Pop review: Sgt. Pepper - in mono, on vinyl 2014!

If you follow this blog and - particularly - my new Glass Onion Beatles Journal, you know I'm nuts about the Fab Four. Yet, I've refrained from spending a car payment on the new box set collecting the band's mono recordings on vinyl LPs.

It's not because I don't want these LPs. I'd just rather get them one at a time. It's easier on the pocketbook in the short-term, plus individual LPs are easier to pull off a shelf when you want them. I suppose I could just shelve them without the box. But then I'd have a big empty box sitting around.

But, anyway: Mono - how come?

Beatles collectors will tell you there are substantial differences between the albums mixed in mono and their stereo counterparts. It's not known if normal people can detect these differences, but they do exist.

Sometimes there are variations in how the vocals sound, or when songs end, different guitar solos, etc.

There also are quite noticeable difference in songs off Sgt. Pepper and the "White Album" that contains animal noises and other sound effects.

The mono version of "Back in the U.S.S.R.," for example, features more use of the jet plane sound effect than in the stereo version. On the mono "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" there's talking at the start of the track and more hooping and hollering by Paul before the fade into "A Day in the Life."

Mono partisans also talk a lot about how those versions sound "punchier," more direct, with richer bass, more prominent drums, etc., than the stereo mixes. And, depending on the songs in question, I think that's true.

And, finally, some fans make a fairly convincing case that the mono mixes are truer to the Beatles' intentions, since the band tended to invest their time on these mixes while leaving the stereo mixes to producer George Martin and his recording engineers.  This was mainly due to the fact that, up until the late 1960s, most listeners listened in mono.

So, yes, mono. But weren't all those mixes already released several years back on CD?

Yes, they were. And they sound great. But these new LPs still hold allure. For starters, they were mastered direct from tape - all in analog with no digital fiddling. They are closer to the sound of the records that came out in the 1960s, but on better vinyl and with more fastidious mastering.

I went with Sgt. Pepper as my admittedly unoriginal first choice mainly because I love the mono mix, which is quite different from the stereo and figured it would be a good test for how well EMI/Apple did with these new LPs.
The answer, in short, is "fantastic."

The pressing is immaculate, with no surface noise, and the 180-gram vinyl is sturdy and flawless.

The music sound great, too. There's a very natural sound to the instruments and, especially, the vocals. You can hear lots of detail and nuance. There's great clarity, but without the dry, sometimes sterile, sound you sometimes hear on CDs.

The packaging is also notable. The famous cover is printed on durable, glossy stock. The paper cut-outs of Sgt. Pepper, etc., are printed on heavy card stock in vivid, faithful color.

EMI even tossed in a replica of the original inner sleeve, featuring a wavy pink psychedelic design created by the Dutch collective, the Fool. The actual LP, however, is in a new plastic-lined paper sleeve to protect it from scratches.

From this LP at least, it looks like Apple/EMI did everything just right. Which makes me wanted to hear more of these things soon.