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The Beatles in Mono
Vinyl + Audio CD | 180 gram, Box Set
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Audio CD, Box set, Limited Edition, September 9, 2009
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The Beatles in mono: This is how most listeners first heard the group in the 1960s, when mono was the predominant audio format. Up until 1968, each Beatles album was given a unique mono and stereo mix, but the group always regarded the mono as primary. THE BEATLES IN MONO VINYL BOX SET is released in mono on fourteen 180-gram vinyl LPs with faithfully replicated artwork, newly mastered from the analogue master tapes.
In an audiophile-minded undertaking, The Beatles' acclaimed mono albums have been newly mastered for vinyl from quarter-inch master tapes at Abbey Road Studios by GRAMMY®-winning engineer Sean Magee and GRAMMY®-winning mastering supervisor Steve Berkowitz. While THE BEATLES IN MONO CD boxed set released in 2009 was created from digital remasters, for this new vinyl project, Magee and Berkowitz cut the records without using any digital technology. Instead, they employed the same procedures used in the 1960s, guided by the original albums and by detailed transfer notes made by the original cutting engineers.
Working in the same room at Abbey Road where most of The Beatles' albums were initially cut, the pair first dedicated weeks to concentrated listening, fastidiously comparing the master tapes with first pressings of the mono records made in the 1960s. Using a rigorously tested Studer A80 machine to play back the precious tapes, the new vinyl was cut on a 1980s-era VMS80 lathe.
Manufactured for the world at Optimal Media in Germany, The Beatles' albums are presented in their original glory, both sonically and in their packaging. The boxed collection's exclusive 12-inch by 12-inch hardbound book features new essays and a detailed history of the mastering process by award-winning radio producer and author Kevin Howlett. The book is illustrated with many rare studio photos of The Beatles, fascinating archive documents, and articles and advertisements sourced from 1960s publications.
Albums included in the box set are REVOLVER, MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, RUBBER SOUL, WITH THE BEATLES, MONO MASTERS (3LP SET), THE BEATLES (2LP SET), BEATLES FOR SALE, SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, PLEASE PLEASE ME, HELP! and A HARD DAY'S NIGHT.
Top customer reviews
Please Please Me: The sound on the mono is just amazing. You can hear the echo in the room as John sings Anna. The vocals just soar. Ringo was just so good, even at this early stage and so was Paul. They supported and framed the songs so perfectly. And just think, in twenty-one minutes, or so, Twist And Shout! Stereo can't hold a candle to this, if for no other reason than the left/right "stereo" found later in With The Beatles, Rubber Soul and Revolver.
With The Beatles: As with Please Please Me, the mono sounds so, so, nice. As the stereo has that annoying left/right "stereo," no contest: mono hands down.
A Hard Day's Night: Seems better and more enjoyable in stereo. I think the reason is that they now had four tracks so George Martin could do proper stereo mixes and still have a mostly fresh first generationish sound. Remember, there were only two track available for Please Please Me. However, when they got to Rubber Soul and Revolver, four tracks weren't enough, which required, in some instances, numerous dubs of the four tracks to another four track tape, merging the four tracks to one track, thereby opening up three new tracks. While this degraded the sound somewhat it also made it difficult to back-track and do the after-thought stereo mixes, which is why we have the atrocious "stereo" of Rubber Soul and Revolver. Consequently, the reason the monos of these albums rule has mostly to do with technical limitations. While the mixes on A Hard Day's Night are true stereo mixes, they carry George Martin's idiosyncratic, but really right, decision to put the vocals in the center, the rhythm section to the left and the other instruments to the right. I always have loved how Martin took care to isolate the brilliant work of Ringo and Paul so many times instead of just following the convention of placing the drums in the center. This is why one of Martin's memoirs is entitled: "All You Need Is Ears."
The Beatles For Sale: Comments, preference and reasons for preference similar to A Hard Day's Night.
Help: Well, thank God we have three different versions to compare to make life ever so easy. First, mono is the definitive mix, that's a plus. As a minus, while it sounds richer, it is also a bit muddy compared to the stereo mixes. As for the stereo mixes, the remaster of George Martin's '87 remix does show some limiting in this new incarnation. A bit a hard to dial in the right volume. Sounds fuller, but that's the limiting. Not sure I care for this version too much. As for the `65 stereo version, that comes on the same disc as the mono version, as this album is somewhat acoustic, the absence of the limiting that was done to the new stereo remix/remaster is a plus. The delicacy is there in I Need You. Overall, the "old" stereo is prettier than the "new" stereo. One can argue over whether the "new" stereo or the ""old" stereo is better, I come down on the side of the "old" stereo, I like pretty. But as you get both the mono and the "old" stereo on the single mono disc, the cheapskate in me screams if you had a pistol to your head and only had to purchase one version of Help, it would be the "mono" disc.
