Posts Tagged ‘Beatles remasters’

Beatles “Red” and “Blue” compilations remastered

August 18, 2010

EMI and Apple Corps. have just announced that the Beatles’ 1973 greatest-hits compilation “Red” and “Blue” albums have been remastered for release in October. The remastering work has been done by the same Abbey Road/EMI team that handled the chore for 2009’s release of the remastered original catalog of albums. (For an interview with Allan Rouse, head of the remastering project, click here.)

I don’t know if you’ve heard the remastered versions of the original albums, but you need to do so if you haven’t. I know that I’ve relegated my old Red and Blue CDs to my young children’s CD players — which means, of course, they are not long for this world. The remastered versions of the songs are that much better. The engineers, headed by Rouse, did a fantastic job walking that fine line between improving the clarity and punch without hyping (that is, ruining) the original sounds.

So if you really just want the best-of-the-best in their best-possible-sounding digital form, the coming remastered Red and Blue compilations might be just the ticket!

Parody: George Martin insists on discussing the Beatles

November 9, 2009

In this hilarious parody by those jokers at Big Train, Beatles’ producer George Martin shares his memories about the group…. regardless of what he’s asked or what’s going on around him.

Remastered Beatles albums selling fast

September 22, 2009
Courtesy Apple Corps

Courtesy Apple Corps

The remastered Beatles albums have given EMI a worldwide sales success, as you might expect. Here’s the text of the label’s triumphant announcement:

Underlining their timeless appeal and unique status in music, The Beatles have broken multiple chart records around the world following the September 9, 2009 (9-9-09) CD release of their digitally re-mastered catalogue. In the major music markets of North America, Japan and the UK, consumers purchased more than 2.25 million copies of The Beatles’ re-mastered albums, individually and in two multiple-CD boxed sets, one in stereo and one in mono, during the first five days of release (excluding non-traditional retail outlets whose sales are not tracked by the chart compilers).

The Beatles’ original UK studio albums were re-mastered by a dedicated team of engineers at Abbey Road Studios in London over a four year period, carefully maintaining the authenticity and integrity of the original analogue recordings. The result is the highest fidelity the catalogue has seen since its original release.

The most popular band of the 20th century, The Beatles are beloved by music fans in the 21st century, as evidenced by their current unparalleled global chart performance:

  • US: During the first five days of release, consumers purchased more than one million copies of re-mastered Beatles titles, and the individual CD and boxed sets debuted strongly across multiple Billboard charts.

o        On Billboard’s Comprehensive Albums chart, which lists the most popular album releases in the US, including current and catalogue titles, The Beatles set a new record for the most simultaneous titles by a single artist (18), including five of the top 10 and nine of the top 20.

o        On the Pop Catalog chart, The Beatles achieved another new Billboard chart first for the most simultaneous titles in the top 50 (16), a record they previously set themselves with 12 titles in December 1995.  The Beatles have nine of the chart’s top 10 titles, and all 14 re-mastered CDs are in the top 20, led by ‘Abbey Road’ at number one and ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ at number two.

o        On the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, ‘The Beatles’ stereo boxed set debuted at number 15, and ‘The Beatles in Mono’ limited edition boxed set debuted at number 40.

