The Rolling Stones in Mono Box Set Reviewed

You don’t have to be Phil Spector or Brian Wilson to appreciate mono sound, as anyone who’s purchased the recent mono Beatles box can attest. When these records were originally produced, they were meant to be heard in mono both because they were played on the AM radio, which was mono and because the young people buying the music mostly had monophonic record players. Plus that is how The Rolling Stones wanted to be heard, which is the most important reason of all.

So groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones—as well as their producers, engineers and manager—were far more concerned about the mono mixes than they were about the slapdash stereo mixes produced later, often without the group’s participation. This was also true of Bob Dylan, who after attending the mono mixing sessions of “Blonde On Blonde” left Nashville, leaving to others the stereo mixing chores. Of course in the case of The Rolling Stones, the early albums were never released in “stereo”.

Fine, but what does that have to do with today’s listening, which is almost exclusively stereo? The early recordings were produced on but a few tracks so often sub-mixes that contained more than a few elements had to be produced to make room on adjacent tracks. These sub-mixes were intended to be “folded down” to produce the more important mono mixes, so most of the time, in order to produce the stereo mixes, voices and instruments were placed haphazardly left, right and center in what’s best described as “three-track mono” or as was the case with early Beatles albums two track “left/right” mono with the instruments on one side and the vocals on the other, which produced a totally unnatural perspective.

In the early days of stereo having different sounds coming out of two different speakers (plus the “phantom” center channel) was a dazzling novelty making it easy to ignore the disjointed and artificial soundstage, with each of the channels having its own compartmentalized sonic environment. When exposed to the original mono mixes of familiar “stereo” mixes, today’s more sophisticated listeners can easily grasp the superiority of the mono mixes, which have a coherency, solidity and yes, depth of field that make the stereo mixes sound disjointed and far less satisfying.

That is one of the reasons original mono pressings of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and other groups have increased in value. That said, bass had to be seriously attenuated (“rolled off) and dynamics compressed on those early records so they wouldn’t skip on “kiddie phonographs” of the day.

In fact EMI had an employee whose only job was to play test pressings on all of the “kiddie phonographs” of the day to be sure they would play without skipping. Those that did were labeled (for obvious reasons) “kangaroo cuts” and new lacquers had to be cut with less bass and perhaps less dynamic range.

Records in the recent mono Beatles box have noticeably superior bass compared to the originals and greater dynamic range as well and that too can be expected from The Rolling Stones box since these LPs are made to be played back on today’s high quality record players that can track the lowest bass notes and the widest dynamic range found on the original tapes.

Box Set Production

With The Rolling Stones in Mono, ABKCO, which owns the Rolling Stones Decca catalog, gives us, for the first time, the complete English and American Rolling Stones catalog in glorious monophonic sound. We get the albums and the Stray Cats a collection of orphaned “B” side singles, single versions of songs, songs that appeared on hits packages and nowhere else and a few other songs.

More so than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones were a mono band. Unlike The Beatles, they didn’t bother mixing and/or releasing primitive “stereo” versions of their early albums (though there’s a two CD stereo bootleg that’s fun, though at odds with the band’s intentions), and ABKCO has released certain tracks in stereo that previously only appeared in mono.

However, The Rolling Stones in the 1960s was a band that played live in the studio and depended upon microphone distance and instrument placement for a good mix more than they depended upon getting it right in the mix.

If you’re wondering why The Rolling Stones in Mono box set was sourced from the original analog tapes transferred to DSD (single bit, 2.8224 MHz sampling rate digital) and not produced like The Beatles mono box¬—put up the tapes, cut lacquers all-analog— you’ve probably not carefully considered the differences between the two catalogs.

The Beatles were signed to EMI. George Martin was the producer and called the shots throughout most of the band’s recording career. EMI chose the studio (Abbey Road) and EMI chose the engineer. Throughout most of the Beatles’ recordng career, there were but a few of them: Norman Smith, then Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott, though it got more complicated towards the end.

Nonetheless, almost everything was recorded in one studio by but a few engineers and all of the tapes were stored in Abbey Road’s lower level vault where they remain to this day.

The American Beatles release story is more complex, with Vee-Jay handling the first record called Introducing The Beatles (plus singles on Tollie and Swan) and then Capitol taking over starting with Meet The Beatles and eventually gaining control of the Vee-Jay material, which it later released as The Early Beatles.

It was a messy situation compounded by Capitol’s creating new albums with fewer tracks and including singles not included on U.K. albums. But Capitol also changed the sound, adding echo and shifting the equalization, as well as producing “fake” stereo versions of some tunes for which Capitol had only been sent mono versions.

The produce these “new” records, Capitol had to take the tapes they were sent—already copies at least one, perhaps two generations down from the masters—and then copy again to create the cutting masters, while at the same time adding the echo and whatever else they chose to do to make the sound more acceptable (they thought) to the “kiddies”.

At some point these American masters were probably copied “for safe keeping” with the copy becoming the “master” available for future reissues. A mess! Which is why when EMI reissued the American records on a CD box set, the producers found the sound of the tapes so poor, they were compelled to re-assemble the tracks using the digital masters produced for the Beatles’ stereo CD box set. Here’s a picture of the American Help! master tape.

Note that to produce that one, Capitol had to splice in the instrumentals and that “Ticket to Ride” was in “duophonic” not real stereo, though it’s in real stereo on the UK original. Who knows how many generations down were these tracks used to produce this “master tape”? Is that the one you’d want as a vinyl reissue?

The Rolling Stones

Unlike The Beatles’ relationship with EMI, UK Decca Records did not “own” The Rolling Stones. Instead, Andrew Loog Oldham, having learned the independent game from his mentor Phil Spector, licensed to Decca the Rolling Stones’ recordings, while maintaining control over the content, the production and probably the cover artwork as well (though I don’t claim to know the precise relationship between Decca UK and it’s London American subsidiary).

However, in the UK, singles were never included on albums and four song 33 1/3 rpm, 7” EPs were popular but not so in America where singles were included. This required different track orders, with singles and E.P.s on albums, all of which for the American releases, Andrew Loog Oldham controlled.

