Believe the hype: the stereo remasters sound *much* better than the tinny 1987 CDs and deserve to be The Beatles' new audio standard. However, these are not remixes like 1999's Yellow Submarine Songtrack or Love -- and that is a missed opportunity. Hence my four- but not five-star rating.
PROS: Ringo's drums and Paul's bass shine on all tracks. Bottom end was lacking on the pre-REVOLVER albums but is restored here. The bass and drums sound gloriously warm and rounded. On the other end, details in the harmonies and high-hat leap out of the stereo mix like never before. The remasters give the music depth and dimension. The albums that benefit the most are BEATLES FOR SALE, HELP!, ABBEY ROAD and LET IT BE.
CONS: The hard two-channel stereo (instruments on one side, vocals on the other) mixes mar PLEASE PLEASE ME, WITH THE BEATLES and certain tracks on other albums (i.e. Nowhere Man, Paperback Writer). The result leaves a sonic hole in the middle of the stereo picture that's large enough for a jumbo jet to fly through. (John Lennon rightfully called the Revolution stereo mix an "ice cream s*** sandwich.") The cleaner sound only draws more attention to this brutal stereo separation and begs the question: Why didn't they remix? Even the mixes from 1976's vinyl compilation, ROCK 'N' ROLL MUSIC, sound better.
What follows is a quick album-by-album critique and rating out of 5 stars, based on listening on Sennheiser headphones:
PLEASE PLEASE ME (2/5 stars)
WITH THE BEATLES (2/5 stars)
As noted, the primitive stereo separation cancels out the gains made in the new warmth and detail of the remasters. Listening to these albums on headphone is a headache, and on speakers confusing (vocals in one corner of the room, all instruments way over there). It would've been more sensible to include BOTH the stereo and mono mixes on each disc. With each album clocking in around 35 minutes, there's certainly room.
A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (4/5 stars)
Warmer and brighter across the board. The stereo mix is good, though simple.
BEATLES FOR SALE (5/5 stars)
This is where the remasters really work. From the opening guitar strums of No Reply, the listener feels like he's in the same room as The Beatles. Ringo's drums are louder and clearer than ever. Paul's bass is warm, though not as ostentatious as later albums when he was mixed higher. This one surprised me.
HELP! (5/5 stars)
Surprisingly, this album is the most improved, hands-down. The title track simply roars with a newfound rhythmn section. I always preferred the mono vinyl mix of Ticket To Tide, but this stereo remaster makes me reconsider. I love to detail in Paul's voice in Another Girl, and his acoustic guitar in Yesterday. Dizzy Miss Lizzy was an album filler, but now Lennon's vocals tear the soundscape apart. I could praise each track, but don't have the room for it. Super.
RUBBER SOUL (3/5 stars)
Oddly enough I didn't hear *that* much improvement on this beloved album. If anything, the hard stereo mix made me reach for the Yellow Submarine Songtrack (YSS) on cuts like Nowhere Man and Think For Yourself. Others like Norwegian Wood beg for a remix.
REVOLVER (4/5 stars)
At this point, I start preferring the mono mixes. Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, For No One and Got To Get You Into My Life may offer more detail, but sound terrible in wide stereo. I much prefer the mono versions which inject each song with immediacy and drive. The stereo versions sound lifeless. That said, the remastering flatters She Said She Said where Ringo's drums triumph, And Your Bird Can Sing where the guitars are slashing, Here There and Everywhere where you can make out John and George's voices in the backing track, and Tomorrow Never Knows whose sound effects sound like a hurricane raging in your headphones. And did you know there was a bass drum in Good Day Sunshine?
SGT. PEPPER (4/5 stars)
Another stereo vs. mono debate. I'd have to mix some mono, some stereo and some YSS tracks to arrive at my definitive Pepper. Sonic quality is improved on all tracks, but stand-outs are She's Leaving Home and A Day in the Life. In contrast, Mr. Kite and When I'm 64 suffer in stereo.
MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (3/5 stars)
THE WHITE ALBUM (3/5 stars)
As with Rubber Soul, I didn't hear a huge a difference in these two albums, though there is a noticeable improvement in sonic quality. The White Album deserves a listen in mono, however, particular the rock tracks like Back In The USSR and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. By now, the stereo mixes are better and more consistent.
YELLOW SUBMARINE (2/5 stars)
The low rating comes from me preferring all the Beatles tracks on YSS. Sure, the songs sound brighter and warmer, but YSS' mixes trump them any day. Just do an A/B comparison of Hey Bulldog.
ABBEY ROAD (5/5 stars)
From the first notes of this great album, you discover subtle nuances, like untangling the jungle of guitars in I Want You or riding Paul's melodic bass on Something. This was always the best-mixed of The Beatles' albums and the remasters add a layer of shine. I can't imagine Abbey Road ever sounding better than this.
LET IT BE (5/5 stars)
Another surprise. The 1987 sounded compressed and lifeless. Here it comes to life with warm and vitality. Two of Us is so vivid, and the live cuts make me like I'm standing there on the rootop.
PAST MASTERS 1&2 (4/5 stars)
More hit than miss. Remastering flatters the latter songs more than the early ones. Again, an issue of stereo mixing. At least there's less bass on The Ballad of John and Yoko.
A final note: If you're a diehard Beatles fanatic then grab the mono box first. Until 1968, The Beatles invested more time in mixing mono than stereo, because record buyers bought more mono than stereo in those days. I cannot consider the stereo mixes on this collection definitive, because they were not paid that much care or attention. In some cases, The Beatles weren't even present for the stereo mixing. Until Apple remixes the stereo catalogue along the standards of YSS, then I predict that fans will take matters into their own hands and remix them ourselves on audio software.
Another question for Apple: How come no 5.1? If that ever happens, perhaps that's when we'll see new mixes.
So, apart from my whining about the stereo mixes, do I recommend this set? Absolutely. Apart from the first two albums, The Beatles sound much, much better. Another thing: play loud.