Sunday, 3 June 2018

The Beatles - The Beatles In Mono

Ludicrously overpriced, of course. However, this box set is still highly recommended to those who love the sound of MONO recordings. Fans of true mono will absolutely love this, and the many reviews show that indeed to be the case. The sound is clear and punchy and the box set is well presented with replica original sleeves and a good booklet too.

The music is all but the last two albums (which were recorded in stereo) of The Beatles’ literally world-changing output.

Do I prefer the mono to the stereo, however? I would seem to be in a minority of one but I just can't find a way of completely doing so, despite mono winning me over for many of the tracks. For me, it is the stereo versions that generally have more appeal. Not all though. As with The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Cream, The Kinks and the early Motown material there is a very strong case for the mono recordings being more satisfying, more “pure”. I get that and accept it. However, from 1965 onwards it is mostly the stereo versions for me. I fully accept all the points about transistor radios and “Dansette” record players of the time only giving out a mono sound and that stereo was, at the time, a nerd’s oddity. I get all that, I really do, and fully understand why, for so many, these mono recordings are the holy grail and have no problem heartily recommending them. For me, on a subjective, personal level, they are just not totally for me. I am more happy for the mono and the stereo to co-exist and I enjoy listening to both of them, depending on my mood. It is, for some albums, like owning two very different versions of the same abum.

I listened to “Lovely Rita” consecutively, the mono version and then the “2017 remaster”. Again, for me, the difference was pretty seismic. The stereo 2017 one was an absolute revelation. The whole “Pepper” album is just wonderful in its 2017 form. Yes, I know what Lennon said about hearing it in mono being best and know what he meant but I just much prefer the stereo, personally. Similarly, I much prefer all of “The White Album”, “Rubber Soul” and most of “Revolver” in stereo, save “Taxman” with its clumsy attempts at stereo separation. Ditto “Strawberry Fields”. Both of these sound much better in mono. The Beatles suffered from poor early attempts at stereo that the American Motown groups did not, US recording techniques were much more advanced when it came to stereo. Just listen to some late 50s jazz recordings, Frank Sinatra and Elvis albums.

Actually, as it happens, though, I am listening to “Revolver” again as I write and, to be honest, it sounds really full and punchy in mono. Lovely centred bass reproduction, pounding out of the speakers. I have to say it is on the bass that the mono really excels, whereas it is on the mixture of all the other instruments, at times, like on “Love You Too” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” that can suit the stereo. Oh heck, the latter just sounds revelatory played through either medium. Admittedly, “Pepper” sounds truly marvellous in mono, it is just that, for me, the latest 2017 stereo mastering is like growing young. It is just something I did not expect to experience. "Rubber Soul" is also an enjoyable, potent mono listen, but on that album, particularly, I think the stereo lifts it higher.

I also find that the tracks with minimal instrumental backing, such as “I Will”, “”Julia” and “Eleanor Rigby” sound better in mono, just as Bob Dylan’s early acoustic songs do. I also have a weakness for the whole “Beatles For Sale” album in mono. It is superior to the stereo version - fuller, more punchy, more balanced. So, even for me, there are many, many benefits to owning this box set - I guess that has been the point of this review. I am very glad I own it. Overall, I feel that in mono, The Beatles sound like a great 60s group with mind-blowingly good 60s mono, but in stereo they sound like the same group, from the same era but with ground-breaking, way ahead of its time, incredible stereo sound. It makes them almost into a different group.I guess that I enjoy listening to both. Its great to be able to enjoy the music in different ways. Like enjoying different pizza toppings.

Shop around, though, some prices are ridiculous and beware, because there are many fakes out there, mainly originating in China. If the price seems to good to be true, it undoubtedly is.


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