I’ve been listening to The Beatles Mono Box Set since it arrived on Wednesday from Amazon. In a way it’s a good thing that my Stereo Box Set has yet to arrive. Why? Because it lets me concentrate my listening on these original mono mixes which are “new to me” and very exciting to hear for the first time.
Like many Beatles fans under a certain age, I’ve grown to love The Beatles by listening to the 1987 CDs which are now being replaced by these new remastered CDs. That means, of course, that I’ve never heard the mono mixes of many of The Beatles songs before.
Everyone is talking about the “warmth” and the “clarity” of these new remasters and how much better they sound than the old CDs and while I haven’t yet heard the new stereo remasters, I can confirm that to be the case with the CDs in the Mono Box Set. In particular it seems that the bass, drums, and the vocals come through with more clarity and “punch.”
Obviously this review is a “first impression” kind of review as I’ve only been able to hear most of the songs once or twice (although I did listen to Sgt. Pepper a few times yesterday when doing my review of that album in mono.) I’m sure there are a lot of really great details in these mixes I’ve yet to discover and I’m sure there are many great things about this set I will not mention in this review, after all this is a 13 disc set I’m trying to cover here!
These mono mixes will appeal to a lot of people who hate the wide stereo separation (ie: vocals all on one side, drums all on the other) of many of The Beatles stereo mixes. Since those are the mixes I grew to love The Beatles with, I find those strange (by modern standards) stereo mixes to actually be kind of cool as they allow me to hear each of the parts of the music in it’s own space. But I do agree that the wide panning can be distracting at times and there’s definitely something great about hearing these songs with the powerful sound of everything being up the middle.
I think a lot of people will enjoy hearing “Eleanor Rigby” in mono because the stereo mix is somewhat awkward in comparison.
The Early Albums Sound Fantastic
From a purely audiophile perspective, I’ve been most impressed by the jump in sound quality with the early albums. Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Free, & Help! have never sounded better to my ears. The drums and the bass cut through like never before and I find that the mono mixing really works well for these earlier songs (I find it doesn’t necessarily work as well for their more complex songs on Sgt. Pepper & Magical Mystery Tour.)
The Later Albums?
Am I saying that Rubber Soul through The White Album don’t sound fantastic too? No. I’m not. And in some cases (like “Long, Long, Long”) the improvement in sound quality is just as revelatory as with the early albums. I think, perhaps, the main reason I’m more enthralled by the earlier albums now is that I do miss the panning on some of the later songs (for example “I Am The Walrus” really needs panning. Although as I’m typing this I decided to listen to “I Am The Walrus” in mono on my speakers and it actually sounds awesome. I think I mostly miss the panning on headphones.)
In quite a few cases the mono mixes are considerably different from the stereo mixes I’m used to. More than just the panning being different, sometimes different effects were used and even different takes. Some examples of how the mono mixes differ from the stereo:
“She’s Leaving Home” is sped up (with higher vocals.) It has more energy in the mono mix.
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” has considerably different effects on the vocals (a lot more effects.)
“Helter Skelter” is almost a full minute shorter.
“I’m Only Sleeping” has more backwards guitar in it.
“Birthday” doesn’t have that weird vocal edit mistake (at about 2:10 on the stereo version.)
Vocals, Bass, & Drums
I’ve read that those who have heard the new remastered stereo mixes have been impressed in particular by the clarity of the vocals (hearing new backing vocals they’ve never heard before) and the way the drums and bass cut through the mix like never before. I’ve been impressed by the same things with the mono mixes so it must be something about the way they captured the sound from the original analog tapes this time around. To put it simply: they got it right this time.
The vocals are clear & warm and sit comfortably above the mixes. The bass is deep and oh so good. If you’ve never really paid attention to the bass in The Beatles songs before, this is a great time to start. The drums seem to bit a lot more clear, I can hear the individual drum hits much better than on the old stereo CDs.
Individual Album Reviews
This is an overview of the entire box set so I didn’t get into too many specifics but I am also planning on doing an album by album review of all of these new releases (both the mono & stereo mixes.) I started that yesterday with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Those of you in the UK should go to the Amazon.co.uk Beatles Store.
In Canada: Amazon.ca Beatles Store.