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All you need is one channel ... waah-wa-wa-wa-waaaaaah
August 29, 2009 11:55 PM   Subscribe

You'd be forgiven for rolling your eyes as soon as you hear about yet another Beatles box set reissue whatever, but the upcoming release of practically their entire catalog in the original MONO MIXES is certainly cause for genuine celebration for anyone who cares to hear the Beatles' music in the audio format that they themselves signed off on. Once we hear for ourselves, come September 9, we'll see if we agree with producer George Martin: "You've never really heard Sgt Pepper until you've heard it in mono."
posted by flapjax at midnite (149 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I reckon the 9/9/09 release date is some kind of nod to Lennon's "number nine... number nine... number nine"?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:58 PM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's Beatles weekend of BBC Radio 2.
posted by the cuban at 12:02 AM on August 30, 2009


That Gizmodo guy sure likes to talk about himself.
posted by bardic at 12:07 AM on August 30, 2009


I reckon the 9/9/09 release date is some kind of nod to Lennon's "number nine... number nine... number nine"?

Bingo. Clever, aren't they? Noted that Beatles: Rock Band also comes out on the notoriously numbered date.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:09 AM on August 30, 2009


I've had mono copies of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's for years and I can attest that they're much much better than the stereo mixes. The dynamic experimental sound of these albums is simply not there on the stereo mixes. I'm thrilled they're finally giving these a proper reissue, can't wait to hear the original mono versions of Rubber Soul and the White album. Not sure how much this will change the sound of some of the early stuff, but maybe that'll be a pleasant surprise. The stereo-ized versions have done these records a great disservice.
posted by Locobot at 12:17 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I reckon the 9/9/09 release date is some kind of nod

It's also stupidly easy to remember. Think Dreamcast coming out on 9/9/99.
posted by America at 12:17 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, but that's ridiculous! How could the original sound any better than it would when artifically separated into two channels chosen arbitrarily for absolutely no apparent reason at all?
posted by koeselitz at 12:33 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Honest question: what value do original mono mixes of classic records have for those of us that aren't audipohiles or completists?

It seems like a limitation that one would want to overcome, as opposed to something like colorization or Lucas taking silly CGI liberties with the original Star Wars trilogy.

I ask this question not as a statement but because I'm genuinely interested in what the appeal is.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:39 AM on August 30, 2009


You're still here? It's over! Go home! Go!
posted by Evilspork at 12:48 AM on August 30, 2009


There's mono, then there's the one track mind. Paul telling a dirty joke.
posted by nickyskye at 1:05 AM on August 30, 2009


Senor Cardgage: think the issue is that the songs were originally recorded in Mono, so to get stereo they just split things up kind of randomly. But, you would think they would have the original separate vocal and instrument tracks to make the stereo mixes. Hmm.
posted by delmoi at 1:15 AM on August 30, 2009


Senor Cardgage: Honest question: what value do original mono mixes of classic records have for those of us that aren't audipohiles or completists?

It seems like a limitation that one would want to overcome, as opposed to something like colorization or Lucas taking silly CGI liberties with the original Star Wars trilogy.

I ask this question not as a statement but because I'm genuinely interested in what the appeal is.


I'm an audiophile, but please take my answer seriously:

There is no limitation to be overcome.

Really and truly, it's important enough for me to say it again:

There is no limitation to be overcome.

Stereo—the forced separation of sound into two channels rather than one—was, is, and evermore shall be a marketing ploy that adds absolutely nothing to the music and quite frequently detracts from it because it's so artificial. It succeeds as a marketing ploy because it's intuitive, but think about it for a moment, really think about it: why would having two channels be superior to having one? Because we have two ears? On that logic, shouldn't art look better through a stereoscope?

Many times stereo mixes are inferior because the engineer has to artificially force the sounds from different instruments onto one side of the mix or the other. I've heard 'remastered' jazz recordings that sounded completely atrocious because that's just not possible: in a little room with a bass, a piano, some drums and a saxophone, you can hear the sax bouncing off the piano, the piano bouncing off of the drums, and so on; separating all of that out is just a pointless exercise. But in the fifties and sixties when 'STEREO!' was a big (pointless) selling point for record manufacturers, the marketing guys often demanded it; and even now they tend to like it a lot.
posted by koeselitz at 1:15 AM on August 30, 2009 [17 favorites]


...what value do original mono mixes of classic records have for those of us that aren't audipohiles or completists?

I'd say that remains to be seen, or, more correctly, heard, once these are available. But I would emphatically say that you don't need to be an audiophile to enjoy the sonic character these mono mixes are purported to have. I'm thinking especially of the extra oomph of the electric bass (as mentioned in one of the linked articles) and I'd imagine, of the drums as well. Apparently there's a visceral power there that the stereo mixes we're familiar with do not possess. That kind of thing you can feel, and may well increase your enjoyment of music that you've been listening to for years but haven't heard in this way.

And consider that there were some really wacky stereo panning choices on so many Beatles releases... hard panning of bass, vocal, drums, whatever, to one channel, for example. Those can be kind of fun, sometimes, but there's a reason bass is very, very rarely hard panned: you lose that punch, that oomph: bass is virtually always right down the middle in a stereo mix.

Anyway, I myself am really, really curious to hear these mixes (got my order in already), and although I have a great interest in audio and production, I'm not an audiophile, exactly.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:20 AM on August 30, 2009


On that logic, shouldn't art look better through a stereoscope?

Of course it would, and it does. Now, if you're talking about 2D paintings, that doesn't really make much sense, because the paintings weren't done in 3D to begin with. But monophonic recordings were made from sounds that would have been in stereo if you were there to hear it yourself.

Look at how much effort people have put into making stereoscopic and holographic images. The technological hurdles have been immense but people have been trying forever, from those stereographic soon after photography was invented, to laser holograms, to red/blue glasses to the polarized glasses used today people generally prefer sterioscopic images to flat ones. But they're such a hassle to use. In the future, when we all have holographic displays, it's likely most artwork will be 3D. We'll probably see old movies made into stereo films

And anyway, stereo sound does sound better then mono. If the separation is bad, then it will sound bad, of course.
posted by delmoi at 1:26 AM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


All you need is one channel ... waah-wa-wa-wa-waaaaah and good mono gear ftfy.

In the late 1960s, I worked summers at a place in Kansas City called David Beatty Stereo and Hi-Fi (in Westport, now long closed). This was a high end audio dealer, who sold some of the biggest, most technologically advanced sound systems offered at that time. And in respect of the "and Hi-Fi" part of the name, we had a "Hi-Fi" room, which was all mono gear, because some of our long time customers from the early 50s still preferred to buy and listen to mono recordings and program material, on mono systems. And these were doctors, dentists, lawyers and other folks with the coin to buy any kind of sound gear they wanted.

I started there thinking these mono folks were old fogeys, who David was just catering to, as thanks to old customers for the time when they were helping him start his business. But, as I listened to a lot of different versions of vinyl records in their mono and stereo versions, on equipment suitable for their playback, I realized that the mono versions generally were 3 to 6 db "hotter" than their stereo versions, and that there was just a lot more bass and mid-range coming out of the mono systems, adjusted for equivalent volume, than there was coming out of the stereo versions. The stereo versions seemed to have a steeper than RIAA equalization applied, to preserve more of the high frequency sound, as a means of emphasizing their "stereo" effects, particularly after the wear of a number of playings. And the mono records, played with good mono phono cartridges, had noticeably smoother and crisper high frequency sounds, like cymbals, top end piano notes, and violins, than their stereo versions.

The mono records, in contrast to their stereo siblings, were more musical. But by 1970, due to consumer demand, you played hell getting mono LP records, for most kinds of music, anymore.
posted by paulsc at 1:34 AM on August 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


Beatles music in its early stereo separation sounds very thin through my iPod earbuds, or even with better earphones. And if and when one bud pops out or gets disabled somehow, hearing two instruments but no vocal, or just the harmony and drums but no guitar or lead voice, is both bizarre and unsatisfying. Later stereo separations must not be so radical, since if necessary I can listen to most songs with just one ear and seemingly not miss nearly as much.
posted by Rain Man at 2:06 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's to do with The Stereo Pan Law... Separating channels alters their perceived volume, which then needs to be remixed to regain a musical balance. Even if that's done well, it will never be the same as the Mono mix that the artists and producer originally created.
posted by benzo8 at 2:27 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I reckon the 9/9/09 release date is some kind of nod

It's also stupidly easy to remember. Think Dreamcast coming out on 9/9/99.


I forgot about that...
posted by fairmettle at 2:57 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: "There is no limitation to be overcome.

Stereo—the forced separation of sound into two channels rather than one—was, is, and evermore shall be a marketing ploy that adds absolutely nothing to the music and quite frequently detracts from it because it's so artificial. It succeeds as a marketing ploy because it's intuitive, but think about it for a moment, really think about it: why would having two channels be superior to having one? Because we have two ears?
"

This is, of course, total rubbish.

Stereo, while an artificial construct, is designed to solve a real-world construct - that when you listen to music performed live by a band, the music does not emanate from a single point. It's actually got nothing to do with representing your two ears, and everything to do with the fact that a band produces its music from a spread across a stage.

Stereo separation is very real IRL. It's eminently perceivable, it allows the band an amount of leeway in choosing their sounds (sounds in different parts of the stereo field can share frequencies more readily than sounds coming from the same point, which will interfere with each other), and it enables mixing which isn't possible in mono due to psychoacoustic masking.

Of course, saying that two speakers are inherently better than one is missing the point that two speakers is still a simulacrum of reality, and really, you need as many speakers as there were original sound sources, placed where they would originally have been placed in the recording. But at least you can simulate that with stereo - you can't with mono.
posted by benzo8 at 3:05 AM on August 30, 2009 [24 favorites]


benzo8:

Of course, saying that two speakers are inherently better than one is missing the point that two speakers is still a simulacrum of reality, and really, you need as many speakers as there were original sound sources, placed where they would originally have been placed in the recording. But at least you can simulate that with stereo - you can't with mono.

