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The Beatles Stereo
Colored Vinyl, Box Set
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Audio CD, Box set, Original recording remastered, September 9, 2009
Please note that this is a remastered version of an original recording. Any background noise from the original recording may be present in this recording as well.
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Past Masters (2LP) The Beatles' acclaimed original studio album remasters, released on CD in 2009, make their long-awaited stereo vinyl debut.
Manufactured on 180-gram, audiophile quality vinyl with replicated artwork, the 14 albums return to their original glory with details including the poster in The Beatles (The White Album), the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band's cut-outs, and special inner bags for some of the titles. The albums are accompanied by a stunning, elegantly designed 252-page hardbound book in a lavish boxed edition which is being in limited quantities worldwide.
The book, exclusive to the boxed edition, is authored by award-winning radio producer Kevin Howlett and features a dedicated chapter for each of the albums, as well as insight into the creation of the remasters and how the vinyl albums were prepared. The 12"x12" book showcases a wealth of photographs spanning The Beatles' recording career, including many images which were not included in the 2009 CD booklets.
The titles include The Beatles' 12 original UK albums, first released between 1963 and 1970, the US-originated Magical Mystery Tour, now part of the group's core catalogue, and Past Masters, Volumes One & Two, first released individually in 1988, featuring non-album A-sides and B-sides, EP tracks and rarities. With this release, The Beatles' first four albums make their North American stereo vinyl debuts.
There has always been demand for The Beatles' albums on vinyl. Indeed, 2011's best-selling vinyl LP in the United States was Abbey Road. Following the success of The Beatles' acclaimed, GRAMMY Award-winning 2009 CD remasters, it was decided that the sound experts at EMI's Abbey Road Studios should create new versions of The Beatles' vinyl LPs. The project demanded the same meticulous approach taken for the CD releases, and the brief was a simple one: cut the digital remasters to vinyl with an absolute minimum of compromise to the sound. However, the process involved to do that was far from simple.
The first stage in transferring the sound of a master recording to vinyl is the creation of a disc to be used during vinyl manufacture. There were two options to consider. A Direct Metal Master (DMM), developed in the late seventies, allows sound to be cut directly into a stainless steel disc coated with a hard copper alloy. The older, alternative method is to cut the sound into the soft lacquer coating on a nickel disc - the first of several steps leading to the production of a stamper to press the vinyl.
A 'blind' listening test was arranged to choose between a 'lacquer' or 'copper' cut. Using both methods, A Hard Day's Night was pressed with ten seconds of silence at the beginning and end of each side. This allowed not only the reproduction of the music to be assessed, but also the noise made by the vinyl itself. After much discussion, two factors swung the decision towards using the lacquer process. First, it was judged to create a warmer sound than a DMM. Secondly, there was a practical advantage of having 'blank' discs of a consistent quality when cutting lacquers.
The next step was to use the Neumann VMS80 cutting lathe at Abbey Road. Following thorough mechanical and electrical tests to ensure it was operating in peak condition, engineer Sean Magee cut the LPs in chronological release order. He used the original 24-bit remasters rather than the 16-bit versions that were required for CD production. It was also decided to use the remasters that had not undergone 'limiting' - a procedure to increase the sound level, which is deemed necessary for most current pop CDs.
Having made initial test cuts, Magee pinpointed any sound problems that can occur during playback of vinyl records. To rectify them, changes were made to the remasters with a Digital Audio Workstation. For example, each vinyl album was listened to for any 'sibilant episodes' - vocal distortion that can occur on consonant sounds such as S and T. These were corrected by reducing the level in the very small portion of sound causing the undesired effect. Similarly, any likelihood of 'inner-groove distortion' was addressed. As the stylus approaches the centre of the record, it is liable to track the groove less accurately. This can affect the high-middle frequencies, producing a 'mushy' sound particularly noticeable on vocals. Using what Magee has described as 'surgical EQ,' problem frequencies were identified and reduced in level to compensate for this.
The last phase of the vinyl mastering process began with the arrival of the first batches of test pressings made from master lacquers that had been sent to the two pressing plant factories. Stringent quality tests identified any noise or click appearing on more than one test pressing in the same place. If this happened, it was clear that the undesired sounds had been introduced either during the cutting or the pressing stage and so the test records were rejected. In the quest to achieve the highest quality possible, the Abbey Road team worked closely with the pressing factories and the manufacturers of the lacquer and cutting styli.
An additional and unusual challenge was to ensure the proper playback of the sounds embedded in the 'lock-groove' at the end of side two of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Requiring a combination of good timing and luck, it had always been a lengthy and costly process to make it work properly. In fact, it was so tricky, it had never been attempted for American pressings of the LP. Naturally, Sean Magee and the team perfected this and the garbled message is heard as originally intended on the remastered Sgt. Pepper LP.
Top customer reviews
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The book included was in perfect condition and is stunning.
None of the damage described here was major, but it's the summation of all of it that makes it obvious there was a total lack of QC during the manufacturing of this product.
