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Remastered Beatles CDs: A sneak preview*

BEATLES_REMASTERED_6_

How do the newly remastered Beatles CDs sound?

As one who got a sneak preview recently at Capitol Records in Hollywood, let me boil it down to one word: Fab.

These won’t leave anyone feeling that they’ve been missing out for all these years, and they’re not likely to make Beatlemaniacs out of anyone who hasn’t cared for the Liverpudlians’ sound before now.

But they do offer something that might have seemed nearly impossible so many years down the line: a fresh listen.

Two of EMI Records’ engineers who have overseen the remasters, Allan Rouse and Guy Massey, were on hand to A:B the new versions against the CDs that Beatles fans have been accustomed to since they were first issued 22 years ago.

Three of us — I was joined by writers for a couple of audiophile magazines — listened to a CD that included portions of new and old versions of 14 songs spanning the group’s recording career.

Calendar will have an in-depth piece in Sunday's Arts & Music section looking behind the scenes of the remastering process as well as a glimpse into the Fab Four’s entry into the world of videogames through The Beatles: Rock Band.

But here are a few observations from the preview session:

• “Till There Was You”:  On the ’87 CD, Paul McCartney’s voice still sounds dreamily mellow, somewhat masked, on the Meredith Willson love song from “The Music Man”; the new version brings out more fullness in his voice, as well as more crispness in the percussion work.

• “Eight Days A Week”: This exuberant track sounded immediately compressed in the old CD master; the new one gains openness and adds noticeable presence to the signature hand claps.

• “Yesterday”: Remastering can’t alter the beauty of McCartney’s classic lament, but now the pluck of his fingers on the strings of his acoustic guitar is even more visceral.

• “In My Life”: As in many of the previewed tracks, it’s the drums and bass that are most immediately improved. Even though it’s not a powerhouse track, Ringo’s rhythmic accents are bigger and sharper.

• “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”: The opening guitar riff felt like it would rip through the speakers in Capitol’s Studio C with the added vibrancy Paul's lead guitar gets in the new version.

• “Good Night”: The closing track from “The Beatles,” a.k.a. the White Album, starts with string accompaniment that sounded canned on the old CD. I noted a slight harshness in the remastered version but also a fuller orchestral sound and an especially appealing purity in the flutes behind Ringo’s sweetly melancholy vocal.

• “The Long and Winding Road”: Paul may cringe at those sweeping strings that Phil Spector overdubbed onto his swan-song Beatles ballad, but they sound even broader and more spacious on the remaster than on the 1987 CD.

After the prepared A:B CD was through, Rouse and Massey opened the floor for requests. I asked to hear "She's Leaving Home" from the mono mix of "Sgt. Pepper," because the track was slowed down for the stereo mix that most U.S. listeners (myself included) are used to. McCartney's voice sounded sweeter, the harp more luminous.

I also got them to cue up Harrison's "Savoy Truffle" from the White Album. As a longtime sax player, I wanted to hear how the sax section came through the remastering -- nicely fat -- but the part that grabbed the attention of everyone in the room was the screaming guitar solo, which picks up considerable sting in the new version.

Tune in Sunday for more.

-- Randy Lewis

*Update: An earlier version misspelled the name of recording engineer Allan Rouse as Allen.

Photo credit: Apple Corps

 
Comments () | Archives (33)

Did I miss something, what versions of the newly remastered disc's did you listen to and report on, were they the MONO versions or the Stereo versions? That will make quite the difference in what you hear from my experience. Thanks, Paul

I agree with the comment below. Are mono versions that much differente from stereo?

Just wondering, were the old and new mastered played at the same volume so as not to trick the listeners, if not at the same volume you would tend to favor the louder disk.