However, this elides a salient point, which is that the studio is not "the real world" and that a recording is not necessarily intended to exactly and accurately represent a live performance. If one entertains the idea that the Beatles (and George Martin, and the various engineers etc they worked with) knew the potential and limitations of the equipment with which they were working, they would as a matter of course work to maximize the potential and minimize the limitations while they recorded. Which is to say the the Beatles recorded is not the same as the Beatles live, even when they were still playing live. They are two different constructs, as it were.

Personally speaking, I find a lot of early stereo works deeply annoying; arbitrarily placing particular instruments only in one channel with other instruments (or voices) are only in another, as was often done, isn't actually stereo, it's dual mono, and it's an alien way to listen to things. In those case an excellent mono mix is rather closer to the "reality" of listening to music with both your ears (and all of your brain).
posted by jscalzi at 3:45 AM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


jscalzi Of course. And if you look at my earlier answer in the thread, you'll see why I defended this mono release as being more accurate to the vision that Martin and the Beatles will have had in the studio.

Of course stereo can be used as an effect, creating situations which aren't analogous to real-world situations. But to do that, you need to understand why it's a valid recording technique in its own right - before you can start to try and trick the ears into hearing something which is unexpected or unreal.
posted by benzo8 at 3:51 AM on August 30, 2009


Can't help thinking that this is all part of the rather cynical marketing strategy that still operates vis a vis the Fab Four. In the UK most of their albums are still sold at full whack and discounting on Beatles CDs is a pretty rare occurrence (don't know about the rest of the world). So.....they've milked the catalogue for all they can get and now that CD sales are beginning to flag, lo and behold here's a bunch of "remasters" for you. Why have they waited so looooooong to put out these polished-up versions when every other '60's band of note has had the treatment years ago? That's easy. So you spend full whack (again) and records you've already got (at least twice - vinyl and then the first generation CDs). Bit of a mug's game if you ask me. The original records were made on primitive equipment - in technical terms there's only so far you can go with shining things up that, basically, are pretty rough to start with. The songs are timeless classics - and a bit of polish on the original recordings ain't gonna make any material difference to that - it is, metaphorically, attempting to gild the lily.

I'm not - btw - slagging the Beatles (who I've loved since I was a toddler) or George Martin (who I greatly respect). I am, however, unconvinced about the genuine worth of these remasters (technically and musically), and I find the cynicism behind the release of them pretty hard to stomach. I will not be buying any of them. As John Lydon once said apropos the Sex Pistols - "Ever had the feeling you've been cheated?"
posted by MajorDundee at 3:54 AM on August 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Stereo—the forced separation of sound into two channels rather than one—was, is, and evermore shall be a marketing ploy that adds absolutely nothing to the music and quite frequently detracts from it because it's so artificial. It succeeds as a marketing ploy because it's intuitive, but think about it for a moment, really think about it: why would having two channels be superior to having one? Because we have two ears?

As someone who's been hearing everything in mono all of my life, this pleases me. Now if I could find earbuds that play both channels of stereo in one ear, I would be even more happy. Anyone know of such a thing?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:05 AM on August 30, 2009


Stereo separation is very real IRL. It's eminently perceivable...

To you, you stereoist.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:07 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kirth Gerson: "Stereo separation is very real IRL. It's eminently perceivable...

To you, you stereoist.
"

If you're deaf in one ear, you can partially reproduce the effect of stereo by spinning round very quickly while moving forwards and backwards at the same frequency to overcome the doppler shift...
posted by benzo8 at 4:14 AM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


There are plenty of mono versions of Beatles albums floating around on the web so it's quite easy to download a mono track or two and then compare them to the stereo versions to recognize the differences. I'm currently listing to both mono and stereo versions of a few Sgt Pepper tracks and absolutely prefer the mono versions. It's a very full sound coming right at you whereas when listening to the stereo versions (I'm currently listening with headphones), you can't help wondering why they decided to place this guitar phrase in the left channel, this vocal part in the right channel, etc. It actually becomes very annoying after a while because you get the feeling someone has sliced up the music the way they want you to hear it rather than just letting you listen to it as is.

I believe I've read interviews where the Beatles have said they always attended and oversaw the mono mixing of their albums but when it came to the stereo mixes they left the studio and basically just let the engineers to do what they like.
posted by gfrobe at 4:32 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


... and at double the Nyquist rate, just to be sure ...
posted by kcds at 4:34 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


As John Lydon once said apropos the Sex Pistols - "Ever had the feeling you've been cheated?"

And then went on to do "The Filthy Lucre" tour a few years later! Ol' John, he's the original Mister Cynical Music Biz Guy, he is!

As far as whether Apple is particularly cynical, I dunno... I guess at the end of the day they're basically just really savvy businesspeople. But at any rate, characterizing these mono versions as "a bit of polish on the original recordings" is not an accurate description of what's going on this time around.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:35 AM on August 30, 2009


(That was in response to benzo8's last suggestion for Kirth)
posted by kcds at 4:35 AM on August 30, 2009


The issue is that when the records, particularly St. Pepper, were recorded and mixed the boys and George Martin were there, and the mono recording reflects what they heard and wanted to hear. The stereo mix was produced some time later, and they weren't even in the room. It was handled by unrelated technicians. Apparently the difference is dramatic, to the point where entire vocal and instrumental parts appear and disappear, depending on which mix you hear.

I'll probably get it.
posted by dirtdirt at 4:35 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a cold shower: the set costs 200 pounds (about 330 US dollars). I think I'll wait for individual disc releases. I like the Beatles, but not "25 bucks a disc" like them.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:50 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think I'll wait for individual disc releases.

I wonder... some Japanese sites that my wife was reading indicated that the mono reissues will be sold as the box set only, and not individually. Don't know if that's true across the globe, though.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:53 AM on August 30, 2009


I won't be hearing these at all then. Not legally, anyway.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:56 AM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm still unconvinced FJX - I'll be amazed if the aural difference amounts to more than the fourth decimal place of sweet fuck all. And at £10 a pop that ain't cheap. But - you never know I suppose and I'll be the first to delightedly admit I'm wrong!
posted by MajorDundee at 5:00 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd always assumed that the annoying stereo mixes on Beatles albums were just one more experimental recording tactic by the boys and George Martin themselves. I'd figured that we just forgave them the ham-fistedness of it since, y'know, they're the Beatles and they did everything else so well.
posted by HeroZero at 5:08 AM on August 30, 2009


I think I'll wait for individual disc releases.

When Ringo passes this earthly coil, I expect a "Shining Starr: Just Drums & Occasional Vocals" box set forthwith.
Buy now and get bonus CD "Best of Best"
posted by hal9k at 5:12 AM on August 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Already heard them in mono. I grew up listening to an AM transistor radio.
posted by surplus at 5:18 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm still unconvinced FJX

Dundee, just wanna say that I'm digging the FJX abbreviation, first time I've seen that one. I feel like an airport!

I expect a "Shining Starr: Just Drums & Occasional Vocals" box set forthwith.

I would KILL for such a set. All Ringo's drum parts, just soloed... that would be totally kickass.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:19 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hey audiophiles and monoists - what about the approach Cowboy Junkies took with The Trinity Session? They recorded live in a church to a single stereo microphone, and experimented with physical placement of instruments, amps and PA for the vocals until they got what they liked. Does that sound like a more natural recording environment that uses stereo the way our ears work? I've always wanted to record something that way, now if only I had a band and some songs...

Anyhow, music released recently doesn't generally have Esquivel-style stereo separation with stuff panned hard right and left or jumping across the stereo field. The artists, if they're involved in the mixing and mastering at all, are working in stereo. And since it's mostly on CD or digital download there's no RIAA curve to worry about - so I don't know if the criticisms of stereo versus mono still apply.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:26 AM on August 30, 2009


I would KILL for such a set. All Ringo's drum parts, just soloed... that would be totally kickass.

Oh, absolutely. Ringo's drumming is genius.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:30 AM on August 30, 2009


Looking forward to the disc releases...I've been listening to a lot of the Beatles, mostly on headphones at work, and the early stuff (which I'm not as familiar with, having grown up with mostly the White Album as my major exposure to Beatles music) is particularly tough listening in the stereo mix...it's like somebody just popped tracks onto one side or the other without particular regard to the logic of a fake recording space or even bothering to hear how it sounded.
posted by graymouser at 5:31 AM on August 30, 2009


fleetmouse: "Hey audiophiles and monoists - what about the approach Cowboy Junkies took with The Trinity Session? They recorded live in a church to a single stereo microphone, and experimented with physical placement of instruments, amps and PA for the vocals until they got what they liked. Does that sound like a more natural recording environment that uses stereo the way our ears work?"

If you use a Binaural Recording technique then yes, with some pre-planning, this will record a sound closest to that which our ears would hear.

The problem comes with reproduction - in order for the stereo signal to be heard in the same way as the binaural microphone heard it, you need to be the same distance from the focal point of the stereo field that the microphone was from the sound source... And the sound source was a spread field. So it's hard to achieve!

Listening on headphones to a binaural recording can be quite enlightening though. But it's not accurate. Just, um, different.
posted by benzo8 at 5:40 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a Zoom handheld field recorder that records in stereo... listening back on headphones, it does give an impression of being there, but in a cartoonish way, almost like a hologram.

But that's not a binaural recording with the mics positioned like ears. I've been meaning to modify a pair of portable headphones with condenser mics to do proper binaural recording.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:46 AM on August 30, 2009


benzo8: This is, of course, total rubbish.

Stereo, while an artificial construct, is designed to solve a real-world construct - that when you listen to music performed live by a band, the music does not emanate from a single point. It's actually got nothing to do with representing your two ears, and everything to do with the fact that a band produces its music from a spread across a stage.

