Listening to The Beatles in mono

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msnickybee
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Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by msnickybee » Fri Aug 12, 2016 3:10 am

Today, whilst struggling with some troublesome PowerPoint, I'm listening to The Beatles in Mono. On headphones.

Why am I subjecting myself to this, I hear you ask?

Well, it's interesting for a couple of reasons
(1) I'm a geek
(2) I need stuff to bore my "work husband" with (he talks about phones all day long)
(3) there's a lot to be learnt
(4) nostalgic reasons....I can still sing along to the entire Hard Day's Night album, despite not having heard it in its entirety for 35 years

So, let's talk about the sound.
George Harrison talked about how he reckoned that Stereo "ruined" the sound from their point of view.
(wiki page here)

Listening to the 2009 stereo remasters, things are panned SO hard left/right. Take "Fixing a Hole" (Sgt Pepper's). Guitar hard right, drums and bass hard left. Plenty of room for the vocals in the centre of course!!
Reading further into this, up to and including this album they all sat around at the end of the day listening to (and commenting on) the mix on a single speaker.
The Abbey Road folks then created the Stereo mixes AFTER they'd gone home. Wow.

I mean, if you think how we create and develop our mixes now. Modern mixing focuses more on creating balance I think, I may put an acoustic panned hard, but only for effect or drama, but not leave it there for the entire song. Double-tracking of strings is common of course. Widening and thickening vocals. And we eschew things like Bass guitars panned hard ("Paperback Writer"), of course. Ringo's drums too...

There is so much to be learnt from listening to both the Stereo and Mono versions however.

By the time of The White Album, they'd improved their stereo mixing technique. I read the "Steve Hoffman" forum a lot. He's an esteemed audio engineer who has specialised in audio restoration, I think he was involved in Hotel California and famously hunting down the best master to remaster from (so many folks DON'T do this).
Anyway, back to the White album, more folks prefer the Stereo version by this point. All that hard panning on the earlier albums can be tiring to listen to on headphones, that's for sure.

If you want to read more about the 2009 remastering project for the Beatles, there's more in part of the Sound on Sound article here.
Also, there's a bit about how the mono versions were recreated here.
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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by AHornsby » Fri Aug 12, 2016 8:47 am

The format for the original 'stereo' recordings were two microphones placed about as far apart as human ears. As such, listeners were given the 'live' experience.

Of course panning has all but taken over but to borrow a phrase, beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

My thoughts on your post MsNicky were that whoever 'owns' the rights to those Beatles songs now has the green light to do whatever they want to and whether it's an improvement over the original has yet to be determined. There's always some hype associated with 'New' releases even if they're old and the best they can hope for is a resurgence of the 'Beatle Beat' just like there was in the 80's.

Back in the day, what I perceived as panning on purpose was in "Stairway to Heaven" and I hadn't even smoked my first joint then. It had to be obvious or I probably would have missed it. After that the SGT PEPPERS album got another listen. -h

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6s1XTZDT5lk

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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by msnickybee » Fri Aug 12, 2016 9:35 am

I think you're right.
AHornsby wrote:beauty is in the ear of the beholder.
This too.

To me, the 24bit remasters *do* sound better.
There's always more that can be done though (like George Lucas with Star Wars), but sometimes it's time to stop messing around.... unless you want to keep making money of course (as you say).

One case in point with the Beatles where it really was a huge improvement was with the 2012 Yellow Submarine Songtrack, remastered from the 1999 rerelease, which also went back to the original mix tapes. Remastering will only get you so far... and it ends up presenting a much better stereo image on some tracks, avoiding a lot of the hard-panning.
It's well worth checking out!! BUT.... it's definitely louder, with less dynamic range. Discussed and compared here.

Anyway, I'll leave you with 2 things:

(1) 5 Beatles songs which really do sound better in Mono and why
(2) a list of their 101 greatest songs (and I kinda like the list)

Oh, and Jimmy Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin!!? Not on my stereo....... :-( Never. Each to their own....... :-)
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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by Mark Bliss » Fri Aug 12, 2016 10:32 am

I don't know what it is about those content laden sites like Mojo4, but they malfunction consistently for me, on every computer I have ever owned!

Anyway, I find the topic interesting on several levels.
One is that music is so open to broad interpretation, and opinions so widely varied.
I read the "top 100" list type of articles and wonder what they were thinking. I read peoples analysis and wonder what they were taking..... Did they listen to the same song as me?

Some consideration needs to be given to both the period/state of the music/recording industry and in the social dynamics of that particular period in pop culture. Further more, for me, some consideration for my own age at the time I experienced these tunes. I remember very well this "new" music like "I wanna hold your hand" had when released when I was quite young. And the experience of exploring Sgt. Pepper when I was the roughly the "right age" for that to impact me.

