In a contemporary review, Peter Watrous of The New York Times said that the box set "tracks the progress of a figure who profoundly changed what was possible in American music." He ranked it as the twelfth best album of 1991.The Birth of Soul was voted the third best reissue of the year in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll for 1991.
In 2003, the album was ranked number 53 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In a retrospective article for the magazine, Robert Christgau wrote that, despite "caveats" such as material repeated on more "economic" releases, The Birth of Soul is "the rockingest Charles long-form you can buy" and remarked on the legacy of its recordings:
Although Charles' fabled blues-gospel synthesis is on display from 'I Got a Woman' to 'I Believe to My Soul,' 'birth of soul' gets the emphasis wrong. Seldom conventionally catchy, this Robert Palmer-annotated collection epitomizes a world-historic catchall of a genre that Charles could only describe as 'genuine down-to-earth Negro music' — namely, rhythm & blues. Crack bands, first Atlantic's and then his own, underpin his rich, gravelly vocals with hard-hitting grooves of deceptive rhythmic and harmonic complexity. Halfway in, a female backup group soon to be known as the Raelettes starts shoring up his male voice and egging it on, an innovation that became a cliche so fast people think it was always there.
Christgau recommended Rhino Entertainment's 1994 compilation album The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years as a cheaper alternative to the box set.