  • UK: In last week’s chart, The Beatles had four titles in the top 10, seven in the top 40 and 16 in the top 75, including both the stereo and mono boxes, as well as 2000’s ‘Beatles 1’ compilation. This set a new record for the most simultaneous albums in the UK charts according to the UK Official Charts Company. In this week’s UK chart, The Beatles have 13 albums in the top 75.  A further 84,000 CDs were sold last week, bringing their total sales of the remasters to more than 354,000 in 11 days and their total UK sales this decade to 6,755,000.
  • Japan: All 14 re-mastered titles and boxed sets debuted in the top 25 of the international chart, including seven of the top 10, led by the stereo boxed set at number two, the mono boxed set at number three, ‘Abbey Road’ at four and ‘Let It Be’ at six. Across all titles and box sets, more than 840,000 albums were purchased by consumers in Japan in the first three days of sales.
  • Canada: The Beatles have 15 of the top 20 catalogue titles including all of the top 11. The stereo boxed set is a new entry in the current albums chart at number four, the highest debut for a boxed set in Canada since Nielsen SoundScan started tracking sales. Cumulative sales across all titles were just under 160,000 over the counter.
  • France: All 14 of the re-mastered titles and boxed sets entered the latest album chart, including three in the top 10, led by ‘Abbey Road’ at number four, a new record for the most original studio albums in the French album chart in one week.
  • Italy: The Beatles have 17 titles in the current chart – all 14 re-mastered titles, the two boxed sets, plus the ‘1’ compilation, a record for the most simultaneous entries in the album chart.
  • Belgium: With 17 entries in the current chart – the 14 re-mastered titles, two boxed sets and ‘1’ compilation – The Beatles have set a new record for the most simultaneous albums in the Belgian chart as confirmed by chart compiler Ultrapop.
  • Sweden: The Beatles have 16 titles simultaneously in the top 60, led by ‘Abbey Road’ at number six. Local industry body IFPI have confirmed that this is a record for the Swedish charts.
  • Argentina: Seven of the current top 10 albums are Beatles re-masters, led by ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at number two, ‘Abbey Road’ at number three and ‘The Beatles’ (The White Album) at number four.  All 14 re-mastered titles are in the top 20 and the boxed sets are at numbers 73 and 74 in the chart.
  • Spain: 13 Beatles albums plus both boxed sets debuted in the latest chart, a record for a single artist.  The combined sales of the boxed sets places them at number four in the chart.
  • Poland: All 14 re-mastered albums and two boxed sets debuted in the current top 100, led by ‘Abbey Road’ at six. This is a record for the highest number of simultaneous entries in the Polish chart.
  • Switzerland: 14 Beatles titles, including the stereo boxed set, debuted in the most recent album chart, a record for the most simultaneous titles in the album chart.
  • Denmark: The latest album chart includes 15 re-mastered Beatles titles, plus the ‘1’ compilation, including four of the top 20.
  • Australia: The Beatles have 14 titles in the current chart, including the ‘1’ compilation.
  • Germany: The combined sales of the stereo and mono boxed sets, with one boxed set counted as one unit sale, places them as the number three best seller in the latest chart.
  • Austria: The current top 75 contains 12 re-mastered titles plus the stereo boxed set.

  • Portugal: The re-mastered titles occupy 11 places in the current top 30 album chart, including three of the top 10.
  • Norway: The combined stereo and mono boxed sets debut at number three with a further 12 re-mastered titles in the top 100.
  • Colombia: Half of the current top 10 albums are Beatles re-masters titles.
  • Korea: During the first sales week The Beatles occupied 16 of the top 17 spots in Korea’s Hottracks album chart.

Happy Beatles Day!

September 9, 2009
Apple Corps Ltd. 2009

Apple Corps Ltd. 2009

It’s finally here – 9/9/9 – the day the remasters and Beatles Rock Band are released. Apple Corp. also has revamped the Beatles website, which features this pretty amazing video. Check it out!

I am particularly impressed with the first few moments, which features the Beatles and the famous Abbey Road crossing mingling with modern folks. It’s almost unnerving to see John so alive, and I swear George is inspecting the Rock Band version of his Gretch guitar.

Beatles remasters: Engineer’s goal was to get back

September 7, 2009

Here is the story on the Beatles remaster project I wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com. If you’ve read my previous blog posts on the subject, you’ll recognize this as a much tighter take. It includes interviews with Abbey Road engineer Allan Rouse, the head of the four-year remastering project, as well as Geoff Emerick, the original balance engineer on Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s and Abbey Road.

You can also find by clicking above a quick guide to some of the differences between the mono and the stereo tracks. For those of you wondering which to purchase, I hope this helps. I reproduce it below:

BEATLES IN MONO

Wednesday’s release of the mono Beatles mixes allows fans to hear the mix that, in most cases, the band itself worked on. These mixes sometimes include sounds that aren’t on the stereo versions. For example:

• From “Revolver”: The liquid, buzzing, backward guitar starts early, when John Lennon sings “Lying there and staring at the ceiling” in the second verse.

