Recording of December 2019: Abbey Road (3-LP Anniversary Edition)

The Beatles: Abbey Road (3-LP Anniversary Edition)
Apple Corps/Universal Music Group 0602508007466 (3 LPs). 1969/2019. George Martin, orig. prod., Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald, orig. engs.; Giles Martin, reissue prod., Sam Okell, reissue eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Here are seven things you need to know about the three-LP, newly remixed—by Giles Martin and Sam Okell—and remastered version of Abbey Road, all of said re-ing done in honor of the album's 50th anniversary:

1) According to Universal, the remix was done from the original eight-track master tape, not from digital files made from that tape; inscriptions on the lead-out areas of all six sides suggest that these new LPs are the product of half-speed mastering. All surfaces on my review copy were noiseless.

2) Listening to these new mixes, the dominant impression is one of increased articulation. The equalization isn't drastically different from that of the original mix.

Apart from that, Giles Martin's work has no single overarching characteristic; he did not simply go in and turn up the bass and treble on all the tracks—although I did get that impression from two cuts in particular: "Oh! Darling" and "Here Comes the Sun." The former gets a piano sound that's crunchier on top, and the latter gets a less limber bass line—compared to my 1970s UK import LP—and are in my opinion the least successful of the reissue's tracks, sonically. The rest sound very good indeed.

3) But forget all that: What Martin apparently tried to do was to remix the album in a manner that brought out more of the performers' individual characteristics, vocal and instrumental—and in that I believe he succeeded handily. The distinctions of all four singing voices are laid bare to a previously unheard extent. Paul's piano in "Octopus's Garden" is transformed into a mini-orchestra of color and musical inventiveness. And the number one thing I came away with: John Lennon was a quite decent guitarist, certainly better than he is sometimes given credit for and good enough to make me all the sadder that, in his last solo recordings, he didn't play much guitar at all, leaving that to comparatively characterless session aces. (Can you imagine how much better Walls and Bridges, Mind Games, or even Imagine would have been if they had been recorded with the same musicians who made John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band?)

4) But forget all that: The things that make this set indispensable are the two LPs—labeled Sessions—filled with outtakes. There's a charming and near-perfect version of John (guitar and voice) and Paul (drums) taking a stab at "The Ballad of John and Yoko." There's the full orchestra-only track for "Something" that's indescribably lovely. And there's a fascinating early attempt at mixing and joining up all the numbers that form the side-two suite—identified here as "The Long One"—that proves what we Beatles bootleg freaks have been saying for years: "Her Majesty" was originally a part of that suite (but taking it out was a very good idea). But none of them beat the set's alternate version of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," which features some astonishing Hammond organ playing by Billy Preston. (He also played on the version that made the cut, but most of his soloing is buried under the wind-like white noise added to the original mix.)

5) The very nice packaging for the three-LP set includes an authentic-looking recreation of the original's jacket; a separate jacket for the two outtakes LPs, the cover of which is an outtake from the famous photo session; and four pages of notes, all in a nicely done box. The notes, though not as expansive as the ones that accompany more expensive versions of the 50th Anniversary reissue, are pretty good. The only error I noticed was a reference to the personnel on "Something" that suggests George played the piano. (It was John—who can be heard on a bootlegged outtake leading a post-song jam by pounding away on the closing chord in double time.)

6) As recently as one month ago as I write this, most references to Abbey Road could be counted on to include the notion that the Beatles saw the album as their last group effort, as did producer George Martin—and so they pulled together, personally and musically, for their final masterpiece. But in August of this year, a piece in The Guardian described a tape-recorded meeting between John, Paul, and George—Ringo, for whose benefit John made the recording, was in the hospital—laying out tentative plans for their next effort. That has a lot of pundits guessing their best "What if?" guesses, myself included. The only thing I know for sure: It wouldn't have sounded anything like Klaatu.