That control explains how The Rolling Stones were able to record wherever they wanted, not where Decca told them to record. The first album was probably the only one of the early releases recorded in one studio (Regent Sound Studios, London)—and until Their Satanic Majesties Request, the last one to have identical tracks on both the British Decca and American London releases.

By the second record, they were recording and paying homage at Chess, Chicago and at RCA in Hollywood. On December’s Children (and everybody’s) engineering credits go to Dave Hassinger (Hollywood), Ron Malo (Chicago) and Glyn Johns (London). Starting with Between the Buttons, the group settled in at Olympic for the rest of their time with Decca Records. It Should Be Obvious

Given the cut and paste nature of many of these records, particularly the earlier American releases, attempting to cut lacquers from the original assembled cutting masters (assuming that they still existed) would be as bad an idea as cutting The Beatles Capitol catalog from those later generation “modified” tapes.

The production chain here started with Restoration Producer Teri Landi, who supervised the sound restoration by The Magic Shop’s (RIP) Steve Rosenthal and Ted Young. You can be sure that these old tapes probably had some issues in need of correction. Fortunately, after listening through the entire set, it doesn’t sound to me as if “sound revision” was on their menu.

Landi also gets credit for the analog to DSD transfers (with the ubiquitous Gus Skinas serving as DSD consultant) as well as for tape archives research. No doubt ABKCO got everything on tape and that includes outtakes and alternative takes that had they made it to record instead of the ones on the original records, would prove embarrassing—and that’s happened many times in the reissue business.

The transferred files were then sent to Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering for final mastering. What does that exactly mean? It means final file “assembly” and spacing for lacquer cutting as well as making EQ choices when necessary and whatever else Ludwig felt was needed to be done to produce coherency within each record, just as was done to produce the originals. However, Ludwig was not required to attenuate the bottom end, or squash dynamics so that the records would play on kiddie phonographs. He did confirm the major sonic discrepancies from track to track, because of the many recording venues. He emailed this, with permission to share:

“Yes, unlike the Beatles where it was all recorded and mixed basically at EMI and was quite consistent, the Stones were recorded and mixed all over the place and there was very little consistence from track to track. There was one Stones track I worked on that had massive amounts of low frequency rumble from foot stomps and of course the public has never heard it because every time it was mastered it was something that obviously needed to be filtered out. Also, not one bit of echo was added to anything, ever!! It was always there on the mix to be revealed or hidden”.

Once the files had been mastered they were sent (probably over the Internet) to Abbey Road Studios where Sean Magee and Alex Wharton cut lacquers from the DSD files. As best as I can determine, at no time were the DSD files converted to PCM or in any way decimated.

The Uniformity Issue

When original Beatles or Stones albums were released over the better part of a decade, you can be sure the mastering chains used changed over time. These changes affected the final sound of the records—for better or worse—yet in reissuing a decade’s worth of records in a single box and mastering all of them using the same chain, you run into a “uniformity” issue.

Yes, you can EQ each record to resemble the original if that’s your goal, though you’d not want to chop off the bass on the tape or cut dynamics for the sake of “authenticity”, but in the end the sound of the mastering chain will poke through, producing a similar character to all of the records in the box. There’s no way to avoid that, nor is there any way for you to avoid having every record you play take on the character of your system, though of course over time you get acclimated to it and don’t hear it until you hear a familiar record on someone else’s system.

In the case of this Rolling Stones box (and any other box set produced and mastered by one individual at one cutting facility), what you hear is the product of the original tape sound of course, but played back on a particular playback deck, through a particular set of electronics and then cut on a particular lathe through its electronics.

In the case of this box there was one addition step of course, digitization using a particular DSD A/D converter.

Despite the claims of the “digital people” that digital is “transparent”, as anyone can tell you who’s played around with converters and filters, each has a particular sonic signature. So, yes, at first you might notice a particular sonic signature most easily in how the converter deals with sibilants, which produces a particularly uniform “S” sound, but you’ll soon get over that, especially if you take the time to compare original Decca and London (and UK mastered Londons) with these reissues.

There’s really no comparison that favors the originals, unless you are hopelessly nostalgic. When people used to describe these recordings—particularly the early ones—as “dirty”, they were describing more how they were mastered than how they actually sound.

Of course if you’ve not done so I invite you to listen to the Analog Planet Stones Comparison Radio Show. Look, I’ve been playing the originals for decades and as far as I’m concerned, going forward, this box set—despite the “uniformity” issue—is how I’ll be playing these albums. When I compared with the box set reissue, a Decca-pressed “London FFRR” version of Out of Our Heads, the original sounded compressed, cloudy in the midrange and rolled off on bottom.You can compare for yourself at the end of this story. Interestingly, so far as I write this people are preferring the original.

The Artwork

A few YouTube viewers were critical of the cover art based upon seeing the first few album jackets. It’s obvious that ABKCO did not have the original photos for those two, but did for most of the American jackets, which are very well reproduced.

The main offender (no Keef pun intended) is Their Satanic Majesties Request, which is just not accurate—even leaving aside the non-lenticular 3D cover. The picture is sized wrong. The stereo box cover is far better. But that’s the worst one. They got the labels correct in terms of logos and colors (they could not duplicate the originals as EMI could with the Parlophones, without identifying them as ABKCO) and admirably, they left off the bar codes.

A few readers requested album by album coverage but I’m going to have to pass on that. Instead a quick rundown because annotator David Fricke does a very good job with the timeline and analysis in the booklet:

The 1964 debut album (in American called England’s Newest Hitmakers with Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” opening instead of “Route 66” and missing “Mona”) was a set of mostly covers—and for the white American kids mostly unfamiliar stuff —that’s more about high energy and enthusiasm than anything. “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back) is the Jagger/Richards original that lets you know something is happening.

Next to be released in America was 12X5, which was a play on the name of a U.K. only EP titled 5X5. It packed a wallop, containing a combination of covers including Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around”, “Time is On My Side” (most people to this day have never heard Irma Thomas’s gospel-tinged original, from where Keith took the guitar solo note by note), the Womacks’ “It’s All Over Now”, and others but the originals including “Empty Heart”, “Congratulations”, and “Grown Up Wrong” demonstrated a wide range of original ideas. Even though it was a Frankenstein-like patch of “stuff”, for American kids it was really the beginning of their love affair with The Rolling Stones .