I'm curious on a couple of issues. Will "Only A Northern Song" still be "mono reprocessed for stereo" or are they using the 1999 Songtrack Mix redone for "Yellow Submarine"? Hopefully they've recreated a NEW stereo mix that more closely resembles the original mono. Also, is the 45 mono version of "You Know My Name" being remixed in stereo for the first time (not including the weird unedited/edited version on the Anthology CD). I know for "1's" they fixed the guitar drop out on "Day Tripper". Will they do the same for John's vocal flub on the stereo version of "Please Please Me"? These are the first things I would want to know. Why didn't the lucky few who got to preview this project ask these questions?

Yea,

Only A Northern Song sounds weird on the 87 remasters, i don't if they sound like that on vinyl, I did appretiate the new Stereo mix on Yellow Submarine soundtrack album in 1997

There is no mention of the stereo mixes for these forthcoming "Remastered" discs....Did they re-do them? Please don't tell me that they kept the same stereo mix and just improved the fidelity of the recordings. The Yellow Submarine reissue was fanstastic because they changed the general layout of those recordings and centralized the overall mix. If I'm about to spend two-hundred or more dollars to still hear the drums and bass come out of one side and the vocals and guitar on the other, let me know now and I won't waste my time...or my dime.

Do the remaining four never released true stereo tracks remain as such? Of course, I'm referring to "She Loves You", "I'll Get You", "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You". If in fact there are no two track master tapes in existence as has been previously written, then I would hope those four would be in the best mono quality possible on both the stereo and mono versions of the CD. Regards.

Call me crazy, but I find it very difficult to believe that these new discs are going to blow me away, it's still just a CD after all. A part of me really does hope that the engineers did go back and work some magic but my guess is that they just went back and turned up the volume (google "loudness war wiki"). Also, what came first? The Rockband announcement or the remaster of the CD's?
I'm sorry guys, I may seem way too pessimistic about this, but I already own all the Beattles CD's, some vinyl and the (soon) Rock Band game. In this economy, there better be a real good reason for me to shell out a few hundred for stuff I already own that sounds just fine.

The mixes for any of the songs were NOT re-done. This was a re-mastering project, not a re-mixing project. So for the early albums, you'll still get the extreme stereo separation with vocals in one channel and instruments in the other channel. The '87 stereo mixes George Martin made for Help and Rubber Soul are the same mixes that'll appear in the stereo box set and on the individual releases. If you want to hear the original stereo mixes of those two albums, they will be included as bonus material on (ironically enough) the mono box set.

If you want to hear a more balanced mix that sounds the way the Beatles intended themselves to be heard, buy the mono box set. In my opinion, it's the only way to listen to the Beatles.

Awesome article. I can't wait to finally hear these myself. I'll probably be listening to nothing but Beatles for about a month or three when I get my box sets in the mail.

It's nice to hear these details of the differences...

One thing I think needs to be pointed out to those who think that these new remasters are only about turning up the volume. The 1987 remasters were done with only 16 bit technology, these new remasters were made with 24 bit technology - so there should be a significant difference in the amount of information captured from the original tape source. That should make for "warmer" more detailed music. I don't think we should get down on these new remasters before we hear them...

I cant wait--I bought Rubber Soul when the Beatles CD's originally became available and it is so harsh sounding.

What about the packaging? Did we get something better than that God-awful crap Capitol has been foisting on us for years?

Will Sunday's piece elaborate upon the much-debated issue - alluded to here - about the mono v stereo versions? And what about the re-mastering that was done for the recent CD issue of the American LPs. How does that bear on this?

I would like to know if the tracks were remixed as well as remastered. Many of us who remember the stereo separation on the original LPs, and how those odd approaches to stereo were duplicated on the CDs, are really hoping for a full stereo experience akin to what George and Gilles Martin were able to achieve on the LOVE soundtrack.

Mr. Lewis should also have addressed the differences between these new recordings and the originals, which were what the artists had at the time they were creating the music. If "luminous", "fuller", and "purity" were not options the artists had, their choices and alterations were based on what they did have.

