The Remastered Beatles: Stereo & Mono Box Sets, The Beatles USB
he Beatles entered the world of compact disc in the late 1980s when their entire catalog was released on the (new at the time) medium.
Unfortunately there were a couple of big issues with the way their music was released on CD. The first was that it wasn't mastered particularly well (some would say that's an understatement.) The second was that only the stereo mixes for most of their albums were released on CD, leaving the mono mixes that were the standard for most of The Beatles' career on the shelf.
Both of these issues have been corrected in 2009 with the release of new Beatles remasters. Digital mastering has come a long way since the '80s and while that hasn't all been progress (look into the "loudness wars") the technological advances did wonders for these remasters because those that did them had the taste not to over compress and squeeze the life out of the music.
And with the release of The Beatles in Mono Box Set, the original mono mixes that most Beatles fans listened to in the 1960s are finally available on CD.
While The Beatles in Mono was the most exciting new Beatles release for real hardcore Beatles purists, the most popular box set has definitely been The Beatles in Stereo. And that's for a lot of very good reasons. For one it includes The Beatles' entire 1960s discography (unlike the mono box set which is missing the last few albums) and for another it sounds absolutely delicious! While it's a real treat to hear the mono mixes for the first time, I must say that it's the stereo mixes that stay in my CD player the most because they just sound so great.
Compared to the old CDs, these new remastered stereo discs really pop. In particular I find that Paul McCartney's wonderful bass lines (and in my opinion, he's the best bassist in pop music history) really punch through the mix like never before. But Ringo's drums and the beautiful harmony vocals are close runner ups as they both seem to be more clear in the mix than before.
If I had to choose just one song as an example of how much better these new stereo mixes sound I would point to "Long Long Long" which sounds like it's under a pile of blankets on the old CD. There are bits in this song that were nearly inaudible before, that now really jump into the ear and make themselves known. It's a revelatory experience listening to this wonderful under appreciated George Harrison written gem.
As great as the stereo box set is, there are still some "purists" who feel strongly that The Beatles in Mono is really the way to go if you want to hear The Beatles as they were originally meant to be heard. The reason they believe this is because back in the 1960s almost all of The Beatles fans actually listened to their music on mono playback systems. And John, Paul, George, & Ringo themselves grew up listening to mono.
Because of this they put almost all of their energy into making sure the mono mixes were as good as they could be. On the other hand up until around 1968 the band and it's producers didn't put nearly as much thought into their stereo mixes. They were usually "thrown together" after they worked out the mono mix.
Often times they would try experimental approaches such as having all of the vocals on one side and all of the drums on the other. Because of this many people find many of the stereo mixes unsettling to listen to on headphones.
These two box sets are not the only remastered Beatles compilations released in 2009. The third is The Beatles USB "Apple" flash drive which is a digital version of The Beatles in Stereo. It includes the same elements (both sound & vision) except on a USB instead of on a set of CDs.
The really cool thing about it to me is that you can essential hold The Beatles' entire career in your hand. I think that's fantastic. It's also very cool that this USB contains "better than CD" audiophile 24bit FLAC versions of all of their stereo remasters. Of course it also includes the first official release of The Beatles in the mp3 format, and they do it right with high quality 320 mp3 files.
All three of these of these groovy products makes 2009 the year of the Remastered Beatles.