Next in the U.K., released in 1965, came The Rolling Stones No. 2 another dark cover—the same one used in American on 12X5. This one was recorded at Chess, RCA Hollywood and Regent in the U.K and like the debut album it’s mostly covers including Allen Touissaint’s “Pain in My Heart”, but it has three originals “What A Shame”, “Grown Up Wrong” (was on 12X5) and the sardonic “Off the Hook”. The version of “Time Is On My Side” here has a guitar intro, the one on 12x5 has an organ intro.

The Rolling Stones Now! was issued in America only as the third Rolling Stones album and again it was recorded in Hollywood, Chicago and in London at Regent Sound. It has the liner notes from the UK No 2, a different version of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” than the one on No 2, another Chuck Berry song, “Mona” that was left off of the first album, and has “Pain in My Heart” credited to “Neville”, which was a pen name Toussaint used. It also has three remarkable originals: “Heart of Stone”, “What A Shame” and “Surprise, Surprise” that demonstrated the ability of the group to have original hits.

The fourth American record issued in 1965 was Out of Our Heads, which has another dark-ish cover and a combination of rocked-up covers and originals recorded again in Hollywood, Chicago and London. It lists the engineers finally, Dave Hassinger, Ron Malo and Glyn Johns. It doesn’t get any better than that! The originals include the monster “Satisfaction” as well as “The Last Time” and the flip side of that single, “Play With Fire” as well as “The Spider and the Fly” and the rave up “One More Try”. For American Stones fans, this one felt coherent, even though it was another “cut and paste” job.

Then came the third UK album also called Out of Our Heads but with a different cover that would be repeated in America as the cover of December’s Children (and Everybody’s). The UK Out of Our Heads included songs from the American version plus ”Gotta Get Away” and “I’m Free” plus “Heart of Stone” and the hilarious “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” who probably knew who he was when he first heard the song. How many kids back then knew what a “promo man” was? Very few you can be sure. This collection was 100% recorded in America in Hollywood and Chicago.

Aftermath released in April, 1966 in the UK and June 1966 in America was the first Stones album featuring only originals and it was also the first since the debut to be recorded in one studio, in this case RCA Hollywood where Dave Hassinger gave the group a pristine, echo-laden sound, similar to Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow. After so many raunchy sounding records, this one sounded like “butta”. The American version had the sitar infused hit “Paint It Black”, which since it was a single, was not on the UK original. The cover art was as different as the track selection and order. The UK version was longer and included “Mothers Little Helper”, “Out of Time” “Take it or Leave it” and the country-ish “What to Do”, none of which were on the American record. The songwriting on this album was on another level entirely compared to previous efforts, especially “I Am Waiting” and “It’s Not Easy” and of course “Paint It Black”. Everyone, but especially Brian Jones, experimented with a wide range of instruments that were in the studio and that added to the quality of the record, which originally was going to be a soundtrack album.

The Stones toured America that summer in support of the album and I took a date to see them at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. They arrived by helicopter, took the stage and as I remember it (many years ago), when they got to “Paint It Black”—the third song—bedlam broke out, security couldn’t protect the stage and a guy wrapped his arms around Mick Jagger’s legs and attempted to give him oral sex while he banged the tambourine on the guy’s head!

The situation quickly spun out of control and they group exited the stage and left the scene in the helicopter. Or I imagined this but I don’t think so!

Next the group returned to Olympic, which only had a four-track recorder. It was issued in January of 1967 in the UK as the fifth album and in February as the seventh American album. It’s the first Stones album with identical covers for both sides of “the pond”, though there were track differences with the singles “Ruby Tuesday” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” appearing only on the American version. It’s said to be the group’s first psychedelic outing but the songs really don’t really sound so. “Yesterday’s Papers” sounds like something out of Motown, “My Obsession” has an eastern musical feel, and the other songs perhaps have an unsettled feel but psychedelic? “Who’s Been Sleeping Here” brings out the Bob Dylan in Mick Jagger. The final song, “Something Happened to Me Yesterday” is a quaint, old fashioned thing more associated with Paul McCartney than with Mick Jagger. The back cover cartoon is the most psychedelic thing about the record, which paled sonically compared to Aftermath. With but four tracks much overdubbing and track wiping must have gone on.

In the summer of 1967 Andrew Loog Oldham released in America the compilation Flowers, in the wake of The Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. It had tunes left of off the American Aftermath and Between the Buttons plus three never before released tunes “Sitting on a Fence”,”Ride On Baby” and “My Girl”. It also has “Mother’s Little Helper” “Backstreet Girl”, “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” A nice compilation but after Aftermath and Between the Buttons it seemed like album filler. In retrospect, it’s a great compilation!

The Rolling Stones “answer” to Sgt. Peppers… was the ill-conceived Their Satanic Majesties Request, which was a messy, self-indulgent concoction, that had some good moments despite itself, especially “2000 Man and “2000 Light Years From Home”. The true mono mix here is much better than the more familiar stereo mix. You’ll hear.

I’m not going to write about the two “fold down” albums, Beggar’s Banquet and “Let It Bleed except to say there are real mono mixes of “Sympathy For the Devil” and “Let It Bleed” that are superb.

Finally there is the double Stray Cats, which has early and alternative tunes plus singles versions of “Street Fighting Man” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” plus the Italian version of “As Tears Go By”, “I Wanna Be Your Man” written by The Beatles for The Stones, “Not Fade Away” (left off the UK first album) and other items of interest for Stones completists.

Conclusion

As I write this, the YouTube video you can watch and listen to below has attracted many comments and people seem to like the original of “Play With Fire” over the reissue. I completely disagree! One person said the reissue sounds “muddy”. Yes if your system can’t cope with the prodigious bass and others think it sounds “cloudy”. I can only tell you that in my system and to my ears, overall the reissues have far wider dynamic range, much better bass, greater transparency and are overall much better. You can also listen to the high resolution files here:

File "O"

File "R"

COMMENTS
Findog3103's picture

I totally agree, the mono box set sounds amazing compared to the albums and cds I have already, especially Between the Buttons, Aftermath, Satanic, Beggars. I don't quite understand the muddy comments on other websites for Let It Bleed either. I don't hear it. Glad I purchased the set.

