There is plenty of advice already on the forum, but the best advice I can give is to research the topic online on how Beatles recordings were done and released and what the significance is of the different mixes. If you are just getting into The Beatles there is a lot to read on the topic. It's not as simple as "stereo is different things coming out of the two speakers" and "mono is the same thing coming out of both".
However, if you are more along the lines of a casual fan and just want the music and aren't really a collector, I would say get the stereo box. Not only is it going to be seen as the "conventional" one, but it also as all the albums. Plus it's cheaper, easier to obtain, has extra packaging, mini documentaries, while the mono box is set towards the collector's market.
F.A.--- If you want to actually hear the difference between the mono and stereo mixes go to "The One Beatle" on Youtube. He has both the mono and stereo versions posted of most of their songs so you can compare. They are not as high quality as the new remasters will be but you'll get the general idea.
Okay, I have a very large and original record collection. For just the musical quality go with stereo. The Mono versions are only valuable if you have the original records. In fact, mono records are worth twice the money as stereo. I also have some records that were 'cut' in Germany and the channel separation is better than those that were 'cut' in the US. There was also what was know as "High Fidelity", which was the earliest form of 'stereo'. As has been stated previously, the 'mixes' are important, since Oko only knows who has the 'original masters'. Sad that so much was probably lost. But the "Beatles Anthology" set gives a great insight into the recording process. I had a CD that was labeled "Beatles Unplugged" but actually was a copy of the tapes that they made at Georges' house in L.A. it's all the stuff they wrote after coming back from India. Some nice person stole it. We need Arab law for thieves..cut off their hands...
Mono restoration has reached such gorious new heights that there are times when you think you are hearing stereo. Hopefully, the Beatles mono versions of The White Album, Sgt. Pepper, Revolver and Rubber Soul will join the ranks of other restored mono classics. You should hear recent mono releases of Hollies, Traffic and Who albums. Mono was still the ear-standard circa 1965-7 and many records have a kind of definitive quality they lack in stereo. I just wish they would reissue the mono "Beggar's Banquet." "Sympathy for the Devil" in its mono version has a kind of heft that makes it even more apocalyptic. In any case, you owe it to yourself to buy mono versions of all the albums I have listed above. Also add in Magical Mystery Tour because "Your Mother Should Know" is vastly, vastly superior in mono to the stereo, "Blue Jay Way" is completely different and more stripped down and "I Am the Walrus" isn't marred by ghastly rechanneling half way through.
One thing you should all know is this-The Beatles were present at every MONO mix session. They were never present at the STEREO mixes because stereo was not such a big thing in England (even though it was in the U.S.) Even George Martin wasn't always present at the stereo mixes-leaving it to Geoff Emerick to care of it. This should tell you something right there. The Beatles (and Martin) all gave their input to the EQ, balances, etc to the MONO mixes but none to the stereo. Now, i think think the STEREO mixes are great (i'm talking about the Capitol for the most part as i grew up in the U.S.) but, for instance, why does the stereo mix of 'I'm Looking Through You' have that false start but the mono doesn't?
Michael Bitterman writes: "The Beatles were present at every MONO mix session."
Not at every one. They seldom were at any prior to Revolver.
"They were never present at the STEREO mixes..."
They were at some. John Lennon himself mixed Revolution 1 & Revolution 9. They mainly were at Stereo mixing from The White Album on. About 1/2 of White Album was mixed in Stereo before it was mixed in Mono. Abbey Road was mixed only in Stereo. They did not participate in mixing for Let It Be.
"... why does the stereo mix of 'I'm Looking Through You' have that false start but the mono doesn't?"
The Stereo of the UK Rubber Soul never had the false start. It is still the same mix as the US, just a different edit. As to why it is there, that would be probably an error on the part of the folks at Capitol. (Ironically the Mono US Rubber Soul never had the false start either.)
"About 1/2 of White Album was mixed in Stereo before it was mixed in Mono."
According to Lewisohn, there were a number of White Album tracks mixed first for mono, or mixed for mono and stereo during the same session on the same day.
The only three that were first mixed for stereo on a prior date than the first proper mix for mono were "Revolution 1", "Revolution 9", and "Long Long Long". Other than those tracks and "Hey Jude", every other track through 1968 was either first mixed for mono on a prior date, or (in the case of a number of the White Album tracks) first mixed for mono and stereo on the same day.
There are times when mono blows away stereo. If you are old enough to remember the Dave Clark Five, go listen to Bits and Pieces in mono, then listen in stereo. The mono will blow the top of your head off....the stereo sounds like easy listening!!! I remember the Beatles Sgt.Pepper and the White Album in mono.....HUGE difference!!!
C. Dvorak wrote: "According to Lewisohn, there were a number of White Album tracks mixed first for mono, or mixed for mono and stereo during the same session on the same day."
Yes, that is true. Some of the songs received Mono mixes early in the sessions, but those were redone later for their final released mixes. Ond days when both mixes were done, sometimes the stereo mix of a particular song was done first, sometimes it was the mono done first. According to the Usenet Guide which uses Lewisohn plus other reliable sources, the final mixes of these songs were done first in Stereo, then in Mono: Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Ob-la-di Ob-la-da, Bungalow Bill, Blackbird, Julia, Me and My Monkey, Cry Baby Cry, Mother Nature's Son, Long Long Long. Revolution 1 and Revolution 9 were mixed only in Stereo, with the Mono versions being fold-downs. The other 18 songs were first mixed in Mono. All right, 2/5 of The White Album was mixed in Stereo before Mono rather than 1/2.
