The Beatles in Mono Remastered CD Box Set Review - Beatles fans who really know the history of the band and the context of how their albums were recorded already know the historical importance of the original mono mixes and thus have probably already ordered The Beatles In Mono Box Set (if they have been able to find it in stock anywhere!) But those with not quite as much knowledge of The Beatles history (but who may love their music just as much) may find all of the fuss about mono mixes a little bit confusing. This review is aimed at that second group of fans.
The Beatles first 10 albums (all of their albums through 1968's White Album) were mixed in mono (they were also mixed in stereo) because mono was considered to be the "standard" at the time. It was the way that most people listened to music in the 1960s. It wasn't until the late '60s that stereo took over the marketplace and became the new standard (and it has remained as such ever since, despite the best efforts of 5.1 surround sound.)
The Beatles themselves spent much more time working on their mono mixes than they did on their stereo mixes. In fact they would spent a great amount of time working to get the mono mixes "just right" with the band's producer (George Martin) and their recording engineers (including Geoff Emerick.) On the other hand they showed almost no interest in their stereo mixes. Stereo was an "afterthought" and because of that many people think that their stereo mixes suffer in comparison.
Stereo was a very new thing at the time and the way that most of The Beatles songs were mixed in stereo now sounds very strange compared to the stereo mixes that have come since. Many of their stereo mixes feature all of the instruments on one side and all of the vocals on the other (or similarly haphazard sounding panning.) It can be quite irritating to listen to these kind of mixes, especially on headphones. This is one of the big reasons that the mono mixes may actually sound superior to the stereo mixes.
Personally, as someone who grew to love The Beatles by listening to the stereo mixes I find the mono mixes to be quite a revelation. Many of these mixes really sound significantly different than the stereo mixes I'm used to. For example "She's Leaving Home" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is sped up so that it's both faster and higher tonally. Another example from that same album is the much more prominent phasing effect on the vocal in the mono version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" vs. the stereo version.
Possibly the coolest thing about this Beatles In Mono Box Set is that it includes The White Album in mono and this is the first time that The White Album's mono mix has ever been released in the United States on any format (including LP & tape!) Why? Because in 1968 only the stereo mix was released in the US but in the UK both the mono and stereo mixes were released.
Not only that, but there are actually four mono mixes included in the box set which have never been released before anywhere on any format! What are they? The four new Beatles songs that were included on the Yellow Submarine album in 1969: "Hey Bulldog," "It's All Too Much," "Only a Northern Song," & "All Together Now." These mono mixes were never released before because only a stereo version of Yellow Submarine was released in '69.
But Yellow Submarine is not included in the mono box because no mono mixes were made of the George Martin instrumentals that fill up the rest of the album. Instead, those four previously unreleased mono mixes of the Yellow Submarine songs are included as a part of the Mono Masters double disc compilation set of the mono mixes of The Beatles non-album songs.