Thursday, October 23, 2014


This review will be an album by album review focusing on the sound using what most would consider to be an audiophile system. What I can say for sure, after listening to all the albums, is this:

a) The mono vinyls trump the mono CDs.

b) Because a consistent characteristic of these releases is a greater definition than the mono CDs, the "greater definition" justification for listening to the stereo issues is lessened.

c) The fact of the matter is it is incredibly hard, and very expensive, at this late date, to amass a collection of quality original mono pressings of the Beatles catalog. I know this because this is precisely what I did after writing the CD reviews five years ago. Besides the cost, and difficulty, there is also the issue of the necessity of cleaning the vintage albums once they arrive at your doorstep. This turns out, in many instances, to be a very difficult task and, in most instances, more involved than simply using something like a VPI record cleaning machine if you desire to reach the point of the greatest lack of extraneous noise in the grooves.** This strongly argues for the purchase of these pressings separate from any consideration of which sounds better the originals or these reissues.

d) General comment about these reissues, certainly through Peppers: mono makes the rockers rock harder than the stereos and the ballads are fuller sounding and more beautiful. I see even less of a reason to visit the stereo versions now that these monos are finally out on vinyl, with the exception of Help!, Revolver and The Beatles.

e) The book is just amazingly beautiful, but you can save money by purchasing the albums individually.

f) So, if you aren't going to purchase the box, you have the luxury of purchasing the albums individually to see how much you like these monos. Here's my suggested order of purchase:

i) Peppers in mono is a legend. This version crushes the mono CD and, overall, recognizing the differences and trade-offs involved, slightly better, to my ears, than the original mono pressing. Start here.
ii) Please Please Me
iii) Rubber Soul
iv) Mono Masters
v) A Hard Day's Night
vi) With The Beatles
vii) Beatles For Sale
viii) Magical Mystery Tour
ix) Help!
x) Revolver
xi) The Beatles

g) Concerning the quality of the pressings, I did not find any pressing rose to the level where I even contemplated returning it and I am not shy about returning albums with defects. Also, a week after release, I spoke with a friend, who works at a large on-line vendor of audiophile vinyl, and, to date, their return rate has been relatively small. Certainly, nothing like two years ago with the stereo LPs. Optimal in Germany aced this far beyond any reasonable expectation.

In a certain way, after reading my Please Please Me review, and the Conclusion, the above information is likely all many/most will need to make an educated decision on whether to purchase this box set or the albums individually. For those who want more, more is provided.

Now the individual album reviews.

Please Please Me
Mostly, more defined than the original Parlophone LP. Paul's bass is very tight, George's guitar as well, on "Boys" it's stunning. Ringo's snare is tight too and sounds as a snare drum should. Lead vocals are very framed and harmonies come out more clearly than on the original. While the original is a tad more fluid, leaner and alive, what this mono does, with its, generally, greater definition over the original, is to make the distinction between the stereo and mono less significant because you get the preferred mix plus greater definition, almost across the board (which was the key advantage of the stereos), vis a vis the original vinyl or the mono CD. That Berkowitz and Magee could get this out of 51 year-old tapes, and Calbi could render it properly on the vinyl, is astonishing. When you get to "Twist And Shout" that's exactly what you want to do, with goose-bumps to boot. That said, after careful comparison, in balance, by a very slim margin, I prefer the original because it possesses a hard to define "magic" the reissue just doesn't quite approach.

With The Beatles
Similar sonic comments to Please Pease Me (PPM). PPM was cut largely live, on the fly, we all know this. This album sound less "alive" (except for "Roll Over Beethoven", where George's initial hook grabs you tight and Ringos's cymbals sizzle), BUT it makes you feel more as if you are in the studio while they were recording. By the time I got to "Money" the winner, by a close split decision on the cards, was this version over the original.