Rubber Soul: Mono over stereo, if for no other reason than the left/rt channel mix that plagued Please, Please Me, With The Beatles and Revlover.
Revolver: There is a section of I Want To Tell You where Ringo is just so muscular and explosive in the mono that is missing in stereo and this is before we get to the issue of the left/right "stereo" of the stereo mix. Plus, there is just this overall richness of sound to the mono that is missing in the stereo. That said, it is a bit cooler to hear Tomorrow Never Knows in stereo. But, overall, mono.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The things you have heard are correct about the mono mix, the clarity and control over the notes, instruments and vocals is all there. Overall, it just sounds better, fuller and richer than the stereo, plus it is what the boys intended. Oddly, the thing that was most breathtaking was She's Leaving Home; just a full, gorgeous, sound. In stereo, it just sounds relatively wrong; thin compared to the mono. That said, because Day In The Life is such a mind-f the stereo is the definitive version of this song.
Magical Mystery Tour: While Pepper's sounded better in Mono, MMT sounds better in stereo.
The Beatles (The White Album): Both versions have their merits, you need both. If you can only go for one, it's the stereo.
Abbey Road: The defining moment of these reissues, and why it took four years, may be found on AR's I Want You (She's So Heavy). Because they couldn't take the tape hiss out without compromising the sound, they didn't. But when it came to John's final "yeah" which was over saturated and clipped previously, they were able to take the clipping out, and for the first time, you can hear all of John's vocal. Second side now, Here Comes the Sun and now Because. Wonderful sound throughout. Can't wait for Ringo at the end.
Let It Be: Now that I have had the time to compare three versions of LIB, an original 1970 EMI vinyl, this remastered CD and LIB Naked, it turns out that LIB is one of the more interesting remaster releases. First, LIB Naked has it all. It is true to the original vision of the Beatles for this music. It has clarity, correct dynamics and musicality. One of the places you can hear this best is in the title track and the differences between the Martin and Spector mixes. Martin got the church-like nature of the song. Consequently, you get more organ and the choir-boy harmonies of John and George, which Spector dubbed over with horns, strings and over the top solos by George. And I'm with Sir Paul concerning the damage done by Phil to The Long And Winding Road. As for the 1970 LIB vinyl, it has its problems from a sonic standpoint, particularly as it is a Phil Spector production. This brings us to this remastered CD. It trumps the 1970 standard vinyl in clarity but not LIB Naked. The real surprise is that the compression added to this remaster actually makes this a more Phil Spectoresque production than the original. And surprisingly, I like it, at least compared with the 1970 vinyl. Still, Naked is what you want.
Mono Past Masters: Right now, listening to the The Inner Light, which I hate, but it sounds so, so, so good in mono that I may actually like it. And, look out, Paul's bass piano notes in Hey Jude are right there as is Ringo's tambourine. Can't wait for Revolution plus the mono songs from Yellow Submarine. The mono Past Masters would have been perfection if they had added a stereo Let It Be and The Ballad Of John and Yoko. After all, the "stereo" Past Masters is actually a mixture of stereo and mono.
So kids, here's where we end. Your core, oddly enough, should be the mono box set. Augment this with the stereo Hard Day's Night, The Beatles For Sale, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles, Abbey Road, Let It Be and stereo Past Masters.
Addendum: As I live in Chicago, and have access to one of the country's remaining great stereo stores, that also boast three incredibly knowledgeable owners and an original Sgt. Peppers British Stereo pressing, following posting this review I went over there to compare the original vinyl with the two new CD reissues. We listened to the reference system, Naim Audio electronic and Quad speakers. There was total agreement on what we heard. First, Pepper's mono CD had better tonal balance than Peppers stereo CD. Pepper's stereo CD had better coloration than the mono, but this was defeated by the harshness of the sound (more on harshness shortly). Thus, overall, between the two CD's we preferred the mono CD. All that said, the stereo original British vinyl pressing crushed both. It had both tonal correctness and coloration.