Personal preference, some of those listed songs are great and epic. Others perhaps would be quite forgettable had it not been for the hype of the period and the source being the great pop band they were.

Re-masters? Certainly the application of modern technology created clearer audio IMO. Merging some songs with tracks from other songs crossed a line for me however. Respect the classics.
The original tracks like Yellow submarine were a bit dull and muddy IMO, and certainly had potential for improvement.
And as far as the panning/stereo mixes go, they may have been an interesting way to create the sound of the time I guess, played on equipment of the time. I always found it a detraction or distraction on a good stereo, but on common equipment of the time, few people ever noticed probably. I didn't like it, just accepted it I guess.

People certainly still hyper-focus on this a great deal though don't they?
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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by msnickybee » Fri Aug 12, 2016 10:47 am

Mark Bliss wrote:People certainly still hyper-focus on this a great deal though don't they?
Absolutely!
I'm really a music and hifi geek first, and musician second.
Don't let me bore you to sleep!

I've hyper listened to their music over the years, and know Hard Days Night and Abbey Road inside out.... and because the recorded quality was there and the Abbey Road team know what they're doing, the remastering has actually benefited much more than sheer clarity.

I wasn't born when most of their music was released, but I'm part of that group of folks (along with Neil Young) that are convinced about HiRes audio too....with a Bluray release aside...We've seen a 24bit release which I believe gets closer to that Vinyl "whumph".

YMMV as they say............!
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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by AHornsby » Fri Aug 12, 2016 4:01 pm

Well put Mark. -h

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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by Mark Bliss » Sat Aug 13, 2016 7:10 am

To be clear, just because I may not share the rabid love for some of the material, it isn't an "I am right and they are wrong" response, its just individual tastes and styles I think.

Backing up- Led Zep comment.
When I was young I had a group of friends that seemed to "worship" Zeppelin. I didn't "get it". Yeah there were a few songs I liked, but everyone seemed to be enthralled with their every move. For me, I liked guitars, and some of the riffs rocked, but as soon as Plant started to wailing his insipid vapid lyrics, you lost me. Stairway to heaven is/was taunted as "the greatest rock song ever", and my response is still consistently "40X years and I still don't know WTH the songs about!"
The answer of course, is that it is about how the song makes the listener feel. Whether they are aware of it or not.

I tell that story not because of the specific opinion, but as a realization that I listen differently. And the recognition that my likes are not only a bit different, but that I trend away from the masses and what is popular, looking for the different.
I learned the hard way that putting on odd and obscure music I liked, turned most people off. They WANTED to hear the same stuff over and over. I was busy looking at b-sides and digging through the "back of the rack." I liked the "different" stuff.

No doubt about it, EMI/Abbey road worked miracles in their time. The stuff done on those crude consoles and four tracks is especially amazing. I think one needs to try working within those limitations to truly appreciate the results they got.
But yes, times have changed.

I have no doubt that the hi rez 24 bit content has the potential to sound better than CD standard 16 bit. Enough so that it would be obvious to everyone? Probably not. Enough to convert those satisfied with MP3's, earbuds or "smart" phone speakers? Probably not. Therefore my opinion on whether it will "become a thing"? Probably not.
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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by msnickybee » Sat Aug 13, 2016 9:07 am

Mark Bliss wrote:I have no doubt that the hi rez 24 bit content has the potential to sound better than CD standard 16 bit. Enough so that it would be obvious to everyone? Probably not
True enough.
The internet debates on this rage.
Me? I can tell the difference. The guys at work (always wanting to win *obviously*) have "blind tested" me with mp3 vs 44/16 flac vs 96/24 hires.
BUT, it has to be with something you're familiar with really.
Take Supertramp's Breakfast In America and the track "Lord is it Mine". The debates have raged over on steve hoffman about that one, and I've also got the Bluray version I then ripped to 96/24 flac. But then, I've got the equipment to play it on, and I get kept awake by a clock ticking in the other room (or a watch ticking inside a closed drawer in the closet).

In brief, I'm a pain in the a$$ ;-)

But seriously, I'm a music and hifi fan first, and musician second. And I wouldn't dream of trying to create hires content with my own humble meager skill, talent and equipment. I'll leave that to the experts.
Mark Bliss wrote:The answer of course, is that it is about how the song makes the listener feel
Perfect.
(but also I refer you to my former "hifi geek" comment lol)

I've really enjoyed my few days listening to The Beatles catalogue, in mono and in stereo. SO much to learn. Abbey Road is still a delight. But, that's what comes from growing up with older brothers...