Stereo separation is very real IRL. It's eminently perceivable, it allows the band an amount of leeway in choosing their sounds (sounds in different parts of the stereo field can share frequencies more readily than sounds coming from the same point, which will interfere with each other), and it enables mixing which isn't possible in mono due to psychoacoustic masking.

Of course, saying that two speakers are inherently better than one is missing the point that two speakers is still a simulacrum of reality, and really, you need as many speakers as there were original sound sources, placed where they would originally have been placed in the recording. But at least you can simulate that with stereo - you can't with mono.


First of all, yes, I agree that stereo recording has the potential to achieve more 'breadth,' although I think it's debatable whether such breadth is really what anyone hears since everyone gets a single sound wave coming through their ears anyway. Sincerely, I've heard mono recordings on good systems that were some of the greatest recordings I've ever heard, some of them done in the sixties even; recording hasn't changed substantially for many years.

Second of all, it's essential to remember that while stereo can be used to broaden a recording, nobody actually does this—pace fleetmouse

fleetmouse: ... music released recently doesn't generally have Esquivel-style stereo separation with stuff panned hard right and left or jumping across the stereo field. The artists, if they're involved in the mixing and mastering at all, are working in stereo. And since it's mostly on CD or digital download there's no RIAA curve to worry about - so I don't know if the criticisms of stereo versus mono still apply.

the point isn't that they're "working in stereo;" that's the whole trouble. If they're doing "mixing" at all, they're cutting mike levels up and down in relation to which channel it'll be put on, and there's a great art to that, but it is artifice. Real music bleeds across microphones and across channels; the shape, the texture of that bleeding is essential to the way it sounds.

Classical music is a notable exception to all this, as it is an exception in many ways. (For example, classical music recording has failed to succumb to the rapid death of midlevels in most modern recorded music.) Classical recordings are often remarkably pure, done with two microphones in front of the orchestra and no post-production.

Stereo separation is very real. It is a noted phenomenon that everything makes its own sound. But stereo separation is, I believe, a poor way to reproduce that; and I've listened to some systems that try to go further, and it just becomes overkill. 5-channel systems are common now, derived from the use movie theaters make of having three channels in the back and two in the front, but I'll further note that very, very few 5.1 "Surround Sound" systems actually deliver those five channels—most are just playing differently-phased versions of the original two—and those that are almost invariably still come from artificially-separated channels. Yes, in a wonderful, beautiful, perfect sonic world, every recording session would have ten microphones placed in exactly the same places and every sound system would be able to replicate ten-channel sound with ten speakers in exactly the same places as the microphones, but that's just not bloody going to happen. Whereas there is more to be had with the single channel than anybody seems to want to discover, more room for music than anyone really seems to want to understand. Really, there is a pointless bias against mono which emanates from people who apparently haven't heard a mono recording that isn't a hundred years old and scratchy as hell; I've heard Grateful Dead bootlegs made on mono with a single microphone and a tape deck that were cleaner and clearer than the soundboard recordings from the same shows, for example.
posted by koeselitz at 5:56 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Can I just say that as a music lover and son of a hi-fi tinkerer, I've found all this very enlightening.
posted by athenian at 6:15 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


@koeselitz At the moment, it doesn't sound like we're actually arguing about anything. But... your original conceit was that stereo is a "marketing ploy that adds absolutely nothing to the music" and that you couldn't understand "why ... having two channels [would] be superior to having one". That's what I responded to, and you, currently, haven't.

Yes, as jscalzi mentioned, using stereo as an effect - your issue of "forcing" sound to one or other side of the mix - can be misused, overused or just plain abused. But that's mixing, not recording, and not what we're talking about here.

You seem to have created a strawman by stubbornly ignoring any difference between the concepts of "stereo" and of "soundfield mixing"...
posted by benzo8 at 6:18 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: " Whereas there is more to be had with the single channel than anybody seems to want to discover, more room for music than anyone really seems to want to understand."

This is just plain wrong, for (amongst others) two reasons I mentioned above - frequency interference and psychoacoustic masking. There is, unarguably, more room (vacuous concept, but it'll do for the discussion) to record in stereo. Whether those recordings are going to produce something better to listen to than a mono recording is down to the mixing and the engineering, but the potential is undoubtedly higher.
posted by benzo8 at 6:26 AM on August 30, 2009


A great work of art I once saw (and heard) is Janet Cardiff's Forty Part Motet. A 40-piece choir was recorded singing Tallis' Spem in Alium, each voice recorded to a separate track. And then each track is output to one of 40 speakers arrayed around a room. Wherever you stand in the room affects the "mix" of the music.

I think this linking of 1 track per speaker along with the artist being responsible for the arrangement and layout of the speakers might be the perfect form of stereo these mono purists are looking for. Impossible in the real world though.
posted by thecjm at 6:30 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I haven't heard the new mono mixes at all, but I've got to say, the Rock Band stereo mixes I've heard in the trailers actually sound really, really good. Presumably somewhat more care was put into the actual CD re-releases, so these ought to be worthwhile.

Just poking through my collection, I've got mono versions of "Please Please Me" and "A Hard Day's Night," and they do sound a bit more pleasant than the stereo versions of other albums. It's apples and oranges, of course, and it's lousy MP3s, but there does seem to be a difference.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:32 AM on August 30, 2009


benzo8, I know; I intentionally didn't say that there's more room in mono than stereo. My only point was that there's more room in mono than people realize.
posted by koeselitz at 6:33 AM on August 30, 2009


koeselitz: "benzo8, I know; I intentionally didn't say that there's more room in mono than stereo. My only point was that there's more room in mono than people realize."

Fair enough!
posted by benzo8 at 6:34 AM on August 30, 2009


I already have these mixes, on glorious vinyl. Admittedly, they are now, half a century later, not in such great shape.
posted by caddis at 6:35 AM on August 30, 2009


First of all, yes, I agree that stereo recording has the potential to achieve more 'breadth,' although I think it's debatable whether such breadth is really what anyone hears since everyone gets a single sound wave coming through their ears anyway.

actually, they don't - they get several sound waves that have been reflected off of the various surfaces in the environment and each ear gets a different set of those waves - even with mono equipment or a single musical source

If they're doing "mixing" at all, they're cutting mike levels up and down in relation to which channel it'll be put on, and there's a great art to that, but it is artifice.

come on, recording anything is "artifice" - the minute you put it on tape, a hard drive, through a mike or a mixing board you've changed the signal - it's good to be aware of this but it's really not a legitimate objection

Real music bleeds across microphones and across channels; the shape, the texture of that bleeding is essential to the way it sounds.

so much for electronic dance music, which is often generated within a computer and never sees a microphone

actually the minute you use microphones, you're separating the signals artificially - that bleeding you're talking about is the natural state of things and microphones immediately cut down on it

Really, there is a pointless bias against mono

i don't know of any musicians who are recording in it these days

of course, the question of 60s mono mixes is something else - the engineers and producers of that time spent much more effort getting the mono mixes right and the stereo mixes were usually an afterthought - it should be pointed out that the vast majority of rock bands didn't even see an 8 track or 16 track recording studio until 68 or 69 and that made an even greater difference in how things were recorded than the adoption of stereo

you can call stereo a marketing ploy all you like but people adopted it because it sounded good to them - quadrophonic, on the other hand, pretty much was a flash in the pan

the 5.1 and 7.1 systems out today are something that the music world just hasn't really figured out yet

Yes, in a wonderful, beautiful, perfect sonic world, every recording session would have ten microphones placed in exactly the same places and every sound system would be able to replicate ten-channel sound with ten speakers in exactly the same places as the microphones, but that's just not bloody going to happen.

first you have to "tune" the room for its unique sonic properties and then you would need something like an impulse reverb to duplicate the original sound space, adjusted for the properties of the room you're in - you're not going to get it exact, but you're going to get it reasonably close

of course, this is awfully complicated ...

I've heard Grateful Dead bootlegs made on mono with a single microphone and a tape deck that were cleaner and clearer than the soundboard recordings from the same shows, for example.

that's because the mixing engineers "tuned" the room correctly and there was a clean and clear signal to record
posted by pyramid termite at 6:37 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I prefer the blues, on 78s.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:39 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


delmoi: Look at how much effort people have put into making stereoscopic and holographic images. The technological hurdles have been immense but people have been trying forever, from those stereographic soon after photography was invented, to laser holograms, to red/blue glasses to the polarized glasses used today people generally prefer sterioscopic images to flat ones. But they're such a hassle to use. In the future, when we all have holographic displays, it's likely most artwork will be 3D. We'll probably see old movies made into stereo films.

Maybe; and I concede that recording separate channels can lead to better sound. But I guess if there was any substance to my original point, it was that we're certainly not moving progressively where the fidelity of sound recording is concerned, and that's unfortunate. The technology arguably existed in 1940 to make recordings quite as faithful as we can make them today; what's unfortunate is that often we've gone backwards in reproduction quality simply because somebody along the line wanted to make a buck. This has been going on all along, and all I meant by my crack about stereo being a "marketing ploy" in the fifties and sixties was that often then it was a silly experiment whereby some engineer thought it'd be fun to pan this way or that way or try to separate the voice into a separate channel; it's not just the Beatles' records, although it is sort of shocking to listen to (really, everyone should) the way that their records started off nice and clean, took a complete nose-dive, and then got better, at least for those of us on this side of the Atlantic, when they started shilling these stereo discs.

Even today the quality of sound continues to degenerate, to the point where I start to wonder if anybody'll even care to hear real recordings in a decade or whether they'll just want a bass track or maybe some buzzing and squeaking that they can dance to. This is why I stand around telling people: mono recording can be awesome. If we could just focus on that, instead of the 'advancements' that have generally led us downwards over the last half-century, maybe we go start moving ahead again.
posted by koeselitz at 6:48 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's a cold shower: the set costs 200 pounds (about 330 US dollars).

