Yesterday I received the stereo and mono remastered Beatles catalog from EMI. I have had limited time to listen, but I wanted to share my initial impressions of what I’ve heard so far.
I had to start with the mono version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Pepper was my first Beatles album, given to me by my step-mother Aurora sometime in the late 1970s. It was vinyl, of course – and stereo. Now I listen to the 1987 stereo CD version. All of which means that I have never heard the mono mix, the one that producer George Martin, balance engineer Geoff Emerick and the Beatles themselves labored on. (The stereo version, as Emerick told me here, was an afterthought, mixed without the Beatles’ direct involvement).
Because my recording computer is in the shop, I couldn’t listen through my normal studio monitors and was forced to rely upon my garden-variety stereo. I was careful to place the speakers in an equilateral triangle with my head, to minimize phasing issues that might result from listening to mono recordings on two speakers.
At once, the good sergeant and his band burst into the room. Immediately I was struck by the new sounds only available on the mono version — different, seemingly louder roars from the crowd, Paul’s ad-libbed scatting on the fadeout of the title track, and, especially, the deliciously phase-y Lennon lead vocal on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” made more ghostly thanks to ADT that isn’t present in the stereo version.
The sound itself was rich — the highs seemed higher than I remembered, but without harshness, and Paul’s bass sounded full and daring. I could easily picture Paul sitting on a stool in No. 2, carefully playing those amazing lines on his Rickenbacker, each nuance picked up by the C12 that Emerick had set up a few feet from the bass amp.
Then I turned to the stereo version – which, unlike the mono version, has been treated to limiting by Allan Rouse’s Abbey Road team, to increase the overall volume and punch. I was a bit leary, I confess — I hoped the new engineers’ touch wouldn’t ruin what the original crew accomplished all those years ago.
I’m delighted to say that so far, I cannot detect any heavy-handed modernization in the remastered stereo version of Pepper. What I do hear:
* Yes, it’s slightly louder than either the mono or the 1987 CD release.
* The sound is even deeper, richer and crisper.
* I may be overly influenced by a lifetime of listening to music in stereo, but the songs just sound a little nicer with the tracks spread across the stereo field.
Compared with the 1987 version, the remastered stereo version of Pepper is clearly superior, based on my hour or so comparing them.
Just a few minutes of listening to other stereo versions have, so far, confirmed those impressions. Suddenly I hear detail I couldn’t hear on the 1987 versions, i.e. the distinct harmony part (from Lennon?) on the chorus of “Eleanor Rigby,” or the slight creek at the end of the final “E” chord on “A Day In The Life” that, Emerick has told me, came from Ringo shifting on the piano bench he shared with Paul.
All of which is to say: I really can’t wait to listen more, both to the mono and the stereo CDs, comparing and contrasting and, once again, getting lost in the greatest music of our time.
UPDATE: Here’s a short review from Britan’s Uncut magazine.