I like the Beatles. I’m too young to have known them in the early years, but some of the first music I listened to was the Beatle’s later albums. In 2009, I bought the two box sets released with all of their studio recordings: the stereo box (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store) and the mono set (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) (much cheaper than the current prices).
Last week, the Beatles released a new box set of The U.S. Albums (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store). This set attempts to replicate the original US versions of the Beatles’ albums, which had different songs, and sometimes had different mixes. However, this is not the complete Beatles; this set only includes those albums that were different in the US. So it does not contain such albums as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, “The White Album,” Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let it Be, which were identical to the UK versions. (You can see a detailed discography of The Beatles’ studio releases here.)
These new releases seek to replicate the unique listening experience heard by Americans at the time by preserving the sequences, timings, and artwork found on the albums. Capitol’s engineers in the 1960s took great care to produce what they believed to be the best possible sound for the playback equipment in use at that time. Due to the limitations of the record players of the day, engineers often compressed the sound by raising the volume of the softer passages and lowering the volume for the louder parts of the songs. They also reduced the bass frequencies since too much bass could cause the record to skip. In some cases, reverb was added to the tracks to make them sound more “American.” The CDs are packaged in miniature vinyl sleeves that faithfully recreate the original U.S. LP releases down to the finest detail, including the inner sleeves. 11 original U.S. albums presented in both mono and stereo. Hey Jude and The Beatles’ Story are in stereo only.
But Beatles fans can be obsessive, and some of them have listened closely to these recordings to find that they are not, indeed, the same sound of the originals. A blog post on The Beatles Rarity website goes into great detail, comparing these new releases to the 2009 remasters of the original tapes. For example, on The Beatles’ Second Album:
“I Call Your Name” – On original stereo copies of The Beatles Second Album the vocal and cowbell are to the right and the cowbell does not start until the vocal does. On the 2009 remasters the stereo mix has a centered vocal and the cowbell comes in later (i.e. AFTER the first line).
Granted, this sort of audio forensics is interesting, and does prove that the remasters are not using the original tapes. But some of the differences are so tiny as to be a bit ridiculous. I can understand the desire to hear the albums “as they were” in your childhood, but to truly replicate the experience, you’d need a tinny record player as well. (There is another extensive forum discussion on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums.)
if you’re a Beatles fan, the best bet is to get the two box sets I mention above, one in stereo, one in mono. Make playlists of the songs for the track order of the US albums, and you’ll be fine.