A Hard Day's Night
My copy of the original Parlophone LP is near mint. I love it. This reissue, continues with the sonic characteristics mentioned above but the tell-tale signs are found right in the title track: This re-issue, while fuller in sound (which better suits the ballads), lacks the exuberance of the original's title track (the same goes for "Can't By Me Love"), and George's 12-string Rickenbacher at the end of the title track sounds deader in this re-issue. More pronounced bass than the original throughout. Perhaps, that's why the original shimmers and this reissue, while more detailed, just sounds most excellent. Unlike the first two albums, there will be more of a trade-off between the rockers and ballads when you compare the original Parlophone with the reissue. Still, unless you have an outstanding sound system, enough money, and luck to find a minty original release, this is all you will ever need.

Beatles For Sale
Perhaps, this re-issue is, to this point, the hardest to compare with an original -- they are really that close. But there are at least three tip-offs: a) In "No Reply" the re-issue navigates the loud vocal passages with a tad more clarity; b) Paul's richer bass in "Mr. Moonlight" and c) in "I'm A Loser" the rumble in the vocal at the beginning is a bit more pronounced. Kudos to Berkowitz and Magee for not changing this and allowing us to take the not so good with the sublime. If you own an original, given their similarities, there may not be a need to purchase this one individually; but, if you do, you will most likely find it superior.

My main complaint about the mono CD of Help! was how congested it sounded compared with the stereo version, and now that I have one, an original mono pressing. Unfortunately, this, congestion continues with this re-issue, but to a lesser degree, than the mono CD. If you are purchasing separately rather than in the box set, this is one you need to ponder in comparison with what you already own and how satisfied you are with the sound.

Rubber Soul
The original sounds a bit thin with the bass recessed. The vocals are somewhat fuzzy, and Ringo's snare sounds a tad tinny and missing some body. On the other hand, the re-issue has more, and better, bass. Ringo's drums have more punch and the tinniness of Ringo's snare, in the original, now has more ring (properly so). The vocals are less fuzzy, and, overall, more open and dynamic (But not in every song. In some songs, the vocals seem a bit pushed back; which might be caused by the fuller sound of the music.). And speaking of dynamics, the dynamics of George's sitar in NW is spectacular. This is a very acoustic album, in many parts, and acoustic is what you hear far better than in the original. The definition continues to be superb throughout. "In My Life" is arresting in its beauty and correctness of presentation.

A noted reviewer, found the difference between the original and the reissue to be not that pronounced. I disagree completely. I found the differences between the original, and the reissue, more pronounced here than in the previous albums. There is more there there with the reissue, and, in nearly every respect, this beats the original. While it is true that, if you own an original, you will have to adjust to the more there is there and greater dynamics, I think you will find it more than worth the "effort".

This re-issue is thicker sounding, and darker when you get to George's "Love To You", than the original and, at times, the bass does go deeper, but perhaps not better if you have full-range speakers [In fact, on my full-range speak system, the bass tends to overshadow the rest of the music.(Disengaging the Rel Sub-bass, something I never have to do, because it is properly set-up, does help.)]. I think Michael Fremer, over at Analog Planet, has a valid point to a point: Many listeners may likely prefer this version over the original Gramophone. But if you want an edgier, more psychedelic, version of an essentially edgy, psychedelic album (arguably the Beatles finest moment), and you own an audiophile system, you might want to find an original first lacquer version if you don't already own one. Frankly, this may be the exception to the admonition above about how hard it is to obtain first lacquers of the Beatles monos and to get them to play with a lack of surface noise (see second post on page 15 of the comments).

Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Better bass than the original vinyl issue, which shows how great Paul is with this instrument. A very full, lush sound throughout. The percussion is sonically correct. The vocal harmonies are very distinct (particularly "She's Leaving Home"). In fact, everything is more distinct than the mono CD, or my Japanese vinyl pressing, and overall, recognizing the differences and trade-offs involved, slightly better, to my ears, than the original mono pressing. They nailed this one! The debate between Peppers mono vs. Peppers stereo just got more interesting!