Michael Fremer's picture
It's people whose systems can't handle bass...
recordhead's picture

as little as I would play this box I just can't justify spending the money. My London mono's will have to do.

gena3750's picture

Thanks so much, Michael, for such a detailed and in depth review. I'm the guy on YouTube who has been waiting impatiently to read what you had to say on this box set. I ordered mine the other day and from what you've said here I'm sure glad I did. Can't wait for it to get here. Your reviews are a public service. Thanks again.

AnalogJ's picture

Assuming both the CD box and LP box, released at the same time, use the same DSD masters, might it make sense for those who are budget minded to buy the CD box of this?

Neward Thelman's picture

CD's are the most evil, corrupt, anti-musical, anti-human, inhuman, unhumane, alien, evil - oops, already said that...OK - never, ever, ever, ever buy CD's.

They're even worse than full range ribbon speakers and Harry Pearson's audio dictum requiring the reproduction of soundstage depth and accurate imaging. As The Prophet* has said, there's no such thing as imaging in real life, and only old, peaky, resonating-box horn speakers are SOTA.

Even if the mastering source was a digital DSD file, you should only listen to the vinyl, cause the vinyl stage of mastering and pressing will encompass the entire suite and spectrum of vinyl distortions - and who'd want to be without that [see posts below].

GRITTY SOUND FOREVER. Rock on.

* A. Dudley [sacred is his name].

AnalogJ's picture

I'm listening on a Monsoon computer speaker setup, admittedly. It's actually quite good for computer speakers, but it's not the highest of hifi either.

That being said, the original sounds more alive to me. There is a brighter edge to Mick's voice. The reissue sounds smooth, but it also sounds boring. I went back to the original after listening to both to give it an A:B:A comparison. While the original may not have the bass extension, I found myself more compelled with the performance via the original.

GroovyGuru's picture

Totally agree, there is more life in the original, I had the same impression when I listened to the reedition of the singles of the Cramps, this kind of music needs to be harsh...
I'm a sound engineer, not an audiophile, I listened through a sennheiser HD25

Neward Thelman's picture

Grit, grunge, and Godly distortion are what music and life and everything are all about.

In fact, I'd say that as harsh, bass-free, compressed, and nerve-shreddingly nasty as those old originals are, they're not nearly painfully distorted enough.

They require MORE distortion. No clean, modern DSD remastering with a full range of frequencies and no compression or bass limiting can EVER ever ever ever ever ever ever do justice to those garbagy sounding originals.

Therefore, what any analog-minded apostle [and that'd be you] should do is find a vintage Sears Silvertone record player [an Admiral TV console is also a good choice], turn it's volume control to it's full 50 milliwatt maximum - thus clipping those powerful milliwatts into that maximally limited frequency response paper cone single speaker - and then stand back to experience all of the rat-grunge the recordings deserve.

Cause - that's the only way for the sound to have more "life".

Gee - isn't there a digital way to encode 99% distortion into any sound recording? Then, future masterings could have distortion injected right in. Oh - but that distortion wouldn't be analog distortion. Never mind.

Rock on.

Martin's picture

Even over my computer speakers - external Harmon Kardon stick stacks with the subwoofer under the desk - the reissue sounds slightly flatter than the original. Yes, it's smooth, but I think the original has something the reissue lacks. As much as I can get it through what must be a pretty lossy digital link.

I have a pretty sizeable collection of Stones stuff, including the DSD reissues. The last couple of times I've had someone talking about digital vs. analog etc. I've put on the reissue of Satanic from the box set of a few years ago and played "Citadel". Then I play a Decca original, an "Unboxed" Decca label first pressing. Citadel I find a good track to do this because there is so much going on, so many different instruments, and that bell thing testing the top end.
The difference is not subtle. The reissue is flat and has much less life than the original.

We won't go into the 1964 Chess tracks on 12X5 which were all recorded and mixed to stereo by some of the greats in the business. These do sound better in stereo.

Yes, the sound is wildly inconsistent. It's part of the charm though. Just match the levels and live with it. You can't compare the beautiful full dynamic range of the Chess sound with the chopped off bottom and top of the RCA stuff. So put it on in all it's flawed glory.

It's a real shame no-one is making the effort to do a Rolling Stones reissue set all analog using todays equipment. Yes, it would be incredibly finicky, time consuming and a major effort, but given this particular bands influence on popular culture, I would argue it's worth it.

To hear how some of it can sound, the 12" 45 rpm single reissue last year of "Satisfaction" with "Under Assistant promo guy" and "Spider and the Fly" shows that this stuff can sound pretty good, though you can't get away from the fact that Satisfaction just is not a good recording. That chopped off "RCA sound"...
Under assistant was cut at Chess, so sounds great.
These are the best sounding versions of these tracks, period.
This reissue was done all analog. It can be done if the willingness to make the effort is there.

An all analog reissue set of the Stones, either at 33 or 45 rpm, I would pick up immediately. Cost is not an issue.
This set, nope, I'll pass.

J. Carter's picture

Where did you hear that single was done all analog?

I'm quite certain it was taken from the same DSD transfers that this mono box was taken from.

Martin's picture

Who mastered it.
He confirmed. All analog.

Michael Fremer's picture
Each track would have to be transferred from tape to tape losing a generation because of all of the different studios etc. Very time consuming and expensive. The only way it could happen is crowd funding and I don't think it would be successful.
J. Carter's picture

I find it funny that the ones that comment on here that prefer the originals because they sound more alive are all listening to them on computer speakers.

I have listened to the AB comparisons that Michael did on his radio show and I have compared the only original I own (Rolling Stones no 2) to this new box set on nice headphones (Sonus Faber) and on my main system and I definitely prefer the new reissues over the originals.

The comments about the originals sounding more alive would make sense on a system like the ones described especially if the comparisons weren't level matched when compared. That is, making sure the sound level was the same between tracks, the volume knob will most likely need to be adjusted between versions since the reissues are more dynamic so in turn don't sound as loud at the same volume level on any system.

