The Beatles 2009

So the big day, September 9, Beatles Day, has come and gone and after being away on a brief trip, I returned this morning to a number of voicemails that began, “Are the Beatles reissues worth the money?”

I even had a call from one of my writers. For shame. No, not really. I fully understand times are hard and shelling out $179.99 (on for the full Stereo Box enchilada may be too much for some. I have to say though that one hundred and eighty bucks for the entire Beatles stereo catalog in its U.S. configuration is pretty reasonable. The boxed set is very basic and no nonsense which is good because often times boxed set designers get too fancy and outstrip the capabilities of the manufacturing end of things. Just a two bay rectangular box with CDs stacked on top of a ribbon for easy accessibility. Also if you can’t afford the entire apple (or in this case, Apple), then the bites at $11.99 (again for the individual volumes seems very reasonable.

Reasonable that is if the sound is demonstrably better than the original CDs, which came out in 1987. As I mentioned in my feature on the new reissues in the October issue of Stereophile, the chief engineer on the project Allan Rouse doubted whether the average listener could tell the difference between the new reissues and the original CD transfers.

An average listener aside, the bigger question for audiophiles is can the trained ear using good gear detect a difference? Again, as I mention in my article, the differences between the old and new CD masters are significant and for fans and audiophilic types, more than worth the money.

One complicating factor with closely examining the sound of the new reissues was the fact that Apple/EMI would not let any music out until the week of release and that edict included critics, deejays and music biz folks although I’m sure some folks somewhere—groundlings at Apple Corps for instance—must have been exempted from the embargo. Having now received my actual finished copy of the boxed set, I’ve dug into several tracks in depth to see what the differences really are.

Let me first say that I think the LPs will always sound superior to CD versions no matter how much tweaking of the sound of the original mixes goes on. If someday new mixes are commissioned then perhaps the CD sound will give the LPs a run for their money. But in terms of dynamic range, imaging and that wonderful overused analogue bugaboo term, “warmth,” the LPs get the nod. Why LPs are not part of this new sprucing up of the Beatles catalog is unknown. Rouse had no idea when I asked him. Seems to me that would have been as much a win-win as the new Mono Set whose initial pressing of 10,000 units sold out faster than its admittedly more numerous Stereo counterpart. No worries though kids, both CD sets will be reprinted ad infinitum until every last ducat has been squeezed outta this project.

Using my Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 3D CD player—which by the way is a great machine that I have always adored—at the exact same volume, the first thing you notice when you A-B new against old is that sonically the new transfers make the originals sound flat and one–dimensional. There is a newfound fullness, multi-dimensionality and also a sense of space that the originals lack. On first listen, this new sonic heft can easily be mistaken for loudness, for compression, but it’s really just a wider dynamic range and the presence of more music that you’re hearing. In the stereo CD of Rubber Soul, I A–B’d “Drive My Car” repeatedly against the 1987 originals and the audible differences for me came down to several things: increased separation and clarity between instruments, a more expressive, luxuriant emotional tenor, and an exquisite and exacting sense of bringing out and enhancing details like the roundness of the bass line or the edge on the vocals, which were always there but which are now so much more alive and present in the mix.

After listening for the past few days, several sonic constants have appeared. The contributions of Paul and Ringo, alone and as a rhythm section are now more prominent. Paul’s bass is now something you can regularly hear and be impressed by. Ringo’s tambourine on “Got To Get You Into My Life” (from Revolver) now sounds like a glorious idea come to fruition. Another “Gee, I never heard that before,” moment comes from the layering, particularly of the vocals, which is now so much more defined. On “Doctor Robert,” again from Revolver (a lesser tune that I, of course, have a cheesy affinity for), the harmonies have a new energy.

Energy, in fact, may be the word that best describes the positive sonic alterations inherent in the new remasters. What you really hear is an audible new jolt of energy. Words like cogency, potency and sparkle also apply. This music, on the medium of CD, is suddenly more alive than ever before. Best of all the CD format’s worst quality, that cold digital brightness that’s made so many CD transfers damned near unlistenable, has actually been used, very judiciously, to great effect. I would venture to say that the Abbey Road team has finally harnessed this demon and made it serve rather than harm the music making.

On Lennon’s “Rain” (from Past Masters) one of the band’s most elaborate sonic creations, one that used a series of overdubs at different tape speeds to achieve an odd tonal effect and near the song’s end, backward vocals, the new remaster when compared to the original CD transfer, focuses and revitalizes the panache of this underrated curiosity. The guitars have more bite, Ringo’s snare pops with new vigor and the background vocals are separated more than ever before.

