"A Hard Day's Night" Mono Better Than Stereo?

Back in 1964 American buyers of the mono "A Hard Day's Night" Soundtrack album (United Artists UAL 3366) got a better deal than did the ones who bought the "stereo" version. While the latter's instrumentals were in true stereo the Beatles songs were mangled by UA engineers into versions that were electronically reprocessed for stereo.

On the other hand the mono buyers got a unique edition of "And I Love Her" where Paul's vocal isn't doubled. Early buyers got copies where "I'll Cry Instead" was listed as "I Cry Instead".

U.K. Beatles fans got a 14 song collection containing the seven movie songs on one side and six others written during the same incredibly busy and productive period of time. A Hard Day's Night was the first Beatles album with all songs written by the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team. John Lennon is the album's vocal star though Paul's "And I Love Her" is a stand out.

Annotator Tony Barrow writes about side two: "...it would have been a pity to cast aside such a fabulous set of songs solely because they couldn't be fitted into the structure of (the movie soundtrack)." That is true. Capitol released a few of the missing six tunes on Something New but omitted a few others while also including some but, of course, not all of the soundtrack tunes.

For Beatles fans it would have been a confusing period of time except that most were not aware of what was going on on "the other side of the pond" and had no idea that a label called Parlophone even existed or that their favorite albums had different covers, different titles and different tunes.

By this time Abbey Road had 4 track recorders and George Martin was able to produce better sounding records and definitely better sounding stereo records, though these were still produced by panning mono tracks and solidifying the mix with reverb as was and still is true of most "stereo" rock records.

The stereo digitally sourced reissue was among that box's best sounding records. Still, the mono mix has a lot going for it as well, especially an overall solidity and thrust that's diminished in stereo.

There's greater detail to be heard through this reissue compared to an original mono but that's not necessarily an advantage, especially on the double tracked vocals where you can far more clearly hear individually the separate tracks and hear where the singing is less than perfectly synched. On the other hand, useful musical details like the gorgeous strummed acoustic rhythm guitar on "And I Love Her", less obvious on the original, here shine.

Conversely, the double tracked sibilants sum up to greater than the individual parts and can be grating if you have to volume up too high or if your system begins with an edge. On the original mono these sibilants smear more smoothly together and so aren't as obvious. The smear hides the less than perfect vocal tracking. I found lowering the volume a bit solved that issue without diminishing the musical enjoyment or lessening the exposure of previously glossed over details. On balance I think the new reissue is superior in some ways to the original and perhaps not as good in others.

Overall, this is another successful mono reissue, the "analogy" nature of which should be immediately obvious to you, especially in how the reverb produces depth and naturally decays. It's slightly less fully fleshed out tonally compared to the original but it reveals far more detail as "detail" not as etchy brightness. The mono CD sounds good for a CD but lacks the vinyl's high frequency clarity and airiness, plus overall it sounds drab compared to the LP. But you knew that.

I was going to write that I prefer the stereo mix to the mono but I went back to the original to be sure. The stereo mix is tonally similar to the mono mix, which means it can be a bit spotlit on top but the added reverb produces a cushion that softens the blow. The reverb also diminishes the musical impact and after spending a few hours listening to the mono, the stereo sounds disjointed, subdued and surprisingly limp. I agree with Phil: "Back to Mono" Spector.

By the way, have you ever noticed John's odd harmonica swallow at the beginning of "I Should Have Known Better" where he seems to be sucking in and getting no sound? It's not in the mono mix. The stereo mix must have been cobbled together using the harmonica part from a different take. I bet he never bothered listening to the stereo mix because had he, I bet he would have nixed it.

AnalogJ's picture

Michael, you express some minor misgivings about the sound, expressing some preference for the original. You give both the music and sound a 10. The latter doesn't seem in keeping with your review.

Interestingly, my 1982 Japanese red vinyl mono is wonderful, with great presence and no overt brightness. I don't know if you have heard any of that series, but I'd be happy to lend it to you.

Michael Fremer's picture
Has that same brightness. The reissue simply clarifies its origins by separating out the vocal sibilance in each of the doubled vocal tracks... I may not have been sufficient clear there. I don't have AHDN Japanese red vinyl but I have "Revolver", "Sgt. Pepper's...." and "For Sale" and I think those comparisons should be sufficient to know whether there's a consistent difference. Those were made from tape copies don't forget, but the tapes were also 32 years fresher...I'll get to "For Sale" soon enough! I appreciate the offer though...
JC1957's picture

Over in the UK, the album had 13 songs not 14 this time around. No Harrison compositions or a Ringo vocal.

bill lettang's picture

I don't think so...He's definately heard it, and if you look at the blu ray AHDN concert clip, stereo, you'll see he's is miming to the stereo harmonica break taking his mouth off the harmonica at that precise spot...I think it's cool, more bluesy and less generic than the mono, but that's just my take..It's all great cause it's all Beatles!!!

jazz and cocktails's picture

Michael- curious if you've had, or will have, to compare these to the 24 bit files that were available as a complete set on an USB stick a few years ago. i have that set, as well as the mono box, and to my ears, the 24 bit files sound better across the board.

