This is classic must-have music. If you don't have these albums, or only have a few of them, this is a compact package at a reasonable price (if obtained from a UK seller). Overall I am happy to have it and like having the first two quintet albums in regular running order as an alternative to swapping between discs to reconstruct those albums from the Davis-Coltrane Columbia box of 2000.
Bottom line, this Mono Box excels in its versions of "Round About Midnight" and "Milestones"; while "Miles and Monk at Newport" is a unique item; the other titles sound good enough, but in my opinion their sound is surpassed by various extant stereo versions.
The rest of this review is more specialized for those looking for specific recommendations regarding versions of each album.
Round About Midnight
This has always been in mono, and the Mono master tape was used for this issue with some EQ. The 2000 Coltrane-Davis box version is pretty good, but the version on this mono CD box is better sounding. The Mono box version has more pronounced, realistic sounding bass and a more pleasant reduced treble emphasis than on the 2000 box. The 2000 box tracks are also dynamically compressed (louder).
This was issued originally issued in mono. For the present issue the Mono master tape was used with for this issue with some EQ, and it sounds acceptable. However, my favorite version is the stereo version assembled from original elements for the 1996 Davis-Evans Columbia box. "Miles Ahead" was the great triumph of that box set and sounds wonderful. It used the 3 track tapes as source and has a mix that better emphasizes Gil Evans' masterful orchestration, while the sound separation in the studio (most brass on the left, woodwinds on the right, trumpet in the middle) allows the listener to engage better and appreciate what's being played.
This was issued originally issued in mono and stereo versions. The liner notes say that an alternate "session reel" was used here instead of the mono master. Anyway, it is a little-played mono tape that sounds superior to tracks in the Evans-Coltrane 2000 Box. On this mono CD the bass is more defined and treble on the drum kit is less dominant than on the 2000 CD.
The A side with the film soundtrack material uses the master tape. This Mono box harbors the version with heavy post-production reverb added; the tapes have some hiss, though not to an obnoxious extent. The sound is faithful to an LP that I have. The echo-ey sound works fine for the film, but I recommend that the best versions of these tracks for listening are the original pre-reverb recordings that are bonus tracks on some Fontana issues (look for an edition with 26 tracks). There, the instruments sound more realistic and you can hear the sound of the bass and drums much better.
The B side uses "session reels" from May 1958 with the classic quintet. It sounds very good, though with a somewhat boomy bass. The sound of these three tracks is surpassed by the stereo version found on the Kind of Blue "Legacy edition" 2-CD set (2009) . The latter was remixed by Wilder from the 3-track tapes. All of the instruments sound stunning on the Legacy edition and the sound stage is much more natural than on the Mono. The Legacy edition mix and master is in turn better than the Evans-Coltrane 2000 box.
The Mono box does have the original stylish cover in the mini-LP format cover - nice!
Porgy and Bess
This sounds very fine. The Mono master tape was used with for this issue with some EQ. I prefer listening to the stereo version in the 1996 Evans-Davis box, which also sounds very fine. In stereo it's easier to appreciate features like the tutti sections for double bass and tuba in the first two tracks, and more fun to listen to. Of course, if I am wandering around the house listening to this, it doesn't matter whether it is in mono or stereo.
Kind of Blue
It sounds good. Of course - it's "Kind of Blue", one of the supreme recordings of all time! The liner notes explain that this mono version was created by mixing from the original 3-track tapes, as there was no extant mono master tape.
Recent stereo editions of this wonderful album started with the same 3-track tapes. I really prefer the stereo 2009 Legacy edition of Kind of Blue, the sound is even better and you can really experience and better appreciate the band in stereo. (The Legacy edition sounds significantly better than the same tracks in the 2000 Columbia box, which had noticeable dynamic compression).
Sketches of Spain
The mono version sounds good with excellent EQ (better than the 1996 Columbia box stereo version, which suffers from some stridency in high brass sections). However, one of the great pleasures of listening closely to Sketches of Spain is hearing the interplay between percussionists positioned on two sides of the orchestra, and other subtleties of the arrangements that become apparent in stereo. This mono master tape is also a bit noisy, with a hiss and a low frequency hum- quiet, but noticeable with headphones at the beginning of tracks. The best version is the 2009 50th anniversary Legacy edition also mastered by Wilder. On the Legacy edition, but not the Mono CD, the quiet cymbal is audible at the very beginning of "Concierto de Aranjuez". The EQ of the 2009 is beautiful throughout. (There is also a recent 2012 SACD from Mobile Fidelity, but I don't recommend it. This seems to employ the aged stereo master tapes. Despite (or because of) efforts to keep noise down, there are strange anomalies on the SACD as on "Concierto de Aranjuez", where the track fades in at the beginning, and a "spliced-in" dropout effect when the winds first enter).
Someday My Prince Will Come
This Mono master tape version sounds good and focused. However, the stereo version in the 1990 Columbia/CBS "Jazz Masterpieces" edition (engineer Tim Geelan) really surpasses the mono, with fantastic sound on all the instruments and a beautiful stereo image for the band. The cover of the Mono edition jacket (photo of Frances Davis) is, however, quite a lot better than the cover of the Jazz Masterpieces edition (Miles smoking a cigarette).
Miles & Monk at Newport
This is a worthwhile variant listening experience. The 2000 Columbia box is in subtle stereo and includes material from the festival set that is not on the mono version - two extra tracks plus an introduction. The mono box version sounds good however, and the bass is better-defined here, especially noticeable on "Fran-Dance". This was quite a Coltrane-heavy set and his tenor sax also sounds better in this mono version (as on "Two-Bass Hit") than it does on the stereo version. On the other hand, the ride cymbals sound less in control (tape bias?) on the mono version. Miles Davis' count-offs to the tunes (by foot tapping , vocal cues, and finger snapping) are way louder on the mono version, which is surprising and interesting. The two extra Monk band tracks from Newport 1963 are good fun (with Pee Wee Russell guesting)
Booklet and covers
The booklet has some fine supplementary photos, and the mini-LP covers reproduce the originals of Jazz Track and Miles Ahead. Because the covers are reproductions from original LPs, they retain a few errors, such as the mix-up in descriptions of "Flamenco Sketches" and "All Blues" in the back cover liner notes of "Kind of Blue" and mis-attribution of the pianist on "Newport" (it is Bill Evans, not Wynton Kelly, and this is correctly noted in the mono box booklet). However, the mono box booklet erroneously credits Red Garland as pianist for the B side of "Jazz Track"; it's Bill Evans again.