Home Entertainment

 

The Beatles Stereo Remasters Review

September 4, 2009 By Dennis Burger



Click the images below for bigger versions:
Abbey Road Remastered Packaging ©Apple Corps Ltd., 2009
The Beatles Stereo Box Set ©Apple Corps Ltd., 2009

Within half an hour of Tweeting the fact that I finally got my paws on the new stereo Beatles remasters this week, my email inbox was clogged with the same question repeated practically ad infinitum: “So... don’t leave me hanging. How do they sound?” The ellipses were often stretched to the point of abuse, and the question marks ranged from solitary to the obscene, but I read that exactly question so many times I almost started to have Tweet remorse

Honestly, though, who doesn’t want to know how these discs sound? So I’ll cut to the chase and tell you all what I told them:
They sound good.

Really, really good.

If you’re planning on kicking back in your listening room with a good pair of stereo speakers (or even a surround sound setup and a bit of Pro Logic II, IIx, or IIz, if you're feeling frisky), you're going to hear an appreciable difference between these new discs and the '87-'88 CD releases.

High frequencies sparkle in a way they didn’t before. The bass is tighter, smoother, and ever-so-slightly more pronounced overall (with a few exceptions). The digital harshness that marred the '87-'88 CDs at times is virtually nonexistent now. If you enjoy spending quality time with your music, these upgrades are worth every penny.

I have to admit, though: if you merely plan to rip them to MP3 and rock out on the earbuds that came with your iPod, you might consider auditioning them before dropping the coin. These are, after all, remasters—not remixes. Don’t expect a Love-style reinvention of the music.

And no, to answer the second most common question I received via email (and even a few phone calls), I did not receive the mono box. I’m not nearly that important. Sorry.

It should come as a surprise to no one who knows me that as soon as I cracked open the packaging for the newly remastered CDs, I started listening at the end. Not “The End,” mind you, but close enough. A mere 15 tracks away. I’ve been champing at the bit to spend some quality time with the new Abbey Road since the day these discs were announced a few (torturously long) months back.

Maybe that’s the wrong way to go about it. Perhaps the right way to dig into the newly remastered catalog is to start at the beginning and revel in the progress, both artistically and sonically. But in my world the Fab Four’s recording career started with Rubber Soul¸ and they only got better from there. So, since no one was around to stop be from having dessert first, I started my new journey through the Beatles’ catalog with what is undoubtedly one of the very few perfect rock records ever made.

Here are a few random impressions of my favorite discs from my (mostly, sort of) reverse chronological trek through the catalog.

Abbey Road

Unlike many of the discs in the collection, the levels here are a pretty close match for those of the late-'80s remaster, so a direct comparison is much easier.

Paul’s descending bass line at 0:23 into “Here Comes the Sun” benefits greatly from the superior bass of the new remasters. It gives the transition more weight, more visceral impact.

The inbridual voices in the harmonized Ahhhhs in “Because” are much easier to pick apart. This isn't a mixing thing; it's a clarity thing.

“Mean Mister Mustard” is perhaps the track that best demonstrates the lacks of digital harshness from which the original CD suffered. By comparison, the new CD sounds practically analog.

Overall, Ringo’s drums are more pronounced, a fact that holds true to varying degrees throughout the new CDs.

Let it Be

The differences here are a bit harder to qualify, although they’re definitely there.

Upper midrange and highs definitely come through with more clarity—tape hiss is occasionally a teensy bit more prominent, but who cares?

There definitely seems to be more space between the instruments. It’s not a radical difference, but the music exists more in the room than in the speakers, almost certainly because of the improved high frequencies.

Past Masters Vol. 2

“Ballad of John and Yoko” is one of the few exceptions to the slightly enhanced bass rule. Here, the bottom end is tamed significantly. It’s not nearly as boomy or bloated as the 1988 CD release.

The Beatles (The White Album)

The differences here at first seem a little more pronounced than they actually are, because the new disc is about 3dB louder than the 1998 remaster. (Apologies for no longer having the original CD for comparison.) With levels matched, though, the new disc is still appreciably superior.

Vocals for “Blackbird” are moderately but noticeably warmer.

