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Sound quality of the 2009 remasters
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26 November 2009
10.47pm
alexbunardzic
Vancouver
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Not sure if this is the right forum to open up the discussion about the sound quality of the Beatles 2009 remasters, but to me it made more sense to discuss it in the albums section, rather than in the individual songs section.

As a lifelong Beatles fan, I am very keen on hearing their songs in the highest possible fidelity. Despite the fact that their songs sound awesome even on the cheapest little transistor radio from the '60s, they do tend to sound progressively better when listened to on high end audio systems. I have throughout the years managed to assemble a fairly esoteric, high resolution audio system, and am indeed finding renewed pleasures in listening to the familiar Beatles catalog.

The only limiting factor for me now becomes the quality of the very source. I have the old scratched vinyl records, which, to be honest, don't sound that great, what with the pops and clicks and all that. The original 1987 remastering of the Beatles catalog had always sounded tinny and harsh to my ears. I have been buying the so-called 'needle drop' masters (Dr. Ebbet's etc.), where sound enthusiasts would get a pristine vinyl copy of the Bealtes LP and play it back and then convert it to a digital signal and then burn a CD. The results have been spotty, but in many cases sounded a bit better and fuller than the original '87 CDs.

Now finally we have an officially remastered Beatles catalog, which, to my ears, surpasses in sound quality both the original catalog on CD, and any of the LPs I have. The reasons for that are, in my view, twofold:

1. The new CDs have been produced from the original master tapes that have been carefully refurbished and cleaned up, revealing new layers of depth in sound.

2. The actual analog-to-digital conversion was performed using the state-of-the-art latest technological achievements, which resulted in much warmer, sweeter overall sound.

Where I personally hear the most improvement is in the vocals. The Fab Four voices now sound as if Paul, George, John and Ringo are literally present in front of me, as they're singing. It is now easy to hear every bit of enunciation that transpired while they were signing into the recording microphones. This experience alone is worth the price of the admission.

The next improvement that really jumps at the listener is how much more melodic Paul's bass now sounds. It is now much easier to follow his bass, as it bobs and bounces and swings from one song to the next. And these bass notes SING!

After that, I'm also hearing huge improvements in the way Ringo's drums sound. They now sound much more natural, with greater clarity that reveals subtler details, previously unheard on the familiar tracks. Ringo's kick drum now really drives the band, and it has nice melodic overtones that contribute to the overall warmth of the way the band sounds.

Moving on to the guitars -- they are now blistering! It is easy to hear, when listening to these remasters, why were the Beatles considered an epitome of a guitar band. Their sound is fully electrifying, because they knew how to utilize the sound of electric guitars to the fullest.

I'd be curious to hear other people's experiences with these new remasters. Which do you prefer, stereo or mono masters?

Show me that I'm everywhere, and get me home for tea
27 November 2009
7.24pm
alexbunardzic
Vancouver
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I tend to side with you in that I prefer most stereo versions. However, that may be simply because I'm still not used to the mono versions.

I've conducted (yet another:) experiment last night: played "Strawberry Fields Forever" (stereo first), then immediately after that skipped to the mono version. Now, the stereo version sounds amazing, it simply melts your heart. But the mono version... hmmm... I may be missing something, but it just does not deliver the way the stereo version does.

To confirm this impression, I've played the stereo version once again, and, by golly, yes! the music in stereo just opens up. Even the very intro, the sound of mellotron, it just sings. It pirouettes across the room, it's just lovely.

I don't know why, but overall I find the mono tracks sounding a bit muddy when compared to their stereo counterparts.In contrast, the opening mellotron in mono just sits there, barely moving, sounding a bit dull.

I should hasten to add that I'm only listening to these remasters on the speakers. I detest listening to music on headphones. Even the most expensive high-end headphones make music sound a bit cartoonish (to my ears); what's missing is the sound of the room you're listening in.

Maybe if I were to evaluate these stereo/mono versions using headphones, the mono version would win. But on the speakers, my impression is that stereo rules!

Alex

Show me that I'm everywhere, and get me home for tea
28 November 2009
7.09am
alexbunardzic
Vancouver
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Alissa,

Back in the early 1960s, when the Beatles came to prominence, most people were listening to music on a home radio that contained only one speaker. People who played back records at that time mostly used record players (so-called turntables) that also contained only one speaker. The term 'mono' refers to the music that is played back using only one channel, through a single speaker.

It was around that same time that the new technology, called stereo, was gaining popularity. Stereo uses two channels (left channel and right channel), and the music is reproduced using two speakers. This is how most of us listens to music today, but 45 years ago that was still a novelty.

When the Beatles were releasing their songs, they would record their instruments and vocals and would then mix them all together, producing the final track. What that basically means is that even though they would record drums on one track, guitars on another track, bass on another, and vocals on another track, in the end they would combine all four tracks to produce one final, master track. That track was then used to create the mono recording.

The engineers at EMI (later renamed to Abbey Road) studios would also, after the Beatles have left the studio, produce a different version, by combining the four or more tracks into the final two tracks -- the left and right channels. That version was a stereo version, which was then offered for sale mainly to the audio enthusiasts who at that time had stereo equipment.