Martin's picture

So I've downloaded the high res. transfers and will take them home to play on my home system. Which most certainly can handle bass. And top end. And everything in between.
Curious to see what I think....

AnalogJ's picture

You're statement about "computer speakers" certainly lumps a lot into that undiscriminating statement. Certainly many computer speakers are relative crap, but the Monsoon model I have is, in the words of Larry David's character on Curb Your Enthusiasm, "pretty, pretty good".

The other thing is, you don't say what about the new one you prefer. I can see one or another thing about the new one appealing to certain listeners. Please tell us what about the new one you prefer?

A couple of us noted an aspect of the original we preferred, one that I tend to find in common with digitally remastered vs. original (from tapes) pressings, and that is that the digitally remastered ones may sound cleaner but also sound more dead. I'll use the remastered All Things Must Pass as an example. My UK original sounds more alive, more engaging than the reissue, it has better flow, though the reissue sounds "cleaner" and you can hear more into the mix (And chatting with Art Dudley about it, he had the same impression that I did about the LP reissue).

readargos's picture

For those who don't know, Monsoon are planar-magnetic computer speakers with a sub. I have a pair. I'm not sure they make them anymore. Not on par with a state-of-the-art desktop system, but not exactly a compromised compact solution.

cundare's picture

I think you're talking about the Sonigistix Monsoon MM-1000. That model was one of only a few that Sonigistix released that would keep a casual audiophile happy. And I think they deserve a little more praise than they're getting here. They're really remarkable, fast and very flat (at least down to the upper-bass registers). Serious nearfield monitors that are definitely capable of resolving minor differences between recordings. They do require careful placement, something that almost never happens on a desktop. Get it right, though, and the soundstage and imaging snap right into place. I believe some headphone manufacturer with audiophile creds ultimately bought the technology when Sonigistix went under and incorporated it in some well-reviewed 2016 models.

readargos's picture

Price ranged from $149-$299. As I recall, with the pricier models, you paid more mostly for a larger (sub)woofer and more power. Mine are the less expensive Planar Media 14. There's a pretty good blend with the bass module provided you keep the bass level knob on the low side and/or pull the woofer out a bit from the wall. But yes, it was Songistix, then maybe Level 9 Sound Design. Their full-sized FPF-1000 hybrid loudspeaker was reviewed by Kal Rubinson in Stereophile.

At the time I bought these, I was running Magnepan 1.6 QRs in the main system with Krell KAV amplification and CD player (no vinyl at the time, alas). The Monsoon system lacks scale, of course, but like all planars of my experience, does midrange palpability quite well. Similar to headphones, there are benefits with nearfield listening, including less room interaction, and it generally takes less heroic efforts to uncover fine detail. Not state-of-the-art desktop reproduction, perhaps, but not laughably inappropriate for monitoring, either.

Thanks for the tip about the headphone technology.

J. Carter's picture

I'm sorry if I offended you in what I said about computer speakers. The fact remains the same however, the best computer speaker setups although good generally don't and can't sound as good as a good two channel setup. The Monsoon speaker setup is no exception even though they are a good setup. They just don't have the quality amplification needed to produce the proper dynamics needed. Not to mention that in most cases (yours may be different) you just can't set them up properly in the room for proper acoustics. Now that's not to say they won't sound decent and can't, because they can, but they just won't be in the same class as say a pre amp, amp and speakers setup perfectly in a room that is acoustically treated which is the way my system is setup.

When it comes to the comparisons, I'm not sure I would classify explaining that the original pressings sound more alive and engaging and the new ones sound dead is really explaining so anybody can understand what you mean. What does more alive sound like? To me the new ones sound more alive because they have deeper bass extension, the highs aren't rolled off as much and they are more dynamic. That is generally what I consider more alive and engaging. Some people prefer more compression and in many cases I do to except if you are comparing a remaster to some originals but I just feel these sound better with less compression being used.

The point I was also making was when Mikey did his radio show where people didn't know which version was which in almost every case people were picking the reissue as the one they preferred. Once people knew which was which they started saying how they preferred the originals more. I find that suspect to say the least. Now, it wasn't always the case but it sure was most of the time.

AnalogJ's picture

Many home hifi enthusiasts have near-field listening setups, which largely eschew room acoustic issues. Sound engineers largely do their work with monitors in near-field situations.

I am not necessarily doubting that the new ones are more extended. They may have greater large-scale dynamics. My "computer speakers" are conveying an air and transient snap on the original in this particular cut that are missing on the reissue.

Perhaps in Mikey's system and setup, I might render a different opinion. But my ears, as a musician, have been developed since I was in first grade. And my computer speakers are discerning enough to hear differences in recordings. They are, for instance, FAR more accurate and revealing than my car system, which clearly masks and colors the music.

So please be careful of generalizations.

AND...what qualities in the music are important to you may be not as important to me. We may prioritize different things.

cundare's picture

No, no, not offended at all. And I agree with most everything you say. Maybe it makes sense to just characterize the MM-1000 as "the best of the middling." As you say, almost all desktop systems are a different animal than the type of gear reviewed in Stereophile, but within the constraints of form factor & cost (the Monsoons ran about $199), I was impressed.
But only with those caveats -- having Monsoons on my desktop never cut into my Quad time!

Glotz's picture

I agree too. People have opinions, but truthfully, not informed ones.

NOT trying to insult anyone- I appreciate their assessments as they hear it.

There is way too much deviation from 'flat' in these types of systems for anyone to do an analysis on computer speakers.

Glotz's picture

I would demur that 'pretty good' is not even remotely close enough... as in the full range reproduction of bass. Just not going to produce the range nor depth and extension that is needed for a remotely fair comparison.

I got the impression you were insulted as well. The reader wasn't trying to insult you- bandwidth is a huge consideration with the differences conveyed here.

I am sure the stark contrast between issues would be obvious on a system like Mikey's. Once again, ears I trust.

Unfortunate that Mikey's system isn't at the Smithsonian for all to hear...

AnalogJ's picture

There are some fantastic computer speakers out there. There are also the cheap, awful kind. But don't lump them all into one.

A decent sound card and good speakers designed for near field listening CAN convey good sound. My speakers, designed by the guy behind Eminent Technologies, are pretty good at relative accuracy. It's a shame they are not being made anymore.

