Driving to the studio on Sunday morning means that I get to listen briefly to a couple of Beatles shows on the radio. The sound, the familiarity, and the nostalgia that accompanies the Fab Four’s music are always a treat. No matter how many times I’ve listened to their catchy tunes and amazing productions, I find myself relishing the magic that was the Beatles. My life was steered towards playing the guitar and making a career in music because of the Beatles.
The Beatles in Mono, a 14-box set of their albums from “Please, Please Me” to “The White Album”, was recently released by Apple for fans or the group, vinyl, and urtext advocates. Urtext is a noun that means, “an original or the earliest version of a text, to which later versions can be compared.” These new versions of the old analog masters were cut from the original master tapes by mastering engineer Sean Magee and mastering supervisor/researcher Steve Berkowitz at Abbey Road Studios. These analog masters were approved by the band and by the producer, Sir George Martin.
Figure 1 – The Beatles albums in mono package including the book. [Click to enlarge]
According to Sean, “I’ve heard the original cuts, I’ve heard the test cuts, I’ve heard test pressings, I’ve heard test production runs — I’ve heard them all. We cut straight from the analog tapes, and conformed to the original cutting notes. We’re not trying to re-create the originals, but we tried to produce the original intention. And nine times out of 10, it was as near to the originals as we could get. [via Digital Trends].
The goal of this particular set was not to “re-master” these well know albums but to bring the original analog masters back using current technologies. This is a laudable goal but one that leaves some things of value on the table. If I were doing the interview with Steve and Sean, I would ask whether a digital 192 kHz/24-bit transfer was done at the same time as the analog transfers. I would hope that they would relate how they carefully split the feed from the original Studer machines to the new analog cutting master AND to a PCM digital copy made with the best converters available (my choice would be the Benchmark ADC-1). That way the new mono vinyl releases would be available for the vinyl crowd and those of us that wish to avoid the further sonic degradation of analog transfers and the compromises of releasing on vinyl would both be happy. The hubbub is all about the majesty of pristine mono version. I haven’t heard or read anyone talk about digital copies. I’m sure the mono versions are terrific and they are the “best that we can expect” from recordings made all those years ago but I personally would have a hard time listening in mono.
Figure 2 – Sir George Martin and the Beatles at Abbey Road Studio in the 60s. [Click to enlarge]
The new releases are of historical interest; there is no doubt of that. The research and careful engineering that went into getting these albums back to their original state is important and should be celebrated and enjoyed. But I’ll keep waiting for the “The Beatles in Surround” transferred in full 96 kHz/24-bit PCM. We got a clue to what could be accomplished with the “Love” DVD-Audio disc a few years ago. But as much as I enjoyed the mash-ups and creative editing that Giles and his dad did with that project, I would love to get surround mixes of “Revolver” and “The White Album”. That would be something that I would invest in.