Because of that, you will be able to hear that there are differences in the mono and stereo mixes of the Beatles songs. The originally intended way how these song are supposed to sound was indeed mono. However, many of us have subsequently found that stereo mixes tend to contain more depth and clearer sounding instrumentation and vocals.

In the end, it all boils down to individual taste. I recommend you try to hear both versions before making a purchasing decision. If you like to listen to music that contains lot of details, I think you will find stereo mixes more to your liking.

Show me that I'm everywhere, and get me home for tea
28 November 2009
3.42pm
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Joe
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Please don't spoil my day; I'm miles away

Can buy me love! Please consider using these links to support the Beatles Bible: Amazon | iTunes

29 November 2009
1.31am
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Alissa
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Well, that helped loads- thanks to both of you for clarifying.
I'm one to rewind bits of their songs if I hear a particular little musical bit I like- so I think stereo's for me. I want it to sound like they're right there, performing it to me personally (hey, a girl can dream, right?)

On my iPod now, on particular songs, I take out one headphone to listen to "half" the song, like in Rain, I only get the harmonies in the background and the higher pitch "Rain-ain-ain-ain" of John's, which I find preferable, or in A Day In The Life, paying attention how John's voice grows more distant and quiet as the lyrics go on.

I'm almost sure that I'll be asking for the stereo box set this Christmas and eventually move onto the mono version when my wallet won't scream in protest, haha! Thank you again! Smile 

Tongue, lose thy light. Moon, take thy flight… see ya, George!
29 November 2009
12.22pm
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mjb
Candlestick Park
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I also have both box sets and find it difficult to pick for the same reasons as mentioned above by others.

I have noticed that some of the stereo mixes (especially on Past Masters) are a bit annoying if listening with headphones. Take "I'm Down" as an example: the separated guitar solo sounds like George is playing it from a dustbin out in the street! And some of the vocals have far too much reverb.......thankfully this isn't so noticeable through speakers.

I read a review recently where a critic was complaining that the mono remasters of the easly CDs (Please Please Me,. With The Beatles etc) had no bass........what tosh! As soon as I Saw Her Standing There starts, Paul's bass is thumping out and it continues........

"If we feel our heads starting to swell.....we just look at Ringo!"
9 December 2009
3.03pm
Amphion
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As I do have a recollection of hearing these albums originally on Long Playing 33rpm and being blown away by it, I have found various re-issues to be a little disappointing. For example, the CD collection (which I am now Album by Album, upgrading to the new digital masters),did have some area's of intrigue, but I remember being in a factory once where somebody had set up a stereo speaker in one area of the factory and the other in another part of the factory. What tended to happen when any track from the sixties was played, is that part of either the vocal or the instrumentation would disappear. Take 'California Dreaming' Mama' and Papa's for example, you would hear the picked guitar intro, but then  the full frash chord which precedes the harmony would not be there... then, the vocal would start, 'All the leaves are brown...of course, now expecting the girls to mimic the same line, again yoy would hear nothing... and that was the problem with the CD's. I also remember listening to Datytripper on one of those old Walkmans, and being annoyed that the bass was playing in one ear and the vocal in the other.

 In 1999, revelation. Yellow Submarine was released, and the sound quality was dripping with citric fruitfullness. 'Hey Bulldog' for example, just danced its way around the room rearranging the ornaments.  so far, I have bought Please Please Me, With The Beatles and A Hard Days Night.  I wanted to only buy each album one at a time, so as to spend some quality time with each one. Today I plan to get Beatles For Sale.  So far, I am quite happy with the quality of each album. But, I still plan to buy the mono box set also. I just want to hear these tracks like they used to sound. Technology hasn't always been a good thing!

17 December 2009
2.58pm
Amphion
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Since I last posted on this site, I have purchased both 'Beatles For Sale' and 'Help.' These are, of course, the re-mastered version's. and they both only go to underline just how good The Beatles are. 'Ticket To Ride,' has always been a favorite, but the one thing that I noticed on Help (Re-mastered) is that the whole album seems to have been a step forward in the use of percussion, more so than any previous album. There are little tam fizzes that may start as a quaver at the beginning of each eight bar segmant, and merely be the pre-cursor of the main off-beat. Listen to Ticket To Ride. During the first verse it sounds like Ringo is just hitting the rim (Rim shot) of the snare, and then you hear what sounds like a tambourine which at first seems slightly off beat. As the verse continues you cannot help but be drawn into this rythmn which by the time of the second verse now sounds like  Ringo on the first beat of each bar is hitting the snare full on. There are numerous little tricks like that throughout the 'Help' album. There is also a snaking upright bass tone that seems to be meandering around 'I Need You.' Sometimes it sounds like it has no interest in the song it is accompanying, but every now and then it underscores a particular line. This again, seems to pop up on various other tracks. There are sounds on here that I haven't been aware of before. This is why The Beatles are as relevannt now as they have always been.

