Written by 4:54 am Audiophile Music

Beatles in Mono: The New Benchmark, Part II

Mark Smotroff digs deeper into the new Beatles In Mono vinyl box set

Here we’ll continue my exploration of the newly, stunningly, all-analog-ly remastered / audiophile-pressed reissues of the seminal Monaural recordings by The Beatles. If you haven’t read part one, please visit this link to read about my experiences listening to the new versions of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, Help and Please Please Me. In this portion we’ll look at some of the core mid period albums issued between 1965 and 1968.

AR-Rubber Soul.jpgRubber Soul may be my favorite of the remastered Mono LPs in the Beatles in Mono series of reissues. The first thing that got me about that listen is just how right it sounded. Yes, “right.” It sounds like the album is supposed to sound, or — perhaps more accurately — how I remember it sounding growing up as a kid. Sure, I was listening to the Capitol Records version at the time, but it was a MONO version and that is the sound I grew accustomed to. I never quite got into the Stereo versions of Rubber Soul, try as I did over the years. I especially prefer the Mono mix of “Drive My Car” as it puts the cowbell into proper perspective (its way too in your face on the Stereo mix — whenever I hear the Stereo mix, I expect Christopher Walken to come walking through the door demanding yet “a little more cowbell!”

Yes, Rubber Soul sounds really so so good. Big rich sounding acoustic guitars with just enough jangle when the songs need to rock out.

Dead quiet vinyl, again, and the sides are perfectly centered.

Likewise, Revolver sounds just right too and it sounds even more right each time you start to nudge up the volume. What more can I say that you haven’t heard already about this album? This is a perfect album presented as perfectly as possible. Ok, so the back cover art is not glossy like the original pressings. I can live with that. The US pressings of Revolver have always been non-glossy so I’m cool with that. This version sounds so full and rich. Collectors love this sort of thing because it means that the original pressing will retain some of their value and appeal.

AR-Revolver.jpgBut seriously, this is one you’ll really want to turn up the volume on your stereo and just bliss out as it fills the room with arguably some of the Beatles biggest musical leaps, from the opening jam of “Taxman” into the gorgeous lush strings of “Eleanor Rigby.” “I’m Only Sleeping” is huge! Lennon’s dreamy acoustic guitar tones are rich and warm, while in the breaks you can hear the sound of McCartney’s amplifier tone in the studio. No pun intended, but you can make out ringing tone as Ringo’s drum sticks hit the tom tom so clearly on “Tomorrow Never Knows” and also these nice tiny little tambourine parts here and there which I never really pinpointed previously. The detail on Harrison’s “Love To You” is striking, as the Sitars and Tablas jump out of the speakers. I also noticed for the first time what sounds like a single punctuating handclap on the last chorus just before the final jam.

Its this kind of clarity we are privy to for the first time on these new masters.

Jumping ahead to The White Album, this is really a treat for us Beatle fans here in the USA as it was never released in Mono here. Accordingly, finding a vinyl copy of The White Album in Mono had always been a pricey affair here in the states (especially pre-eBay) IF you could even locate one. I rarely see them in stores to this day and when you do they are usually not exactly cheap. I got lucky years ago and found a playable copy at a flea market in Switzerland for about the equivalent of five dollars (sure, it had lots of surface scuffs but it played pretty clean and allowed me to at least finally hear the Mono mix).

While the new master is not as immediately bright sounding as my old copy, this new pressing again shines as start to push your amp a bit and turn up the volume.

Now this is one of the Beatles’ albums that I’ve long questioned as to which version better, Mono or Stereo. You see, this was the first one The Beatles recorded on an 8-channel multi-track recorder which gave them more flexibility to create a satisfying Stereo mix. The Stereo mix which most of us in America grew up with sounded just ducky! As a Beatle completist, it was important to get the Mono mix to hear the differences I’d read about (some of which were highlighted on the “Rarities” collection which Capitol put out in the 1980s). The book that comes with The Beatles in Mono box set does a real nice job highlighting some of the differences.

At the end of the day, however, its about the music and most of the music on The White Album is sublime, be it in Mono or Stereo.

]]>This pressing sounds full and round, very punchy and much better than my old pressing, which when I researched was not exactly an early version in the production line process. If my research was accurate, my copy came from the 118th stamper used!

So this is a real treat to have a nice sweet CLEAN dead quiet accurate copy to have as a reference, without having to spend hundreds of dollars on an original (as if I could find one that would play this cleanly!).

Indeed, details like Paul McCartney’s perfect drunken-sounding rollicking bass lines in “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” are revealed in a clarity and definition I could only imagine on my old UK Mono pressing and which are all but obliterated on the Stereo, tucked away in one channel. Macca’s plunky playful piano on “Martha My Dear” is clearer sounding than I’ve ever heard it before (even from my UK late 70s white vinyl pressing which has been one of my go-to choice Beatle albums).

The snorting-snorking grunts on “Piggies” are especially lifelike; close your eyes and you can almost see the hogs poking their snouts through your speakers.

AR-WhiteAlbum.jpgThe mono White Album mix really shines on acoustic tracks like “Julia” in which you can feel John Lennon’s breathy hushed vocals coming through your speakers. “Mother Nature’s Son” glows in Mono and the moment of silence before the band slams into “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey” is more exciting than ever. Jarring even, but in a good way! Ok, I think you get the idea, this is pretty killer stuff…

As I did with the first installation of this review, I’m going to take a step back to a simpler time a few years earlier and look at Beatles For Sale, the 1965 album that some people love and others love to hate. I personally really like (love even) a lot of the material on it, much of which appeared in the US on the album Beatles ’65.

Again, this Mono remaster gets huge kudos and brownie points for being true to the sound and feel of the original recordings. That is sounds even better than anything I might have expected is a bonus. Ringo’s snare drum hits on “Baby’s In Black” cut like a knife through the mix — you can even hear his kick drum beating time on the bridge! — while the acoustic guitars are rich without sounding bloated. The pitter patter on “I’ll Follow the Sun” is wonderful. And John Lennon’s intro a cappella vocal at the start of “Mr. Moonlight” is more vibrant and arresting than ever.

For a monaural recording as bashing as The Beatles’ cover of “Kansas City,” this remaster is remarkable because you can make out every instrument with remarkable clarity and fidelity — from John’s rhythm guitar plunks to McCartney’s Jerry Lee Lewis-meets-Little Richard-inspired incessant piano chording. Hand claps are the order of the day on the side two openers “Eight Days a Week” and Buddy Holly’s “Words of Love.” I suspect you’ve never heard the handclaps this distinctly before. I hadn’t!

The rich sound of John’s jumbo Gibson acoustic guitar on these tracks and others like “I Don’t Want to Spoil The Party” is spectacular, round, warm and woody. Lots of amp tones come through on George’s electric guitar solo there as well as on “What You’re Doing.” George must have been having a blast on these recordings. His joy of covering Carl Perkins’ “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby” comes through loud and clear on this mono pressing!

I was going to try and finish this review series in two parts but clearly these releases are warranting more discussion so I’ll save With The Beatles, A Hard Days Night and the Mono Masters three-LP collection for the next installment.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

One of Mark Smotroff’s earliest memories at just three years old was seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan (TV) show. His first single record bought with his own savings at age five was The Beatles’ She Loves You (on Swan Records); the first full album he bought with his own savings a few years later was Magical Mystery Tour. A lifelong Beatle fanatic, Mark is also a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.

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