You can get it in the US for closer to $200 (still a lot), that is, if you can still find it. It is supposedly a limited-edition set (I guess they could change their minds), and Amazon and Best Buy, for example, are already sold out.

I think I'll wait for individual disc releases.

Apple has said it has no plans to release them individually, although again, they could always change their minds.
posted by dfan at 6:51 AM on August 30, 2009


me: a bass track or maybe some buzzing and squeaking that they can dance to

Which of course is not all that bad, actually, so maybe it's time to shut up.
posted by koeselitz at 6:54 AM on August 30, 2009


koeselitz: and there's a great art to that, but it is artifice.

Heh, well sure, but music = art = artifice. Honest art is a contradiction - one I think is a product of a decadent era that has damn near racial, colonial ideas about the noble savagery of the state of nature - or the purity of the blues in a shack by the river. By definition art is imposture, imitation, contrivance. If you want to be a complete sonic purist then you'd only hike to remote regions to listen to the non-deliberate sounds of nature, and even recordings of it would be anathema.

As a musician and a listener, I'm rather more interested in what's aesthetically pleasing than what adheres most closely to a sense of purity that's every bit as artificial as what it eschews.

For example, that new Calvin Harris album - every tiny element of it is contrived, but the songwriting, mixing and mastering are brilliant and I love it to pieces.

koeselitz again: I start to wonder if anybody'll even care to hear real recordings in a decade or whether they'll just want a bass track or maybe some buzzing and squeaking that they can dance to.

In a decade? That was ten years ago!
posted by fleetmouse at 6:56 AM on August 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I tell you what...

Despite my recent and increasing outbursts about how discourse and conversation has gone to the dogs here on MeFi, it's threads like that this one that keep me coming back, day after day... Reasonable discussion, knowledgeable people, a minimum of ad hominem and snark, and a subject, that while specialist, doesn't seem to attract trolls who aren't interested in it.

I do love you Metafilter, even if I hit you sometimes...
posted by benzo8 at 6:56 AM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ha ha, Autechre was the first thing I thought of too, when you posted that. Great track, certainly the best off Tri Repetae.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:57 AM on August 30, 2009


The technology arguably existed in 1940 to make recordings quite as faithful as we can make them today

The frequency response and dynamic range of tape has nothing on digital. You can prefer the sound of tape--that's fine, there are lots of reasons for that--but for pure fidelity, digital is tops.

Me, though, I don't care a whit if my recordings sound "faithful." A recording is a separate product, a separate work of art, from the music it represents. And stereo, once we'd gotten our collective heads around it, became a big part of making it interesting.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:03 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I prefer the blues, on 78s.

Mono!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:03 AM on August 30, 2009


fleetmouse: certainly the best off Tri Repetae

[That's a very, very difficult call to make, although I have always loved that one.]
posted by koeselitz at 7:04 AM on August 30, 2009


fourcheesemac: I prefer the blues, on 78s.

I used to have some 60s of Fats Waller somewhere, if you can believe that; the other companies went through a whole lot of crazy formats trying get market share back in the day.
posted by koeselitz at 7:06 AM on August 30, 2009


uncleozzy: ... but for pure fidelity, digital is tops...

Man, you just opened a can of worms there that I am not even going to begin to rifle through. Heh.
posted by koeselitz at 7:08 AM on August 30, 2009


can of worms

I don't want to argue the point, because honestly I don't care all that much, but all I'm saying is that tape sounds good because it's not utterly perfect. Whether the sound of digital is preferable or not, you've got a practically-bottomless noise floor and broad, flat frequency response.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:15 AM on August 30, 2009


... but for pure fidelity, digital is tops...

Man, you just opened a can of worms there that I am not even going to begin to rifle through.


Haha! Yeah, the "reasonable discussion" that benzo8 was just celebrating in his comment above could quickly disintegrate here!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:16 AM on August 30, 2009


(I have no interest in starting a holy war. I love tape. We just went bowling together last night, in fact.)
posted by uncleozzy at 7:20 AM on August 30, 2009


me: Real music bleeds across microphones and across channels; the shape, the texture of that bleeding is essential to the way it sounds.

pyramid termite: so much for electronic dance music, which is often generated within a computer and never sees a microphone... actually the minute you use microphones, you're separating the signals artificially - that bleeding you're talking about is the natural state of things and microphones immediately cut down on it


fleetmouse: Ha ha, Autechre was the first thing I thought of too, when you posted that.

Just to close the loop, then, I guess it's probably worth it to point out that archive.org has a really neat little set of seven bootlegs of (genius) electronic group Autechre performing live in 2001, 2006 and 2008.

2001-04-11
2001-05-04
2001-05-09
2001-05-16
2006-12-28
2006-12-30
2008-02-23
posted by koeselitz at 7:23 AM on August 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


flapjax at midnite: " ... but for pure fidelity, digital is tops....

Haha! Yeah, the "reasonable discussion" that benzo8 was just celebrating in his comment above could quickly disintegrate here!
"

No chance. You just have to look at the definition of fidelity:

fi⋅del⋅i⋅ty
  /fɪˈdɛlɪti, faɪ-/ [fi-del-i-tee, fahy-]
–noun, plural -ties.
1. strict observance of promises, duties, etc.: a servant's fidelity.
2. loyalty: fidelity to one's country.
3. conjugal faithfulness.
4. adherence to fact or detail.
5. accuracy; exactness: The speech was transcribed with great fidelity.
6. Audio, Video. the degree of accuracy with which sound or images are recorded or reproduced.

"accuracy"... Tape is not accurate. That's why we love it. Tape introduces micro-distortions, it lovingly compresses the top end and the phases shifts can be beautiful. But it's not accurate.
Digital (at least above a certain sample-rate) is accurate, at least to human hearing...

No argument!
posted by benzo8 at 7:23 AM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


uncleozzy: I have no interest in starting a holy war. I love tape. We just went bowling together last night, in fact.

Heh, no holy war here. And don't worry—I'm not one of those fuckos who says you can't listen to a damned thing through a (gasp!) solid state amplifier because you're not hearing the music the way you would through a magical tube amplifier. (If those people still exist; I wonder, since I haven't really met one for going on ten years now.)

I agree; digital is a lot more faithful and gives you a lot more space to work with. Time was when only the very rarest of digital systems had the power to make that actually happen, but that time is long gone; hell, we have SACDs now, and if anybody actually made them we'd all probably be able to play them through our DVD players anyway.
posted by koeselitz at 7:28 AM on August 30, 2009


MajorDundee: So.....they've milked the catalogue for all they can get and now that CD sales are beginning to flag, lo and behold here's a bunch of "remasters" for you. Why have they waited so looooooong to put out these polished-up versions when every other '60's band of note has had the treatment years ago?

I followed very closely the creation of Love, the joint project by The Beatles and Cirque du Soleil, which ended up being released as sort of a mashup album created entirely out of Beatles multitracks. One of the interviews I listened to around that time said that, when George Martin and his son got into the studio to begin the process of creating that album, they were shocked at how really good the original master tapes still sounded after 40 years, and it was the process of making that album which put into the minds of the people at Apple Records that returning to the original multitracks and remastering from square one would be a good idea.

The impression that I get from a lot of remaster / reissue projects is that 1) they don't always go back to the original multitracks to create the remaster but instead work from the mixdown master, 2) often the remastering process for other old recordings mostly involves using electronic filters and such to pump up the high end and to reduce tape hiss, neither of which were acceptable strategies for The Beatles when it came to remastering (although that is basically what happened for the original CD releases), and/or 3) they often just test a few highlight points on the albums and do a "set it and forget it" remastering process on the tapes, rather than doing a full-on monitored, moment-by-moment project. (There are exceptions to this, but most of the remastering projects are not well tended, and ARE simply done for the money.)

My hope is that the stereo remasters are executed with the same amount of love (*heh*) and care as that mashup project. Because, I have to tell you, there is nothing as intense as that guitar opening to Revolution 1 on that album. It was like I'd never heard it before.

pyramid termite: quadrophonic, on the other hand, pretty much was a flash in the pan

the 5.1 and 7.1 systems out today are something that the music world just hasn't really figured out yet


Thanks to the magic of bittorrent, I've been exploring a lot of Quad mixes "of the time" recently. And I have to say, it's been eye-opening. Alan Parsons' quad mix of Dark Side Of The Moon is eye ear opening, as is the quad mix of Wish You Were Here. Aqualung in 4-channel is equally enlightening. Sadly, Lennon's Imagine is pretty dull in quadraphonic, which surprised me. Exploring so many of these quad recordings has made me wish that the concept hadn't been so many years ahead of the available technology. The expansion of sound into 3D space has a lot of potential, but mostly died young on the vine because of crappy playback systems.

As far as modern surround music recordings go, the above-mentioned Love album had a 5.1 surround release, and it is one of the best pieces of music I own. Imaginative, not overly gimmicky, it paints on a three-dimensional aural canvas with a skill that creates even more new meaning than the project already had in stereo. The surround mix of Yes' Fragile album (not an original Quad mix) is equally enlightening, with the new separation of the instruments allowing one's ear to clearly explore the dense instrumentalization of that band. Alan Parsons' On Air album was created for a 3D space, and loses a lot when translated to stereo. Much of the recent Nine Inch Nails catalog has been released in 5.1 surround, some mixed by Reznor, some mixed by fans, all of it wonderful. But the real winner (aside from Love) goes to the Genesis 5.1 surround releases, which were such a labor of love that they took YEARS to create, and have completely renewed that catalog for me. (I thought I knew ever jot and tittle of their music, but BOY was I wrong!)

I'm actually very interested to hear the mono mixes of the later Beatles catalog, because I have heard for years that the "in your face" nature of the releases had a superior presence than the stereo recordings. Since I'm a child of the sixties mostly in my heart and not in my mind (I was born the same year MLK and RFK were killed), I grew up with the stereo versions of their albums. This will be like listening to a familiar stereo album in quadraphonic for the first time -- very familiar material given new life because of the changed parameters of the mixing and release environment.
posted by hippybear at 7:28 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


No argument!

