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The Beatles / Superb Mono vinyl box is set to deliver the goods

Just listened to some Beatles mono vinyl here.

A visit to Abbey Road studios on Wednesday this week for an early listen to (and look at) The Beatles in Mono vinyl box set has this writer convinced that this set really is about as good as it’s going to get when it comes to recreating the sound and the feeling of purchasing an original mono pressing back in the 1960s.

In studio 3, remastering engineer Sean Magee was on hand to answer questions and the remastering supervisor in this process, Steve Berkowitz, was also there to not only tell us all about how the work was carried out, but also to drop the needle on the record of the new mono albums.

Inevitably, some great nuggets of information came out in this one hour session, and here’s some highlights:

• Checking and validating source material
In a true labour of love exercise, Sean and Steve took the original mono vinyl, then located the exact tape used to cut that vinyl (from numbers and writings on the runout groove) and digitised both. They then compared the original vinyl digital with the original tape digital AND the 2009 mono digital used for the Mono CD box. Only when they were 100% happy did they go back to the original tape and cut the vinyl straight from the analogue tape.

Tape head angle
According to Steve there is about 11 possible differences in terms of kit and environment when playing back an original mono tape on the tape machines available today. These all have to be managed but the angle of the tape head that the tape runs over is one of the most critical. It can dramatically affect the sound. By a combination of referring to original cutting notes and the trial and error comparison process described above, the team worked out the optimum angle for the tape head for each song. Sean Magee would have to manually adjust the angle of the tape head in the 2-3 second gap between songs on the fly during the cutting process. This was achieved by Abbey Road engineers creating a mechanism to allow Magee to make small adjustments while the tape was running. If there were any mistakes they’d have to start the whole process again.

Sgt Pepper flat transfer
All the original cutting notes were available help Steve and Sean recreate a 2014 mono vinyl pressing that matches as closely as possible the sound on the original pressings. These notes include details about lathe and EQ settings. Steve Berkowitz revealed that some albums had instructions not to adjust EQ at all. The notes for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band simply read “please cut flat”. So with that album you really are getting exactly what was on the original tape.

McIntosh system
The playback of the vinyl records in Abbey Road studio 3 wasn’t on a studio system but rather a home system, albeit it VERY high end. The McIntosh set-up apparently costs (gulp) $84,000 – see photo below.

mcintosh

The new mono vinyl played on this system

• Amazing packaging
The Beatles in Mono vinyl box looks great. It’s white (rather than black) and like the CD mono box, the records within replicate the original vinyl in every detail; flaps are outside at the rear, covers are glossy, but rear panel is not, Sgt Pepper includes ‘The Fool’ psychedelic inner sleeve as well as a poly-lined one, The White Album is numbered, has slots at the top and of course contains the poster and the photos and so on. The white hardcover book is also very well designed with some amazing photography evoking the period perfectly.


Inevitably, these new analogue mastered mono records sounded incredible. Admittedly, we were in Abbey Road, listening to The Beatles in Mono, in Studio 3, on an amazing bit of kit (it doesn’t get much better), but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that £300 for this vinyl set is money well spent. Not only are you hearing the records as they ought to be heard, but the educational value of talking about the LPs to your kids and showing them the artwork and liner notes, in full size album form, is priceless. In the 1970s I had this experience myself thanks to having access to my Dad’s original monos bought in the 1960s. A lifelong love of the Fab Four was the result. Unlike the CD box, these records are also available separately, so for little over £20 you can pick up a brand new Sgt Pepper mono vinyl. What’s not to like?

The Beatles in Mono vinyl box set and individual albums are issued on 8 September 2014. More details here.


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Mono 14LP vinyl box set with book


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30 responses to The Beatles / Superb Mono vinyl box is set to deliver the goods

  1. Grant says:

    Thank you Paul great insight! Keel up the good work! Any news on the Paul mccartney Venus and mars deluxe?

  2. Tim says:

    THAT STEREO….I mean WOWSERS!!!!!

  3. Richie says:

    Hi Paul, Thanks for that report, I`ve already ordered it and await it`s arrival with high expectations after the stereo vinyl edition, which were very good aurally, once you managed to obtain discs that were not warped!
    When is the competition opening for that McIntosh system?

  4. Jeremy says:

    What are the inner sleeves like for the other LPs in the box set? Are they plain white sleeves, or reproductions of the original Polythene-lined (and/or rice paper) “Use Emitex” die-cut sleeve?

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      The latter.

    • Laszlo says:

      The inner sleeves are polythene-lined but not die-cut and just plain white, no “Use Emitex” on the 1st 6 albums. Little disappointing, strange that they made it into the mono cd paper sleeve cd box in 2009 but not into this otherwise geourgous set.

  5. Marshall Gooch says:

    Nice report. Can’t wait to get mine! BTW, I’ve seen that Amazon Canada has one of the lowest prices going (at least for US folks).

  6. David Olstein says:

    It looks like they’ve done everything right with the mono albums, with the possible exception of not using tube equipment. Perhaps they’ll go back and do the stereo LPs again, this time with all analog transfers. And how about reissuing the original stereo mixes of Help! and Rubber Soul on vinyl?

  7. Stefano says:

    Great review.
    That tape head angle is so critical, nice to see that I’m not the only one who’s ‘worrying’ about that. In the days of cassettes, the tape head angle was the main reason tapes did or didn’t sound crispy clear, especially when you played tapes recorded on other decks or vice versa.

  8. ken says:

    Can’t wait to see what The Rutles come up with!

  9. Roddy says:

    For me personally there are too many variables with vinyl, from the production to retail route and beyond that can adversely affect the sound.

