The Beatles – Mono Box Set (CD review)

Beatles – Mono Masters (2009) – CD review –

It’s a shame that the only way to get these versions is through this Mono Masters box set.  The Beatles recorded in an era when stereo was a novelty and mono was the norm.  Songs were mixed first in mono, then put in stereo as an afterthought.  Case in point: the Beatles spent two weeks mixing their landmark Sgt. Pepper in mono, then handed the tapes over to an engineer, who mixed the entire album in stereo in a single day.  Yet, stereo is how we now hear most Beatles music.

These mono mixes are really the way the Beatles intended their songs to sound.  Sometimes, the differences are staggering.  Much of their early albums in stereo have the voice in one speaker and the instruments in the other, which is just plain goofy.  On the Mono Masters, everything is front and center, the way it should be.

The Sgt. Pepper album probably has the most noticeable differences: the crowd comes in at different points during the first song, while “She’s Leaving Home” is sped way up, and many of the songs crossfade at different points as well.  The entire record has a different, richer feel in mono.  The “White Album” has subtle differences in mono for almost every song.  And, many of the singles have more punch in mono.  The guitar from “Revolution” comes on like a chain saw in mono, while “Paperback Writer” has some extra echo effects.

The packaging differs on the mono box as well.  While the stereo discs were done in tri-fold paper, making the discs difficult to remove, this set has an oversized, single sleeve format with no folds, reproducing faithfully the front and back covers of the original LP’s and making the discs easy for removal.  The discs themselves are housed in little plastic sleeves, with paper sleeves replicating the vinyl release thrown in for good measure.  There is also a booklet that talks about some of the differences between the stereo and mono versions.

My only real complaint is that these albums should be made available individually.  This 13-CD box set retails for over $200, making it impossible for anyone but the crazed fan (that’s me) to own.  Yet, as stated before, these are the way Beatles’ music was intended to sound.  So much more care and scrutiny were taken in mixing the mono versions.  Perhaps someday they’ll be made available individually. –Tony Peters