Heh, no holy war here.


I'm... I'm... (wipes tear of joy from eye) I'm so PROUD of you all!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:32 AM on August 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


koselitz, you said The technology arguably existed in 1940 to make recordings quite as faithful as we can make them today.

I am really trying to understand your argument here, as I have a soft spot for mono (though I mix in stereo), but I just need to know just what technology you mean in order to understand.

Even today the quality of sound continues to degenerate, to the point where I start to wonder if anybody'll even care to hear real recordings in a decade or whether they'll just want a bass track or maybe some buzzing and squeaking that they can dance to.

Can you name some particular recordings that you mean? I have heard a lot of people make this argument, but they are usually listening to the music that you are force-fed if you don't actively seek out new music to listen to. The big difference in the industry now, as opposed to in the 60s, is that the best music, in both the worlds of pop music and art music, is undoubtedly underground. You will not hear it if you're listening to the Beatles in mono at home and won't dig for it. I'd be happy to provide examples if you like, though I didn't intend to spend more than 10 minutes on Metafilter this morning (ha!), so it will probably be much later in the day when I can get to it.

I will pose this question to you: if stereo is so useless and ridiculous, why is it that untold numbers of musicians, producers, and engineers, some of whom are and have been brilliant people, have decided to use it almost exclusively since its advent? Do you really think that all of these people, who care about music more deeply than anything in the world, have been duped by a marketing ploy that you can see through but they cannot? I just can't believe that, although if you're right, I've been duped too, so I wouldn't, would I?

All that said, I can't wait to hear the Beatles mono mixes. I'm sure they sound fabulous. I definitely prefer music that was designed in mono to stay in mono almost every time.
posted by nosila at 7:33 AM on August 30, 2009


I'd add, though, that it's worth remembering that digital isn't more accurate simply because it's digital—it's more accurate because we got to the point were we could store enough bits per second to make it more accurate. Audiophiles spent years railing against it because compression was necessary, and they were right; and even today, I (who am biased, having a turntable-centered system) will argue that the common cd doesn't sound as good as the common record. But SACD moved us past that, and even before it did there were plenty of studios with the computing power to do so easily. Yes, as we used to say, breaking things into unitary musical 'atoms' called bits is 'destructive,' in a way, but no more destructive than slapping it onto a magnetic tape; and, if you can capture enough bits, it's a lot less lossy than slapping sound onto magnetic tape.
posted by koeselitz at 7:34 AM on August 30, 2009


(although it's probably unnecessary to have that lecture anymore, least of all here—time was people thought 'digital' just meant better because it's a cool word, but I don't know that anybody here is taken in like that)
posted by koeselitz at 7:36 AM on August 30, 2009


Should have previewed, but I just want to say that, as folks have pointed out, this is a fantastic discussion. I hope, koselitz, I don't come off as assholish in the above comment. If I do, know that it's really not my intent, if that matters at all. Cheers for sparking some great debate and comments!
posted by nosila at 7:36 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love tape. We just went bowling together last night

Yeah, a little bowling is a great way for tape to unwind.

/rim shot*

*in mono...

...recorded digitally

...reproduced through crappy earbuds

...underwater

posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:37 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ugh, flapjax. :)
posted by nosila at 7:39 AM on August 30, 2009


koeselitz: Two slightly different things:

Headroom, defined by the bit-rate. 16-bit (a la CD) gives less headroom than 24-bit. Headroom doesn't actually matter much at the top-end - turn shit down if it's clipping - but it's the ability to turn things up to rise above a dirty noisefloor, or to use more bits for digital summing/DSP that makes the higher digital headroom of 24-bit preferable. (And it was the lack of headroom that demanded compression with 16-bit in order to be able to turn things up as described.)

Quality is defined by the sample-rate - CD at 44.1khz is pretty good, but not accurate enough - (you/I) can hear the difference between 44.1khz and 96khz, but (don't know about you, but I) can't hear the difference between 96 and 192. (That said, things are rarely recorded at 96khz these days - people either go the whole hog with 192, or they use 88.2 as that's easier to downsample to CDs without the need for excess dithering)...
posted by benzo8 at 7:44 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am totally distracted from the class planning at hand. I was just checking out the Audio Engineering Society databases to see what the academics are saying about this and found this abstract:

In this paper, we propose an original method to include spatial panning information when converting monophonic recordings to stereophonic ones. Sound sources are first identified using perceptively motivated clustering of spectral components. Correlations between these individual sources are then identified to build a middle level representation of the analysed sound. This allows the user to define panning information for major sound sources thus enhancing the stereophonic immersion quality of the resulting sound.

Sounds like folks are trying to do better, though I'm not sure I really need to hear any stereo mixes of mono material. It will be interesting to see, as the years go by, if all the new versions of old mono stuff that is released in stereo sounds significantly better (not than the mono mixes, but better than the currently-available stereo mixes).

Another mono recording that I really can't stand in stereo is Pet Sounds. It's actually okay through speakers, but through headphones it's almost unlistenable.
posted by nosila at 7:48 AM on August 30, 2009


And don't worry—I'm not one of those fuckos who says you can't listen to a damned thing through a (gasp!) solid state amplifier because you're not hearing the music the way you would through a magical tube amplifier. (If those people still exist; I wonder, since I haven't really met one for going on ten years now.)

there's a LOT of guitar players who swear up and down that it HAS to be a tube amp - and then there's those who get involved with software and hardware amp sims, which is a totally obsessive scene

back in the 60s people were making the comment that the old 4 track tube recorders were much warmer than the ampeg 8 and 16 track solid state machines ... and one of my friends still insists that a 16 or 24 track tape machine is just much better than anything digital - maybe it is slightly better, but they stopped making the tape for it, so ...

yeah, we could start a LOT of holy wars here ...

---

Thanks to the magic of bittorrent, I've been exploring a lot of Quad mixes "of the time" recently. And I have to say, it's been eye-opening.

unfortunately, all i have is a computer and stereo headphones - i did hear some quad mixes at the time - some of them, like dsotm or the grateful dead's american beauty, were a lot more precise and detailed (although the current cd remaster of beauty seems to have the same quality) - some of the mixes sounded rather gimmicky or not really worked on

the biggest problem with quad was there were two different formats - it was just like vhs vs betamax except people voted for "none of the above"

---

Another mono recording that I really can't stand in stereo is Pet Sounds.

the stereo mixes for motown's hits run all the way from ok to god-awful - the beatles' stereo mixes weren't too bad, for the time - they still had some punch - with the exception of the singles off magical mystery tour - they used some kind of "electrically processed stereo" to convert from mono and it's just poor, especially the vinyl version

they did that with procol harum's first album and that's a truly awful mix - stick to mono
posted by pyramid termite at 8:18 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


nosila: Can you name some particular recordings that you mean? I have heard a lot of people make this argument, but they are usually listening to the music that you are force-fed if you don't actively seek out new music to listen to.

I'm talking about the overuse of compression to artificially louden recordings, sacrificing dynamic range to make more of each track approach the peak. If you google 'loudness wars' you'll see ample documentation of this; but I disagree that it's only in the shitty pop recordings. No less than Bob Dylan used up a bunch of his last interview with Rolling Stone complaining that he'd pretty much had to learn production and engineering himself because the producers and engineers the record companies were handing him, presumably some of the more lauded folks in the business, were compressing everything to crap. Yes, it extends to people like him, and all up and down the spectrum; one jarring example of this is the Beatles themselves. I've always found this image of the gradually-blasted waveforms of the song "Something" over successive reissues shocking; you can see that they're just punching it up as hard as they can every time.

Notable records on which this has been seen include, for example, the last two or three Rush albums (yes, I'm a fan, and it's sad to hear how much they sound like shit when the recording's destroyed before it reaches the cd) and that last Metallica disc, Death Anticlimactic or whatever it was; I remember the two or three Metallica fans left sent round a big internet petition to try to get them to re-release that one uncompressed, which of course prompted a lot of ironical 'oh look, these metalheads think the music's too loud, however will they survive?' articles in the press. Unfortunately, it's not just poppy stuff; the Flaming Lips' At War With The Mystics was famously recorded like complete shit, and I wonder at the fact that they actually released it.

The big difference in the industry now, as opposed to in the 60s, is that the best music, in both the worlds of pop music and art music, is undoubtedly underground. You will not hear it if you're listening to the Beatles in mono at home and won't dig for it. I'd be happy to provide examples if you like, though I didn't intend to spend more than 10 minutes on Metafilter this morning (ha!), so it will probably be much later in the day when I can get to it.

I don't know how new that is. Believe me, I dig for my music, and I have a fair set of more modern tastes—and not just IDM like the Autechre I posted earlier, but other loudish stuff.

The odd thing is that it's hard for me to parse the relation between punk and audio fidelity. Punk is supposed, I guess, to embrace the lo-fi; this barely-discernible noise thing is in its veins, and has been ever since the Velvet Underground did it on White Light/White Heat. (What a great fuckin' record that was, too.) Up through Pavement, the most recent band I think I can claim to really, truly love; and now, when the guys in record stores notice that I'm insisting that I get everything of theirs on vinyl, they look at me a little funny and figure it's a collector thing. It's not (I really do think Pavement sounds better that way) but I get their point; if that stuff was supposed to sound like it was recorded on no budget, what's the point of trying to reproduce it so carefully? What's the point of trying to reproduce a record by The Fall when they intentionally played, sang, and recorded like shit?

That said, there are obviously bands in and around punk for whom some fidelity was worth a lot; Joy Division, for one, and their better bootlegs show them to be a powerhouse sonically that deserves every bit of the best recording one can offer. And I know that independent music means that bands can now produce themselves in ways that they couldn't before. I've got a great record that's got to be ten years old now by a group called Karate who apparently design and build their own amplifiers.