I don't mean to be controversial, but these are just remastered, not remixed. Rubber Soul and parts of Sgt. Pepper will still have the vocals on one side of headphones, as will parts of Revolver. What I want is every album remixed like Yellow Submarine and Love. Those recordings blew me away with their modern sound and mixes. Ringo's drums were really fantastic in these mixes too - it the original mixes they are buried and cast off to one side usually. Drums and bass should be square in the middle.

They blew it. They had the opportunity to remix from the original tapes but they didn't. The original multitracks will always sound better because they were often already a generation degraded because of the practice of having to do reduction mixes, especially on the more formidable productions around the Pepper era.

Some engineers say that re-mixing from original multitracks is an opportunity for "knob twittlers" to interfere with the consensus and desires of the artists and producer during the time that the music was laid down. But during the Beatles era there were so many compromises that really diminish what could be enjoyed, if remixed, on modern equipment, as others have alluded to: the Yellow Submarine Songtrack CD/ Love.

I don't doubt that the remastered CDs will sound better than the '87 release, but that's not saying much because those releases just sounded passable.

Ack! What a drag tohave spent 4 YEARS on this!!! C'mon!

Based on your review, it sounds like there is only one Beatle called McCartney:-) There seems to be a grossly, glaring omission of the OTHER most important component of the band who happened to be the "other half of the composing team" and guess what, the other main co-equal vocalist - Mr. John Lennon. The guy who played "rhythm guitar and mouth organ".

Reading the above review, one would not know that Lennon existed. I find your specific sampling of McCartney's overly saccharin ballads somewhat banal compared to Lennon's darker and at times more harmonically interesting compositions although certainly, together, they made the greatest composing team in pop-rock history. Why didn't you even reference Lennon's main vocal in In My Life which is double tracked on the final mix? Why didn't anyone request If I Fell, A Hard Days Night, Help, A Day in the Life, Julia, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Because, It Won't Be Long, This Boy, The Word, Norwegian Wood, And Your Bird Can Sing, Lucy in the Sky, No Reply or any of the other fantastic Lennon contributions to the Beatles catalog? Concerning Paul's tunes, I think his best were Here There and Everywhere, And I Love Her, For No One, Got to Get You in to My Life and Fixing a Hole - take it from a guy who has played blues-jazz guitar for 40+ years.
I can't wait to hear these re-masters but my goodness, I am so tired of hearing about McCartney as if he were the only one who existed with 3 guys backing him up. I hope there isn't going to be a new wave of history revisionism!a

Thank you.

Jeff

It would seem that argubably the most important band catalog
in all of rock history is not blowing the people away on their first listen to me is dissapointing. Take In My Life my favorite track for Ringo's playing the rim shot accents are just perfect. Why didn't they remix with the help of people like Geoffrey Emerick is beyond me! For the Beatles
EMI should have brought the real heavy weights in for this project, my god we have been waiting so long. Also hybrid SACD would have also been a great choice. Led Zeppelin's Mothership was remixed and it's a mind blower. Oh Well!!!

I work at KCMP, The Current, (which is kinda like KCRW but in Minneapolis), and we just accidentally got our promo copies of both mono and stereo sets today (a week early). Hearing stuff like the mono Sgt. Pepper's album today was pretty mind-blowing. And hearing remastered mono Revolver too. And one listen to Abbey Road was enough for me to hear huge differences in the sound - the warm, fat bass parts, biting guitars, open and present vox - sure they could have remixed everything, but this IS a big improvement sonically, and how many arguments would THAT have caused? Maybe the definitive version is actually to choose mono for some of the albums that have really severe stereo mixing like Rubber Soul or Revolver, and then dig the stereo for the others. The net result is that these songs you've probably heard thousands of time actually sound fresh again, for the first time in a long time.

The packaging is improved a ton - with great photos - but could still have featured some more / better writing on a few of the titles like For Sale, that didn't add much beyond re-printing the liner notes that Derek Taylor wrote back in 1964.

