You're saying the track list looks familiar? It is -- this is ALMOST identical to From the Top, with only a few minor changes. This seems to be an example of Richard Carpenter's "tweaking" of something; he tweaks old recordings (with remixes and new instrumental parts), he tweaks old albums (how many Yesterday Once More CDs are there?). I imagine The Essential Collection was designed to replace From the Top, since they are SO similar. But there are some changes.
To start with, more of the hits have been included here. From the Top did not actually have all the Carpenters' hit singles on it! Very few tracks from the original set have been deleted, though, so there is quite a bit more music on The Essential Collection.. Among the tracks deleted are "Goodnight," from the CSULB album (which is an unfortunate deletion, in my opinion), the Spanish version of "Sing" ("Canta"), and two of the remixed tracks from Karen's solo album.
Another change from the previous box set is that many of the hits are included here in their original album mixes, instead of remixes. Some of these include "We've Only Just Begun," "For All We Know," "Superstar," and several others.
The only previously unreleased track here (sort of) is the Moringa Hi-Crown Chocolate Commercial, which was actually released on the DVD version of Close to You: Remembering the Carpenters but has never been released on CD before. The Karen/Ella medley is seeing its first U.S. release on this set, as the album As Time Goes By was released after this set in the U.S.
Overall the sound quality of the new box set is excellent -- The Essential Collection benefits from the remastering project that was undertaken in the late 1990's when the entire Carpenters' catalog was remastered, something that happened after From the Top was released.
The Essential Collection is, to me, a much better collection than From the Top, both in terms of the song selection and the sound quality. I would have preferred a *little* more in the rarities department (the CSULB songs, more Spectrum recordings, perhaps some unreleased live recordings or songs from the TV specials), but I do think this is an excellent collection of material from throughout the Carpenters' career.