    I will happily stick with the mono CD box. I am a lot more comfortable with the ease of use, reliability and portability of high-res digital audio.

  10. James Pigg says:

    I am totally with Roddy on this one. Vinyl is so high maintenance. Would love to know Paul’s view on how the vinyl compared to the CD in terms of sound.

  11. Julian Hancock says:

    In fairness, whilst I expect they are marvellous, I would expect them to sound good on an 80k set-up. The irony is that when first released most people played them on a dansette or something similar

  12. Mike F says:

    Good point, Julian. And weren’t they mixed/mastered with this in mind too?

  13. Fat Old Bloke says:

    I’d love these on BluRay Audio in high res

  14. mike A says:

    Wonderful, BUT surely the pics showing taht each Lp has a small white border around on the front is wrong! Look at With The Beatles especially! This surely is not how the final version will look? Surely they could not do everything so well and then leave this error?

  15. Phil Lloyd says:

    I was speaking with a mate this morning who has a complete set of original mono pressings. Just by chance, he had recently played ‘The White Album’ and couldn’t believe the lack of any real bottom or top end. As a previous contributor has already stated, they were mixed and cut for Dansettes or for what my mum and dad called ‘The Radiogram’.

    It really is a piss-take to preview the new cuts on a high-end system like that. If these new versions are genuinely the same as their original siblings, be careful what you wish for. Unless of course, you are happy to add your own EQ : If so, what’s the point when you already have fantastic sounding mono CD’s?

  16. Jack says:

    Mono…really? I mean really people. When I had no money and these were released I was forced to buy them in mono. Anyone with the stereo versions knew they sounded a lot better. When I was older and had money I purchased the original vinyls from Japan in STEREO and they are still the gold standard. To get excited about the inferior mono versions is just mind numbing. What next…all them released on 8 track tapes in mono?

    • Kevin says:

      The reason for the hubub about the mono albums is that all of the Beatles albums through the White Album were primarily mixed for mono (Abbey Road was the band’s first album to be mixed in stereo only); stereo was essentially an afterthought. For example, the mono mixing sessions for Sgt. Pepper took two weeks; the stereo mixing sessions, for which none of the Beatles were present (if I’m not mistaken) took three days.

      There are also numerous documented differences between the mono and stereo mixes of those albums; the mono and stereo versions of the albums are thus not necessarily otherwise identical.

    • shekespeare says:

      I think someone are jealous.

  17. Stocaks says:

    if you want to save some money, amazon Italy is selling on preorder this highly awaited box set at 299€ (that is about 240£).
    actually this is, shipping excluded, the lowest price i’ve found so far.

  18. Mark Phillips says:

    Jack, I’m guessing that you’ve clearly never heard Sgt. Pepper’s in mono before.

    It’s very different. Well I say very… to me there are 2 things that jump out when I hear the mono mix, after growing up hearing nothing but the stereo version for 20 years. (I got it as a 13th birthday present back in ’76)

    First the overall sound is harder, more driving than the stereo version. Second there are loads of overdubs that simply are not on the stereo mix. They were added onto the mono master and can’t be separated out to place in the stereo mix. There are lots of twiddly distorted blasts of guitar that are simply missing from the stereo mix.

    In short it just sounds better. It’s not like taking the stereo mix and turning it to mono. The same applies to Rubber Soul and to a lesser extent Revolver.

    There’s a reason why the first four Beatles CDs were originally released in mono only. Please take a listen to the mono Pepper’s and report back. I hope you’ll clearly hear the difference – the more you know the stereo mix the more the mono jumps out at you!

  19. Rod Jacobs says:

    Greetings. I was working in a record shop(in Australia) when the Beatles White Album was released and I can’t begin to remember how many copies were returned because they jumped on side 3 (“Birthday”), because it was way too dynamic for the average “portable picnic player”.I seem to remember that after a while it may have been recut (dumbed down) for the lowest common denominator. From that point on anyone with a half decent record player had to find an (illegal) imported copy.

  20. Pingback:Submit a Beatles in Mono vinyl box question to the Abbey Road team | superdeluxeedition

  21. nick says:

    Picked up The Beatles and MMT at Amoeba, and they gave out a free powder blue T emblazoned with “The Beatles In Mono” and the Apple logo which was very cool indeed.

  22. Paul Gordon says:

    I’m looking forward to the new mono vinyl box set. I have an assortment of U.S. original vinyl both mono and stereo,. and also a Parlophone UK mono edition of Rubber Soul. I also have the collection of Vinyl released in the 80s when they did there first digital restoration. I also have three or 4 of the 180 gram LPs taken from the 2009 digital master, along with the flash drive of the entire set in stereo. I like the new vinyl, taken from the digital remaster, the best of all.
    One of my tables is a Technics 1200 with interchangeable headshells, so I’m able to switch from a grado mono catridige, to a stereo Ortofon depending on what I’m playing; I just need to adjust the tracking force a few grams this way or that.
    The Beatles mono recordings I have, mostly all American releases, sound a lot more cohesive with the mono catridge. A lot less noise, a lot more music. Same with the British parlophone, although this one, due to it’s age and much usage, has a lot of surface noise.
    I hope the new mono ones sound at least as good as the 2009 digital remaster vinyl. I will see.

  23. Don Page says:

    I ordered The New Mono Vinyl Remastered Beatles Box Set from Amazon. When I opened the outer brown box, the white box was not sealed. Is this suppose to be sealed like the Stereo box Set?
    I am a collector and being sealed is very important to me. Please inform me.

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