September 4, 2014

The Beatles Mono Mania



By Harvey Kubernik

An Interview With Abbey Road Studios Engineer, Ken Scott

beatles-coversOn September 9 in North America, The Beatles’ nine U.K. albums, the American-compiled Magical Mystery Tour and the Mono Masters album tracks will be released in mono on 180-gram vinyl LPs with faithfully replicated artwork.

Avid listeners first heard the group in the 1960s, when mono was the predominant audio format.Up until 1968, every Beatles album was given a unique mono and stereo mix, but the band always regarded the mono as primary.

Newly mastered directly from the analogue master tapes housed at Abbey Road, each album will be available both individually and within a lavish, limited 14-LP boxed edition, The Beatles In Mono, which also includes a 108-page hardbound book.

In an audiophile-minded undertaking, the Beatles’ acclaimed mono albums have been newly mastered for vinyl from quarter-inch master tapes stored inside Abbey Road Studios by engineer Sean Magee and mastering supervisor Steve Berkowitz.

While The Beatles In Mono CD boxed set issued in 2009 was created from digital remasters, for this new vinyl project, Magee and Berkowitz cut the records without using any digital technology.Instead, they employed the same procedures used in the 1960s, guided by the original albums and by detailed transfer notes made by the original cutting engineers.

Working in the same room at Abbey Road where most of the Beatles’ albums were initially cut, the pair first dedicated weeks to concentrated listening, fastidiously comparing the master tapes with first pressings of the mono records made in the 1960s.Using a rigorously tested Studer A80 machine to play back the precious tapes, the new vinyl was cut on a 1980s-era VMS80 lathe.

The Beatles In Mono is manufactured for the world at Optimal Media in Germany.

The collection’s exclusive 12-inch by 12-inch hardbound book features newly penned essays and a detailed history of the mastering process by award-winning radio producer and author Kevin Howlett.The book is illustrated with many rare studio photos of the Beatles, groovy archive documents, along with articles and advertisements sourced from 1960s publications.

In July 20014, I was invited to Capitol Records studios in Hollywood to attend a play back session from The Beatles In Mono where the Steve Berkowitz and Sean Magee team previewed selections of their collaboration on a McIntosh turntable to a handful of invited guests and executives from Universal Music Enterprises.

Berkowitz has supervised or produced for re-issue music by Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Martin Scorcese’s History of the Blues, and Leonard Cohen.

“The Beatles In Mono vinyl project was humbling and undertaken with great care and respect, he explained in an interview. “Working at Abbey Road last year with Sean Magee for 60 days was magnificent and a rare elevated technical, sonic, historic and artful experience. In addition to the 60 days in studio together we probably spent another 150 days working, comparing, listening, tweaking, adjusting  and working through every albumm, every song, every second —to a point of acceptance when compared to the original work of the producer, engineers and the Beatles and their intention of what their albums would sound like. It was hard work —wonderful work — daunting and an honor asked and a thrill to be involved,” enthused Berkowitz

“It’s immaculate work from a standpoint of what a tape operator and what an engineer is supposed to do. Both in a recording format and in notation. One thing I want to stress is that there is such an unbelievable evolution that occurs between 1963 and 1970. ‘Within You Without You’ is a couple of years after ‘Twist and Shout.’ And it actually feels like fifty years. It’s only three.

“We worked in Harry Moss’ room. So it was set up in a Sadie mastering system, similar to Pro Tools, a high revolution multi-track format that Abbey Road often uses. We basically set it up by channel. Basically, I would play a 1 A album pressing and then convert it to 24.96 and then take the most current CD, actually get a high resolution master, and put it in parallel to the master of the LP. And ultimately play it and put it in parallel. And then any kind of EQ or experimentation or what we were gonna do to it, we would do in digital. So we knew what it was we wanted to do and see how these things related to one another. And then we’d say, ‘Yea. That sounds really good,’” he volunteered.


