The Beatles remastered box sets
Written 7 September 2010, exactly one year after their release on 7 September 2009

Opinion by Tony Copple

I want to comment on a couple of aspects of this impressive project. I have had the time to listen and relisten to these discs in both stereo and mono. I have had the pleasure of writing reviews for The Ottawa Beatles Site of a number of repackaged Beatles material, and have always been pleasantly surprised by the quality of work and the final result.

In this short piece I am not reviewing the music, but I would like to have my say about two production aspects of the project.

I am a stereo freak; have been since about 1958, and I bought all the Beatles albums in stereo. I was mightily disappointed by the stereo sound stage that George Martin decided he would use on the first two albums and on some individual songs in later releases. Voices on the left; instruments on the right; nothing in the middle. On the odd song he separated the main voices left and right - I was ecstatic!

The remastered Yellow Submarine film was released in 1999, with the best versions of many Beatles songs that had ever been heard. Gone were the annoying thin-sounding voices way over to the left. Voices were generally centred and instrumentation placed across the sound stage. In 2006, "Love" gave us spectacular sound for the mash-ups used in the Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas production.

I assumed that the 2009 remasters would build on or replicate the quality of the Yellow Submarine and Love versions. I was to be sadly disappointed. The early indications came on the first two discs: Please Please Me, and With the Beatles. Exactly the same placement of voices and instruments were presented that I had been disappointed by in the sixties. Granted, the sound fidelity and dynamic range was a great improvement which makes these discs very listenable.

But the real let down was with Yellow Submarine. I compared the DVD sound with the CD sound on tracks like Yellow Submarine, All Together Now, and Hey Bulldog, and far prefer the film versions. The bass on the film DVD is deep and satisfying, while on the CD is significanly cut - a problem with many Beatle recordings. The remastered CDs offer little improvement in fidelity over the film versions, and definitely suffer by comparison with the Love versions.

What are we to make of this? Is Apple perhaps planning yet another reissue of all the songs in good stereo? Has George Martin's failure to appreciate the potential of, and audio engineering behind, stereophony continued to this day?

The later albums audio quality
As I mentioned above, the sound quality and dynamic range of the remasters of the first few albums are very apparent. This is not the case with the later albums, on my middle quality equipment at least. Playing an LP of Abbey Road and the remastered CD and switching between the two gives me no noticeable difference in sound quality other than the absence of clicks and pops caused by dust particles and scratches on the LP. Since my copy has been lovingly cared for, the pops and clicks are minimal. Suffice it to say that since the sound stage is identical, for the average listener in a living room (rather than an auditorium), using albums that have been looked after, the CDs represent additional convenience but no noticeable improvement in sound compared with the albums. Further, since the stereo sound stage of the original records was generally satisfactory after "With the Beatles," few adjustments would have been necessary even if the remastered versions had allowed such changes so badly needed with the first two albums.

The mono versions
For years the mono releases mistique has permeated the world of Bealtes recordings to the extent that afficionados paid big bucks for the mono boxed sets. Some listeners report improved dynamic range with the mono versions. I have listened to all the mono tracks and I have two comments. Firstly, in terms of enjoyment of realism in the sound reproduction, stereo surpasses mono every time. Secondly, the mono versions were generally manufactured first, and then the stereo version, sometimes using slightly different source material. An example would be the additional farmyard noises on the mono verion of Good Morning on Sergeant Pepper. A curiosity; but I would rather have more realistic farm noises and a foxhunt that crosses from left to right than a few extra goose squawks. In fact I think it unlikely I will ever listen to the mono versions again.

The excellent song "Hey Bulldog" appears on Past Masters II in the boxed set, but only on the mono disk. If you bought the stereo disk, you don't have that song. Since it is a good song, it should have been included on the stereo disk. If you want to hear an excellent stereo version, it's on the Yellow Submarine DVD. This is not fake stereo to my ears. So why didn't they include the stereo version on Past Masters II? I don't know.