18 December 2009
11.07am
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Joe
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I've been meaning to start a thread about things I never noticed before getting the remasters, although this seems like a good place for it. This week I discovered that Paul's ad-libbing on Hey Jude starts well before the "Jude Judey Judey..." bit. I think it's a different vocal take (a guide vocal?) that was never used; possibly it leaked through headphones like the guitar solo in Can't Buy Me Love.

It's a funny thing, but I've found the most disappointing remaster to be Abbey Road. I've not noticed a great improvement in it; certainly I haven't discovered much new stuff by hearing it. Possibly that's because it sounded pretty good to begin with, unlike some of the other premasters.

Please don't spoil my day; I'm miles away

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18 December 2009
3.27pm
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BeatleMark
Pensacola, Florida
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Joe said:

I've been meaning to start a thread about things I never noticed before getting the remasters, ........ most disappointing remaster to be Abbey Road. I've not noticed a great improvement in it; certainly I haven't discovered much new stuff by hearing it. Possibly that's because it sounded pretty good to begin with, unlike some of the other premasters.


I own the MFSL Original Master Recording of "Abbey Road" on vinyl.  I agree, it can't get any better than that!  (If anyone dissagrees, please let us know!) 

I recently downloaded (I know, I'm bad) the Mono Masters set.  Love it!  "Revolution" sounds great, like a MINT copy of the original mono 45.  "It's All Too Much" has quite a bit of music that is brought forward and was burried in the original stereo mix.  John's voice in the beginning even has a little reverb!  All of the voices seem to be brought out more.  Now I know what Paul was saying after he listened to the remasters.  "It's like John is right there next to me..." 

Sunday's on the phone to Monday, Tuesday's on the phone to me.
18 December 2009
8.53pm
Amphion
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I notice that neither Abbey Road or Let It Be are included in the Mono box set because they were recorded deliberately in stereo. I was just reading George Martin's Recording notes which are contained in the booklet with the re-mastered Help. Whereas the earlier albums were issued at a time when stereo records sold to a small number of hi-fi enthusiasts, mono mixing took priority over stereo. Also, with the track 'Help' The Beatles started using four track to four track recording techniques. To create extra tracks, they would record from one four track to another. It wouldn't be until 1968 that eight track recording became available that they would abandon this method. So they would record perhaps the rhythm section, the bass and the drum, mix it onto one track of the second four-track, and then add more instruments, overdubs etc, as their music arrangements became more complex. Amazing to think what they might have created had 24 track recording studios been available???

21 December 2009
11.14am
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Joe
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Can buy me love! Please consider using these links to support the Beatles Bible: Amazon | iTunes

21 December 2009
8.09pm
alexbunardzic
Vancouver
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Amphion said:

Since I last posted on this site, I have purchased both 'Beatles For Sale' and 'Help.' These are, of course, the re-mastered version's. and they both only go to underline just how good The Beatles are. 'Ticket To Ride,' has always been a favorite, but the one thing that I noticed on Help (Re-mastered) is that the whole album seems to have been a step forward in the use of percussion, more so than any previous album. There are little tam fizzes that may start as a quaver at the beginning of each eight bar segmant, and merely be the pre-cursor of the main off-beat. Listen to Ticket To Ride. During the first verse it sounds like Ringo is just hitting the rim (Rim shot) of the snare, and then you hear what sounds like a tambourine which at first seems slightly off beat. As the verse continues you cannot help but be drawn into this rythmn which by the time of the second verse now sounds like  Ringo on the first beat of each bar is hitting the snare full on. There are numerous little tricks like that throughout the 'Help' album. There is also a snaking upright bass tone that seems to be meandering around 'I Need You.' Sometimes it sounds like it has no interest in the song it is accompanying, but every now and then it underscores a particular line. This again, seems to pop up on various other tracks. There are sounds on here that I haven't been aware of before. This is why The Beatles are as relevannt now as they have always been.


These are all excellent points. One thing I would suggest people do is switch from playing back the CDs using a CD player to playing them back using a digital streaming (DS) player. The difference in sound quality is stupendous, and it is well worth the investment.

For example, only after switching to streaming the Beatles remasters to my DS player was I able to detect many of the subtle differences, like the ones you've mentioned above. The tambourine on "Ticket To Ride" is a super interesting phenomenon to observe. It starts by banging each second beat slightly off-beat (it almost sounds kind of 'wrong', but in a very exciting sense). The listening experience is uncanny. Only later in the song does the tambouring pick up the 'right' (mathematically speaking) beat. But the freshness of such 'anomalies' is what makes their music so outstanding.

Now, the best way to clearly hear these little details is to abandon the CD player altogether. That technology is archaic, and the player, no matter how fancy and high-end it may be, is messing up with the timing of the song. This is because the player is responsible for physically spinning the CD, and as soon as you have this mechanical thing happening, the precise timing is lost.

But if you store that same song on your computer, and then stream it wirelessly to the DS player, you will notice a stunning improvement in the timing of the song. Suddenly, the song picks up the pace, and comes to life with reckless precision.

Try it, you will be blown away by the difference in sound.

Show me that I'm everywhere, and get me home for tea
22 December 2009
11.47pm
Amphion
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