I will pose this question to you: if stereo is so useless and ridiculous, why is it that untold numbers of musicians, producers, and engineers, some of whom are and have been brilliant people, have decided to use it almost exclusively since its advent? Do you really think that all of these people, who care about music more deeply than anything in the world, have been duped by a marketing ploy that you can see through but they cannot?

Well... I've tempered my tone a little ('mixed it down a bit,' if you will, ha) in this thread, and I don't want to curse stereo as being of the devil. But I do know, through following 'the loudness wars' and doing a whole lot of listening tests and paying attention, that a whole bunch of the people who are and have been employed full-time in the 'music industry,' those seen as the greatest musical minds in the world, often don't actually know or care how good a recording will sound one way or the other and are thus willing to do whatever they're asked by marketing people or whoever else. No, it's not all or even most of them, but I think it's worth it to have a healthy bit of skepticism when it comes to thinking about why engineers or producers recorded things a certain way; things being the way they are in America, we have always had the tendency to tell people involved in the creation of art that "we're all going to do it this way, since it sells more records, mmkay?" And thus it's not always even the producer's fault; that's just how it was supposed to be done. Better to keep striving for Perfect Sound Forever and ignore the 'experts,' focusing exclusively on how good things sound.
posted by koeselitz at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just to reiterate, as this point seems to be getting lost or passed over:

The mono mixes were done personally by George Martin and the Beatles to sound as awesome and ground-breaking as was humanly possible.

The stereo mixes were done as an afterthought and a sop to the new-fangled stereo market, by other people, later.

Mixes aren't just mechanical processes of adding together the individual parts; mixing is a high art, and what comes out the far end is the result of hours and hours of sweat and tears by some of the most talented audio engineers on the planet.

Having heard some of the original mono mixes against later stereo releases, I can tell you that the difference is night and freaking day.

Can't wait.
posted by Aquaman at 8:27 AM on August 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


the biggest problem with quad was there were two different formats

Oh, no, it was MUCH worse than that. There were 9 formats -- 4 discrete (having completely independent channel tracks) and 5 matrix (hiding 4 tracks inside two signals, similar to how Dolby Surround works).

(Don't mistake Dolby Surround for Dolby Digital Surround or DTS or other discrete surround systems. Dolby Surround is the format used on VHS tapes.)
posted by hippybear at 8:33 AM on August 30, 2009


Yep, the loudness war topic is one I am all-too-familiar with, as its been talked about to death in the TapeOp forum, GearSlutz, etc. It is truly a travesty that this became customary, but it is still mostly a problem with major-label releases. If you check around, you will find that 1) almost all mastering engineers hate squashing recordings into a block of noise and 2) a lot of them will do it for major labels because they get paid so much.

So - I agree with you, koselitz, that a lot of stuff is ruined that way, and it truly is because of money and marketing. (At War With the Mystics is truly unlistenable...yuck.) There is a whole lot of music, though, that isn't subject to that marketing machine. In general, since no one who has an ounce of musicality wants to have anything to do with that style of mastering, a lot of independently-released music doesn't sound that way.

Bob Dylan also said, by the way, that he refuses to listen to any music made in the last 20 years. (I may be getting the number wrong.) Since I heard that, it's been hard for me to take anything he says on contemporary music seriously.

Oh, and you're right about Pavement. It sounds so much better on vinyl.
posted by nosila at 8:43 AM on August 30, 2009


flapjax at midnite: "producer George Martin: "You've never really heard Sgt Pepper until you've heard it in mono.""

Listen for yourself.

It's an ear-opener, for sure.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:48 AM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


The stereo mixes were done as an afterthought and a sop to the new-fangled stereo market, by other people, later.

they were done as an afterthought, but "other people" was generally geoff emerick and other emi engineers and later often meant later that week - emerick was just as involved with the beatles' music as martin was - and doing a stereo mix at that time was "ground-breaking" - no, they didn't get the clarity and presence of the mono mixes on sgt pepper but they did get something pretty decent - and although they weren't as thorough, part of the reason it didn't take as long was because they'd already had some of the issues worked out in the mono mixes
posted by pyramid termite at 8:53 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because I don't want to waste my AskMe question, I wonder, does anyone have any tips for earwax removal?
posted by Rumple at 8:58 AM on August 30, 2009


Ha!

Just realizing how holier-than-thou I sound in this thread. Luh luh luh LAME!!!
posted by nosila at 9:09 AM on August 30, 2009


Rumple: Because I don't want to waste my AskMe question, I wonder, does anyone have any tips for earwax removal?

This changes for me with the week, but right now it's the fantastic live recording at Les Bains Douches in Paris of Joy Division on December 18, 1979. Argh. From the first rumble of Stephen Morris' beat-perfect drums and the crackling roar of Peter Hook's bass at the beginning of "Disorder," not to mention Ian, that damned thing makes me feel alive again, and that's something, let me tell you.
posted by koeselitz at 9:31 AM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I bought the mono version of Sgt. Pepper's in '67 because it was a dollar cheaper (I think they equalized the prices the following year). I feel like a sheeple hearing all these people rave about mono. I always liked the feeling of being surrounded by the music that stereo gives you. But, then, I listen to lots of old music in mono - especially from other countries - and never feel deprived.
posted by kozad at 9:31 AM on August 30, 2009


For me the difference between mono and stereo has always been an issue of bandwidth. It seems to me like a mono recording can't help but cram everything into the same space making it hard to distinguish between elements. I guess some people don't ever feel the need to be able to distinguish between elements in a recording, but I've always been fascinated with hearing the individual instruments, and witnessing more closely how they merge together to create the final piece. Having stereo mixing makes it so much easier to hear each instrument individually. It makes you feel like you can enter into the space of the music and be surrounded by the instruments, rather than the music being an impenetrable mass. (I do think it's unavoidable that the sounds in a mono mix interfere with each other more than in a stereo mix, i.e. degrade each other's sound or blot each other out). If you can distinguish the instruments and feel as though they occupy different spaces I feel you experience the music more organically, more enjoyably, and can mix it together yourself in your head, concentrating on the whole if you want to, or on parts. The difference between mono and stereo really is like the difference between black & white and colour to my mind. Just exactly what is it that you are losing by separating the sounds out? It may change the absolute volume of each sound, but if you can identify each sound just as well or more clearly, you aren't losing anything are you? What is the quality which a mono mix has more of? I'm not convinced. Also listening to music involves your subjective appreciation of it to such an extent that I think most technicalities become irrelevant unless your fixate on them, in which case the problem is more with the way you are listening than with the reproduction.
posted by salo at 9:39 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


salo: It seems to me like a mono recording can't help but cram everything into the same space making it hard to distinguish between elements.

But that's just it—since stereo and mono both reach my sound system on the same media, how is one 'cramming more' than the other?
posted by koeselitz at 9:42 AM on August 30, 2009


It's an illusion, but it works. I can definitely vouch for the fact that it's much harder to create a good mix of dense material (one where you can actually distinguish between everything) in mono than in stereo. I often mix in mono first, because if something sounds good in mono, it will definitely sound good, better to my ears, when you start panning (as long as you make appropriate and pleasing panning choices, of course).

Just came across this and it is awesome! (Though not related to the discussion at hand exactly.)
posted by nosila at 9:52 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


And, merely anecdotally of course, my experience is that the difference between stereo and mono isn't like the difference between compressed and uncompressed sound. Compressed sound does sound like what you're talking about when it's played alongside uncompressed sound; a friend and I sat down and compared some CD remasters of old Coltrane records with the originals a while ago, and it was sort of astonishing how much everything seemed "crammed together." We listened to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? the same afternoon, and it seemed like there were whole instruments that were missing there on the CD remasters; that's because compression had made them invisible. This is glaringly obvious, for example, on REM's second (best) disc, Reckoning, on the track "Seven Chinese Brothers;" there's a piano bit, just one note which is played three times at various parts of the song, 'plink plink plink.' On the record, it's subtle and colors the music in an interesting way. On the cd, it blots out all else: 'PLONK! PLONK! PLONK!'

But that's not what the difference between mono and stereo sounds like. Stereo just means you have two channels of output, and if you're smart, that means two different microphones or classes of input, so that you can simulate somewhat the fact that sound is (sort of) on two sides of you at once. It all gets mixed down into the same level about of 'bits,' to use your bandwidth metaphor; there's actually no increase in the amount of bandwidth whatsoever. It's just that stereo can preserve or sometimes manipulate the extent to which the recording duplicates the feeling of being in the midst of the music by placing different sources in different places spatially.
posted by koeselitz at 9:53 AM on August 30, 2009


We listened to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? the same afternoon, and it seemed like there were whole instruments that were missing there on the CD remasters; that's because compression had made them invisible.

I wonder, then, what you would make of the Quad mix of What's Going On?.
posted by hippybear at 10:18 AM on August 30, 2009


I've always found this image of the gradually-blasted waveforms of the song "Something" over successive reissues shocking; you can see that they're just punching it up as hard as they can every time.

No argument about 1 (the "2000" image) but in the first three cases all that's immediately apparent from the waveforms is an increase in volume. Some early CD issues -- the black-triangle Abbey Road shown as "1983" included -- were mastered at nonsensically low levels and as such it's not really fair to include them as "evidence" in a Loudless War comparison.
posted by Lazlo at 10:23 AM on August 30, 2009


Regarding the mono/stereo debate, fwiw, there's only one recording of Bird that approximates stereo, and listening to it is a sonic/audio revelation.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:37 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


A comment at the first link:

"Vinyl is better than CD's. Mono is better than stereo. Now read about my incredibly unscientific listening tests." This is just garbage. You people are so suggestible to all this audiophile crap.

