Is The Beatles Singles Collection Box Really That Bad? (Malachi’s Follow-Up)

Before I get further into this follow-up review, a short disclaimer: other than the US Apple/Capitol singles of “We Can Work It Out”/“Day Tripper” and “Hey Jude”/“Revolution” (which, as expected, sound lousy), I don’t have any Beatles 7” singles other than this new The Singles Collection box. All my Beatles listening is on LP (the 2014 mono series, the Giles Martin remix LPs, and a few mono and stereo UK and European pressings) and the occasional lossless digital format, therefore from these recordings I’m used to great sound quality. My expectations for The Singles Collection (generously gifted to me by AnalogPlanet editor Michael Fremer) were likely different from most others’: sure, I expected the all-analog lacquer cuts to sound good, but sound quality on 7” singles isn’t the first thing I think about. With the 7” format, it’s primarily about the musical content, collectibility, packaging (when applicable), and finally, sound quality.

Upon reading Fremer’s negative review of the box, disappointment and skepticism simultaneously set it. It’s a shame that they missed their opportunity here, but is it really that bad? I thought. My box arrived on Saturday (a day after release), and thankfully it’s not nearly as bad as he led me to believe.

First of all, we can all agree that the packaging for this box is fantastic. Housed within a glossy blue two-piece box, The Singles Collection is exquisitely packaged on the outside, and save for a few surprisingly grainy scans, the sleeve art for each single (replicating single sleeves from around the world) doesn’t disappoint. The booklet, while short, gives an easy-to-follow history of the Beatles and their single releases. The disc labels are just as great as the sleeves and continue the nice design concept. I saw some people on an online forum complaining that the box doesn’t replicate the UK sleeves and labels, but do you really want a box full of generic Parlophone/Apple sleeve designs? Didn’t think so.

Second, Optimal’s pressing, as Michael noted, is also, as expected, great. One of my singles had a label that was clearly wrinkled before adherence to the disc, but it’s barely noticeable. Only a few of my discs had slight warps, and during playback all 7”s are quiet. Not bad at all for a 23 record box set.

Now, let’s dive into the sound. Save for a few singles from digital sources (“Love Me Do”/“P.S. I Love You” due to a missing tape, “Free As A Bird”/“Real Love” because of its completion on U-Matic digital tape, and one or two other unknown singles due to tape deterioration), this set is cut all-analog from the original single masters. Fremer’s assessment noted that these cuts’ sound is mostly attack with a dried-up reverb space, and I noted the same thing. However, it doesn’t negatively impact many of these singles, particularly the 1962-65 cuts, all that much. The entire set typically sounds brighter than what I’m used to on these recordings, but again, I didn’t expect audiophile 7” 45s here. Some of the sides do sound more distant and muffled than expected, specifically “I Feel Fine,” “Help!,” “Rain,” and “Eleanor Rigby.” The singles that ended up on the Magical Mystery Tour LP (“Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane,” “All You Need Is Love”/“Baby You’re A Rich Man,” and “Hello Goodbye”/“I Am A Walrus”) are the only ones that truly disappoint; they’re overly bright, compressed, and fatiguing. Without these, the set would be an 8 for sound but factoring them in lowers the score to 7. It’s not the best for sound quality, though it’s nowhere near as bad as Fremer’s initial review states.

Overall, this set is a nice decorative piece that’s a pleasure to look through, sounds good enough, and provides listeners plenty of exercise from flipping/changing records every song. While the Magical Mystery Tour-era singles greatly underwhelm, without referencing the 1977 World Records box, The Singles Collection sounds about as good as you’d expect it to; not quite audiophile but mostly nowhere near bad. It’s a bit overpriced (I don’t think it should cost more than $180) but if you’re a Beatles fan and collector, don’t be deterred from buying simply because it’s not the absolute best sounding Beatles singles box.

