The Beatles Re-Mastered, 2009

Sep 8, 2009 7:39 PM, By Rick Clark

A Look at the New Stereo and Mono Box Sets


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photo of Beatles box set

It’s been 22 years since the Beatles catalog was given its big launch on the CD format. Since then, many other artist catalogs have regularly been re-mastered and repackaged. Meanwhile, years passed and fans of The Beatles wondered why their catalog wasn’t getting the same treatment, especially with all the advancements made in the digital technology since the ’80s.

Well, all of that has now been more than amply addressed, as evidenced with September’s EMI and Apple Corps' release of the entire Beatles catalog re-mastered from the original mono and stereo masters and offered in two deluxe box sets: The Beatles Stereo Box Set and The Beatles Mono Box Set.

So, did they substantially improve upon the existing versions? Absolutely! Listening to both entire sets is a revelation, which is quite a statement considering this is probably the best-known artist catalog in the history of recorded music.

photo of Abbey Road Studios engineers

Abbey Road Studios engineers who re-mastered The Beatles' catalog

The re-mastering effort, which happened over a period of four years, began with a crew of engineers at Abbey Road Studios. Mix spoke with engineer Alan Rouse, who coordinated the team, and senior engineer Guy Massey, concerning this project.

“The whole process was spread over a few people to try and achieve, what we hope, at the end of the day, is going to be the best we could get,” Rouse says. “No one person was going to take the blame for getting it wrong, so we can spread the blame amongst all of us! We keep everything at Abbey Road, so it was a very long process—mucking about with machines, A/Ds, test tapes—trying to determine how we ended up with what we ended up with. We did blind tests, as well, after that.”

The transfers were done on a 1972 Studer A-80. From there, they went into a high-resolution Prism Sound ADA-8XR into Pro Tools at 24 bits/192 kHz. “When we put on the masters and compared them with the original CDs, we all felt, in general, that what we were hearing on the masters was immediately more transparent than the original CDs,” states Massey, who worked on the stereo re-masters with mastering engineer Steve Rooke and Paul Hicks.

For those concerned the Beatles re-masters would follow the path of many other recently re-mastered catalogs, which have changed the dynamics that existed on the original albums, the good news is that great pains were taken to ensure the integrity of the original recordings.

“We didn’t want to obviously have these as loud as a modern rock record,” says Massey. “Basically, the stereo re-masters, at the maximum, are only 4 dBs louder than the original CDs. We used limiting very sparingly, and hopefully very transparently. We wanted to retain the dynamics of the songs and basically not limit them.”

The approach wasn’t to make the sound merely more appealing to “modern” ears, but rather, to try and approximate what the team felt George Martin and the band would have wanted had they not been limited by the vinyl medium. “We have got some of the [disc] cutting notes from the ’60s that Harry Moss did and there was very little that he did to them, but the inevitable things were sometimes reduction of bass, because he couldn’t get it on—the vinyl couldn’t handle the bass back then,” says Massey. “You’ll notice elevated bass and louder drums now. We really tried to push some of those elements. We weren’t trying to just make a cleaner version of the original stereos.”

Rouse is quick to point out that all the tapes, which were EMI 811, were in excellent condition. “EMI used to be quite a good company for manufacturing things, including tape,” remarks Rouse. “We’ve never baked an EMI tape. Ever! We checked the heads after each title and a little bit of dust was about all we encountered. ”

Nevertheless, the old tape leader provided it’s own occasional issues: “We haven’t ever really heard the mono master tapes, apart from the first four CDs, which were out in mono. So all of the splicing tape on those old mono masters had dried and fallen apart, which was quite irritating, especially in rewinding the first time through. You’d rewind. It stops. Join it up. Stops.”

That said, Rouse states they didn’t merely put on an album master reel and “record the whole album in one go,” adding that everything was “transferred one track at a time.”

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