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  • The Apple Music Report: Would You Buy Beatles Albums One More Time?

    May 15th, 2007

    As EMI prepares to release Paul McCartney’s voluminous repertoire of solo albums online (his newest album is already available for pre-order), you have a strong feeling that a certain band with which he was once associated will come shortly thereafter.

    Now I’m not going to get into the silly argument about whether you are going to avoid buying the expected DRM-free versions because they sell for 30 cents extra, and that you don’t care about the higher quality tracks. One online commentator has already come up with that dose of silliness, and it’s not worth a further response.

    What I wonder, however, is how many times the music industry expects you to buy the same product before you decide that enough is enough. Yes, I’m talking about the digital versions of the Fab Four’s music library.

    Now I realize I’m aging myself here, but, yes, I did purchase the LP versions back in the 1960s, although it took me a year or two to catch up with all the excitement. When the albums were remastered for CD, I bought the entire collection all over again, plus a few of the repackaged extras. Sure, they sounded better, and having the early albums in genuine mono rather than fake stereo was a real plus. Even better, 20 years after I bought those CDs, they have evidently withstood CD rot and they play just as good as new.

    If you can believe EMI, they remastered the entire collection all over again for digital distribution. All right, well and good, but what can they do to make them sound better, considering that most were recorded on four-track analog tape decks more than 40 years ago? Are they actually going to spend extended amounts of editing time examining every second of the original masters to remove defects and improve sonic clarity?

    Will all that digital legerdemain make you feel closer to the original sound The Beatles heard in the studio when they created their original masterpieces? Lest we forget, after the band stopped touring, just about everything they did was manufactured in the studio, and could not, in the general sense, be reproduced live anyway. So what was the “original” sound supposed to be and how much closer can we get to it?

    More to the point, were the surviving members involved in making sure that their visions were not tempered with by overeager digital mastering engineers?

    Let’s assume, for the moment, that all the albums do sound noticeably better; that is, cleaner and more realistic with superior, palpable bass. I expect that the best recording engineers can work miracles even on sub-par source material. Without hearing the finished result, however, I can say that remastering has improved a lot of famous rock albums over the years.

    Take the Doors and Rolling Sounds as examples where new versions of their albums sounded far better than the original CD releases. The Stones were especially victim to poor recording quality, which was done in part, I imagine, to give them their distinctive garage band sound. Indeed, I was pleased with the new recordings, and I actually traded in several of the older albums and purchased that revitalized replacements.

    So, yes, it’s quite possible a sophisticated spring cleaning will do miracles for The Beatles too. The question is this: How many of you are prepared to buy all those albums one more time? Even more important, will their forthcoming presence on iTunes entice you to download your favorites?

    I don’t pretend to know. However, it’s quite possible Apple will do its best to goose sales, such as building a special Beatles Edition iPod, perhaps with the band’s music library bundled with the player for a special price. I can see where the exclusivity factor would have some impact, although I wonder if most Beatles fans, these days, are aging baby boomers.

    To be sure, I just don’t know whether a market still exists for The Beatles and other vintage 1960s British rockers. Even if the audio quality is as pristine as the best 21st century music recordings, how many times do you want to listen to “A Day in the Life” and all their other great songs before you tire of them?

    Yes, I can see the possibility of buying some of the CDs again, if I was assured there would be a huge jump in quality. But I’m of an older generation, or maybe I just don’t know any better.

    Then again, maybe if enough young people rediscover The Beatles, they might become more critical of the quality of today’s rock music and pay more attention to Indie bands with appropriately distinctive sounds. That would be the best development of all.

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    10 Responses to “The Apple Music Report: Would You Buy Beatles Albums One More Time?”

    1. Dave Barnes says:

      Probably will buy some of the new CDs.
      I did not buy any Beatles albums in the 60s as the guy who lived next door to me in the dorm had EVERY Beatles and Kinks album. When I say EVERY, I mean it. He had his mother buy the UK versions and ship them to him in the US.
      I bought one or two Beatles CDs in the late 90s, but my daughter lost them. Teenagers do that.
      What I am hoping is that many people will buy these new albums and rip them and then sell them at the used-CD store so I can pick them up cheaply.