Superfuzz's picture

The files on the USB were stereo mixes... no point in comparing. Mono mixes were never released as 24bit files

jazz and cocktails's picture

we're comparing editions of the Beatles' catalog. if this is the best vinyl edition (not saying it is, but maybe), it'd be interesting to compare it to the best digital edition, whether mono or stereo.

Superfuzz's picture

What's the point in comparing an apple to an orange? Sure, he'd hear a difference, but the main difference would be that they're different mixes, nevermind that they're on different formats... some of the Beatles mono & stereo mixes have different takes of some tracks... You might as well ask him to compare these reissues to the stereo vinyl boxset, or original stereo UK LPs...
Anyway this is all so anal-retentive. Apologies for interfering with your request. :)

isaacrivera's picture

Primarily because comparing analogue to digital in general would require two reproduction systems in each domain of the same quality which render the sources equally. This is of course impossible. There is no way to have a transport + DAC that is comparable in quality and has the same effect on the reproduction of the digital material to the turntable + phono preamp and its effect on the records. Unless we can guarantee that, whatever differences we hear can simply be attributed to a different system. Just like the same record would sound different if we changed the phono preamp or cartridge.

However, comparisons are not entirely useless. One may still have different perceptions of the material or preferences for those perceived qualities even if those differences can't be attributed to the source format itself.

Now to say that one re-issue is better than the other if problematic unless the only thing that is different in the reproduction is the source format itself.

Michael Fremer's picture
The CDs? Yes. 24 bit depth beats 16 bits every time.
jazz and cocktails's picture

my question, which may have been lost, was given you're comparing the LPs to the CDs, have you had a chance to compare the LPs to the 24 bit files? if so, what did you think?

cundare's picture

"my question, which may have been lost, was given you're comparing the LPs to the CDs, have you had a chance to compare the LPs to the 24 bit files? if so, what did you think?"
I see you still haven't gotten a straight answer (other than the ever-annoying "Your question doesn't make sense!" responses). Apparently, nobody _wants_ to answer. Too bad, since I'd be curious, too. Although I do agree with the apples-and-oranges comments, it would still be interesting to know what a knowledgeable listener with top-notch gear who understands the implementation-dependent distinguishing factors hears when he at least tries to compare the two. Even apples & oranges are both fruit.

AnalogJ's picture

The problem with comparing mono to stereo here is that they're almost completely different presentations. So much so, that it gets firmly into subjective territory. Do you prefer a more cohesive mix, or the ability to highlight more of the individual instruments and voices. The songs have different mixes.

Every individual comparing the two will have different preferences. That's different than comparing two different masterings of the same master tape.

timorous's picture

John's harmonica riff at the beginning of ISHKB is repeated 4 times before the vocal comes in. On the stereo mix, the last time through, he takes a breath, which results in a gap in his playing, which sounds odd and kind of wrong. If you listen to the mono mix, you'll hear that the last repeat is spliced in from a copy of one of the previous riffs. At the end of it you can hear a low level 'pop' where the tape was spliced. The two mixes are from the same take, it sounds like. Have a close listen. Some time ago, I had a go at editing the digital stereo track in much the same way, and seamlessly (without the pop).

bill lettang's picture

Hello timorous, I don't think John's 4th harmonica riff sounds wrong at all, but I respect your not liking it. I've had a lot of harmonica friends of mine tell me this is a standard technique when one wants to "pull off" on a note, and thats how they and myself hear it...It's also not a mistake as some have contended because it resolves differently than the mono.....maybe George Martin didn't like it so he had it changed, but if you watch the AHDN video like I suggested, John certainly seems to...Also, I promise not to make this site into a free for all on this topic so that's it from me on this...Hope you enjoy the mono box Sir!!!

timorous's picture

You're likely correct, Bill. Considering that John would have had to play the full 4 riffs without taking a breath, was probably asking too much. It's not surprising that he paused on the original take.

The drawing in of air can be a good harp technique if done properly (like most blues artists can), but in this case it sounds a bit amateur (scuse me, John)..but not bad. I can see why George Martin was inclined to 'fix it'.

timorous's picture

I have an original stereo pressing (Canadian copy from early 1965) of UAS 6366. The instrumentals are in true stereo, but the Beatle tracks are all straight mono mixes (not duo-phonic or a fold-down of the stereo mixes). There ya go..for what it's worth.

Just for fun, I bought the recent UA CD re-issue. They've done a pretty good job of it. It contains both mono and stereo mixes. The packaging is also an accurate replica of the original cover (at slightly larger than CD wallet size), with the front cover folded over the back of the cardboard sleeve, and the back cover pasted over. It even has a replica of the cheesy inner sleeve, advertising other current United Artist releases of the day. For completists only...

DavidFell's picture

The harmonica into to I Should Have Known Better was edited in the mono version; they never bothered in the stereo mix. Years later, Capitol did a slightly different edit with the same effect, which I think is on the Reel Music LP. I was surprised Giles Martin didn't fix this for the recent reissue of the AHDN movie. The original mono soundtrack, which is included on the Blu-Ray as well as the new 5.1 version, has the fixed intro. Giles should have finally fixed it in stereo.

Of course, we Americans didn't hear the harmonica flub on our AHDN LP, which used bizarre electronic switching in lieu of stereo. I though the version on Something New was an entirely different recording when I was a kid, because of the flub.