From left, George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney

To actually hear and experience The Beatles In Mono played over Capitol’s state of the art sound system in their legendary facility was an aural delight.

By the end of the afternoon I couldn’t help but ask a few friends to comment about initially discovering the Beatles’ mono vinyl album pressings.

“It’s simply as undeniably true today as it was in 1963,” insisted lifelong Fabmaniac Gary Pig Gold. “Whenever you want to hear the Beatles the way the Beatles and George Martin wanted to be heard, you listen in glorious, single-channel, straight-between-the-ears mono. Period.

“Until they managed to liberate EMI’s 8-track console during construction of their White Album, Beatles recording sessions increasingly consisted of multiple passes of instruments, overdubs, then vocals, then more overdubs saturated stack-o-tracks style, bounced from one 4-track recorder onto another to allow even more meticulous layers of audio to be delicately added,” suggested Gold. “This was an above-painstaking process which required plenty of sonic forethought to say the least, as the brave machine-to-machine ping-ponging created sub-mixes locking multiple parts forever together within the rpm picture.

“Sure, in doing so the odd misstep or even generational ‘noise’ was unavoidable, and allowed to pass uncorrected. But, in faithful Wall of Sound fashion, if a single-channel master was indeed the ultimate objective, such supposed flaws were naturally overlooked with an ear towards producing the undeniable wallop of that mono-straight-onto-wax punch,” he reiterated.

“Plus, dare I mention circa that initial tsunami of Beatlemania, over-anxious high-ups within the Hollywood and Vine Tower often didn’t even wait, prior to pressing, for stereo mixes to be cobbled together and air-expressed over from London! Instead,“ Gold summarized. “Capitol’s own in-house engineers fabricated sub-Duophonic faux-stereo mixes out of George Martin’s mono masters, drenching those pristine productions in stale soups of echo and reverb unheard since a decade earlier RCA Victor attempted to ‘modernize’ Elvis Presley’s original Sun masterworks for with-it hi-fi enthusiasts. Why, I call that the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of colorizing-by-numbers the nearest print of Citizen Kane. And so should you.

“But! Thank the audio gods that such snooty stereophonic snobbery is pretty well a thing of the audiophile past, and that the Beatles’ records have, at long last, finally gotten back to where they once belonged: as in razor-sharp, sparkling, pure, proud and LOUD. Because, after all, all you need is love …and one speaker.”

“Moving to London from Bangkok (Thailand), June 1964, a mere couple of weeks before world premiere of A Hard Day’s Night, the first LP this Thai ever got hold of was, A Hard Day’s Night,” remembered musician S. Ti Muntarbhorn. “Ritual would be that we would gather in the basement of Barkers Department Store, Kensington High Street, London S.W. 7, where the listening booths were. Listen we did, all in … Mono!

“Was there any other way to listen to… the Beatles?”

“Any true aficionado of the recordings of The Beatles knows that the mono mixes are the definitive musical statement and the ultimate sonic achievement,” stressed record producer and engineer Richard Bosworth.

“The Beatles and George Martin were cognizant of what format the audience would be listening to and put all their effort into the mono mixes,” continued Bosworth. “At that time stereo recordings were considered a novelty and many of the early Beatle stereo mixes were done quickly by the assistant engineer after everyone else had gone home for the evening. It was considered an opportunity for the assistant to practice mixing. Some of The Beatles stereo mixes are good (especially some of the White Album) but many are inferior and rough sounding. Some of the stereo mixes are actually missing vocal and instrumental parts,” Bosworth disclosed.

“Being a long term student of the Beatles recording technique, I as a record producer/mixer and recording engineer, have done sessions at Abbey Road Studio Two with the Hollies and during my time there got to know Ken Townsend, then Abbey Road Studio manager. During the Beatles recording career Ken was the Chief Technical Engineer and invented artificial double tracking, tape flanging/phasing, etc. for use on Beatle recordings. During this time period I was able to obtain pristine digital copies of all mono recordings of the Beatles.

