Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beatles For Sale Remastered - Stereo Or Mono?

By Johnny Moon

The big debate in the world of The Beatles since the stereo and mono remastered box sets came out on September 9, 2009 is what's the better way to listen to The Beatles classic albums; stereo or mono?

In this article I take on this question for one particular album (1964's Beatles For Sale). I think it's good to take this question on an album by album basis because what's true for one may not be true for another.
In general I think the earlier albums work better in mono than the later albums (because their arrangements got more dense and there was less room for everything in just one channel).

With this specific album album I'm going to concentrate on the songs on the album that I most enjoy because you can pretty much take the things I'm saying about these songs and apply them to the rest anyway.

"No Reply" - With this song (and this is really the general rule for the stereo vs mono debate) the big difference is that the mono version has a certain "power" to it. It pushes forward more than the stereo mix. But on the other hand, the stereo version allows the listener to hear far more detail in the music. You can hear each element in the music more clearly. The big problem with a lot of the Beatles stereo mixes is awkward panning, this song doesn't really suffer from that problem (although the drums probably shouldn't be to the right as much as they are).

"I'm A Loser" - I quite like this stereo mix. The clarity is really astounding. It makes me feel like I'm in the middle of the room while they were recording the song. I can hear all of these great little guitar riffs. The vocals are right up the middle (this is important, as some of the big problems with some Beatles stereo mixes is the vocals being entirely on the left or right which can be very irritating to listen to on headphones).

"Baby's In Black" - I know some people believe that the only way to listen to The Beatles (at least the early Beatles anyway) is in mono. They believe because those mono mixes were the ones the band worked on so hard in the 1960s that they must be the ones we should listen to today. I disagree. I love clarity. I love being able to hear every detail. And the sometimes awkward panning doesn't bother me as much as it does for some people. I find it a bit charming actually. Anyway, this is another brilliant stereo mix. I'm not saying it doesn't sound great in mono too, but it's definitely worth a listen in stereo.

"I'll Follow The Sun" - The vocals in the stereo mix are like butter. I would definitely pick the stereo mix on this song if I had to choose just one.

"Every Little Thing" - This is one where the stereo panning may hurt it. The timpani has more power in the mono version and the panned reverb on the vocal (in the right channel) is a bit distracting. I still like the stereo version but I think the mono mix may be superior for this song.

"I Don't Want To Spoil The Party" - My favorite thing about the stereo mix is the clarity of the guitar part in the right channel. This is a part that sounds a bit buried in the mono version on comparison. Although I can also hear the argument that this guitar part may actually be somewhat distracting to the overall flow of the song by being a bit more obtrusive in the stereo mix.

What it really comes down to is the answer of both. Both the stereo and mono mixes sound great and they both have their own charms. Although I must say if I could choose only one, I'd probably go with the stereo mix because I'm lover of detail and I definitely feel that the details of the music are much more clear in the stereo versions.

The stereo version of Beatles For Sale Remastered is available both as a part of The Beatles in Stereo and for individual purchase. The mono version is only available in The Beatles in Mono. Both remastered box sets are lovely because both the stereo and mono mixes have their own charms.

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