• From “Revolver”: The tape loops — sped up or otherwise distorted sounds the group looped in and out of the mix — are considerably different, seeming to fade up and down more quickly. Also, the guitar solo sounds more distant.

• The entire “White Album”: By the time this album was recorded in 1968, the group was spending more time on the stereo mixes, and there aren’t as many different sounds in the mono mix. But throughout the album, the mono mix enhances the instruments, putting the lead vocals a bit farther down in the soundscape, according to Brian Kehew, author of “Recording the Beatles” and an engineer and producer himself. “The mono version has a more ‘rocking’ sound to it — louder drums overall,” he said.

• “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise),” from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Paul McCartney’s voice can be heard scatting over the final chords, as the song leads into “A Day In The Life.”

• “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” from “Sgt. Pepper.” Lennon’s lead vocal is treated to automatic double tracking, an effect that gives it a more ethereal, ghostly sound compared with the stereo version.

Beatles remasters: George Martin radio interview

September 4, 2009

george-martin-pr-207x300

Here’s a wonderful BBC radio piece that includes interviews with Beatles producer George Martin and an Abbey Road engineer who worked on the remastering project. It really highlights Martin’s considerable influence on the band and his contributions to the recording.

There’s some fantastic excerpts heard from individual tracks, including especially “She’s Leaving Home” and “Come Together,” as well as some pretty interesting, and humorous, stories from George Martin.

Beatles remasters: An expert’s view

September 3, 2009

Beatles fans might know Brian Kehew as the co-author of the groundbreaking book Recording The Beatles, an exhaustive and delightful look at how the Beatles and the Abbey Road staff recorded the group’s songs.

Brian Kehew and his Recording the Beatles co-author Kevin Ryan

Brian Kehew and his Recording the Beatles co-author Kevin Ryan

Kehew also is an engineer and producer in his own right; among his production credits is Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine” album, and he has mixed tracks for Aretha Franklin, Fleetwood Mac, The Pretenders and Elvis Costello, among others. Kehew also is a keyboard virtuoso who played on the The Who’s last tour, and he has a collection of historic, vintage keyboards at home.

Aside from Recording the Beatles, Kehew’s Curvebender Publishing also has published a high-end photography book called “Kaleidoscope Eyes: A Day in the Life of Sgt. Pepper,” a collection of photos shot by Henry  Grossman of the Beatles recording “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. And Curvebender plans a second book of the best of Grossman’s Beatles photos.

Because Kehew spent a decade of his life researching “Recording The Beatles,” I wanted to ask him about the remastering project. At the time of our e-mailed interview, he had not yet heard the remastered versions – but he has spent countless hours listening to Beatles tracks in mono, in stereo, on vinyl, on tape and on CD.

Here’s a slightly edited transcript of our interview:

Q: You stress in several places in your excellent book (Recording the Beatles) the time and attention the Beatles themselves and key Abbey Road staff like Geoff Emerick and George Martin gave to making the mono mixes of their songs. The stereo mixes, by contrast, seemed like afterthoughts. Can you expound a bit on that contrast?

A: The world had mono systems at their homes and in cars, etc. Radio too. It’s kind of like 5.1 mixing now – how many people listen to a rock album in 5.1? Only a small fraction of a percentage do. So it’s not worth the time or money to focus much on it. When the Beatles records were mixed – up thought about 1967, they mixed the one record they thought everyone would hear. It also remind me of why the Stones thought stereo was bad – it “thinned out” the big sound they were getting in mono!

Q: Can you provide any examples of where the mono and stereo mixes substantially differ? (i.e., a couple songs where the instruments, vocals, effects or other sounds are different enough that even a casual listener might notice)?

A: Most of the changes are rather slight. I’d say Tomorrow Never Knows has most of the obvious differences – parts you’re not used to hearing. But most times, I’d say that it’s balances which are better – just more in place and together. If you’re used to the stereo, they stereo seems “normal”, but then you hear the mono of Rubber Soul or Revolver and you say “Wow – that sounds better now.”

Q: You guys no doubt have listened to hours and hours of Beatle tracks in a state much closer to original as have most of us. Do you think that the remastered versions to be released on 9/9/09 will capture some of the magic of those original or near-original-copy mixes that you’ve heard?