My reference is my own high end hifi system, which is pretty good at picking up nuance and differences in recordings as well as different cables and power cords. So when I listen to a recording via the computer, I can hear when a piece of music is off the mark, and if so, by how much.

I was commenting both on the visceral impact as well as on some of the differences I was hearing in that recording. I'm obviously not alone in preferring the original.

You are probably also aware that there are those who prefer Beatles original Parlophone monos over the new ones, even though the new ones are more neutral. The originals have a boosted upper midrange. That adds an impact, and some may prefer it that way. So be it.

Glotz's picture

Whatever your personal findings and feelings about the originals are, I will always take Fremer's opinion over a random readers', as he has proven through years of professional reviews that he can be trusted and that his finding are accurate. If he says I can't see anyone thinking the originals are better- he is right- you ain't. Until you are a professional with a proven track record for years, don't fool yourself.

And yourself... is a dude that wrote a 10 sentence blurb on a website? I'm sure your system is perfect in every way and your perceptions are infallible. I'm sure your PC is amazing and your main rig is 'pretty good'. Talk about generalizations. Good sound, great sound... reference quality sound... way too much variance for some dude on the internet to pretend he has a grasp on the subtle differences between good and great. Try not to take everything posted on the internet so personally.

I trust some dude on the internet to be honest implicitly without embellishment... pfft...

Slap your own face first.

AnalogJ's picture

Dude, I was trying to be playful and not intending to threaten.

Second of all, I AM a professional. A professional, classically trained musician who has been playing for about 50 years, so I'm not some schmoe when it comes to music and sound.

But you DO realize that personal opinion comes into play. And all you've been doing with all your posts is trying to undermine the validity of my opinion. I have had plenty of back and forths with Michael Fremer and Art Dudley and the like. We agree on some things and disagree on others. All have respected my opinion, even in disagreement, because I do come from an informed place.

You can like or dislike something as you see fit.

Enjoy the music.

Brother John's picture

Dear Michael,

Thanks for your thoroughly researched, enjoyable review. When I read your reviews I learn lots about artists and recordings that I never knew before as I did today. That's why Analog planet is my favorite website.

cdb3's picture

Many thanks for the very thorough review. I was tempted to buy the vinyl version but settled in the end for the CD box with the intention of getting some of the vinyl issues next year when they come out individually. However, I have wondered how the early UK LPs here compare with the pressings in my 1964-69 vinyl box, where of course they are also in mono.
Thanks
Clive

PAR's picture

Michael that was a lovely piece of writing from you, Great research and personal memories.

I just about recall the release day here in London of the Stones first record " Come On". Stripey orange Decca paper bag and dark blue label with silver print. Us young teenage Mods gathered round a Dansette or some such player. They were big with us as they were regarded as a "certified" Mod band that had played a couple of local gigs in South East London at the Glenlyn Ballroom ( the Who played there too originally as The Detours).

Anyway, moving ahead, I am not sure that Decca's/Oldham's original thought for the second album was necessarily 12x5 as Decca sent a truck load of the second album (UK version) to the docks for shipment to the USA. The truck was , as we say, nicked and most people I knew had copies bearing a red London, not Decca, label. All obtained , er, by special means ;-). However it also lends credence to the fact that London discs were pressed at the same plant as UK Decca's.

Perhaps the theft of the truck made Decca/Oldham rethink things hence 12x5.

A long time ago but I think my memories of it are still intact.

jbeal's picture

In your review you mentioned that you were going to provide a recommendation to listening to Mono pressings with a table that has a stereo cartridge. Would you still provide your opinion/recommendations? Thank you.

J. Carter's picture

If you are talking about new mono releases they are cut on a stereo cutting head so if you just sum the left and right you should be all set. You can do this by buying a combiner and splitter for your RCAs or there are some boxes that do it for you if you can find one. Some pre amps have a mono switch also.

For old records they make mono cartridges that you can but on your tonearm.

AnalogJ's picture

This would really need to be done after the phono stage amplifier (The signal before the phono stage from the turntable is too weak to put anything in the way).

You can create a setup from Radio Shack (which is what I did, though now I have a standalone mono cartridge). You want something that allows you to plug your RCAs from the phono stage into a single RCA, which effectively sums the stereo signal into 1 mono one. Then that 1 mono gets split back into 2 cables to go into the preamp.

So you need a reverse y-cable to the preamp section (or to the integrated). You are going to plug the opposite "gender" of the RCA (so you're plugging a male into a female) on the other connector into the Y-cable setup that is coming from the phono stage. That second part needs to branch out to 2 RCA cables, each of which will plug into an set of inputs on the integrated or preamp.

The visualization would essentially be below. The illustration represents 2 cables merging into 1 RCA, then 1 RCA splitting to 2 again to the preamp.

Phono stage here|>--<|Preamp (or integrated) here

Make sense?

kimi imacman's picture

Hey Michael, great review as ever mate, always an insightful read. I'm on the fence with this one. 'Play with fire' track you've posted I still prefer the original, not for its sonics per se but its drive. Key is the tambourine which just gives it greater drive to these ears. With the reissue I just loose a little interest. Sure the reissue is cleaner, is that some wear I hear on you old copy, esp in the chorus vocal?
The difficulty for me is that being in the UK and only having UK originals; you've managed to find a track I don't have to compare!! Any chance of another posting, maybe one off the UK artermath (my original is mint;-) ) please?
Thanks, Kimi

Michael Fremer's picture
This coming week.
AnalogJ's picture

Yup. That's what I was "driving" at. Sure, the new one sounds cleaner, but the original is more compelling, more fun to listen to.

Mfalcon's picture

How is the Physical Box? Maybe compared to the recent Bowie boxes. People have complained on Amazon that it was cheap.

cdvinyl's picture

Michael,

Thanks for all of the time and effort you give this community. It is only through your hard work that someone like myself can make a reasonable assessment on this boxset. I love the early Stones and do not own any of their original mono records. This set in Canada will set me back over $700 with taxes. Saving up now.

cdvinyl's picture

Michael,

Thanks for all of the time and effort you give this community. It is only through your hard work that someone like myself can make a reasonable assessment on this boxset. I love the early Stones and do not own any of their original mono records. This set in Canada will set me back over $700 with taxes. Saving up now.

jbr's picture

A very interesting and thorough review. One minor nitpick. In your comments on the "Rolling Stones Now!", you mention "another Chuck Berry song "Mona", that was left off the first album." "Mona" was written and originally recorded by Bo Diddley.

