Did the Beatles REALLY prefer mono?

The upcoming release of the Beatles LPs on vinyl in their original mono mixes has attracted a lot of media attention this week, including an exploration of why mono is such a big deal.

The general explanation for this runs along the lines of "the Beatles helped mix their music in mono and preferred the mono mixes to stereo."

And that's true. To a degree. But saying the Beatles used mono doesn't necessarily mean you can say they preferred mono.

From what I understand,  the Beatles -- once they gained access to the control room of Abbey Road and had more input into how their songs were mixed -- focused on the mono mixes and generally weren't around when the stereo mixes were prepared.

That's because they knew their music would be presented in mono on the radio and that most of their fans listened to their singles and albums on transistor radios and cheap mono record sets.

Pop music throughout most of the 1960s was presented in mono for these reasons. Stereo was more "high end," reserved for grownup hi-fi enthusiasts who listened to classical albums and mood music.

The LPs of Esquivel, Martin Denny and classical LP lines such as RCA's "Living Stereo," pioneered innovative stereo recording and mixing in the days before psychedelia.

So, yes, the Beatles worked in mono and the mono mixes reflect their musical preferences. But that's different from saying the Beatles wanted it this way.

It seems to be more a case of "that's just the way things were." If stereo had been more prevalent in the early 60s, the Beatles likely would have sat in on stereo mixing sessions and left mono to the engineers.

As to preference, I don't recall seeing any quotes in which any of the Beatles explicitly say they like the mono LPs more. If you have any quotes along these lines, please send them.

The closest thing I could find is "Anhology" quote from George Harrison:
"At that time [...] the console was about this big with four faders on it. And there was one speaker right in the middle [...] and that was it. When they invented stereo, I remember thinking 'Why? What do you want two speakers for?', because it ruined the sound from our point of view. You know, we had everything coming out of one speaker; now it had to come out of two speakers. It sounded like ... very ... naked."
But I also remember Ringo Starr saying, back when the remastered Beatles recordings were released in both mono and stereo on CD in 2007, that he liked the stereo versions more because the drums were featured more prominently in the mix.

And the Beatles did seem to enjoy using stereo to create some interesting effects on their later recordings.

So, I wonder if there's really enough evidence to state that the band liked mono more, as in these recent examples:
Alan Kozinn, New York Times: "Many fans of the Beatles, including the group’s producer, George Martin, and the band members themselves, have long argued that the most authentic way to hear the group’s music is in the original mono mixes."

Lily Armstrong, Mojo: "Back when 'stereophonic sound' was the bright young thing of sonic science, even The Beatles admitted that they liked their mono mixes best." 
Again, if there are quotes to back these statements up, I'd love to see them.

What's certainly true is that most Beatles fans in the 1960s heard the music in mono and that the band helped shape the sound of their released recordings by participating in mono mixing sessions.

So, given that, you could claim that -- indeed -- these mixes present the "authentic" sound of the Beatles. The new vinyl releases are of great interest for that reason -- especially since they will be sourced from analogue, just like the Beatles records of the 1960s.

Rather than choose a side in the mono/stereo debate, I have to confess I like having both formats available. If I hadn't grown up in the 1970s hearing Sgt. Pepper and the White Album in stereo, would I enjoy as much hearing how present and punchy they sound in mono?


This post has sparked some discussion and debate on the Steve Hoffman music forum, with a few comments worth relating here:

One polite poster who mentioned wasting "4 minutes of my life" reading this post noted:
I do recall hearing John Lennon express his preference for monaural recordings on one of his 1974 radio appearances. He described the 1967 - 1970 mix of Revolution as sounding like, "ice cream" and that it "lost the guts of it." 
Steve Hoffman himself says:
"George H. told me personally that he thought the stereo mixes for the most part were terrible. Not because they were in stereo but because they exposed the little "tricks" of how they recorded stuff. He didn't like that at all."
John C. Winn, aka Dinsdale, author of the irreplaceable Beatles reference books "Way Beyond Compare" and "That Magic Feeling" meanwhile offers this seemingly contradictory statement:

Here's what George had to say to Kenny Everett in July '69 (so, prior to Abbey Road's release, when the sole "stereo-only" UK Beatles release was the latest single, "The Ballad Of John And Yoko"):

Q: Does it annoy you that most people listen to your stuff on transistors and little tiny record players?

G: Uh... well, it doesn't annoy me, but it's a pity, because they miss it, y'know. They miss most of the, uh, hard work we put in, y'know, getting lovely sounds on things, and... 'specially stereo. Because even if people have stereo players, not many have really good equipment, or the famous stereo earphones that you so often talk about.
There was also a mention of George liking the Yellow Submarine "songtrack" remix because it made the Beatles' music seem more "modern."

So, we're really in the same spot: Can it be said -- as some in the media are saying -- that the Beatles preferred the mono mixes? I don't think it can.

Just like the rest of us, the Beatles seems to have preferred some mixes -- stereo or mono -- to others. Depends which songs, albums you're talking about.

And maybe, as some believe, debating it is a waste time. I just think that if journalists and those marketing the mono LP reissues are overstepping if they say the Beatles "preferred" the mono versions, when any evidence of that preference is so obviously contradictory.

As I said at the conclusion of the original post: I'm glad we get to hear the Beatles in both mono and stereo, as each has its merits and interesting aspects. And I think it's exciting that the mono mixes -- from analog -- will be available soon on vinyl.

Updated some more:

From the Steve Hoffman forum discussion, here's a quote attributed to George Martin:
"Today, most people are only familiar with the stereo version, but in those days, stereo equipment was very primitive, and not very popular. The Beatles and I spent three weeks mixing the mono version of the album. After it was finished, they left it to Geoff Emerick and myself to mix the stereo version, which we did in four days. So, the mono version was the version the Beatles "authorized." And, yes, given that, I think it should be issued on compact disc."