A: Well not that much different than we know – unless they add some crazy amount of bass or something. But the original tapes were mixed somewhat midrangey anyway – compared to classical or jazz. This was the sound, a rocking energetic style that we now associate with pop music. However, you can hear some of the original detail that may be lost in the original mixes and overdubs – just listen to the LOVE soundtrack; it has many isolated and clear instruments in beautiful detail.

It may be odd when listening to the albums in order – you might hear greater differences, at least unexpected ones, on the later albums. Basically, this is because there was often more mixing done on the later records. The early records have very few tracks which can be adjusted, so less could be done differently between the stereo and mono versions. Later on, there are crazy effects, panning, and multiple layers of tracks to work with – so the stereo version can be different in many ways.

Q:  It seems nearly every major artist has remastered their greatest works. With a few notable exceptions, heretofore the Beatles have not. What are you most excited about in hearing the remastered versions?

A: Well, in some ways, the long wait has killed off some of the excitement. Like someone who made you wait for dinner too long! But I think it may give us a new reason to “sit and listen” – which is unusual nowadays. Even if I played you the old CDs in that “sit and listen” detailed environment, you might hear new things. So, this chance is somewhat rare, to maybe take on all the Beatles music in one long weekend sitting, and follow the changes – because now you have a reason to listen again.

Q: Can you describe how the 1980s-era CD releases sound compared to, say, the original vinyl?

A: In the 1980s, most CDs were made by a simple clean transfer of the recording tapes to digital, and this digital file got printed onto CDs. It’s the same basic process now, but people have learned you can get much better quality by paying close attention to each step of the process: The tape recorder that you use to play it back can actually sound better than the one originally used. The machine that changes analog sound into digital is far more advanced than before, and it picks up much smaller details and little levels of quality that went unnoticed before. There is a step called “mastering” done on every album at this step – new or old. Mastering is to make some choices of volume and tone control – does this sound “as good” as it could, and how much should we tweak it to be better – before we lose the original sound intended.

It’s a big debate now – as modern CDs are heavily mastered and that creates a modern sound – so will these Beatles CDs sound modern, or classic? Most likely, somewhere in the middle.

Q:  Do you fear that the remastered versions, particularly the remastered stereo versions, will include too much compression? Are you in the camp that believes EMI should avoid all compression, noise reduction, etc. and simply get the cleanest copies of the original masters released? Or do you think the two-pronged approach – remastered stereo, near-original mono – is a smart one?

A: This is alluded to in my last statement. From what details we’ve been told – almost no noise-reduction was used – unless the noise was a real problem. Hiss is part of tape recording in those days – it’s the sound that tape makes by itself when there isn’t even anything recorded. There are tricks to taking this out now, and they work, but they do change the sound of the music a little – it’s a debate whether the noise bothers you enough to modify the music/sound as well.

Compression makes things sound big and full, but it’s a trick of volume. It’s why modern music jumps out of the speakers. But you lose the low-level sound when you do this trick, so it’s become another big debate. The Beatles records had – and will have – compression added to make them sound good. It’s part of pop music, but it’s like salt on food – how much is good and how much kills the meal. Everyone has different tastes, and I’m sure they won’t go overboard in either direction – a little bit of compression to make it louder and fuller, but not like a modern record.

Q:  What will you personally be most curious to hear in the remastered releases (if you haven’t yet heard the remastered sets, that is)?

A: I have a vinyl copy of “Magical Mystery Tour” from Germany that sounds amazing. Almost everyone thinks it’s different mixes, but it’s simply someone’s choices of tone and volume changes made when mastering it for the German market. So – if that’s any indication, it could sound very good to have these remasters – I would hope these new CDs sound different enough to justify buying the records all over again.

Q: What do you think are some things that Beatle fans will appreciate, or notice or be surprised at?