Rayman's picture

I buy so many albums. But you are the best Michael and this review proves it again!!

lionel's picture

in 2004 you wrote : "Right to the point: no, the 11 new ABKCO limited edition 180g vinyl Rolling Stones reissues ( already available in Europe) do not quite measure up to UK DECCA originals, but who expected that? The tapes are between 35 and 40 years old and the superlative DECCA playback/cutting/plating/pressing chain is long gone. If you have the DECCA originals you’re not shopping for these anyway.

Sure, in an ideal world we’d prefer to have had albums like Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed and Aftermath cut to lacquer directly from the original tapes, but they weren’t. Instead, the final DSD masters created by Bob Ludwig referencing original UK Decca, and US London LPs were used. "

As this box is it from analog master tapes or not???

You compare Beatles Box with this one, but Beatles box is really from the original analog master tapes.

Jeffrey Lee's picture

Your questions have already been answered. Just read the story.

TommyTunes's picture

I wish that they would have put the same effort into this set that EMI did on the Beatles. No complaints on the sound but the artwork is terrible. The covers are cheap and not doing the 3D cover for Satanic and not including the Let it Bleed poster is inexcusable. The Stones deserved a top notch reissue of their mono lp's even more than the Beatles. The Beatles mono collection had reissues in the eighties in both the UK and Japan, the Stones mono were never reissued.
At least the sound is good unlike the recent Pink Floyd reissues that lose on both counts. I hope the the forth coming Kinks set gets it right.

J. Carter's picture

The newest (2016) Pink Floyd reissues sound great, far superior to the ones did a few years ago and in many cases give the originals a run for their money. Are they better than the originals? No but given that you would have to pay at least two or three times what the new ones are selling for to find a really clean original that can beat them I would say they are worth purchasing and sound really good.

PeteH's picture

I can say IMO Saucerful of Secrets and Obscured by Clouds are both excellent quality reissues in every regard. They hit all the marks for me and worth the slightly higher cost. I'll be getting Meddle next.

thomoz's picture

I preferred the reissue when I played them mid-Saturday. I listened in the sweet spot and then again later well-off-axis, hearing how the room breathed when pressurized. The reissue had the extra scale and punch.

bkinthebk's picture

I'm a little lost on this sentence. These two albums in this box are fold downs and not true mono? So if one was to choose between stereo and mono for these two, go with stereo?

"I’m not going to write about the two “fold down” albums, Beggar’s Banquet and “Let It Bleed except to say there are real mono mixes of “Sympathy For the Devil” and “Let It Bleed” that are superb."

lionel's picture

ok for you it's clear, but for me, it's not !!!
So I asked question simple without story and everything and put in parallel That Mr. Fremer wrote in 2004. And moreover, some people said that beggards banket and let it bleed come from the stereo mix to do a mono.and that mono box come from the stereo dsd to mono?. So beside perhaps the answer of Mr.Fremer , you can if you like explain to me what I didn't understand. Thanks!!!

Roy Martin's picture

...doesn't pass the Turing Test.

lionel's picture

I listened "Let it Bleed" album in mono. I have the original US of this album and the dsd 2003. Really I don't understand some of you who told : IT'S GREAT. I can't beleive. I don't think it's good. I don't think it's about EQ of my 70's amp lamp. So my question is not about sound because I m agree with Michael Fremer, we have to listen to it and to choose. My question is : Is it from original mono master tapes (to dsd) like the beatles (true orignal mono analog tapes)or these lp are from dsd stereo to mono. After what you think about sound and so on it's your buisness. For me 12X5, Aftermath and Between the buttons sound's really better in mono, the first one and second are already in mono in 2003. And I don't like let it beeld and will tell you later about beggards banquet......But I would like answer about my simple question....Thanks Michael and ...

lionel's picture

In fact my conclusion : a big MASS. Ok I just finish to listen to beggard banquets and for me is like Let it Bleed. I don't like it. I prefer original US from 1969 and dsd 2003. Now for the others I already said my thought. The best way for me to listen to the music on my system is to put the LP and don't touch anything on it. If I have to change something... don't work in my ears.

PGB's picture

Michael, you say: "... The first album was probably the only one of the early releases recorded in one studio (Regent Sound Studios, London)—and until Their Satanic Majesties Request, the last one to have identical tracks on both the British Decca and American London releases."

Not quite identical - "Mona" although on the 1st UK album, was replaced by "Not Fade Away" on the US "England's Newest Hitmakers", and "Mona" appears for the first time in the US on "Now!" Of course, you correct this later in the review in your brief discussion of each album. So, no big deal, I guess :)

Terrific and thorough review - I've ordered mine (CD, Amazon UK - WAY cheaper as the poor old pound sterling is taking a beating!)

AJMHobby's picture

But can't afford :( Will the LPs be released separately?

Garven's picture

This article seems to suggest that Teri Landi and Bob Ludwig did new work for this Stones in mono box. Did you have this confirmed or could it be that Abkco had the mono versions in the can all these years and never got around to it.

For one thing, it's long been said that Bob Ludwig does no mastering for vinyl anymore and hasn't since he sold his lathe after someone royally ruined his vinyl cut of Exile in Main Street in 1994! So I'm surprised that Ludwig did a new mastering of this material specifically for the box with Abbey Road's cutting in mind. It's more likely that Ludwig did these mono tapes when he did the work for the 2002 DSD releases. The albums with no stereo versions were released back then in vinyl cut by Don Grossinger and then again by GZ for the 64-71 box in 2011. An engineer for GZ told folks on the Steve Hoffman forum that Abkco sent GZ 24/192 PCM copies of the DSD masters for the 2011 box. So it's possible they just did the same for this new release and Ludwig wasn't involved at all since 2002.

