Saturday, July 09, 2011

Mono a Mono

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I love multi-channel music. I've bought a lot of stuff in surround sound--even music from groups I don't normally follow--because I think that 5.1 channel music has an enveloping quality that is positively captivating.

So it might be surprising to some that I've been listening to a lot of stuff in mono recently.

I credit the superlative sound quality of the Lexicon system in the Equus for part of that. Mono sounds so good in the Equus that I decided to transfer a lot of mono recordings to mp3 so as to hear how the Lexicon could play up the nuances of mono from music that I normally preferred to hear in stereo. So the Beatles Mono Box Set got transferred to my iPod, as did early Dylan in mono, early Association, early Stones... and I've been doing a lot of listening.

When the Beatles CD's first came out, there was a lot of controversy over the first four being in mono, but the explanation given was that the Beatles put a lot of time into supervising and approving the mono mixes, but had little to do with the stereo mixes. The problem with that logic was that the early Beatles CDs weren't taken from those mono mixes, but were mono fold-downs from the stereo mixes. But the 2009 mono box set is the mono mix as the Beatles approved it way back then. In many cases, these are different takes and/or different mixes, so there are musical differences as well.

I compare it to fine reproductions of classic comic art. Sure, in the new high-resolution reproductions, we appreciate the fact that the detail is so fine that we can see the yellow and cyan dots that comprise the green field. But sometimes we just want to see the green field. So as much as I appreciate the fact that stereo and multichannel sound allows me to hear every instrument, the multichannel mixes also give me some after-mastering control. I can adjust balance to left or right, boosting one channel over the other; I can even turn up the volume to the individual channels, boosting the instruments in the right rear, or the voices in the center, to create a customized mix that lets me hear the music in new ways.

In mono, though, I have no control other than volume. However I play the music, I am hearing the instruments mixed exactly the way the artists wanted them to be heard.

I still prefer multichannel, but there's something about mono that's appealing, too. So for the next few days, I think I'll be listening to a lot of Beatles in mono, savoring the differences between these recordings and the stereo versions I've loved for so many years.

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