The documentary footage/interviews that come with each CD are nice. I saw a sneak preview. But they’re not amazing, it’s just that this shows some photos we’ve never seen, and a few old interviews that shed some light on things. But it’s not earthshaking – these records being reissued. If you had a magazine with faded pictures – it’s like getting an un-faded copy. Just nicer…

9. FINALLY…. for fans of the band, how big a deal is this? Why?

Medium. A big deal would be more “from the vaults”. We’ve heard and loved these records a zillion times already. And some days, you hear a Beatles song in a store or the car, and it has a “newness” or something that makes your hairs stand up on end, all over again. Hopefully, we’ll get a bit of a resurgence in Beatles interest. And maybe the remaining families will all agree that to release things of substance (not toy submarines or lunchboxes) do the Beatles’ legacy a better service. They have tons of photos we’ve never seen, film footage never used, plus instruments, documents and clothes that could be exhibited in museums… how about it?

Beatles remasters: First impressions

August 26, 2009
TheBeatles-StereoBox-productshot3

Photo courtesy Apple Corps Ltd., 2009

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.

Beatles remasters: The latest from Abbey Road

August 25, 2009

remastered

The man in charge of the first-ever remastering of the Beatles’ catalog says the resulting recordings sound “the closest they’ve ever sounded to the original master tapes.”

Allan Rouse, an engineer at EMI’s Abbey Road studio, heads the team that remastered all the original Beatles albums and singles for release Sept. 9 — the same day that the Beatles Rock Band video game is released.

Rouse told me in an hour-long telephone interview from Abbey Road that his team tried to restore the sound of the band’s music as closely as possible to its original condition, before the group’s catalog was first transferred to the CD format in 1987.

The goal: to allow listeners to experience the Beatles “as they heard themselves here in the studios.”

“Quite honestly, you cannot get a lot better than that,” he said.

And yet, Rouse and his team have chosen to go beyond a straight analogue-to-digital transfer of the master tapes, leaving the door open to criticism and second-guessing from audio purists and some devoted fans.

At times, Abbey Road’s mastering team used tools such as limiting — which reduces dynamics to raise the overall loudness of a track — and removal of “errors” like imperfect edits and noise. These tools, Rouse stressed, were used conservatively; noises that were deemed part of the group’s performance of a song, such as lip smacking or a squeaky drum pedal, were left in.

The engineers, he said, were well aware that they were working on an historic collection — “the real holy grail,” in Rouse’s words — in which every flubbed lyric and background click was known, debated and loved by millions.

And he knows that anything they do to pop music’s most celebrated catalog will be dissected and debated, starting Sept. 9. (UPDATE: I received my packet of CDs from EMI, and I share my initial reactions  here.)

Getting Better

Rouse certainly knows his Beatles songs.

He joined Abbey Road in 1972, just two years after the Beatles’ breakup, and worked under Norman Smith, who had been the Beatles’ first balance engineer. Rouse has worked on several solo Beatle projects as well as the Beatles Anthology project in the 1990s, and he was in charge of the first-ever remix of Beatles songs for the Yellow Submarine soundtrack CD released a few years ago.

The pressure, he said, was enormous.

“No one had remixed Beatles music before,” he said. After he and his team remixed several iconic songs, including “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine,” he recalled, “Suddenly I’m in the studio with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr….. We’re all sitting in Studio 3 and we’re about to play them material that had never been remixed by anyone besides Beatles engineers.”

Luckily for him, the project got the two surviving Beatles’ approval. “During playback, they were smiling,” Rouse said. “They were loving it.”

No remixing was done on the project that’s about to be unveiled. Remixing means taking the individual tracks of a multitrack recording and re-combining them, treating each group of voices or instruments to their own sound effects. Most of the Beatles work was either two-track, four-track or eight-track, so lots of fundamental changes are possible.

In remastering, by contrast, only the final stereo or mono master is treated to changes.

However, significant differences are still possible — especially in the Beatles’ case, because everything the group recorded was captured in analogue tape. When the Beatles CDs were released in 1987, those tapes were transferred to digital information using technology that was still evolving. The result: Most anyone who has compared the CD sound to the original vinyl finds the digital versions harsh and lacking in depth.

This time around, Rouse said, Abbey Road used modern, extremely high quality digital converters.

“There’s been a huge improvement in digital in over 22 years,” Rouse said. After the digital transfer, he said, “We already had an improvement” over the 1987 CD releases.

