Friday, July 10, 2009

Michael Fremer Review

I am very proud to continue our new feature (look for this every Friday), music reviews that are written by the senior contributing editor of Stereophile magazine- Michael Fremer. It has been a pleasure to speak with Michael and learn more about audio sound and equipment. In fact, his new DVD, "It's A Vinyl World, After All" has hit the shelves and is selling out very quickly. This is a must have for anybody who loves vinyl, it is a true masterpiece.

Apple Corps LTD. And EMI Music Announce Remastered Beatles Catalogue For Worldwide Release September 9, 2009
The Beatles

Michael Fremer 2009-07-01

The late summer releases include all albums in stereo for the first time. PPM, With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be will include a QuickTime mini-documentary for a limited time.

These will be available separately or as a boxed set. A second boxed set, The Beatles in Mono will contain the first four above that were originally issued in mono on CD plus for the first time the original mono mixes of Help, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s…, Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles and Mono Masters. In addition, Help! and Rubber Soul will include the original 1965 stereo mixes (the first CD go-round featured remixes of those). Each CD includes original UK album art, expanded liner notes and rare photos.

The transfers utilized a ProTools work station operating at 192/24 via a Prism A-D converter, one track at a time. EMI tape did not suffer oxide shedding but dust necessitated head cleaning after each track transfer. All transfers were done using “vintage studio equipment,” which, unfortunately was not specified with the same precision as the digital gear used.

According to the press release, the remastering team decided to “improve” “…where possible… electrical clicks, microphone vocal pops, excessive sibilance and bad edits…so long as it didn’t impact on the original integrity of the songs.”

De-noising technology was used “subtly and sparingly,” on “…less (sic) than five of the 525 minutes of Beatles music…”

However, the press release also contained this sour note: “Finally, as is common with today’s music, overall limiting - to increase the volume level of the CD - has been used, but on the stereo versions only. However, it was unanimously agreed that because of the importance of The Beatles’ music, limiting would be used moderately, so as to retain the original dynamics of the recordings.” Who cares if it’s “common with today’s music”? Today’s music sounds mostly like over-compressed crap.

Before mastering, each song was auditioned several times to locate “…any of the agreed imperfections,” which were then addressed by members of the restoration team.

“Earliest vinyl pressings” and the original CDs were loaded into ProTools for comparison with master tapes during the EQ process. Finished albums were auditioned in studio three—a location familiar to all involved—with further alterations (if necessary) made back in the mastering room and then listened to in yet another location. This process was followed until all 13 albums were completed “…to the team’s satisfaction.”

The Abbey Road Team consisted of Allan Rouse (Project Coordinator), Guy Massey (Recording Engineer), Steve Rooke (Mastering Engineer), Paul Hicks (Recording Engineer), Sean Magee (Mastering Engineer), Sam Okell (Recording Engineer) and Simon Gibson (Audio Restoration Engineer).

Rooke and Magee will be familiar names to many as they appear in mastering credits on may recent LP reissues. Rouse joined EMI in 1971 and frequently worked with Norman (Hurricane) Smith, The Beatles’ first recording engineer. He did the first digital backups of Beatles master tapes (mono, stereo, 4-track and 8-track) in 1991. He was also involved in the 5.1 channel and stereo remixes of Yellow Submarine.

However, Rouse also was involved in the John Lennon album remixes, which most agree sound digitally awful on vinyl. Rouse, Guy Massey and Paul Hicks were responsible for Let It Be…Naked.

Steve Rooke, the studio’s senior mastering engineer, joined Abbey Road in 1983 and worked on all The Beatles’ projects since 1999, including mastering Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Ringo albums.

Audio Restoration Engineer Simon Gibson joined Abbey Road in 1990. His work includes the reissue of George Harrison’s Living in the Material World among other Beatles catalog reissues.

Will there be vinyl? There was nothing in the press release about it, but if there is, probably, in the interest of “uniformity,” they will be mastered from the high resolution, re-EQ’d, “cleaned-up” masters. Why not run the original analogue tapes, which are in such excellent condition and cut DMM or lacquers to give analog fans the “real deal?”

That’s’ a question that needs to be asked. Or how about a series of CDs from needle drops of clean original pressings? That would be an authentic experience for those exiled in the digital domain!

SOURCE: Reprinted By Permission

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