For Christ's sake, you're recommending listening to FLAC rips off freakin' VINYL! So the barely perceptible quality loss going from FLAC to a 320Kbps MP3 is unacceptable, but listening to a needle crudely scratch out all your songs is OK?! You guys are batshit.


That by way of saying that while the mono version of Sergeant offers a new angle on the masterpiece, for me the experience fell short of revelatory.

Even so, I think it will become my default version now - simply by virtue of "creative intent". If ever a project would have accomodated an interest in newly available stereo effects, Sergeant was it. And the band certainly spared no expense in going after any other sonic novelty they wanted. So if they didn't give a shit about the stereo mix, it's clear that they never intended for the music to be heard that way.

If you disdain colorized films, by the same principle, you should disdain the stereo mixes.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:42 AM on August 30, 2009


That's all well and good, but how will they sound on my Quadrophonic system?
posted by Gungho at 10:53 AM on August 30, 2009


For the Beatles novice, is there any track in particular where the stereo mix is noticeably hamfisted?
posted by aldurtregi at 11:23 AM on August 30, 2009


the real early stuff is hamfisted - also the songs on magical mystery tour that were reprocessed to simulate stereo - the mixes on rubber soul, revolver, sgt pepper are a little bit below the mono versions, but just a little - i think the stereo mix for the white album is better, overall
posted by pyramid termite at 11:32 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


So koeselitz, are you saying that What's Going On? was originally mixed in mono?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:01 PM on August 30, 2009


One thing I will say for the mono crowd: there's no hiding a bad speaker or power amp, when there is only one of each in the audio chain.

Even when I was selling stereo equipment, I often would just pan the signal to one side, and then A - B different speakers, to make a clearer point about what a particular speaker "sounded" like. This was especially revealing for some of the direct/reflecting speaker designs of the day, like Magneplanars, Bose 901, Ohm Walsh transducers, ESS Heil Air Motion Transformer and electrostatic systems, like Infinity ServoStatics.

True horns (like the Klipschorn and JBL stacks with LE85 horns and acoustic lenses), direct radiators of all kinds, and even quasi-horn loaded designs like plasma tweeters, had very consistent characters when panned to mono, and A - B compared. What they sounded like in mono, good or bad, they sounded like in stereo pairs, too.

But the perceived character of the direct/reflecting speakers generally liked by the stereo enthusiasts for their "spatial" qualities were a different matter. Because most of the direct/reflecting designs threw high frequency sound in a lot of directions, room placement and relative position to the listener meant a great deal. Sometimes, what sounded good for some recordings, sounded bad for others, with these speakers. I was always very suspicious, thereafter, of speakers that couldn't provide consistent results in a mono configuration. Nobody I know ever bought a single Bose 901 for use as a mono speaker, either.

But I was never disappointed by using two of the best mono performers as a stereo pair.
posted by paulsc at 12:03 PM on August 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I grew up listening to The Beatles first half dozen albums (Please Please Me to Rubber Soul) in mono on vinyl. For years it was the only music I owned. It shaped me. Mono sounds like my childhood — stereo sounds like a false memory.
posted by MinPin at 12:14 PM on August 30, 2009


goodnewsfortheinsane: So koeselitz, are you saying that What's Going On? was originally mixed in mono?

All I said was that the CD remaster was shite. I don't know how it was recorded originally, although I'm sure it was something newfangled and incredible at the time.
posted by koeselitz at 12:19 PM on August 30, 2009


And my comment about that record wasn't actually about stereo separation; it was about compression. What's Going On? was just one of the albums where I could really hear the difference between listening to the CD and listening to the vinyl. That doesn't have much to do with stereo separation, I don't think.
posted by koeselitz at 12:22 PM on August 30, 2009


Fair enough. Just out of curiosity then, how do you feel about a mix like this one?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:33 PM on August 30, 2009


I'm listening to a stereo-mixed Roll over Beethoven right now, with headphones, and it is actually physically uncomfortable. The guitar and drum parts are all on the left and the right channel contains the singing and hand clapping, along with a faint echo of the guitar. Then at the end, when there's no more singing, the right side goes completely silent while the guitar plays its last chords.
posted by aldurtregi at 12:41 PM on August 30, 2009


I've pretty carefully read this entire thread, and I'm pretty sure these two points have been missed. Apologies in advance if I'm wrong.

1. Stereophonics and the limitation of early 1960s multi-tracking

"Stereo" comes from the Greek /stereos/ meaning solid. In other words, stereophonics is simply a method of artificially duplicating the sound-sources-placed-in-space effect you get in real life (tm) when you hear multiple sound sources simultaneously. This is in no way synonymous with "high fidelity" nor with the presence of two speakers. That's binaural, a related but different thing.

The idea works particularly well for large combos (orchestra, jazz big band), and can be achieved to a high level of satisfaction with just two mics.

With a four-piece combo consisting of a drum kit and three amplified guitars, it's an open question whether the stereophonic effect you can perceive even in real life -- say, sitting at the bar in the Cavern Club listening to the Silver Beatles -- actually adds anything to the aesthetic experience. (Hence, the punks' Back-to-Mono movement.)

Now move the band into the studio. Most people are going to hear the resulting recording on a low-fi, mono radio with a single tiny speaker. It better sound as good as it can be made to sound when heard that way, and it does because that's how they mixed them.

But for albums, stereo is the hip and happening thing. Unfortunately, you only had three or four tracks to put everything on, so you do lots of sound-on-sound overdubbing and track ping-ponging to capture all the parts. Guitar part #3 and #4 are together on track #3 and you can no longer alter their relationship. The drums are all together on track #4 and can't be separated. Now you want to place three-part vocal harmony on top of your backing tracks. You don't have three spare tracks to record them on, so you record them together on one track. Und so weiter.

What you end up with is not stereo at all, it's just a number of sound sources (7? 12? 20?) recorded onto a much smaller number of tracks (2? 3? 4?) that have been mixed down to two tracks using whatever logic you can come up with. On lots of early Beatles tracks, that meant vocals OVER HERE, backing tracks OVER THERE.

THAT is what people mean by ham-fisted mixes. There's little or no illusion of sound sources placed in the sound field. It doesn't recreate the concert hall or create an illusion of sound-space. It's just a jumble of original source reduced to two.

Fast forward to later albums where you had eight or more original tracks to work with, you can see how the flexibility of manipulating individual sound sources (tracks) during a stereo mixdown can finally be made to sound like something.

Something artificial (or, to be more accurate, hyper-realistic) that is, because you'd never hear anything like that in real life. But you are at least now getting the stereophonic effect of hearing sound objects placed in a the so-called 'stereo field', and particularly with headphones, it can bring a pleasing, even though artificial, result.

On into the 1970s with 16-tracks (Pink Side of the Moon, etc.), 32, 36, 42 tracks (disco confections) and now recording entirely in software with the number of discrete tracks limited only by storage and you have more flexibility in manipulating sources in the stereo field that George Martin and the boys could have dreamed of.

And that, boys and girls, is why mono mixes of early 1960s pop records are valuable.

2. Number nine.

There's a bit more to the significance of these release dates and other echoes of "9" than "John once wrote a song called Number Nine." John Lennon was obsessed /haunted by the number nine:

I lived in 9 Newcastle Road, I was born on the 9th October. it's just a number that follows me around, but, numerologically, apparently I am number six or three or something, but it's all part of nine.

posted by Herodios at 1:14 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just out of curiosity then, how do you feel about a mix like this one?

squashed flat and as subtle as a sledgehammer - it doesn't breathe at all

where'd you get that?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:28 PM on August 30, 2009


Apparently What's Going On was released in stereo and quad, but the singles were released in mono. Interesting.
posted by hippybear at 1:43 PM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Excellent! Yet another beatles collection for me to not buy!
posted by Justinian at 2:16 PM on August 30, 2009


I was trying to resist climbing into this stereo/mono debate, but surely one clear observation is that we have two eyes and therefore stereoscopic vision and two ears hence stereophonic hearing. I mean, if mono was the deal we'd only have one ear. Probably in the middle of our foreheads.......perhaps the "final front ear" that Captain James Kirk was referring to in Star Trek?

So, logically stereo represents a much more natural way of listening. However, if a record was made in mono it stands to reason that it's best heard in that form because that's got to be closest to how the producer/band heard the final mix. All the EQ-ing and other treatments would have to be very different to make a mono mix intelligeable, and the arrangements, performance and instrumentation likewise to some extent. So crudely trying to separate things out to make a stereo image may be technically achieveable, and may in some cases be fairly convincing, but it can't possibly be truly representative of the track as it was originally conceived and recorded.
posted by MajorDundee at 3:14 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have the Capitol years set with the mono and stereo mixes. I don't know how extreme the stereo splits are on the later records but the early capitol stuff in stereo is awful on headphones. All the drums and vocals in one ear, all the guitars in the other ear. Sounds neat on speakers, but very distracting on headphones which is how I hear most of my music these days.
posted by JBennett at 3:45 PM on August 30, 2009


(Skipped a lot; almost sure to step on some toes.)

Stereo can be great—really, really great—when a recording is made in stereo in the first place. Use your headphones. You'll see!

Those Beatle records, however, were made in mono, as mono, for mono, and the stereo mixes are just dreadful through headphones, with just about everything panned either hard left or hard right. Of course, that means you can fiddle with the balance knob and hear each song three different ways, which is pretty nifty. (It's a sampler's wet dream!)

Still, yeah, sounds like shit on my iPod.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:55 PM on August 30, 2009


With the discussions of stereo vs. mono, the loudness wars, and Ringo's drum parts in isolation, I'm really curious...

I've only heard the stereo mix of Rubber Soul, and listening to it after I learned a thing or two about production, I was astounded at how compressed the drum tracks are.