Magical Mystery Tour (MMT)
Here's where it gets complicated. No doubt exists, the reissue creams the Capitol Mono pressings from the 60's. But the real question is does the mono trump the German stereo pressings, which are considered to be the cream of all the different attempts at a stereo release. The mono, in the louder songs, can suffer from a bit of clutter, although less than you'd think, but more than in the mono Peppers ( Overall, the mono MMT does not sound as good as the mono Peppers.). The German stereo suffers from a tad of brightness in places.

But the larger issue is the matter of subjectivity, which people who review things, myself included, really don't spend enough time acknowledging. We all have our biases. Some can't stand Dylan's voice, others, at least up until the mid-80's, considered him to be one of the greatest singers. Who's right? Both! It's your ears. It's your listening experience. It's what pleases you the most that counts. Period. So, even if you say I think the mono Peppers is in every respect better than the stereo Peppers, but I have to hear "Day In The Life" in stereo, then that's your choice and that's right for you. That said, Peppers in mono is essential and you should experience both.

So, where does that leave us when it comes to MMT. The mono sounds wonderful, despite its flaws and tendency to sound muted. If you want to hear this album in mono, and especially if you don't own a German stereo copy, then I recommend purchasing this. If, after listening to this, you feel this betters whatever stereo copy you own, then you should consider forking over the money for the German stereo version, if this album matters a lot to you. If not, you can stop or still go the distance and get the German stereo pressing. If you are fortunate enough to own the German stereo pressing, this is so reasonably priced that you might considering this mono and do your own shoot-out.

The Beatles (AKA) The White Album
Here the various trade-offs become the greatest and the subjectivity factor becomes more pronounced. The mono reissue, particularly with the rockers, can, but not always, lack the energy (boogie) of the stereo pressings and, obviously, the stereo effects are completely lost (for instance the airplane engine sounds in "Back In The USSR"). How important is this to you is a question only each individual can answer; but the stereo effects issue is much more present with The Beatles than with Peppers.

True there exist quite a number of differences in instrumentation, vocals, harmonies, etc. between the mono and stereo, but, in a certain sense, that cuts both ways and it may be wrong to claim the mono is "right" and the stereo is "lesser". All they really are are different arrangements of the same songs. Like with Revolver, I found the bass, at times, to be overpowering for my full-range speaker system. The vocals, in many instances, are quite immediate and gorgeous, however. One can bring the discussion into areas of tonality, brightness, etc., but that might, at least in this instance, divert the listener away from the only question that matters: Which version do you enjoy most?

My personal choice here remains the same as five years ago when I wrote the CD box set review (however, with an addendum), but I will state it slightly differently: If I want to sit down and just enjoy the music, be enveloped by the experience and fall into the kaleidoscope of the sounds found on TWA, I will go with the stereo LP. On the other hand, if I want hear the music from a different angle, especially the vocals and some of the instruments, I will choose the mono LP, but only an original pressing (see addendum).

Addendum to TWA: Because I found the bass to be excessive in the reissue, I did the irresponsible :), and purchased an original mono pressing. While I did find the bass, on some songs, less than I would have liked, there were quite a number of other songs, like Bungalow Bill, where the bass was great and more would have been too much, which was the case with the reissue. What the original shares with the reissue is the beauty and immediacy of many of the vocals, particularly Paul's in his slower songs. I quite liked the original mono pressing and, in some respects, it provides a more musical listening experience than the original stereo. Like with Revolver, this may be the exception to the admonition above about how hard it is to obtain first lacquers of the Beatles monos and to get them to play with a lack of surface noise.**

Mono Masters
In a certain way, Mono Masters displays everything that was done right, I mean, really right, with these releases. The sound is wonderful throughout; which is no small feat given the need to mash together recordings from 1962-1970. Some will no doubt observe they could have put all this music on two LPs, and this is correct in fact but wrong in execution. A genius of Mono Masters, the thing that demonstrates these people knew exactly what they were doing and wanted to finally get this right, is the fact that there ARE six distinct, coherent LP sides. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, this is how albums were made. It's still the way an album should be made, but that's a different conversation.