The Beatles (obviously) aren't really on YouTube, but I'll leave you with this cute cover of one of my Macca Beatles favourites Maxwell's Silver Hammer, just to annoy you*, as most people hate this kind of cutesy thing from him. Me, I love it.

*sacrcastically obviously (you're all ace)
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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by Mark Bliss » Sat Aug 13, 2016 1:09 pm

Wow, yeah- that is an annoying song!

Just kidding, actually I always found the original cute and whimsical. And this version is fun! I see some video idea inspiration there I suspect......

The creative use of the sounds (like pshh pshhh etc) is really nicely done. I might not have immediately noticed them if not for the video. And that's a good sign they were well integrated!

The use of the lo-fi sections was far more obvious but works here. But brings us back to the mono/stereo considerations.

Most of the time, if the song is great, I feel such things should not be obvious or noticed. Just "felt" or part of the experience you don't really think about. (Unless you are a hyper analyzer like some of us I guess)
Listen casually to a truly great song. Do you hear the stereo field, or conversely, notice if it was mono? Or are you just moved by the emotion of the lyric, driven to tap your toe to the beat, or impressed by the versatility of the kazoo player? :?:
Similarly, considering the audio quality issue....... :wink:



I've been listening to some older stuff a lot too, and in this case, its acoustic string band music that's got amazing harmony singing, but recorded in the old radio style.
Generally that is one mic, with a great deal of the "mixing" done in the performance by movement of the various players for various parts, closer and farther from the mic. Sometimes the switch from a solo vocal to a 3 or 4 part harmony part means the song suddenly seems too loud.
You know what? Great song, matters little. Same thing on a lesser song, its a little annoying. 8)
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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by aj113 » Sat Aug 13, 2016 2:58 pm

msnickybee wrote:
Mark Bliss wrote:I have no doubt that the hi rez 24 bit content has the potential to sound better than CD standard 16 bit. Enough so that it would be obvious to everyone? Probably not
True enough.
The internet debates on this rage.
Me? I can tell the difference.
That may be, but it has nothing to do with the bit depth.

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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by msnickybee » Sat Aug 13, 2016 3:22 pm

aj113 wrote:
msnickybee wrote:
Mark Bliss wrote:I have no doubt that the hi rez 24 bit content has the potential to sound better than CD standard 16 bit. Enough so that it would be obvious to everyone? Probably not
True enough.
The internet debates on this rage.
Me? I can tell the difference.
That may be, but it has nothing to do with the bit depth.
Well, I can't get into the bit depth (or hi res) debate here, 'tis all over the interwebs. But hey, I'd rather have a well mastered redbook CD - that's absolutely fine, over anything else. I don't particularly need hires or 24bit for the sake of it. But, with storage as it is, there's no point to mp3.
If distributing a good quality product to us ends up with less processing to arrive at 24bit, then why not, as I'm not saying I can distinguish merely because someone increases the bit depth from 16.
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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by aj113 » Sat Aug 13, 2016 3:56 pm

msnickybee wrote:...But, with storage as it is, there's no point to mp3
It's not so much about storage, mp3s are easy to transfer over a network, so there's a big point to them.

Also, you don't seem to differentiate between the various levels of mp3s, - they are not all poor quality, 320kbps mp3s are CD quality (assuming they are generated from a 16 bit/44.1kHz wav).

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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by aj113 » Sat Aug 13, 2016 4:12 pm

Just to clarify:

I'm not sure what 'bit depth hi res' debate is being to referred to, but as far as I'm aware there is nothing to debate. 24 bit gives an extra 48db of dynamic range. That is all. Since 16 bit already has a 96db range the chances of hearing any difference by adding an extra 48db are zero. We don't produce music with a dynamic range anywhere near 96db, so increasing the range by another 48db will not increase the quality of it.

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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by msnickybee » Sat Aug 13, 2016 4:16 pm

aj113 wrote:320kbps mp3s are CD quality (assuming they are generated from a 16 bit/44.1kHz wav).
You spotted earlier that I said I was a "Hifi geek" and then decided to say that craziness eh?...oh you tease! lol ;-)
So nearly fell for it!!!
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Re: Listening to The Beatles in mono

Post by outteh » Sat Aug 13, 2016 4:55 pm

As an old hi-fi geek myself, keep in mind the equipment being used for playback. Since most pop music these days is played through poor sound systems, any difference in quality would be very difficult to discern. I worked in an audio-visual retail store back in the '60's. We did custome installs of sound systems for the very rich. I remember the first time I heard a violin concerto played back on vinyl through a system composed of bi-amped Bose 3000 speakers using McIntosh amps. You could actually hear the bow sliding over the strings,it was amazing, and that was the old analog days. :D

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