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GAAudioLVR's picture

I was/am on the fence about this one. When I initially saw it announced, I thought it would be a sure buy for me but suddenly the not-so-great reviews started popping up. I'm thinking it might be a buy for collectability reasons. Thanks for the followup.

RVG Edition's picture

Having heard neither the original British singles nor the World Records box that Michael has been referring to, it's hard for me to put these reviews into context. For those songs included in both the new singles box and the vinyl Beatles in Mono box, can someone please do a compare and contrast? (Mikey - I know that you promised in your "Jury of My Peers" post that it would be your last word on the matter, but I know that you have heard both).

MalachiLui's picture

Mono Masters sounds far better than any of the singles. again, the singles box is more for fun collectability than it is audiophile sound quality. same with the rest of the 2014 mono albums vs the new singles.

RVG Edition's picture

Given all of the trouble that they apparently went through, it's a pity that it hasn't turned out to be both great fun and a good sonic reproduction of what's on the tapes they used. It makes me wonder whether the tape masters for the singles also suffer in comparison with the album masters.

thomoz's picture

The mono lp box with the Mono Masters singles comp sounds absolutely stunning, including the MMT mono lp within that box.

So if you have unlimited money (well, $1100-1300 on the resale market today) and want to hear the best vinyl pressings of that material issued in the last decade the mono LP box is absolutely the BEST way to go.

As far as I can see the only reason to buy this singles box is the funky sleeves, which are nice but not $230 nice.

Tom L's picture

going for $300 on Discogs.
A couple of days ago it was $160.
The release of the new box is helping to sell the old one!

Michael Fremer's picture
Being an egomaniac did my review help cause this?
Lemon Curry's picture

I had a chance for one on ebay but I jumped off the bidding when it hit $175. I'll come back next year for it :-)

Tom L's picture

I have to believe you are right about that...probably half of the tiny potential market for those 45s reads your stuff.
As for egotism, who could possibly be better qualified to diagnose it than the subject himself?

Chemguy's picture

...audiophile 7” 45s? Malachi, that is precisely what you should have expected! Cut from all analogue, at the superior 45 rpm speed, limited pressings...the sound should grab you and smack you around!

This is what we all experienced back in the day, when buying 45s...the sound of them was always impressive, generally superior to the album cut.

No, this box should be the definition of hifi.

MalachiLui's picture

sure, the 45rpm speed is superior BUT the 7" format can create more inner groove issues.

also, this box is probably far from limited.

wozzabear's picture

good comment there malachi - people buy these packages for many reasons - sentiment, investment, the pleasure of the object. I have all of these tracks in multiple forms collected over the years. I doubt I will ever actually listen to these particular 45's - apart from anything else, leaping up and down to flip records every 3 minutes - well - life is too short. I'll listen to the choons on album format I guess. but I think the box is likely to be highly collectible - I'll pass it on to my kids, and its a lovely thing in itself. there are as you note other contexts than purely audiophile ones to consider here. Which is not necessarily to excuse any sound quality reproduction issues - which seem to be debateable from the range of comments including yours. Is Michael sending his box back ???. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

Unlike 12" 45 rpm the 7" format was never 'audiophile'. Same material on LP at 33 rpm always sounded better. If they matched to the original UK single sound expect something that wasn't optimised for your audiophile TT.

Lemon Curry's picture

Mono Masters selling right now for $60 on Amazon. Listened to mine this past weekend, sounded great.

I'm not into the collectability of the singles set. A+ sound, meaning BETTER than Mono Masters, would have pulled me in. But a 7/10... no.

timware's picture

I just ordered one of the singles from the World Records box to compare with the same from the reviewed box set. Details to follow.

Of course my system is relatively modest — Hegel H90 amp, Vincent PHO-701 preamp, Technics SL-1500C with Vessel A3SV cart, Magnepan .7 speakers — but it should suffice.

JamboLinnman's picture

Did you get the chance to compare the sound with a single from the World Records box?