“Interestingly a few years afterwards I was recording an album with Johnny Rivers at Ocean Way Recording Studios in Hollywood (formerly United Western Recording Studios).One day my rather youngish assistant engineer said to me ‘Richard, Why do people think the Beatle records are so great? They don’t sound that great to me.’

“After getting over the initial shock at such a statement, I realized he had never heard the Beatles on the radio when only the mono mixes would have been available, meaning that several generations had only heard the inferior stereo mixes on the radio or heard only stereo LP’s or CD’s. Thankfully younger generations can now hear the Beatles the way they and their producers and engineers intended,” concluded Bosworth.

Engineer/producer Ken Scott is a veteran of Abbey Road and at the console for many recording sessions of the Beatles beginning in 1964 sorting tapes in the EMI studio library. He attended the “I Should Have Known Better” session, courtesy of engineer Norman “Hurricane” Smith, and handclapped with Ringo and Paul for a take that wasn’t used for A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack LP.

Ken Scott’s first day as a second engineer was June 1, 1964, during sessions for A Hard Day’s Night. Songs not utilized in the film:“I’ll Cry Instead,” “I’ll Be Back,” “Matchbox” and “Slow Down.”

Scott subsequently learned the aspects of mastering process.In 1965 Ken worked on Help! and Rubber Soul, before engineering the bulk of The Beatles (White Album).

Scott’s book, Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust (Off the Record with The Beatles, Bowie, Elton & So Much More) was published in 2012 by the Alfred Music Company.

His book devotes chapters to his engineering stints with the Beatles to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass masterpiece.

Q: Before you engineered most of the recording sessions for the The Beatles album, you spent a lot of time in the Abbey Road mastering lab that surely informed how we eventually heard the mono and then stereo discs of the band.

A: The whole thing that one learned from the mastering, first and foremost, was what could go onto vinyl. Because you could put a lot more onto tape than you could on vinyl. You had to watch phase, you had to watch the amount of low end, all of that kind of thing, because it would make the stylus jump. That was really why they out you into mastering before allowing you to engineer.

“The other aspect of it that you learned was about EQ. Tone control. Bass, middle, high end and how you could affect that. What sounded good and what didn’t sound good and how much it took to try and change a sound. After a few days you learned you could make it perfect just by adding one notch as opposed to piling it all on.

Q: A couple of years ago in an interview we did you reminded me that “in the very early sixties in England, virtually no one had stereo.”

A: The whole point was, in England at the time, virtually no one had stereo. So it was pointless to do it in stereo because the core audience at home wouldn’t hear it. They would only hear it in mono. Radio was basically AM at that point. There were record players. Not stereo systems or hi-fi systems. So, because of that, all we were interested in was the mono. The mixes, and that’s why they only sanctioned the mono. Because no one else was gonna listen to it.

“EMI training was so amazing because they had such a long time to get it together. The reason they had you do mastering, and back then it was only called cutting, and they had you do mastering before engineering because vinyl has limitations. You can’t have too much bass on it. Otherwise the record would jump. You can’t have things out of phase, otherwise the record would jump. Little things like that.

“Where with tape you can put anything on. So, they wanted you to learn the final product and the limitations of the final product before having the easy route of going onto tape. You get to learn those. The other thing you get to learn. And it was similar for all the engineers, when we first started to cut, to master, all we were doing were playback acetates. Those were seven inch 45 singles. They would only last for 10 or 12 plays.


The Beatles with George Martin, Abbey Road Studios in London. January 1967.

“Don’t forget, this is before cassettes and certainly before CD’s. So this was the way the artist, the producer, sometimes the arranger got to hear what they worked on. So we’d have to cut those and they weren’t going out to the general public or anything like that. If you screwed up it didn’t matter. That’s why you started off on those. And we all did the same thing. The first time we were on our own we’d put a tape on and think, ‘It needs a little bit more of the high end.’ So we’d go full bore adding high end. ‘Yeah…That’s better. And now we need some low end.’ We’d go full bore going low end. ‘Yeah…It’s close…We just need some mids now.’