I enjoyed the two mini-docs I watched on computer. Well edited, with commentary flowing into demos into final versions of songs.

There seem to be some marketing flaws / questions left unanswered - how about selling a DVD of the mini-docs all together? Why just limit the mono CDs to the box set (and they are sized proportionate to vinyl albums, so you won't be able to file them in a tight CD cabinet - they will be too big)? Why not give a little value and put the stereo and mono versions of the early albums together - there's enough space to fit both, and MANY reissues have done that?

Overall though, I'm only a few hours into checking it out, but I'm really happy with what I've heard on the discs.

Does anyone know if there will be new vinyl based on these new remasterings?

G's comments sound like sour grapes... I find it amusing when something as earth shattering and spectacular as this is coming and a few express the infamous "...I don't think anything they did can merit shelling out more money"... I'd rather they keep their comments and simply go back to their 180gm vinyls and harsh '87 CD's (and maybe their Dr. Ebbetts) if that makes them happy... Meanwhile let the 1,000,000's of the rest of us Beatles' fans savor the moment... 9/9/09 is THE definite and ultimate Beatles' collection date; even if someday they are issued on Blu-Ray...

Does anyone know why didn't they remaster and include the "Hey Jude" album in this collection, as it was originally recorded ? Just curious.

For me it's not at all about the money for my favorite rock band of all time. It's about did they do JUSTICE to the remastering of the Beatles catalog. The first time I ever heard of the Beatles was at the end of 1963, Mike Wallace did a morning news show on CBS and one morning he did a report on the Moptops from Liverpool that were causing a big sensation in Europe. The song they were performing was I Want To Hold Your Hand. And from that moment I was hooked on the Beatles. 1964 Beatlemania started happening in America. At that time rock and roll was pretty crappy except for Motown and other great R&B James Brown etc.
I was listening mainly to Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Mingus etc.
The Beatles led the British Invasion and it's what America
needed after JFK was assasinated. It was positive it was great!!I was in a band in 64 doing Beatles covers from
the Introducing the Beatles album.
The 1999 Yellow Submarine-
C.D. was a big improvement over the 87 releases and the Love
collection I also felt sounded real great. But and this is a big BUT after they released the original cds which were most likely mixed and compressed for lp and thrown onto cd which was the case for the majority of the first cds that were released by all the record companies to cash in on perfect sound forever BS-
DID THEY DO THE VERY BEST JOB THEY COULD OR IS IT JUST AN
IMPROVEMENT OVER THE ORIGINAL RELEASES????
Which means are they going to have to go back again and get it right. In other words going back to the Original Master
Tapes and include George Martin and others who were involved in the originals. Bring Paul and Ringo in to listen to the final mixdowns. You know when it sounds right everyone will know it. George and Giles did a great job on Love. George Martin is a Master musician and the fifth Beatle. There's Magic in those recordings and for the Art's
sake it's got to be right for the human race.

This is just one more "How many times can we sell these suckers the same tapes?" scam. Until someone remasters the first 5 CDs, so that the main vocals are centered, as well as drums and bass, the sound has to be second rate. These are remasters, which in this digital age is obsolete, not the needed remixed. Remixing can be done with an Apple notebook and Audicity software, so to leave the multitrack masters untouched was a crime. And for those who wish for Goerge Martin has has suffered hearing loss to where he is of no use to aany msical project. Allan Parsons on the other hand....

Actually, I'd like to hear a comparison of the remastered cds with some original UK 70s pressings of the vinyl lps. The original vinyl discs were really well mastered and pressed and they're not that difficult to find for those still with turntables.

If the remastered albums were released on SACD, I might consider picking them up. I'm just not a big fan of the sound from cds in general, even more recent releases that have better mastering, so I may just stick with the original vinyl for times when I want to bring out some Beatles.

 
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