    2. John Mietus says:

      I’m a huge Beatle fan and am looking forward to hearing these newly mastered CDs since the ’80s masters were completely botched and sound terrible. But I will definitely buy them as CDs rather than as digital downloads.

    3. auramac says:

      I bought every single Beatles LP- then CD. If the new CD’s are significantly better, then I will buy every single one of them (not download)- not just because I’m such a great fan or fanatic- they’re that good.

    4. brett says:

      I bought the british LPs when a box of them was released in the US in the late ’70s, I think, and then bought some of the CDs when they came out. But I would certainly buy them again in order to complete my collecction AND because reports of the remasterings (based on the evidence of last year’s release of the remastered music for the Cirguqe du Soleil production, minus the recombinations of course) said that the sound was truly astonishing compared to the original CD issues. I wonder if that rumor about a Yellow Submarine iPod with the complete Fab4 catalog will come to pass?

    5. Al says:

      I have them all on cassette and CD. I even have 3 LP albums. I have the CD’s all ripped to iTunes at 190 kbps. I might pick up some rarities in 256 kbps, DRM free condition.

      That’s what the iTunes store is for. Filling in the gaps in your CD coverage and picking up the odd single that catches your fancy.

    6. I’m a huge Beatle fan and am looking forward to hearing these newly mastered CDs since the ’80s masters were completely botched and sound terrible. But I will definitely buy them as CDs rather than as digital downloads.

      You make an interesting point there. In what way were the 80s masters botched? Can you be more specific?


    7. John Mietus says:

      You make an interesting point there. In what way were the 80s masters botched? Can you be more specific?

      Sure! Specifically, numerous “later” mixes on a number of tracks were used (for instance, the version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the Magical Mystery Tour CD was from the German release of the album that was remastered in the ’70s rather than the original mix on the original American release — I want the original mix, by gum — the CD mix drops the harmonies on the final chorus), the masters were direct transfers of the “latest” mixes with sound reduction techniques added, and in general the order of the day seemed to be “here’s the last transfer done, let’s just use that” of all the tracks.

      Here’s a good article that discusses what was done and what could be cleaned up and done with these new releases.

    8. Chris says:

      release of the remastered music for the Cirguqe du Soleil production

      The Martins went back to the source analog multitrack tapes for Love, and the result is widely considered by audiophiles to be the best the Beatles have sounded in a digital format. It isn’t clear that the catalog remasters will be treated with the same care, because the remastering has been rumored to be finished since long before the Love project was started, and it may well have been completed using early, low-rez digital masters with No-Noise and other digital enhancements applied.

      The warm reception for Love might convince them to do it right, but they might just ship what they’ve got, which might end up sounding worse than the current 80’s masters. For one reason why that is, take a peek at this 2-minute YouTube, which explains why loud mastering is a bad thing. There are similar arguments to be made against NoNoise (it removes some of the music as well as some of the noise) and whacked-out EQ changes used to make music sound more modern (‘smiley face EQ’: boost the treble and the bass extremely high — leaving no midrange).

    9. Chris says:

      Oh, and what I’d like to see, since you asked *cough*? Properly mastered SACD’s with both the original mono and stereo UK mixes plus all relevant and interesting outtakes for each album. I’d pay quite a bit extra for that. I think the iTunes equivalent would be Apple Lossless at 176 kHz. These would be very large files…

    10. Gary Rankin says:

      I will buy them all again for probably the seventh or eighth time. I was fortunate to attend the LOVE presentation in Las Vegas and if the music quality I heard that night is any indication it will be worth the outlay again. Day in a Life was played in digital sound Sunday night on the Grammys and it was chilling how clear it came over my 7.1 system just hope they get off their butts before I die Gary

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