The Beatles Mono Box Set at Abbey Road

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The audio part in this was an assembly of high-end equipment, to play the system proper. From end-to-end, this included Ortofon’s special edition 2M mono cartridge (launched as a tie-in with the Beatles Mono set), played through a Vertere Acoustics RG-1 turntable with SG-1 tonearm, into a Naim Audio Superline, a full Naim Statement system, and then to Focal Grande Utopia EM loudspeakers. Mark Tucker of Focal was doing an admirable job of playing the Platters that Matter (in dreadful light). This was a fairly substantial system in its own right, but played in a packed Studio 2 of Abbey Road (a room 24’ high, 38’ 3” wide, 60’ 2” long, and with room treatment that was state of the art… in the mid 1960s), this was playing at close to PA levels, and keeping it together.

The session began with brief discussion, followed by a spin-up of ‘You Can’t Do That’. The discussion group were clearly on a rockin’ tip, because this was swiftly followed by ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Revolution’. The discussion inevitably turned to the differences between the stereo and mono mixes. There few new revelations here (the usual tales that the Fabs didn’t really take note of the stereo mix until The White Album, the stereo and mono takes were sometimes made several months apart, how you can hear the tape of the aircraft taking off at the start of Back in the USSR degrading between the two mixes, and how they had to use the same piece of radio recording for I Am The Walrus), although Ken Scott did admit that McCartney was the first to get into making different stereo mixes, because he realised “if we make them different, we’ll sell twice as many records!” Scott then told us that at one point during a recording of “Your Mother Should Know” he had to tell the Beatles to “shut the f**k up” because they were making too much noise in the control room.

The rest of the tracks played in the fixed set were ‘Boys’ (a recommendation by Kevin Howlett, which led compare Mark Ellen to utter the Alan Partridge-esque “What is it you like about Boys?”), ‘Sgt. Pepper (reprise)’ leading to ‘A Day In The Life’ (which was a frankly awesome experience in context, even if the audio engineers in the room were concerned about just how much punishment domestic audio can take playing crescendos in excess of 100dB in a room that large), then ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. At which point the room was thrown open to the audience choices.

The date took on marked significance when a member of the audience recommended we listened to the demo version of ‘Love Me Do’, because it was recorded in Studio 2 on September 4, 1952. The intervening 52 years just melted away, and many in the audience were visibly moved just from listening. We ended with ‘Norwegian Wood’, because someone in the audience wanted to hear something a little less raucous.

For a Beatles fan, this was close to religious ecstasy. In the room where they cut the music, listening to the music on remasters that are so extremely well-respected for taking you back to the original event (and no, I don’t have the box set… yet). 

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