But Rouse’s team went further.

Abbey Road engineers who worked on the Beatles remastering project. Allen Rouse is at right.

Abbey Road engineers who worked on the Beatles remastering project. Allan Rouse is at right.

Long and Winding Road

The remastered songs are divided into two major categories: First, the original albums and non-album singles are being released in stereo, some for the first time ever in that format. The albums will be available individually or as a boxed set. Of more interest to die-hard Beatles fans, perhaps, are the second group — the original mono mixes of each album and the non-album singles, to be available only as a boxed set. For more details, see the official press release here.

Rouse and co. decided on a two-pronged strategy: The stereo versions would be subject to some limiting, equalization and de-noising. The mono versions, however, would be free of limiting, with only minor de-noising and EQ.

Why the different approaches? Rouse said he expects the stereo releases to attract the bulk of attention from the public. His team chose to do more of the technical work on these versions to make them more palatable to a modern audience accustomed to hard-limited — i.e., extra loud — production now in vogue.

“The reason we limited the stereos is because we wanted them in particular to be able to stand against some of the material today — but not compete with it,” he said.

In other words, Rouse continued, he wanted the remastered stereo versions to be heard back to back against modern music without a dramatic loss in volume. To do any less, he asserted, “wouldn’t have been fair to the Beatles music.”

But the team, he said, resisted the temptation to try to make the sound too modern.

“Our restraint was based on the fact that to have made them sound contemporary with music of today is also wrong, because it isn’t today’s music,” he said. “The most important factor is, the dynamics have been retained.”

Here’s what EMI has said about the remastering process:

The re-mastering process commenced with an extensive period conducting tests before finally copying the analogue master tapes into the digital medium. When this was completed, the transfer was achieved using a Pro Tools workstation operating at 24 bit 192 kHz resolution via a Prism A-D converter. Transferring was a lengthy procedure done a track at a time. Although EMI tape does not suffer the oxide loss associated with some later analogue tapes, there was nevertheless a slight build up of dust, which was removed from the tape machine heads between each title.

From the onset, considerable thought was given to what audio restorative processes were going to be allowed.It was agreed that electrical clicks, microphone vocal pops, excessive sibilance and bad edits should be improved where possible, so long as it didn’t impact on the original integrity of the songs.

In addition, de-noising technology, which is often associated with re-mastering, was to be used, but subtly and sparingly. Eventually, less than five of the 525 minutes of Beatles music was subjected to this process. Finally, as is common with today’s music, overall limiting – to increase the volume level of the CD – has been used, but on the stereo versions only. However, it was unanimously agreed that because of the importance of The Beatles’ music, limiting would be used moderately, so as to retain the original dynamics of the recordings.

When all of the albums had been transferred, each song was then listened to several times to locate any of the agreed imperfections. These were then addressed by Guy Massey, working with Audio Restoration engineer Simon Gibson.

Mastering could now take place, once the earliest vinyl pressings, along with the existing CDs, were loaded into Pro Tools, thus allowing comparisons to be made with the original master tapes during the equalization process. When an album had been completed, it was auditioned the next day in studio three – a room familiar to the engineers, as all of the recent Beatles mixing projects had taken place in there – and any further alteration of EQ could be addressed back in the mastering room. Following the initial satisfaction of Guy and Steve, Allan Rouse and Mike Heatley then checked each new re-master in yet another location and offered any further suggestions. This continued until all 13 albums were completed to the team’s satisfaction.

Rouse expects the mono boxed set to be of the most interest to the serious Beatles fan – people who, for the most part, grew up with the music and wish to hear the mixes that the Beatles, original producer George Martin and original engineers Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick and a few others spent the most time on.

In the mid-1960s, the English market for pop music was dominated by mono. Stereos were generally owned by older, more prosperous folks, and EMI and other British labels at the time assumed they were more interested in classical rather than pop music. So, the Beatles and the Abbey Road staff for the most part labored over the mono mixes of material – a fact confirmed by Emerick, the Grammy-winning balance engineer for Revolver, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road.

“Through Pepper, the Beatles were actually present..when those mixes were refined,” said Emerick from his Los Angeles home. “That was the way the Beatles wanted to hear it. That was the mono.”