“It took three days generally for people to realize you don’t need to pile on all of that EQ. You just need one notch at 10 and its fine. Our job back then, cutting and mastering engineers, was to sound of the music across the way the producer, the engineer and the artist wanted it. We weren’t there to excuse my French, ‘to fuck up the sound that they had got.’ We were to continue what they had started. They knew what they were after and we had to accept what we received from them on tape was what they wanted. So we just had to transfer that.

Q: Norman Smith engineered all the Beatles albums ending with ‘Rubber Soul.’ Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald, Glyn Johns and you then engineered the Beatles’ sessions.

A: Every single album Norman tried to make sound different. He pushed the envelope as far as he could. It was very difficult to make radical changes when he was engineering. Each album got progressively more radical if you like. A change in microphone placements. Absolutely. And using different microphones.

“On the first album he wanted to capture them live in the studio. So he set them up without baffles and without anything. It was as if they were on stage. That was the first album. Each one was different. To me, the way the Beatles got into experimentation a lot of that came from how they saw Norman changing things. Obviously they caught the ball and ran with it. Unlike anyone else at the time. But he was the one I think that first instilled in them ‘it doesn’t always have to be the same every album. You can change it sound wise.’ Obviously musically their experimentation with other instruments. Norman was the first pop engineer to record sitar at Abbey Road. He was amazing. He was always pushing it. Everything starts in the studio. They were so good together vocally to start with and then that just made it so much easier for Norman to get it that much better.

Q: You were around for the Beatles tapes in the mastering lab and had the luxury of watching Harry Moss work on mastering the Beatles’ catalog. It was a period that began with mono and then stereo emerged.

A: Mono was all we listened too. The stereo was just a throwaway afterwards until the White album. That’s when they got into stereo. And the group was there for the stereo mixes as well as the mono. Up to that point they were only there for the mono mixes. The Beatles’ stamp of approval was only on mono mixes. They all had their input. They all had ideas sonically. Even Ringo. He would want specific sounds. They were all into it and Paul a bit more than anyone else.

Q: During The Beatles album a Studer J-37 one inch 4-track machine was replaced by a 3M-M56 8-track piece of equipment. Was the implementation of the 8-track machine a huge change?

A: Not to start with. The one thing with it when it first started it was much smaller and they had more of them. So they could put the Studer in the control room. And we as second engineers got to sit in the control room for the entire session. Unlike up to that point when they only had the two Telefunken and they had to be in separate rooms because there were three studios. And so the machines could be plugged into whatever needed them. We were only ever in the control room during rehearsals. Then as soon as we started to record we had to disappear down the corridor to this tiny little room and hear one track at a time and get instructions of what to do from this terrible talk back system. But, once the Studers became estab-lished and the Beatles started to demand more and more, then the Studers started to take over and become much more important.

“Everything from being able to do 4 track to 4 tracks and give them more room to record things, then people like Ken Townsend coming up with ADT, automatic double tracking, or artificial double tracking if you want to call it, phasing and flanging, the vari-speed on the Studers became very important for the Beatles. They loved changing the timbre of instruments. George Martin was the first one to do that recording a half speed piano on ‘In My Life’ on Rubber Soul. They learned from that how it changed the sound. And they wanted to manipulate sound.

Beatles Mono On Vinyl Packshot

Q: And I noticed The Beatles album mix in a couple of places is different than the stereo one. Like near the end of “Helter Skelter.”