The beginning of “Piggies” is much smoother, more natural.

“Julia” is, for whatever reason, a staggering improvement. On the 1998 CD it seems muffled, reserved. On the new remaster, the song breathes. It sparkles. It fills the air. If I were in charge of publicity for these releases, this is the track I would go to for A/B comparisons.

Meanwhile, “I Will” sound very, very similar to the 1998 CD when levels are matched.

Most tracks fall somewhere in the middle.

Magical Mystery Tour

“Hello Goodbye,” the hat hits from 0:40 to 0:45 are nowhere near as harsh on the new discs as they are on the late-80s CD.

In comparison to the new remaster, the rhythmic intro to “Baby You’re a Rich Man” is duller, more withdrawn on the original CD.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Comparing this CD to the original digital release, the difference in the blistering opening guitar riff for the titular song is the difference between a white hot butter knife and the edge of a cheese grater. True story.

Revolver

“I’m Only Sleeping” is probably the best song to demonstrate the advantages of the new remasters here. The highs and lows are much more present. John’s voice boasts so much more clarity.

Rubber Soul

This is really where I start to wish I had the mono mixes for comparison. The increased presence in the high end really calls even more attention to the wide, deliberate channel separation, especially in “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).”

“Nowhere Man” has always been a bit hard for me to listen to on CD, especially the introductory a cappella harmonies. On the ‘80s remaster, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. On the new disc, it’s much smoother, much more fluid.

***

Digging back through the previous albums, which I’ve never before owned, I have to admit that the jump to Rubber Soul definitely isn’t as quantum as I once thought. Even though I can’t compare the sound quality to the previous releases, I find myself getting lost in certain selections from Help! and A Hard Day’s Night in a way I never have before. So, yeah, maybe I won’t go running for Please Please Me or With the Beatles at every opportunity, but I’m nonetheless happy that I sat down and really immersed myself in them, perhaps for the first time.

And really, in my opinion, that’s one of the greatest things about these new releases. People are clamoring to sit down and really listen to these albums in a way that no one really seems to sit down and experience music anymore. I find that terribly exciting.

Oh, and hey, if anyone more important than me happens to be reading this out of curiosity, holla when your mono box arrives. I’ll bring the beer if you spin the discs!

All images ©Apple Corps Ltd., 2009

Comments

Harrison oversaw the Yellow Submarine remix before he died. That was a proper job. We also have the MFSL Usenet postings, and the Purple Chick series. I wonder if this reissue compares.

You need to emerse yourself into the first five albums and listen to the songs and not just the sound of the songs,... would you start to read a book from the middle? to love the beatles you must experience them completly.

They've contrived to reverse the channels on at least one track (She's leaving Home) - violins on the right and cellos on the left. Cretins. Overall sound is much better than before, but this kind of moronic incompetence is a pity when so much effort has gone into this production

Of course the further question is how they sound vs. vinyl? The first album I bought myself was Abbey Road when it was released.

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.
  • Glossary terms will be automatically marked with links to their descriptions. If there are certain phrases or sections of text that should be excluded from glossary marking and linking, use the special markup, [no-glossary] ... [/no-glossary]. Additionally, these HTML elements will not be scanned: a, abbr, acronym, code, pre.

More information about formatting options

Local Guides

 All Guides
   Alabama
   Alaska
   Arizona
   Arkansas
   California
   Colorado
   Connecticut
   DC
   Delaware
   Florida
   Georgia
   Hawaii
   Idaho
   Illinois
   Indiana
   Iowa
   Kansas
   Kentucky
   Louisiana
   Maine
   Maryland
   Massachusetts
   Michigan
   Minnesota
   Mississippi
   Missouri
   Montana
   Nebraska
   Nevada
   New Hampshire
   New Jersey
   New Mexico
   New York
   North Carolina
   North Dakota
   Ohio
   Oklahoma
   Oregon
   Pennsylvania
   Rhode Island
   South Carolina
   South Dakota
   Tennessee
   Texas
   Utah
   Vermont
   Virginia
   Washington
   West Virginia
   Wisconsin
   Wyoming