The Beatles In Mono
On September 9, 2009, Apple (via Parlophone and Capitol) released two new compilations of Beatles music: one in mono and one in stereo. The Beatles in Mono is a thirteen disc set of remastered, true monaural recordings of every Beatles studio album as released in the UK, except for Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, and Let it Be!, which had no true mono mixes. (The mono version of Yellow Submarine was a "fold-down" from the stereo mix.) The structure is one disc per album except for two for The Beatles and two for the Mono Masters compilation. The remastering was accomplished by EMI engineers, using the latest in sound technology. As a result, the CD's in this set have the clearest and most coherent sound reproduction of any Beatles' release in monaural format.
The collection has two bonus features: the original stereo mixes of Help! and Rubber Soul. The Mono Masters set of two disc is a collection of all the singles (both sides) and EP's that never found their way into a studio album.
Younger fans may wonder why the monaural catalogue of the Beatles was considered to be so important. When the Beatles started their rise to fame, stereo was still in an experimental stage. Mono was the standard. The first nine of the Beatles' original studio albums, all of the 45 rpm singles and all of the British EP's were first produced in mono. The studio recordings were made on equipment with two, four or eight tracks, which were reduced or "mixed down" to a single track, occupied by all the various elements of the recording, balanced and adjusted one to the other. In the earlier period, the Beatles themselves wanted to watch over the mixing process, to be sure the blend was correct. Stereo mixes were also made of most of the studio albums (and few of the singles and EP's). However, the stereo mixes were not considered crucial, and the Beatles rarely paid much attention to them. By the time the last three studio albums were produced, stereo had become dominant, and no mono mixes were even produced. In a transitional period, "duophonic" sound was developed, often referred to as "fake stereo." The mono mix would be processed electronically to create two tracks (a "right" and a "left"), with slightly different acoustical properties, creating the impression of a stereo recording out of a single mono mix. This was a "patch" and did not long survive as a standard. With the advent of digital and optical (CD) recordings, the "mono v. stereo" debate ended, as all CD's were produced in stereo with the exception of archival discs, like this set of The Beatles in Mono.
A telling comment of George Harrison has come down to us: "When they invented stereo, I remember thinking 'Why? What do you want two speakers for?', because it ruined the sound . . . we had everything coming out of one speaker; now it had to come out of two speakers. It sounded . . . very . . . naked."
The demand for The Beatles in Mono surprised the record distributors. Even though it was a "limited edition," they had to press many more sets than the 10,000 originally contemplated.