Finally, after listening to the The Beatles (aka The White Album), which despite much love for Abbey Road has always been my favorite Beatles album, the proof as they say, is in the air. The sound is appreciatively better, richer, more intense. The overdubs on this record have always sounded clumsy to me but on the new remaster, that problem has been minimized. A–B’ing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” is yet another example of how clarity has been strengthened while the music that was always there, the Harrison/McCartney harmonies float above the mix with a new urgency and Clapton’s guitar has a thrilling new sting. Anyone who cannot hear he differences here needs to upgrade their gear or perhaps retune their ears. It’s easy to fall back upon metaphors when describing the exciting new sound that rises from these remasters but I’ll use only one. In listening to these new reissues, it makes me think that the music was like a half-opened flower that has now been brought into full and beautiful bloom.

A word about packaging: The glossy paperboard packs that the new reissues come in are well thought out and a definite success. If you like Beatles photos, many rarely seen (at least by non-fanatics), these new packages are a bonanza. The Rubber Soul package for instance contains 11 photos, only four of which were included in the original CD package

JP's picture

Make that 24/176 (oops!)

HS's picture

Any experience with the mono box?

JP's picture

Any word on when the Beatles will be available at high res? In your conversations with Allan Rouse, did he state whether or not any work was done at 24/96 or 24/172?

jrmandude's picture

Yeah, but its still just The Beatles, an over-rated band if ever there was one.

Robin Landseadel's picture

"Any experience with the mono box?"Sergeant Pepper is not only better sounding in the ways described by Mr. Baird, the Mono mixes are significantly different and much better. When Sergeant Pepper rocks, it sounds more like a rock record. When it's doing the softshoe shuffle you can smell the sand and sawdust on the floor. "She's Leaving Home" is varispeeded up a notch or two. There's more and different flanging in "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." "Good Morning, Good Morning" snarls & barks—there's more impact everywhere and everything that's different here is better.Only heard one 'side' of the White Album. The differences are similar to Pepper's—more impact, more "ooomph" and slam and bass and all that. But not quite as different as Pepper.

Laura's picture

"Yeah, but its still just The Beatles, an over-rated band if ever there was one."Really? I think many, if not most, would consider The Beatles the most important and influential band of the last 50 years. They paved the way for every British band and musical artist that followed and had a profound impact on American rock n roll and power pop. Lennon and McCartney, as a team, have to rank among the best song writers ever. There is reason they are called "The Fab Four", they earned it.I am looking forward to recieving the mono box set and hoping that a vinyl reissue will soon follow.

John's picture

"LPs will always sound superior to CD versions no matter how much tweaking of the sound of the original "That some peaple never will get it (LP's are terrible concerning coloration, rumble, poor dynamics's, plops, hiss etc.) is something we have to live with, but it is disturbing when these folks are reviewer.

mauidj's picture

@ jrmandude.What a lame post!This is a discussion about a new CD issue not your personal preferences or biases.Overrated eh!.......fortunately the rest of the world does not agree with you.Waiting for the UPS truck to deliver my Mono set :-)I hear it now..........beep beep.

zonkedhombre's picture

@mauidjme too...beep beep beep beep yahhhh

HS's picture

Thank you, Robin.

Jerry's picture

Its shocking that Mr. Baird would state that the LPs "would always sound superior to the CDs" with their "greater dynamic range". A CD's potential dynamic range is unlimited if I recall, and any properly re-mastered CD would ace an LP in that category. And lets not re-visit vinyl's other more obvious shortcomings. God help Mr. Baird if they ever re-master the Beatles in SACD, or 192/24. Then, his sacred cow would surely die an ignominious death. Other than that, unlike LPs, I prefer my music UN-distorted, thank you very much.

Marco Stanzani's picture

i'll wait the blue ray reprint hi-rez reprint :-)should we buy the same stuff again and again? they will not have me

Austin Jackson's picture

My 2 cents - not sure I would suggest for a non-audiophile, but for those of us who care... sound is certainly improved. I read somewhere that the original CDs had tipped up treble and they have always sounded harsh to me. The reissue has none of that and sounds more flesh and blood than the old CDs. So ditto on Robert's review.