7) You need this record.—Art Dudley

volvic's picture

Funny, I have enjoyed the Oh Darling re-issue more than ever. Has given me new appreciation for the song from the mixing. Love how McCartney's voice comes through and the background support vocals. I have a belt drive table, wonder if your Garrard 301 idler brings out other elements from the vinyl.

Anton's picture

The added rumble enhances the sensation of PRaT and adds a certain sonic energy that is perceived as a positive by many listeners. Rumble can exist at surprisingly high frequencies. (The RIAA curve can even take part in enhancing the effect of turntable rumble.)

Kinda like the extra second order harmonic distortion making tube gear sound more pleasing.

(Disclaimer: I am not a tube hater, I run tubes in my preamp, amps, and even my phono stage. Just pointing out what seems to catch our ears.)

volvic's picture

As a former TD-124 member, I always wonder this when I read Mr. Dudley's reviews on some records, that we both own - whether or not we both hear the same "canvas" of music. As a former idler owner, I was always amazed how different it sounded with the music from my SME10 and LP-12 tables.

Anton's picture

I think the added rumble from an idler seems to enhance people's sensation of PRaT and adds a certain sonic energy that is perceived as a positive by many listeners. Rumble can exist at surprisingly high frequencies, as well. (Also interesting: The RIAA curve can even take part in enhancing the effect of turntable rumble. It gets complicated!)

Kinda like how the extra second order harmonic distortion makes some tube gear sound more pleasing.

(Disclaimer: I am not a tube hater, I run tubes in my preamp, amps, and even my phono stage. Just pointing out what seems to catch our ears.)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

MF calls those types of distortions as useful additive distortions (UAD) ........ HR says those add 'flower-like' beauty to the sound quality :-) .........

jimtavegia's picture

as I think comments about the sound of vinyl in comparing what one hears for the rest of us who don't own the same table, cart, and phono stage are somewhat meaningless to me. I am very surprised at the sonics at 3 stars.

I went back and listened to the remastered stereo Cd that came out in 2009 and was pleased with that sound as I bought many of those when they first came out. The 3 starts for sonics has me less interested.

Would you care to comment on what you hear on your SME 10?

volvic's picture

Hello Jim

I am merely stating what I experienced as an idler owner who at the same time owned belt drive decks with the same arm and cartridge on all tables. The sound was very different indeed when comparing the same recordings side by side. In the end I preferred the sound of the belt drives to the idler table and sold it.

When the TD-124 was running properly after a 15 minute runtime the sound was large, very large, drum attacks for instance were larger than the SME10 and Linn LP-12 as this was all less pronounced, but on the belt drive tables there was more musical detail and the image front to back, was larger, which wasn't the case with the idler.

I may or may not have stated in my initial post,but I did not do this comparison with the new Beatles release, it is merely a guess on my part as to why Mr. Dudley found it "crunchier" which I take to mean more distorted? muffled? I found in comparison to my older Canadian pressings his voice in 'Oh Darling'is fuller with the guitar riffs clearer and the background vocals smoother and more listenable on the Martin release. In fact 'Oh Darling' was never a favourite of mine but since hearing it on the new release, I have grown to love it, which is so fascinating to me as I have heard it hundreds of times.

These are my observations and hunches as well, of my limited life with an idler and thought after I read Mr. Dudley's review that perhaps the sound he was hearing from 'Oh Darling' was maybe because his idler transmits a different take on the music, at least that was my experience when I lived with one. By the way I have the vinyl and CD and both sound magnificent.

Make what you will of these observations from a hack who loves his tables and the Beatles new release.

jimtavegia's picture

I have gone through a number of tables over my years including Idler, DD, and belt drive going back to my old AR-XA with a Shure type III. I even had a newer Thorens 350 ( since gone) and an older TD-160 my oldest son owns now. My middle son took the Yamaha 550 DD with the Stanton 881S.

A few years back I decided to upgrade the arm on my Dual 502 as I have always loved the high torque motor of that belt drive table, but not the arm. I replaced it with a Rega 202 arm which improved the sound greatly, but was not easy as I carefully had to position and drill the metal plinth for the new arm the correct distance. It has worked out well. Every year I clean and re-oil the bearing spindle. It still spins free and easy as ever.