Not in a bad way -- I was blown away to realize that ?uestlove's distinctive sound in Things Fall Apart was about 35 years less groundbreaking than I originally thought! -- but now I want to know: were the drums in the mono mix so extreme? or did they add all that compression in the stereo mix to compensate for the fact that the drums were all in the left channel?
posted by nicepersonality at 4:00 PM on August 30, 2009


Now if I could find earbuds that play both channels of stereo in one ear, I would be even more happy. Anyone know of such a thing?

Well, if you're on a Windows computer, just double click on the speaker icon in your task bar and drag the balance slider (above the volume one) all the way over to one side. Or am I misunderstanding your question?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:30 PM on August 30, 2009


I believe that throws out the other channel, stav.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:54 PM on August 30, 2009


Hmm. I thought it squooshed the whole thing (technical terms!) over to one side. I tend to keep one earbud in at work listening to podcasts and such.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:35 PM on August 30, 2009


A mono down-mix of a stereo signal is NOT the same as a mono mix. The results are quite different.

One album that is REALLY great with its use of stereo is Pearl Jam's first album. (Not the new mix that was just released earlier this year -- the original 1991 mix.) The places everything in a beautiful sound picture so each instrument is clear and separate but blended. I was astounded the first time I really sat in a quality listening environment and heard that album.

(And they recorded an album using a binaural microphone at one point, too.)
posted by hippybear at 7:30 PM on August 30, 2009


SQUOOSH!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:53 PM on August 30, 2009


"Poor old Johnny Ray/sounded sad upon the radio/broke a million hearts in mono."
posted by kirkaracha at 9:19 PM on August 30, 2009


I prefer the blues, on 78s.

Fresh gasket & mica diaphragm in the reproducer, and a new steel needle (soft or medium- never loud), and that's listening.

We don't need no stinkin' RIAA roll-off.
posted by squalor at 9:33 PM on August 30, 2009


Pearl Jam's first album. (Not the new mix that was just released earlier this year -- the original 1991 mix.)

Will you hate me if I prefer the new mix? I get your point about the original mix--it does create a sense of real space--but it's just drenched in reverb. Like it was recorded in a gym. I make no secret that I prefer density and weight in rock mixes, and the reissue brings both in great bundles. I haven't heard it more than casually, though, so maybe it's actually a big mess when you get down to it.

Also, I stuck the mono Sgt. Pepper's release, linked earlier, into the car, and by the time I got to the title track reprise, it had really clicked. Again, for me, I think it comes down to weight, and the mono mixes seem to bring lots more of it.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:31 AM on August 31, 2009


Sys Rq: Still, yeah, sounds like shit on my iPod.

It would not sound like shit on your iPod if you encoded it in .aiff format–it would sound awesome, believe me. I'm pretty sure iTunes will transfer files directly into .aiff instead of .mp3 from the CD if you ask it to; and if, say, you wanted to play those wonderful .flac files that were posted up above on your ipod, you could convert them to .aiff using MediaCoder.

The second- and third-generation nanos have, I'm told, particularly good sound transfer. I haven't really done much testing or anything like that. The only drawback of doing it thiis way, the way I do it, is that I can fit two or three albums onto my iPod instead of twenty or thirty, but that doesn't bother me much; I spend enough time sitting in front of computers to load whatever I want when I need it.

posted by koeselitz at 6:44 AM on August 31, 2009


Will you hate me if I prefer the new mix?

Honestly? I haven't been bitten by the "please purchase this album yet again" bug for that particular release, so I've not heard the new mix yet. I've been told it's great, and friends I know who have both say that in a side-by-side the new beats the old hands down. One of these days, but just not right now, I'll get my hands on a copy for myself.
posted by hippybear at 8:15 AM on August 31, 2009


Teach, koeselitz teach! AIFF, y'all. Kicks mp3's ass to the curb and back.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:12 AM on August 31, 2009


koeselitz: Or you can use the Apple Lossless format, which takes about half the space as actual CDDA format (which is what .aiff or .wav is), and is equal in sound quality because it is a lossless format.
posted by hippybear at 9:14 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've wanted to try Apple lossless—but how in god's name do you encode it?
posted by koeselitz at 6:50 PM on August 31, 2009


I mean without registrationware like dBpoweramp.
posted by koeselitz at 7:47 PM on August 31, 2009


well, if you're using an iPod, I assume you also are using iTunes?

Depending on which version of iTunes you are using, these instructions may not be exactly correct, but inside your Preferences, look for "import options". On the current version of iTunes, this is located in the General preferences, in the lower half of the screen. A button there will bring up a sub-window wherein you can choose which format to encode files from CD.

If you have an older version of the program, this might be under the Advanced preferences tab.

Once you have this selected, it should be exactly like any other import process you have used before.
posted by hippybear at 7:48 PM on August 31, 2009


Yeah... I keep most of my stuff in FLAC files, and, obnoxiously, Apple can't be arsed to support it. Guess I'll just have to do the FLAC->WAV->Apple Lossless thing; no biggie.
posted by koeselitz at 10:22 PM on August 31, 2009


Ah. You must be using Rockbox on your iPod then?
posted by hippybear at 10:26 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Purple Chick
posted by milnak at 11:00 PM on August 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


koezltdshrshr: By "sounds like shit on my iPod," I was referring to the stereo mixes through headphones. Compression is irrelevant in that regard.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:29 AM on September 1, 2009


Yeah... I keep most of my stuff in FLAC files, and, obnoxiously, Apple can't be arsed to support it. Guess I'll just have to do the FLAC->WAV->Apple Lossless thing; no biggie.
posted by koeselitz at 1:22 AM on September 1


Ah. You must be using Rockbox on your iPod then?
posted by hippybear at 1:26 AM on September 1


You *must* use Rockbox on your iPod. And if you need to go buy a used gen 5.5 to do it, go for broke and get the 160GB one and not the 80. I love just rsyncing the FLACs onto my iPod but I need an exclusion list just because there's so much stuff.
posted by mikelieman at 4:18 PM on September 1, 2009


I'd have to get a third iPod to run Rockbox on, then. My early 40GB model is my portable hard drive, my 160GB is my music player (and I'm quite happy with what it does running the native OS), and my iTouch is a dev platform and satellite internet unit for when I'm sitting on the couch.

I'm not enough of a sound snob to require having my iPod be The Best Sound Possible. When I need that, I have a CD player which feeds a digital signal into my amp, which then pumps it out through my stereo system. For every other use, I can't imagine really needing high-end audio pumping through my ears as I walk down the street.

Still, I'm glad it's working for you. Does Rockbox even play Apple Lossless? Doesn't it play FLAC files directly?
posted by hippybear at 4:36 PM on September 1, 2009


oh, answered my own question. Rockbox supports FLAC and Apple Lossless natively.

Maybe you don't need to do all that FLAC -> AIFF stuff you've been doing.
posted by hippybear at 4:38 PM on September 1, 2009


ack, and I misunderstood something you wrote earlier. disregard my FLAC -> AIFF comment.
posted by hippybear at 4:50 PM on September 1, 2009


hippybear: Ah. You must be using Rockbox on your iPod then?

mikelieman: You *must* use Rockbox on your iPod.

I can't use Rockbox on my iPod; I've got a 2nd-generation nano. And given that the 2nd gens have Wolfson DAC chips that sound just dandy in them, well, I'm sticking with what I've got.
posted by koeselitz at 3:50 AM on September 3, 2009


MOJO review of the new (mono and stereo) remaster reissuesa
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:28 PM on September 4, 2009


For more detail on the Beatles mono recording techniques the book Recording the Beatles is a pretty definitive reference (though currently out of stock)
posted by Lanark at 12:58 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Both box sets have been leaked for a couple days now. These are REMASTERS, not REMIXES, so for people who have an issue with the hard panning in some of the stereo mixes, that's still there.

For my part, I find it less annoying given other improvements. though I still prefer the mono versions for some things, particularly headphone listening, the stereo ones are fine for most people. I'd go so far as to call them preferable if you are listening on speakers.

They didn't squash the shit out of the stereo versions. There's been some light compression to make them a little more palatable to modern listeners, but they are not particularly loud records. They also did some other minor work on the stereo versions.

The mono versions weren't touched at all, aside from, like, 2 minutes of de-hissing over the entire catalog.

While certainly they're going to make a ton of money, this doesn't feel like a cash-in at all. These albums were cared for and loved and now sound REALLY FREAKING GREAT.
posted by sparkletone at 2:26 PM on September 8, 2009


Amazon.com delivered our Mono Box this afternoon. My wife and I have been listening in utter delight. The White Album in mono is a revelation. It sounds SO FREAKING GOOD. The vocals are incredible. Some sound so different as to almost seem like different takes. The thing sounds so live. All sorts of detail comes through in an utterly different way, and we're talking about material that I know inside and out, that I've been listening to all my life. Stunning.

Right now John's Yer Blues is giving me chillbumps. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Oh, and the drums sound SOOOO much better.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:13 AM on September 9, 2009


I came here to echo flapjax at midnite's sentiments. The vocals and drums sound so amazingly great in mono. I put Rubber Soul on for a friend last night- first a few tracks from my years-old stereo CD version, and then the mono remaster counterparts. I can't think of a way to describe it without hauling out clichés. It's like night and day. It's like hearing them again for the first time. Amazing.
posted by Dr-Baa at 9:31 AM on September 10, 2009


I'm still waiting and waiting and waiting for my Mono Box, but Jesus Horse, Abbey Road in stereo sounds better than I could possibly have imagined, and like flapjax, I had actual, literal goosebumps by about 10 seconds into "Here Comes the Sun." It's fucking sublime.

I did some whining over why EMI would go to all the trouble to release the monomixes and then not bother to ice the cake properly and also put them on 180 gram vinyl as the good lord intended, but if the vinyl sounded any better than this, it'd be as dangerous as the Infinite Jest video.

Shit, I wish my Beatle-loving sister, who was 16 in 1964, had lived to hear this.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:14 AM on September 12, 2009


And you're dead on about the splendid drums!
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:16 AM on September 12, 2009


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