Anyway, just speculating. Michael, did someone tell you that Ludwig did new work on these especially for the mono box?

hans altena's picture

First of all thanks for getting me to buy this set in Europe Michael, because on vinyl it is phenomenal! The vinyl dead silent, though sometimes some cleaning was required, the sound clear and full of dynamics, with details never heard and sometimes placed in better context. It really beats my 2003 vinyl copies, so I do believe they were specially taken care of by Bob Ludwig, even the ones already in mono then are beaten, and my originals too, the warmth and power is astounding. Now I even have fallen in love again with TSMR which my big brother back then bought in mono and which fell out of grace when I got my own stereo album. It's the Stones restored to their original raw sound and even hitting harder. The two fold downs I still have to think about. I do wonder which earlier tracks are fold downs as well, or if before Beggar's everything was a dedicated mix, rumors arise again on the internet (in the article I liked the mention of the importance of the placement of everything in the studio, above the final mixing, Dylan recently proved how beautiful that can work and I always work that way with my bands).

Bluejimbop's picture

Until I realized that I would only be adding my salt to the sea.

mauidj's picture

I just ordered the vinyl set from amazon and noticed it says it is an Amazon exclusive.
Does anyone know how it differs from the versions sold elsewhere?
It is cheaper that's for sure.

Lothar's picture

I just want to give a bit of clarification for people confused about BB and LIB in mono. Those two LPs were released in both mono and stereo editions in the UK on the red Decca label.

Both the mono releases contained 'fold-downs' of the stereo mixes with the exception of "Sympathy For The Devil" which was a true mono mix.

"Sympathy For The Devil" is worth the price of admission IMO. I have an original unboxed UK Decca and that tune rocks lots harder in mono -- both the bass and the piano are far higher up in the mix and overall it's significantly louder and more percussive. Very cool if you ask me.

I may be in the minority here but I think the rest of BB sounds great in mono, too, even if folded down. On my original UK Decca the tonality is warmer, richer than on my original stereo UK Decca. Don't get me wrong, I like the stereo, too and if push came to shove I would pick the stereo if I could only keep one. The more acoustic numbers open up in the stereo mix, but therein lies the rub. This is one of those records (IMO anyway) where some tracks are better in mono and some better in stereo.

Ditto LIB in mono, but again some tracks sound better to me in mono, but most are better in stereo.

So despite those records being fold-downs, I would not dismiss them outright.

I've read a theory that a number of UK Decca rock/blues recordings issued from 1967 onward were likely fold-downs, but done right. Possibly engineered to fold-down properly. I read someone who compared the stereo and mono editions of many John Mayall / Bluesbreakers records and the timings were identical, thus his theory was born. I believe there may be something to it, especially since Sympathy For The Devil was the only one on BB to get a dedicated mono mix -- I've read the piano disappeared on the first try fold-down or something.

In any case, despite my having originals (and multiple copies at that) I may still get the box and I'm glad it contains BB and LIB.

Don Roderick's picture

Okay, I have just listened to both tracks on an excellent (my) 2-channel setup from my laptop VLC player transmitted through the AudioEngine Bluetooth receiver.

First of all, the frequency balances are subtly different. There is a stronger (?) midrange on the remaster which at times makes the tambourine and upper registers of Jagger's vocal more prominent on the original. Take your choice.

The more disturbing aspect of the remaster comes as a result of the obviously improved dynamic range. The volume levels occasionally, briefly get louder - to these ears - NOT due to the band playing or singing louder. Here and there the volume unnaturally just gets louder then recedes again. Ironically, I prefer the compressed original because this sonic artifact is not noticeable on the original.

Thoughts, anyone? Rock on!

marmil's picture

Hi -

Could you pls explain how a Y-connector works? Thanks.

rl1856's picture

I listened to the YT comparison, using my laptop, and a pair of headphones (Sony MDR V50). To my ears, and given the lo-fi sonic chain, I thought the original sounded better. There are differences that once known become easy to pick out. I did several quick a/b comparisons. The original has greater midrange clarity and more air, with better sense of instrument decay. The reissue has better and tighter bass, with slightly better hf extension. Midrange sounds flatter, and there is a slight nasal quality to Jagger's voice that I don't hear on the original. Reissue has less decay around single instruments and specifically the marimbas. I was unable to assess dynamic range given the limitations of my setup. I will redo the comparison on my computer system: PC->HRT streamer->Musical Fidelity a3.2 int amp->Spica TC 50 speakers set up nearfield. When in the sweet spot the speakers sound like a big pair of headphones, with substantial depth and imaging. And later on my main system (LP12 based).

jpvisual's picture

Michael is right people. This box sounds great.

swimming1's picture

Just broke down and bought a couple of the lps,the first and 12X5 off of eBay. The sound is washed out ,lacks the gritty vibrant sound that the blues NEED. I guess it's a a great hi res transfer,but it sucks. I wouldn't buy another issue,I will buy use copies of original issues ,though. Besides the album covers are totally weird and not like originals. Chet

fishbone35's picture

I've read that this set is limited to 1,000 copies worldwide. This is very few copies. Is it true? Or fake news?

rockit's picture

I believe its 10,000.
I'm rather lucky, I have number 100

fishbone35's picture

Thanks for the clarification. That sounds like a much more sustainable number than 1,000.

stillyawning's picture

Please help me on the subject of Chinese $49.00 mono boxes made in EU. Some say made in USA. And the top prices go to the the Japanese . I do not want a boot do you have any guidelines to avoid this?

daveharrison's picture

Any insight into why the U.S. mono version of Between the Buttons was not included in the box set? We have two Out of Our Heads and two two Aftermaths, why not two Buttons?

hans altena's picture

Terri explains somewhere that they tried to get as little doubles of songs, there are alreayde so many that were inevitable... Considering that they added Flowers, the US edition of Buttons became superfluous probably.

hans altena's picture

Terri explains somewhere that they tried to get as little doubles of songs, there are alreayde so many that were inevitable... Considering that they added Flowers, the US edition of Buttons became superfluous probably.

hans altena's picture

Terri explains somewhere that they tried to get as little doubles of songs, there are alreayde so many that were inevitable... Considering that they added Flowers, the US edition of Buttons became superfluous probably.

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