Converting MP3s to mono
November 30, 2004 3:02 AM   Subscribe

The Beatles' early albums - should I convert my MP3s to mono, and if so - how?

I've heard it said that the earlier Beatles LPs were really intended to be mixed as mono, and the stereo mixes were, for want of a better phrase, hacked up. In this brave new iPod-centric world, this seems to be true. Songs such as I am the Walrus and Taxman have really horrible, jarring stereo separation, with the drums entirely in the left channel, vocals hard on the right channel, and so on. Listening to I am the Walrus on an iPod is actually pretty unpleasant, as there's a sudden change of stereo mix in the middle of the song, which makes it all the worse.

So, should I convert my lovingly encoded mp3s to mono, or did the mono versions of The Beatles' LPs ever make it to CD? Will converting stereo mp3s to mono sound terrible? And if not, what tools (mac or PC) are recommended for this type of operation?
posted by influx to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
iTunes > Preferences > Importing
Select which encode to use then click Setting > Custom and set the number of channels to mono.
Then select the songs and choose Convert Selection to MP3 in the Advanced menu
posted by cillit bang at 3:20 AM on November 30, 2004

Response by poster: I'd really like to avoid encoding my CDs again (not least because Sgt. Pepper's seems to have disappeared) - I take it iTunes is unable to transcode stereo mp3 -> mono mp3?
posted by influx at 3:24 AM on November 30, 2004

Magical Mystery Tour (I am the Walrus, etc) is early Beatles? Huh?

You do what you want, but what you describe as "horrible" was entirely psychodelic-intentional; the most that can be said is that headphones were not contemplated as a primary listening mode.

I could never accept what you are proposing to do. Even if, through headphones, it was painful to listen to.

MMT is favorite Beatles disc, for its combination of music, and the age (8?) at which I discovered it.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:42 AM on November 30, 2004

The mono and stereo mixes were different mixes - the story I heard is that the Beatles and George Martin were present for the mono mixes and left the stereo mixes for studio engineers to take care of later (at least earlier on). Nonetheless, a mono-fied version of the stereo mix wouldn't sound like the mono mix, necessarily, as they are two different versions of the same source material.
posted by Grangousier at 3:47 AM on November 30, 2004

The instructions I posted are for transcoding the songs in your library. Try it.
posted by cillit bang at 3:48 AM on November 30, 2004

Sometimes the stereo mixes are a function of the recording equipment available at the time. With only a four track tape to be used, often drums went only on one channel, and other instruments on the other. The voice was mixed between the left and right channels to provide a centered sound.

I really enjoy listening to the Beatles stereo mixes of songs like I Am the Walrus, Strawberry Fields, Glass Onion, Across the Universe, etc. through headphones, as there seems to be a 3D effect that is not found with many other artists.
posted by stovenator at 5:18 AM on November 30, 2004

Try dbPowerAmp Music Converter.
posted by fuzz at 6:01 AM on November 30, 2004

In answer to your original question, should you? That's your choice. Using software to mix down from stereo to mono won't render the same results as the original mono releases.

I suspect the reason earlier Beatles music was originally released in mono is because that was how the music was listened to - on AM radios and sold on mono 45 rpm records. The sound had to be engineered to a level that would be acceptable on lo-fi equipment.
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:47 AM on November 30, 2004

Yeah, personally I kinda dig the stereo mixing on Rubber Soul and Revolver. You hear a lot of space, unlike modern stereo recordings with walls of guitars and such.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:04 AM on November 30, 2004

Wasn't MMT released in stereo, anyway? I thought everything post-Sgt. Pepper was, if not earlier.
posted by mkultra at 7:05 AM on November 30, 2004

The Usenet Guide To Beatles Recording Variations lists both Mono and Stereo releases of MMT. Argh.
posted by zsazsa at 7:17 AM on November 30, 2004

SteveInMain has it. In an interview, George Martin states that they mixed in mono, since most sound systems (and radio) were mono. After that was done, they mixed stereo. Mixing for clarity is more difficult in mono as you need to make sure your composition doesn't have frequencies competing with each other (like bass and drums) and drown each other out. With stereo there is more room to spread like frequencies throughout the stereo field and separate them. When you mix twice as they did, you get fantastic clarity and separation. You'll notice the same thing in Beach Boys music. Brian Wilson was deaf in one ear so he had to mix mono and spent a lot of effort in creating space and depth using reverb.

Back to the original question. I'd listen to it in stereo.

Oh, and the term is psychEdelic.
posted by lasm at 8:38 AM on November 30, 2004

The original mono mixes are now available for the first four American versions of the albums, in a new box set called the Capitol Releases vol. 1. If you want mono Beatles, that's the way to go. The stereo versions have very fake sounding reverb on them that you can't remove by just encoding the tracks as mono.
posted by inthe80s at 8:46 AM on November 30, 2004

lasm: I've read that about Brian Wilson. I wasn't a big fan of the Beach Boys when their records originally came out (mostly listened to on the BIG 89 - WLS AM). It's only in the last few years listening to stereo mixes on decent equipment that I've grown to appreciate Pet Sounds.
posted by SteveInMaine at 9:48 AM on November 30, 2004

inthe80s: If you want mono Beatles, that's the way to go

... if you want the American mono Beatles. The CD releases of the early (first four) UK Beatles albums -- which until now pushed the US albums off the market in this country -- are also mono mixes. In fact, the mono mixes personally supervised by George Martin and the Beatles.

In some cases, Capitol used the UK mono mix on their own mono LPs; but in some cases they didn't.
posted by macrone at 1:01 PM on November 30, 2004

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