Friday, August 28, 2009

09/09/09

If you are any kind of music fan, you likely know what’s coming on that date: the release of newly-remastered editions of the thirteen original Beatles albums, plus a two-disc version of Past Masters, a remarkable collection of tracks released only as singles or on EPs.

When they were last remastered twenty-two years ago, Sgt. Pepper was just twenty years-old. Abbey Road but eighteen. That this is overdue is an understatement.

Even on release, those first generation remasters didn’t thrill anyone. The albums--especially the pre-Sgt. Pepper ones--sounded dry and brittle. The sound was shallow. This was hardly befitting of the most-celebrated rock band of all-time.

The two-volume Past Masters series was an improvement, and the three-volume Anthology series sounded like a Beatles compilation should have. But the original releases languished even long after enormous strides were made in analog-to-digital technology.

With their record label seemingly uninterested in improving the collection, fans took it upon themselves to apply digital technology to pristine vinyl copies of Beatles’ albums, essentially remastering the albums themselves.

Dr. Ebbetts, Fabulous Sound Labs, Blue Box and the folks at Purple Chick all produced amazing work, with the Purple Chick editions even landing a mention in Rolling Stone.

Unlike the underground versions, the new releases won’t contain bonus tracks, and will be using stereo mixes only. So if you’re hoping for the wallop that only mono can provide, or were hoping for demos or alternate takes, you might want to keep looking.

Keep in mind that Purple Chick editions were made by fans for fans, and are never, ever for sale. And that a mono box of the albums will be released, but that date and price have yet to be set.

The good news is that the use of limiters has been, well, limited. Limiting has become very popular in the past few years with the explosion of MP3 players. It reduces the sonic range of a recording to make it louder, and therefore seem “better” when played on an MP3 device.

I know I’m hopelessly literal, but wasn’t an extended dynamic range one of the big advantages of digital sound? Anyway, this means the new set of Beatles remasters has the potential to sound really, really good.

Remasters can inspire eye-widening wonder, or head-in-hands disappointment. ABKCO finally got it right the second time around with its 2002 release of the Rolling Stones London-era catalog, which replaced remasters done so poorly that long-time fans couldn’t even recognize certain songs.

The music of the Beatles deserves only the best. Remasters that are as awe-inspiring as their music. Because when it comes to sound, few mastered it as well as those four guys from England.

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