited my turn - surely I'd earned the right to be doing this - indeed I had.
So there are two aspects to this item which we can discuss - the recordings as they play and the physical objects themselves.
Firstly the recordings as they play. Just so you know - in case you are interested in these things - I played these records on an Audio-Technica AT-LP5 direct-drive turntable through a Marantz PM6005 amplifier and Monitor Audio Bronze speakers - I did not change the cartridge to one specific for mono recordings. The first thing to say, then, is that playing these records was a sublime experience - they played with a clarity and a depth that my stereo records and C.D.s have never approached. Lyrics are clearer. Harmonies are more easily distinguished. Individual instrument parts are also more easily distinguished. The result is that listening pleasure is significantly increased - not something I was expecting to experience after all these years. The second thing to say is that the book which comes in the box-set lists in its introduction a number of differences to be found between mono and stereo mixes of Beatle recordings - I had immense fun going through the mono and stereo versions and I'm glad to say that I identified all the listed differences - some of them before I'd read about them. However, I noticed a few more that were not listed - I do not doubt you will too. These recordings are marketed on the premise that the mono mixes are the recordings as the Beatles themselves wanted them to be heard - I have chosen to trust this as true and on that basis I think these are superb recordings to cherish and to listen to again and again.
And what shall we say about the physical objects I have purchased in this box-set? The outer packaging for transit from Amazon was more than adequate for the job. The middle packaging in which the box-set is shipped from the makers is robust and ingeniously suspends the box-set inside a polystyrene liner. The box of the box-set is of excellent quality and houses the albums and the book perfectly. The album sleeves seem to me to be of quite a robust quality - probably more than adequately robust - although they are not all identical to the originals: the new Revolver sleeve is wrongly assembled with white borders glued over (rather than under) the black of the photograph on the back of the sleeve; the new White Album has the discs sliding in from the top rather than from the sides. As for the inner sleeves I am delighted to report that the makers have elected to supply these records in polythene-lined inner sleeves - a trick formerly used mostly by the Decca organization (but not E.M.I.) resulting in a significant and easily noticeable reduction in scratches and scuffing. And what about the discs themselves? Well, they are substantial. I would say marginally more substantial than my original mono Please Please Me which dates from the sixties and significantly thicker and heavier than the particularly flimsy made-in-France White Album I purchased in about 1974. In terms of pressing flaws or damage there is only one noticeable glitch out of all 14 discs and that is on Rubber Soul's 'What Goes On,' which exhibits an audible click for 2 revolutions near the beginning. Beyond that these records are free of all surface noise, rumble, pre-echo and scratches. They are of high quality - as indeed they should be.
All-in-all I'm very pleased with this box-set. I'm very pleased with each item in it - even the book. I will not say that I'm going to sell off or give away my stereo recordings now - I enjoy stereo and I like what can be done with it. However, I think for the foreseeable future I'll be listening to these mono recordings more - a lot more because they are simply magnificent recordings and also wonderful objects. If and when I do listen in stereo it will be fun to spot the differences.
on 8 September 2014
Don't know if anyone else has experienced this issue but my copy of With The Beatles contained the Help vinyl. I was mortified when Amazon suggested I return the complete boxed set but after negotiation they agreed to replace the one item given they are available individually. Took the edge off a bit that I could not play in chronological order but what I have played the quality is exceptional and for someone who grew up with the Beatles this mono vinyl set is a dream.
on 8 September 2014
I took a chance on this as I have never been too impressed with repressed vinyl as I have never found it to be close in quality to the originals.
To say I am impressed is an understatement, these mono pressings are as close to the first press originals as they could be. I played my original mono Sgt Pepper last night along side this one and although not quite the same I would say most people wouldn't notice any difference as it's that good. The same goes for the others which I have done direct comparisons with the original pressings.
The covers are faithful reproductions with flip backs and quality labels, Pepper and the White album have the original artwork etc.
It all comes in a quality box with a nice book and an extra triple album and I think this is great value for money and much cheaper than trying to buy all the original pressings of these classic albums. Every record is flat which is a real bonus as so much modern heavy vinyl is warped.
The engineers have done a brilliant job and used the original analogue masters and studio notes to make this the best Beatles collection to date.
on 11 September 2014
This is a momentous collection and a staggering achievement by all those involved, not least the Beatles themselves for writing all this incredible music over a 7 year period.
I have been waiting years for this. I'm so thankful that the decision was made, apparently quite late in the day, to keep the whole production process analogue. It's a lot harder work and more expensive for sure, but the end result is simply sublime. I haven't bought any of the digital Beatles remasters, and I don't own original vinyls, so hearing this music freshly pressed in mono as it was meant to be heard is a revelation. It sounds unbelievably good - clear, creamy smooth, warm, present, deep and yet punchy. The music shines through as if it was recorded last week. Truly timeless, and one can hear the expertise with which it was recorded all those years ago.
If you don't have any way to listen to vinyl at home, I'm sorry to say it but in this case I pity you, as you are truly missing out on something magical. You may think you've heard all these songs a thousand times, but believe me, not like this. This collection blows away any CD or digital vinyl remaster ever made.
The greatest pop music ever written and recorded finally presented the way it deserves. At last!!
Let me take you down...