Summer has arrived. I gave my final lecture and final exams, turned in all my grades, and attended graduation to send off another crop of audio/media engineers a couple of weeks ago. The class of 2017 was among my favorites and it was great receive a round of applause following the senior crit. I’m quite sure not everyone appreciates the demands I place on them but those that accept and overcome the challenges will undoubtedly find careers in the field. Many others will not but they are prepared for life in other professions. Congratulations to all of my students that work so hard and find their way into the professional world of audio. Bravo. And a special shout out to Mitch and Tyler for your encouraging comments.
Fifty years ago, The Beatles released Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, a record that Rolling Stone magazine put at the top of their list of “the greatest albums of all time”. I wouldn’t disagree. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. I was 14 years old and living in Michigan when I purchased my copy — yes, I spent my hard earned money on a vinyl LP (there was no other choice)! I played that album countless times and have come to appreciate it all the more knowing that it was produced using only 4-track multitrack equipment. Geoff Emerick, the engineer at Abbey Road, and George Martin used a technique called “ping ponging” to record multiple microphones to dedicated tracks and then created submixes to the ultimate 4-track master. Interestingly, I have a copy of the 4-track master. A true appreciation of the craftsmanship can be seen when listening to the individual tracks.
The original release was in mono. Producer George Martin and band members spent about a week crafting the mixes and mastering the project in mono. Stereo was only starting to find its way into the production processes and distribution channels. As I understand it, the stereo release of Sgt. Peppers didn’t involve John, Paul, George, and Ringo and was completed in less than a couple of days. Simple stereo was an afterthought.
So imagine my excitement when I learned that the 50th anniversary re-issue of the Sgt. Pepper album would include new stereo mixes AND 5.1 surround versions of all of the tracks. Giles Martin, the son of the legendary Beatles producer and an accomplished audio engineer in his own right, was responsible for the new mixes — both the stereo and surround — on the collector’s edition. Knowing that the 4-track master has many of the individual instruments “bounced” together, I was particularly interested in hearing how Giles and his associates were able to extract each music part in order to take full advantage of the 5.1 speakers. I actually spent more than a few hours in my own studio trying to create a surround mix of a few of the tracks. It proved to be an insurmountable challenge.
But it wasn’t insurmountable for the engineers at Abbey Road. From what Giles has said in some online interviews, they were able to move back one generation to the 4-track submasters from which the “ping ponging” was originally done. They located them in the archives and painstakingly transferred them to Pro Tools (I’m assuming at 96 kHz/24-bits or more) and put them back in sync. Other exotic digital processing was used to separate additional “folded” tracks. Then the process of mixing and mastering was done.
I’ve read a couple of reviews that question the rationale of remixing the ultimate “classic” Beatles record. The sentiments expressed focus on the “original intention” of the producer and band and how to alter the balance or spatial placement of a single instrument or voice would somehow violate a revered piece of sonic art. Nonsense. If technology exists that can bring new life to the original production in a new way, then why not?
I received my copy of the 50th anniversary edition of Sgt. Peppers yesterday. With shipping, it cost me about $175 — money that was well spent. I listened to the new stereo mixes yesterday as I sat in my office and this morning I dedicated a block of time to listening to the 5.1 mixes in my home theater room (B&W FCM-8s, an Oppo DBP 205, Yamaha receiver, and zip cord for cabling). The last time I spent time actively listening to an album and doing nothing else was also a Beatles record — the “Love” album, which was also mixed by Giles with guidance from his father.
I’ll provide a track by track review tomorrow but let me just share what I told my wife as I asked her to sit in the sweet spot and experience the 5.1 surround Sgt. Peppers. “Anyone who prefers the mono or stereo version over the 5.1 surround presentation doesn’t know what they’re talking about!” It’s so amazing to hear the background vocals, audience noise, sound effects, and discrete instrumentation coming from all around you.
The Los Angeles Audio Show starts this Friday at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at LAX. I’ll have my normal table top playback system (an Oppo Blu-ray player, Benchmark DAC2-HGC, Oppo Headphones AND the Smyth Room Realizer). But I’m also going to bring a YARRA 3DX “smart” beam forming, sound bar to playback the Sgt. Pepper Blu-ray in binauralized surround without headphones. The YARRA 3DX campaign is right around the corner. The tentative date is July 11th and the company will have a demonstration system set up on the Mezzanine level next to AIX Records. If you’re anywhere near Southern California, you should stop by to hear what this innovative technology can do. Imagine hearing The Beatles Sgt. Peppers in immersive 3D-audio without a home theater setup or headphones. I want to encourage my readers to stop by the YARRA 3DX website and sign up for the VIP list. There are well over 1000 names on the email list. I’ve been adding videos, specifications, FAQs, photos, and information to the site on a daily basis. It’s definitely worth checking out.
To be continued…