A couple of comments on your notes. It's true that some of the earlier mono mixes were revisited later, sometimes after the stereo ones, but the fact is that the Beatles were still doing their first mixes of the song in mono rather than stereo in a number of these cases. I personally think the fact that a song was first mixed into mono before stereo is more significant than whether the final mono mix came before the stereo mix, if that makes any sense. The mono mixes were usually tinkered with a lot more and subject to many more remixes than the stereos in general, so you could just easily argue that the continued work on the mono mixes reflected the importance the team placed on those mixes! (twisted logic, I know ;) )...
Also, in reference to the cases like "Bungalow Bill" and "Julia" when stereo and mono mixes were performed in the same day, which factor heavily in your list, are we sure that the order of the mixes listed in Lewisohn are in the exact chronological order in which they were performed that day? We know they occurred during the same block of time, but the order listed may actually be arbitrary. Does Lewisohn state anywhere that his listings are in precise chronological order? We know work was often being done in two locations at one time, after all...
I agree with what you say here, though I would posit another theory regarding all the time spent on Mono mixes. Because those were done first, that meant the heavy work in deciding overall how the track should sound was done then. It is possible that less time was spent on the Stereo mixes because after doing the Monos, those mixes were easier to figure out (it's just like when you do a new task and then have to redo it, it always takes you longer the first few times you do it, and becomes easier each time out). So I question these folks who say the Monos must be more important because more time was spent on them. As for whether Lewisohn is in exact chronological order, that is certainly questionable, but if he is not, he certainly is being random, as, when it comes to mixing, he does not list songs in alphabetical or LP order either. My guess is unless the EMI documents are meticulous about when things were recorded, edited, mixed, etc., he is guessing based on written notes and anything on the tapes themselves.
I suppose it makes sense that both mono & stereo mixes were done the same day since there was no way of 'recalling all the settings' of the console (no automation). So does this mean the EQ settings were the same on the stereo as on the mono? compression? is the only difference in the panning? The Beatles put their importance on those first mono mixes. Should we assume they were happy with the stereo mixes?
Personally,I prefer Stereo.The reason many people think it is significant that the Beatles spent more time on the Mono mixes than on the Stereo is that they don't have an audio engineering background.To put it simply,it is far more difficult and time consuming to make a good sounding Mono mix than it is to make a good sounding Stereo mix.In Mono you have to pay much more attention to the balance between all the tracks,especially between the vocal and the various instrumental components.If the vocal is too loud,the instruments don't pop as they should.If the instruments are too loud,the vocal is unintelligible.Check out "Hanky Panky" by Tommy James and the Shondells for a perfect example of the latter.In Stereo,you can place all the aural elements in their own place in the Stereo spectrum making each part more distinct and clear.I prefer clarity over all.I also always put lead vocals in the center,just because I liked the vocal lead to carry the recording.Instruments went where they sounded most natural.Rarely to the far ends of the Stereo Spectrum,but never totally centered where they might overpower the vocal lead.I will admit to occasionally putting a drum beat behind the lead,but,only if it didn't need to be too loud.I only ever made Mono mixes for demos for an artist and then,only if he or she asked for it.
"There are times when mono blows away stereo. If you are old enough to remember the Dave Clark Five, go listen to Bits and Pieces in mono, then listen in stereo. The mono will blow the top of your head off....the stereo sounds like easy listening!!!"
Anyone who has heard stereo versions of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" or "My Generation" know why some songs MUST be listened to in mono.
Michael B--- From what I've read in various interviews The Beatles were, in retrospect, not happy with their pre-68 stereo mixes. At the time they were just indifferent to them since mono was the thing. Stereo mixing was more of an after-the-fact task George Martin and/or his engineers were obligated to perform for EMI.
Lennon, in particular, really hated a lot of the stereo mixes once they became the only versions available. As long as they existed side-by-side with the mono versions it was OK but when mono disappeared it was like the true versions were gone. In 1974 he singled out Revolution (the single version) as having been destroyed by the stereo mix. If you've ever heard the mono mix you'll see what he means, it's even more of a sonic assault. The stereo version sounds watered-down by comparison. In the same interview he said: "If you mix something in mono and then try and fake it, you lose the guts of it". He also said you've never really heard Sgt Pepper until you've heard it in mono.
The remaining three also comment on their preference for the original mono on Anthology (particularly in the DVD extras).
Diokazip--- An even better example of (non-Beatles) mono superiority for those 60s recordings is 'Paint it Black'. The stereo version is just a pale imitation lacking the front-and-center driving percussion. Fortunately you can get the mono version on The Singles Collection.
For anyone interested in the 60's Rolling Stones output this collection is a must. It has all of the mono single mixes except for the 69-70 stereo-only releases.
Now if they could only do that with Between the Buttons, Aftermath and Beggars Banquet!
A. Mohtashem---- There are two different stereo mixes of Satisfaction floating around. ABKCO used an alternate less-separated mix from the time on the last go-round of Stones remasters (Big Hits.....) It is much better than the previously-common mix you describe. Mono still beats both.