Now as to the harshness issue, please be mindful that I have listened to these discs on two audiophile systems. Something like harshness is likely to be more prevalent the higher up you get in the stereo food chain. Thus, someone who doesn't have an audiophile system may not experience the harshness at all, but it really is there. This may render some of the stereo CDs more listenable for these people than they were for me, at least when it comes to Pepper's.
9/12/09 THANKS TO ALL: The past few days, following the posting of my review, have been a lot of fun. So many people have taken the time to write me, quite a number saying the review was flat-out the best review of any sort they have read. Others shared memories and feelings about how important this music is to them. Amazingly, two brother, one in Boston one in Paris, found they were reading the same thread and were kind of amazed by the co-incidence. All in all, it has been a very rewarding experience. I thank Amazon for providing this opportunity, and those of you present and future who have/will take(n) the time to play.
Even tiny versions of the inner sleeves are replicated as exactly as possible and, of course, all the original extra goodies are also present in miniature-- the SGT. PEPPER cutout sheet, the four WHITE ALBUM color glossies and collage poster, etc. The detailing is extraordinary and each disc even comes in its own resealable clear mylar sleeve.
As for the music, well it's The Beatles as they intended you to hear them-- not the after-thought stereo remixes by studio engineers. This set is a nifty addition to a serious fan's collection, but not essential, as most people will prefer to get and enjoy the Stereo Remasters.
Be careful where you buy EITHER the Mono or Stereo sets, however-- both have been extensively counterfeited and sold at "bargain" prices for which you receive inferior product-- in both sets, shabby construction and inaccurate detailing are dead giveaways that you've been hoodwinked. Be especially cautious of the sets offered for sale on eBay-- check out the forums on that site and the videos on YouTube that show you how to identify these fakes, ask lots of questions before you buy and if you don't like the answers, look elsewhere.
There have been some great and informative reviews already posted.
Just a few things to add. Compared to the stereo remasters, this has a more rich and deeper sound with subtle nuances. Sgt Pepper's alone is worth the price of admission.
For Hard Day's Night, specifically And I Love Her, Paul's vocals and the guitar is so much better, no off synch echo, and the rich sound is superior in Mono.
Basically all albums prior to MMT were produced better in mono. Usually the mono mixes are slightly longer, or have lingering sounds not present in the stereo counterpart. Also, I find it true what has been written before, that the recent Stereo remasters are not significantly better than the late 1980s CD releases. This is the first time one can really get the Mono mixes on CD and it was done right. More than just all right, superb.
Help and Rubber Soul, you get the Stereo mix by George Martin on the same disc, nice bonus. The Mono mix still better.
The bass for Revolver right out of the gate... Tax Man is something to contend with, grabs one by the lapels. Paul's lead guitar (yep, George asked Macca to play the solo) on Taxman is more piercing in this mono mix. Strings in Eleanor Rigby more detailed as well. Perhaps the last track, Tomorrow Never Knows has more sonic effect in Stereo which some may prefer.
It's only after Sgt Pepper's where the Stereo versions can compete or perhaps surpass. Magical Mystery Tour being one of them, listen to "Baby You're Rich Man" the mono has different piano effects, and certain instruments are more or less predominate. Up front hand clap and vocals. The Stereo version has much more bass and pretty nifty guitar up front. Worthy of comparing. I like both! The mono version of Mother Should Know is a bit of let down, sounds muddy. Perhaps it was originally mixed that way and they did not want to mess with the original release?
White Album is a completely different mix, perhaps the Stereo for that one if the definitive release, however, I wanted the Mono version in audio CD format for decades, and here it is. Quite different.
Again,with the Beatles- White Album, different sound effects, different speeds, probably lacking some overdubs as well. A very fresh experience. Great to have both versions! The the mono is a treat and not a gimmick. This is the way it was originally released in the UK, in mono, where as the US release came out in Stereo only.
As for the first few albums, nearly brought a tear to my eye, as it sounds so good. I have many of the first pressing mono records, and this CD box set is awesome. For the record, I'm between 35-45 years of age.
The packaging is awesome, even the details and markings on the inner sleeves and exterior covers. It completes the experience. ( yes, even the psychedelic inner sleeve for Pepper, to the note on which cleaning cloth to use for preserving your vinyl record found inside of Revolver.
In an age of thin sounding MP3s and lack or packaging/art of the album covers, Do not hesitate on acquiring this spectacular experience. High thumbs up for the Beatles in Mono Box set.