The moment of clarity about these reissues occurred on the second night when I was listing to Rubber Soul. "I'm Looking Through You" had just ended and my brain was conditioned to hear the beginning of "In My Life". How many times have we experienced this transition? We know it, don't we? But still, I was stopped, dead in my tracks, by the breathtaking beauty of the first few guitar notes, followed by the muted guitar chords. This was stunning. This was unlike I had ever heard the beginning of this song before. THIS WAS WONDER! And this reminded me of what The Beatles brought to the table: They brought wonder into our lives. There is not a more consistently strong song catalog in pop music. They pushed the boundaries of the pop song farther, and quicker, than anybody before, or after. Led by The Beatles, all of a sudden, many of us wanted to go out and buy better audio equipment so we could hear this wonderful music better. During this period, culture was changed, mores were changed, the world was changed. And this music was both a significant part of the leading-edge, and the mirror, of all of that.

Time, and time again, while listening to these reissues I was struck by the wonder, the beauty, the visceral pleasure of what I was hearing in a way that none of the previous reissues has approached. Yes, we have every reason to be upset that it has taken this long to reach this point with the most important pop catalog of all time. I mean there is nothing new in what Berkowitz, Magee, Calbi and Optimal have done here that couldn't have been done five years ago. But that is really not a sound reason to deprive ourselves of what awaits with these reissues. This is especially true, given the fact that, for the most part, the differences between these reissues, and the originals, are so slight. This, in turn, makes point "c" above the most critical consideration in terms of whether or not to purchase. So, if you have the gear to render vinyl properly, and you don't own the originals, get in your Yellow Submarine and take the dive.

To Steve Berkowitz, Sean Magee, Greg Calbi, Optimal, Sir Paul, Ringo, the widow Yoko and the widow Olivia, thank you oh so much for finally delivering to us the treatment of this music these four young men so richly deserve and have been denied for far too long.

**  A true story:

As I was unsatisfied with the sound of the mono reissue of TWA, I waited until one came up on eBay, from a trusted seller, and bought it. It arrived this week. First, quick needle drop revealed considerable surface noise. Off to the cleaning table.

Step One: Two applications and rinse cycles of Isopropryl Alcohol. Result: better but still very noisy. A great deal of dirt on the white Orbitrac 2 pad (Which I have to use for this step because using a MoFi replacement pad, see below, is a bad idea due to the glue on the back side of pad and the use of alcohol.).
Step Two: (audible here usually don't do this one): Application of MoFi enzymatic cleaner.
Step Three: Two applications and rinse cycles of DiscDoctor Solution. This, and all cleaning cycles (except for the alcohol), is done by using the MoFi brush replacement pad attached to an Orbitrac 2 cartridge ( What the Orbitrac does, because the pad rotates in perfect alignment with the grooves, is it allows me to safely go back and forth, rotate forwards and backwards, so the MoFi bristles can really get into the recesses of the grooves to loosen and dig-out gunk.
Result after step three, much improved but still pretty noisy.
Step Four: Another application of MoFi enzymatic cleaner followed by a cleaning with the SpinClean system. Results after step four, near dead silence in the grooves throughout all four sides.

Time and time again, with old LPs, particularly the original Beatles mono pressings, this is what has been required to attain largely silent grooves on what appears, to the eye, to be a VG+ or NM offering. The experience today with TWA, and my other similar experiences, is the basis for point "C" at the top of my review. I would not, and have not, received similar results using only a system like a VPI. I haven't tried the new ultrasonic machine yet, however.

© Copyright James N. Perlman. 2014 All rights reserved.