If you think you know the Beatles' music, think again: the mono mixes presented here reflect not only the way the albums were originally mixed, but reflect also the way all the singles released in Britain were originally presented to the public. This new box set amounts to nothing less than a restoration of the Beatles' original ideas for their recordings, and, I think, a radical re-thinking of the Beatles you thought you knew. That may be unsettling for some, but it's exciting to try to hear some very familiar music in new ways.
Some of the stereo mixes found on Past Masters 1 and 2 and the second half of the Magical Mystery Tour album were drawn from US or even German and Australian (!) releases, although EMI in Britain presumably did the mixing. In the case of "The Inner Light," no stereo version was available until Past Masters; "You Know My Name" only ever appeared in mono. It has long been known that many of the stereo releases of the earliest Beatle recordings were mock stereo, and they sounded "flippin' lousy" (as Pete Townshend once said). So, sonically, the mono recordings here reflect what The Beatles actually wanted their records to sound like--something that became increasingly important to them as they took more care in the studio.
Second--when you start getting past 1966, the mono mixes become much more interesting, because they are quite different from their stereo counterparts. "Sgt. Pepper" and the "White Album" are essentially completely different albums from the stereo versions. If you want to discover what The Beatles are really about, you need to hear both the mono and stereo versions.
With all that in mind, should you get this set? Most definitely. If you have the old 1987 CD sets, keep this in mind: the first four albums were in mono anyway, and sound as though George Martin had wrapped all the mics in heavy carpeting (especially "Beatles For Sale"): now, you can hear everything (even the squeaks of Ringo's bass drum pedal); the new mono set includes the stereo versions of "Help!" and "Rubber Soul" (restoring the original 1965 stereo mixes--the new stereo set uses remixes made for the 1987 CDs); the 1987 Past Masters discs are either mono mixes or stereo versions that often hadn't appeared in Britain until either the 1973 Red and Blue albums, the late 70s repackages "Rock and Roll Music" and "Love Songs," or not at all.
Moreover, you can supplement this mono set with the new stereo Abbey Road and Let It Be, along with the new Past Masters, vol. 2, and you should have a comprehensive, definitive set of The Beatles as the Beatles themselves intended they should be heard. If you haven't got the 1987 discs (and even if you do), you can always spend a bit more and get the stereo mixes of the the first four, then "Revolver" and beyond to supplement your monos--but the mono set should be regarded as definitive, and leave the stereos for those who really want to have a "complete" discography. Ultimately, it would be nice if EMI makes the mono sets available individually, or offers double mono/stereo sets of each album.
Why care about the British mono releases at all? Well, mainly because that was the original point of reference for The Beatles themselves. In the early 60s they had very little idea what was being released on Capitol, and I don't think they cared too much anyway (which is why that story about the "butcher cover" of "Yesterday...and Today" being some sort of protest is utter nonsense); moreover, the US versions were also reprocessed by people who, as far as I know, had very little or nothing to do with George Martin or any of his engineers (just who is Dave Dexter anyway??). By the time of "Pepper" it was pretty clear that the albums themselves were displaying a sort of integrity that demanded consistency on both sides of the Atlantic--but even then, the US releases contained some significant differences (for instance, the US version of the stereo "White Album" was processed to tone down the bass, because the LP sides were so long that they were harder to master). Audiophiles in the 1960s and 70s tried to find UK pressings of Beatle albums anyway, since they were higher quality records and just sounded better. When EMI re-released the US LPs on CD, it really seemed like a nostalgic cash-grab aimed at North Americans who weren't familiar with the UK releases: I notice that the Canadian LP "Long Tall Sally" hasn't resurfaced yet!
A few other notes: the four "Yellow Submarine" songs are unnecessary here, since they are just mono reductions of the original stereo tracks. "Magical Mystery Tour" is the (for once, superior) US release of the UK double-EP MMT and the 1967 singles--but as the singles were in mono in Britain, those songs only appeared in stereo in the US. If you're really fanatical, you can re-program the tracks to conform to the original UK double-EP order. "Hey Jude", of course, was never an official Beatle album, but something Capitol/Apple cobbled together in 1970 out of "Hard Day's Night" leftovers and 1966,68 and 69 singles. I know many people who had this record, and regarded it as their favourite Beatle album, but the CD releases have made it superfluous (although it did mark the first appearance anywhere of "Paperback Writer," "Rain," "Lady Madonna" "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" in stereo).
Now--when is EMI/Apple going to get around to releasing the Star Club 1962 tape, the full Get Back sessions, the 1977 Hollywood Bowl LP, and other goodies that would round out a healthy Beatle collection?