A: Yes. And the story behind that is that we had just mixed, with Paul sitting beside me, for a change we went into the stereo mix almost immediately if not fairly quickly afterwards. We get to the end and I fade it down the same way I had on the mono. And then Paul said. “OK. Now bring it back up again.” Of course I follow instructions and I bring it back up again. It goes on a bit. And then Paul says, ‘Now, out quick.’ That was after the ‘I’ve got blisters on my fingers’ part. Pull it down. I looked at him and said, ‘What the hell was that all about? It’s different than the mono.’ And he said ‘we started to get letters from fans in other countries telling us about the differences between stereo and mono so we thought if we purposely made differences we’d sell more records.’

Q: ‘The Beatles In Mono’ vinyl box set is out in September.

A: For me, that’s the way we listened to them. We never ever, as we were recording, listened to it in stereo. Always mono. We only listened to it on one Altec (604) speaker. They weren’t that good and we had to struggle to get things sounding good through those speakers but we knew if we got them sounding good through those speakers they would sound amazing anywhere else.

“And the working in mono I learned so much from that. Because these days, just take George and John’s electric guitars. If you want to high light the differences between the two of them you’d put George’s guitar on one side and put John’s guitar on the other side. They’re separated and you can hear the differences between them. When it was the mono, we actually had to make sure we had different sounds on them. Because they’re both coming out of the same source. So you have to make sure they are very different to be able to hear. ‘OK. That’s John playing here and George playing there.’ We had to work that much harder for the difference than you do in stereo. Anything they recorded at Abbey Road was done on EMI tape that EMI manufactured.

“‘Hey Jude’ was one of the early things recorded at Trident (on their American-made AmpexAG 440) and we had to re-EQ it at Abbey Road. ‘Dear Prudence’ we actually got the mix and didn’t do any work on that. ‘Savoy Truffle’ we did overdubs on and then I mixed it.

Q:You engineered the majority of The Beatles album.

A: This was the first album and maybe the only album in which they had time restraints. And the reason they had time restraints was this was going to be the debut album out on Apple. There had been so much publicity about Apple there had been a date set for the release of the Beatles first album on Apple. So it had to be finished by a specific day to the point where the last day that we worked on it George was flying to L.A. the next day and he had to take masters with him. So we were using three studios, two playback rooms. We used the entire building. And John Smith, my second engineer was in one of the playback rooms sorting out running orders with John and George Martin whilst I was in one studio mixing something. We were working out asses off right to the end. That was the first 24 hour session I ever did.

Q: There were mono mixes on that album because a lot of State side radio stations were not fully equipped for stereo discs.

A: Yes. Mono was still very important. On anything they were the first mixes we did. And the reason was that is how we listened to everything in mono. We knew more of how it should sound in the mono. That is how we listened to it and built it up all the way through. And then stereo. ‘OK. What do we do’ kind of thing.

In other related Beatles news, The Fest For Beatles Fans 2014 in Los Angeles will return to the Southern California area October 12-14th for the first time in 14 years.

The long-anticipated event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Beatles arrival to the United States will take place at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. 5855 West Century Boulevard.

Organizer Mark Lapidos has announced a stellar lineup of special musical guests and authors: Denny Laine, Billy J. Kramer, Bob Eubanks, Freda Kelly, Peter Asher, Laurence Juber, Bruce Spizer, Alan Aldridge, and John Kosh.


Los Angeles native and music historian Harvey Kubernik has been an active music journalist for over 40 years and is the author of 6 books. Otherworld Cottage Industries in February 2014 published Harvey Kubernik’s book It Was Fifty Years Ago Today: The Beatles Invade America and Hollywood. During April 2014, Harvey Kubernik’s Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956–1972 was published by Santa Monica Press garnering national and international acclaim. Kubernik’s book on Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows, for Palazzo Editions in the U.K., will be published on September 9, 2014.


  1. You spelled Abbey Road as Abby Road in the headline.

  2. […] Yuletime, it’s a batcha 180-gram vinyl mono albums with nice new/old covers, labels, inner sleeves, posters and cut-out moustaches where applicable, […]

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