Rich Bowers's picture

Aren't you folks, especially you Beatle fans, getting tired of being led around by the nose by the powers that be? Yes, these CD's sound better than previous releases, but indeed the technology was always there to have produced this quality a long time ago. I truly don't think that we will see the Beatles in Hi-Res during our lifetime - I don't think my grandkids will see it either. As long as the lemmings follow the hype, EMI will lead them to the cliff. I am embarrased to say that I am one of those...I now have several libraries of Beatle music (MFSL, 80's re-hash, redbook) and now this current release. The packaging was horrible, with CD's actually glued inside the digi-paks. I mean really.... Don't know about you, but this is the last 'Beatle' anything that I'm buying until they produce something that does the material justice. In my opinion, The Beatles have turned into the biggest rip-off entity of the 20/21st century.

Eric Barry's picture

I'd like Mr. Baird to clear something up: which LPs does he use as reference? There is an incredibly wide variation in the sound of Beatle LPs.The Capitol versions were not only changed in running order, but up to Sgt. Pepper they were run through the famous reverb of the Capitol tower in Hollywood, unlike any other versions worldwide. These are available now in the Capitol box sets. USA pressed Apple versions are these same inferior tapes, on terrible vinyl, and are the worst available. Later Capitol pressings are from the same source, but better mastered.Imports from the UK, Europe, or even Down Under are a totally different kettle of fish, with superior pressing and mastering, as the band intended. There are differences from country to country, and between 60s tube-cut and 70s solid-state cutting amps, but overall these are in the same family.Then there are the Mo-Fis, with immaculate pressing but tipped up bass and treble--not a completely displeasing effect.So which is it, Mr. Ba

Sgt Pepper's picture

The fact that you think the LPs are superior to the new masters is utterly absurd, and discounts anything else you have to say. Even the original LP versions are far, far removed from the original masters. Not even close. Rolled off bass, squeezed dynamics, and distortion.Your comment carries the same level of ridiculousness as saying the remastered DVD of a movie is worse than a VHS Video Tape version.Pure Dogma from an old geezer.

Stephen's picture

As one who matured with the Fab Four, who owns all they have recorded and who happily owns the MFL LP set as well, I patiently wait for a reissue in SACD. Will this ever come? I hope it will, as every lovingly resissued release in this format comes closest to the LP, as one can see with Pink Floyd and DSOTM compared to half speed mastered LP and its SACD version. So, I will actually wait for this to happen. Anyone who denies that these four are the legenday giants of modern music are blind/deaf to reality.

Ted Clamstruck's picture

You can't even read a review of Beatles remasters nowadays without having to put up with some assclown claiming the alleged superiority of LPs. What a joke.

Stephen's picture

I never let go of my old LP's. I have some original half speed mastered MFSL Beetles LP's. When I purchased my VPI TNT a couple of years ago and spent 2 days setting it up and tweeking it, I sat down and listened to them again and compared them to the CD's. I asked myself why we ever left LP's in the first place. We cannot carry them with us wherever we go. We have to turn them over every 15 minutes. There is some background noise, but Ted, your experience with LP's is likely as limited as your experience with English. I am hardly a clown. When I want a really exquisite experience, or when I want to show someone what the system can really do, I put on an LP and crank it up. I have shown some of my young friends what they sound like, and they have never before heard them, and they are truly amazed. Listen up! Lighten up, and learn a little English!

Dave Beegle's picture

Should 'Please Please Me' sound like the vocals were taped from across the street, other than the two mono cuts? Surely that isn't how it sounded in the studio. On Rubber Soul, similar situation with Norwegian Wood. I wonder if my cds are defective. If not, I can't understand why they were released in this condition. Why not simply release 'Please' in mono in the stereo box? Or, not include it at all. They obviously don't think much of it to release it in this condition. It's not listenable. And good vibe, to boot. I mean, the Star Club tapes are sounding good compared to 'Please'. You've already included 2 mono tracks, so it's not like you're breaking a rule. Geez. Dare I say it, it's back to the LP for that one.

George's picture

It still amazes me all of the people here that poopoo vinyl recordings just because cd's have a lower noise floor and therefore think they sound better. These people are obviously born after 1975 or so and don't know any better. Us 'GEEZERS' who actually have listened to vinyl on hi end equipment (the vpi is a great example) couldn't possibly know what were taking about.Cd's are just a digital replication of analog sound, and a low res version to boot, while vinyl is what analog recording is meant to be, yes plus a little background noise, but with much more warmth,realism, and soundstage than a 16/44.1khz copy can ever be.Those who doubt but maybe don't have the equipment to compare should at least try a hirez digital rip from vinyl from Dr.Robert or Aksman on avaxhome or Pbthal's vinyl blog. Then maybe that will make a believer out of the skeptics. While not actually the real deal{vinyl) they are a very good example of what vinyl is all about. These posters have a very devout following for a good reason. OPEN YOUR MINDS!!!