Emerick described how he, producer George Martin and Emerick’s assistant Richard Lush would labor over every nuance of the mono mix. In many cases, special effects and additional sounds were “flown in” during the mix itself.

“With all the sound effects, such as on ‘Good Morning, Good Morning,’ some of those sounds weren’t on the four track. So we had to inject sound effects ourselves.” (For Emerick’s fascinating account of the Beatles years, read his excellent book, which you can order here. And to hear parts of my 2007 interview with Emerick centered on his work on Sgt. Pepper, go here.)

The mix, then, was its own performance — one that in some cases never could be repeated.

The stereo mixes, by contrast, were done much faster, usually without the Beatles’ involvement. “When it came to mixing the stereo, on Pepper, they’d gone on holiday,” Emerick recalled.

And the result is that there are sounds on the mono mixes that don’t exist on stereo — more clucks of the hen that introduces the Sgt. Pepper reprise, for example. And the effects on the vocals are different, sometimes substantially, as on “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”

But mostly, the mono mixes represent the Beatles’ and the Abbey Road staff’s best work — the Beatles as they wanted to be heard. And that, perhaps, is what is most thrilling to longtime Beatles fans: the chance to hear the music in a state closer to the group’s intent.

Get Back

For his part, Rouse has deep respect for the work of Emerick and the other original engineers in creating those mono mixes, which by their nature are more difficult to perform than stereo mixes.

“What I find most amazing about the monos was the level of detail that was put into them, particularly when they became more complicated, to create a balance where you still hear everything,” he said “I find it quite astonishing.

“They managed without all that technology, and they did it incredibly well.”

Still, Rouse and his Abbey Road colleagues declined to invite Emerick or the other original engineers who survive to participate in the remastering process. Emerick said he doesn’t want to say much about that decision, but it’s clear that he was hurt by the slight.

“I don’t want to make it sound like sour grapes. It’s not sour grapes, it’s just disrespect,” Emerick said. “How stupid can anyone be not to ask the original engineer to at least listen to them and react?”

Rouse said it would have been appropriate to ask each engineer to react only to those songs that each worked on originally. Moreover, Rouse said, the original engineers might have been too close to the original recordings to be objective.

“It might have been nice, but I think it would have been wrong” to invite them, Rouse said. “Geoff would have been too close to it. I think our distance and the fact we weren’t involved in it just gives it a slightly different way of listening to it.”

And, Rouse added, the new versions have been approved by the two surviving Beatles, along with Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.

The End

What will millions of potential consumers think when they hear the remastered music?

First, and perhaps most obviously, EMI hopes it will attract new, younger fans to the band’s unequaled catalog.

“What I think you’re going to hear is something fairly magical,” Rouse predicts.

I haven’t heard the new versions yet, although the CDs have just in the last hour arrived from EMI. I will share my initial thoughts on them tomorrow.

As far as attracting new fans, I certainly believe that will happen. I bring to your attention a comment I saw from a young web surfer who had stumbled upon a video promotion from the soon-to-be-released Beatles Rock Band video game. The viewer liked what he or she had seen and heard, apparently for the first time:

“I was never much of a Beatles fan but after watching this trailer I definitely had to look them up on Youtube,” the person wrote. “Damn Their songs are amazing. I missed out on a great band. I’m a fan now.”

Amazing indeed.

Rouse says he doesn’t expect everyone to appreciate the way Abbey Road handled the remastering process. Emerick, understandably protective of his and the band’s work, says he worries about the changes the studio made. And die-hard fans may well take offense at any use of limiting, digital de-noising or equalization.

But in the end, I suspect that the incredible music that the Beatles produced, with substantial assistance from George Martin, Emerick and other key personnel at Abbey Road, will win over the vast majority of new listeners.

Abbey Road engineer gives details about Beatles remasters

August 7, 2009

Here’s an interview of Abbey Road engineer Allan Rouse by Steve Marinucci. In the brief exchange, Rouse provides some clarity about the process of remastering the Beatles albums, work that will be released Sept. 9. For instance, he explains that remastering is not the same as remixing. Check it out.