Sundazed and Mobile Fidelity Make The Case For Mono!

Sundazed has just released the first five Byrds albums cut from the original mono master tapes, which didn't see that much action when new and haven't seen much since. Thus the sound on this first one has a chance of being positively stupendous and it is.

Mobile Fidelity has jumped on the mono bandwagon as well with a hybrid SACD that includes the mono mix as well as six bonus tracks, some in mono and some in stereo.

What's more, this first Byrds album makes the case for mono as well as any mono album I can think of, though the mix isn't jarringly different. It's not news to me: I have all but the ridiculously rare The Notorious Byrd Brothers (which, according to Bob Irwin is a dedicated mono mix with some very different versions of some songs and not a "fold-down" from stereo as I'd speculated) on original mono pressings, picked up cheaply before monomania set in.

There was a time when no one wanted these and Beatles and Stones albums in mono. Now look at the prices! And it's not a matter of rarity. It's because many of these records simply sound better in mono because that's how they were meant to be heard. More attention was lavished on the mono mixes because that's how most kids were going to hear them, both on the radio and at home.

The interesting thing about Mr. Tambourine Man in mono is that you get to hear more of what's going on in the mix. You'll hear the harmonies better, McGuinn's 12-string will hit your ears with more force and greater "jangle" in mono.

If your brain has been wired for the stereo edition over decades of listening, the subtle differences in the mix will be fabulously jarring. And if you're too young to know this album, this is the way to be introduced to it.

One thing will become clear: the album called Mr. Tambourine Man has far more tambourine in mono. It's pushed well forward on many tracks. The bass line and kick drum are presented in greater relief and that helps drive these familiar tunes forward crisply and definitively. Same for the drum kit in general. Rhythmically, it's no contest: the mono edition just rocks!

Songs like "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better," "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe," and "Chimes Of Freedom," exude so much juicy, chimey jangle you'll feel as if you were being literally showered by it. It's not just the amount of 12 string you'll hear: it's the articulation and precision in McGuinn's technique that you'll notice. Same with the vocal harmonies. You'll appreciate both with newfound admiration.

The original and reissue are very, very close, with the Sundazed getting the nod for clarity and transient detail, but it's close—as it should be.

I doubt Sundazed rebuilt a mono cutterhead, but regardless, this record

sounds great with a stereo cartridge and even better with a mono one, as all spurious vertical modulation noise cancels out.

Between Sundazed and Classic, the number of mono reissues (not to mention what's available in the used bins as "unwanted") makes adding a mono cartridge to your analog mix mighty attractive. If you haven't a way to easily switch back and forth it's going to be highly impractical, but for owners of Graham arms and some others that make switching easy, such as those from VPI, it's an investment well worth making.

While I can't say that classical music makes sense in mono if good stereo mixes exist, when it comes to rock and jazz from the early days of stereo, it's the way to go.

Buy this one and you won't need me to convince you.

As for Mobile Fidelity's SACD, it offers admirable clarity and features worthwhile bonus tracks including "She Has a Way," an alternate version of "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better," and other tracks that made it onto other Sundazed LPs, and if you don't have a turntable, it's worth picking up, but the LP just sounds better, especially the clarity, articulation and transient resolution on the top end (but you knew I'd say that, and I doubt Mo-Fi would disagree).

Forgive me for shortchanging the music, but I can't think of anything to add to what's been said by others through the decades. Be sure to read John Nork's scholarly assessment of The Byrds, and his interviews with McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman elsewhere on this website. Just do a search at the top.

We'll assess the other Sundazed mono Byrds albums in the very near future.

Music Direct Buy It Now