Not happy at all about this, but considering returning it for a replacement rather than a refund. Maybe I'll get lucky next time.
Quick Update 11/15/2012 - I received my 2nd box set yesterday (I ordered one to play, 1 for the archive to remain sealed and maybe give to my son 20 years from now). Anyways, the second set arrived in much better shape, but it again was not packaged in the original foam wrapped shipping containers that others are raving about online. This time it arrived in a smaller outer box, but was packed around it with crumpled up packing paper. not much better than the first set. I think i just got lucky that nothing happened during shipment.
My main concern tonight is with the quality of sound on this vinyl. Both of my copies of Abbey Road and The White Album (i opened both box sets due to all of these problems) have an incredible amount of noise on them. i'm not a vinyl expert by any means, but i know a noisy record when i hear it. i know others are raving about the sound quality, but my sets sound like garbage...Returning both for refunds.
Update #2 - 11/17/2012 !!
Have any of you found the major misprint on side two of the label of Magical Mystery Tour? Go look!
If this doesn't just ice the cake of complete failure on this box set, nothing will. ABSOLUTELY NO QUALITY CONTROL WHATSOEVER!
Update #3 - 11/24/2012!
Ordered box set #3, this time from Amazon UK. The box arrived quickly (even with the holiday in there), and was packaged as hoped, inside the official EMI 'outer' box with the cool 'Handle With Care' labeling, foam inserts etc. Unfortunately someone thought handle with care meant drop the box on the floor and crush one corner in so badly that even the foam inserts weren't enough to prevent the box set from a small but noticeable corner ding. oh well, i could live with that i guess, seeing as this thing just traveled thousands of miles. Several differences noted between the EU box set and the U.S. box:
- overall EU box was manufactured with significantly higher overall quality.
- EU box is about .5 inches smaller in both height and width, due to thinner black foam pads inside the box. EU box also came with silica gel packets resting in top portion of box set. There was no shrink wrapping on the EU box set, only on individual records and the book.
- EU record jackets are much higher in quality, seemingly slightly stronger card stock, and noticeably glossier. Absolutely no record jacket, inner sleeve, or 'extras' damage in the EU box. Notably, gatefolds had more precise 'hinge side' squaring than my U.S. box versions. The EU gatefolds also seem to be sized a bit better to hold all of the extras without having that strange jacket warp the U.S. versions have.
- EU vinyl labels were all perfectly centered, and appear to be printed with better quality that the U.S. set.
- EU vinyl had no signs of no-fill, with only two minor surface defects, one on Sgt. Peppers and one on MMT.
And now for the bad news. 6 of the EU discs were significantly warped. I haven't had a chance to play all of them yet, but the two I did were warped enough to affect playability.
My plan is to talk to Amazon UK about getting a replacement box, or individual records to replace my warped copies. At this time Amazon UK is not selling the box set due to 'reported customer problems'. I assume this could mean the warping issue is fairly prevalent in the EU pressings. Hoping this may also mean they are waiting on a second pressing before they resume selling. Why Amazon U.S. isn't putting a similar halt on sales is beyond me...
UPDATE: Amazon kindly replaced the first set. The second set has similar problems: Pressings damaged with scratches and abrasions. Also, they're warped, off-center, and under-filled. Using the best LP from the set, I performed a direct A/B comparison to the same album from the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs boxed set (1980s). I used identical ReVox tables w/Studer Linatrack arms, both equipped with Shure V15-V and new JICO SAS stylii. The difference is dramatic. The MFSL sound is clean, with clarity in the mids, sweetness in the highs. The new Capitol pressings sound mushy and indistinct in the mids, the highs are harsh. We won't know what the 2009 digital remasters sound like on vinyl until EMI makes quality pressings available.
EDIT: I'm close to the end of listening carefully to every album to see if my initial review measured up throughout, but there are some variations in quality which are puzzling. The problems emerged on HDN (surface noice - loud between songs), Rubber Soul (crackles throughout and big pops just after Taxman) and Revolver (some crackles and pops). The early albums were great. Sgt Pepper and MMT were perfect. I still have a few to go so more variations may emerge. I plan to deep clean the ones with crackles and pops to see if that fixes them. My overall impression now is disappointment that I have to worry about variable quality but relieved that my issues seem to be minor compared with what some other people have experienced.
I put off this purchase for a couple years due to the expense, but now I can say it was worth every penny. In fact, after listening to these remasters, I would pay twice what I paid. I have bought several Beatles albums and CD's over the years, but the quality was never quite right. Now I can't stop listening to these CD's; it is that good. If you like the Beatles music, you will LOVE it after you hear this collection. It is quite possibly the most perfect collection of remasters I have ever heard. A fitting tribute to the greatest Rock & Roll band ever.
The packaging is nice too, but I am not one who is overly concerned with such trivial things. Some have complained abot the packaging; all I can say is its a nice box and well organized. For me, it is all about music quality and The Beatles Stereo Box Set is fantastic!