I am now listening to the 2009 Abby Road CD reissue again and see no reason to buy another copy. I would rather spend that money on something new I don't own. The 3 star sonics will keep me away. I did by the Imagine reissue on LP.

I may at some point buy the new $1K Technics table for the fun of it, but at 72 I am pretty much off the next great thing kick.

volvic's picture

I have spent a fortune on turntables and still not finished. I have four and plan on getting the Cyrus phono preamp, as it can handle four tables, just waiting for Cyrus/Mission to come back. I am also licking my chops at the Sugarcube click filter which can also transfer music to a HD with all the metadata and album cover. Silly I know, but I got the talbes at good prices and love them all. Funny enough, I have been pretty cheap with the cartridges - all of them use the Shure V15 MKV. It tracks so well and so quiet and the Jico styluses are so good as replacements, I have not seen the need to upgrade. Maybe this year after dabbling in this hobby for so many years, I will purchase an MC. I wish I had more room for an idler like a 301, but I would use only for mono recordings as I don't see the advantage of using that kind of table for stereo recordings. I would also love to get an EMT 938, and they are available but in a small Manhattan apartment I am running out of space. I buy used records unless there is a great release and I did like this Beatles release, it is not as good as Sergeant Pepper from a few years ago, but better than my original Canadian pressing and definitely better than the horrific 80's CD. Happy listening Jim, all the best.

jimtavegia's picture

It has always seemed that to do vinyl right it takes much more money than most think and a $399 table is not quite it.

I do more recording than listening these days and most of it is at 2496 and 24192. DSD is coming when I buy a Tascam DA-3000 soon. If digital could have started out at 2496 things would be different today.

I am not sure why the industry did not adopt 2496 burned to DVDr's as DVD-Vs as the standard in the past 10 years as digital music would sound so much better. Just about anyone could play them.

There is much money to be made in this reissue market and I am trying not to fall into the trap and buying everything twice. I think that "better" is becoming to mean just "different". Better is hard to often pin down.

Regards, Jim

volvic's picture

I have also started dabbling in SACD and trying hard not fall into that trap of repurchasing even though in most cases yes, they do sound better but better is very subjective. If I was doing it all from the beginning I would have bought the new $4k Technics table and be done with all the rest. I still find it silly to pay $4k for a cartridge that will wear out after 1000-2000 hours, even though that is a lot of time between replacing it is still a lot of money. Happy listening. Nick L

DH's picture

John Lennon and George Harrison....
But I get your point about the other 2 albums.

2_channel_ears's picture

Hahahaha, hahahaha. You kill me man.

Anton's picture

If they had made that next record, they would have invented punk rock.

Back to a straight ahead four piece combo playing great 3 minute songs.

Well, that's my fantasy of it.


Metalhead's picture

One of the easiest purchase decisions this year.

Could not wait as this was going on my Christmas list to the wife but when I went into the record shop it was all over.

Will take any bonus/leftover/filler the Beatles have in the vault.

Happy spinning

Graham Luke's picture

No. No I don't or indeed anything else I was listening to over 40 years ago.
Believe me I've tried to listen to some of the stuff but, but....

doak's picture

Graham's motion.

Anton's picture

Before buying this set, you have to read Nick Hornby’s “Juliet, Naked.”

Folks, there’s a reason they are called outtakes.

JennMartin's picture

Hi Art! I quite agree. This is a must have if you are interested in The Lads and the music.

Briandrumzilla's picture

The cd release is much better than the vinyl release.

volvic's picture

Disagree, both about even. Vinyl is dead quiet and sounds great as well

Jim Austin's picture

Due to an editing error, the print version--and initially the online version--of this review included an incorrect rating for the sonics. Art assigned a full five stars to this recording, for sonics. We can't fix it in print, but we can fix it here, and I have done so.

Jim Austin, Editor