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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Beatles Remastered: Stereo Revolver -- Review and Vinyl Comparison

the beatles! Pictures, Images and Photos

In 1966, The Beatles released their seventh studio album, Revolver. Heralded as one of the first psychedelic albums, Revolver features the use of reverse guitar, tape loops, and other effects on songs such as Tommorow Never Knows and I'm Only Sleeping. Revolver may also be the height of George Harrison's influence, featuring three songs written and sung by him.

Unlike the stereo version of their previous album, Rubber Soul, which features hard-panned left-right placement of vocals and instruments--and a hole in the center, the stereo Revolver features a more natural stereo mix. Today, Myvinylreview reviews the remastered stereo compact disc, which is found in the Beatles Stereo Box Set and can also be bought as a single cd.

(The Beatles, 1966)

In preparation for this review, I listened to a tube cut vinyl (-1/-1) stereo pressing, a Blue Box era (2-box) solid state cut U.K. vinyl stereo pressing, and compared them to the 2009 remastered stereo cd. As with all of the comparison reviews in this Beatles series, I have primarily listened to complete album sides, occasionally doing song-by-song shoot-outs as needed to confirm my initial impressions.

The overall treatment given to the 2009 remastered stereo Revolver is similar to what was given to the Abbey Road remaster (reviewed here). It sounds a bit more modern than either of the vinyl copies, and once again, while there is no evidence of the use of noise reduction, there is a pumped-up quality to the bass that suggests the use of some compression/limiting and EQ adjustment.

The tube cut vinyl has the most natural presentation of the three, with a full midrange that is particularly rich in the lower end of the mids. Vocals are full-bodied, and everything flows together very nicely. On the other end of the spectrum, the 2009 remaster brings a bit more detail to the mix, with stronger bass and more extended highs and upper-midrage clarity. But at times, this greater detail comes at the expense of the cohesion of the song.

On the 2009 stereo remaster of Got to Get You into My Life, McCartney's bass sounds like he's playing it with a hammer--the bass and drums dominate the mix, detracting from the horns, which are the focal point of this Motown-inspired song. It isn't all bad, however, as during the guitar break of the same song, the accentuated upper-mids and highs bring greater excitement to the moment compared to the smoother, lower-midrage sweetness of the original. Similarly, the remaster accentuates McCartney's bass during Taxman, but loses some of the realism heard on the tube cut vinyl in doing so.

(From left, George Martin and The Beatles in studio)

The Blue Box era solid state cut vinyl stands somewhere in between, having neither the gooey, lower-midrange richness of the tube cut, nor the increased clarity and bass of the remaster. While I'm not suggesting that you immediately sell your Blue Box copy, this 2009 remaster compares very nicely and serves as a nice alternative to the at times anemic-sounding solid state Parlophone cut vinyl--and for those bothered by surface noise or inner groove distortion, the lack of these nuisances may be reason enough to buy this remastered cd.

Remastered vinyl versions of these albums are forthcoming. While details have not yet been disclosed, I believe there is the potential to better these compact discs, especially if they're mastered without any compression/limiting, in the style of the Beatles in Mono Box Set. In the meantime, even if you are primarily a vinyl listener and are waiting for the remastered vinyl, this new disc sounds markedly better than the 1987 cd, and whether you're in the car, or listening on your Ipod at the gym, your ears will thank you.

RELATED: Second Listen: Beatles in MONO (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band) Remastered Cd Review and Comparison to U.K. Mono Vinyl

First Listen: The Beatles in MONO Box Set (The White Album) remastered cd review and comparison to U.K. vinyl

Beatles Abbey Road Remastered Cd Review and Comparison to U.K. Vinyl

Beatledrops -- Samples of Beatles Mono and Stereo Vinyl, Remastered cds

Vintage Vinyl Spotlight: The Beatles Blue Box (BC-13)


Pete Bilderback said...

Thanks for the interesting comparisons. Since I do not have a nice collection of Beatles albums on vinyl, it is great for me to read this kind of analysis, and it is clear that you have listened very closely.

One thing confuses me about your analysis however. How do you differentiate between a bass boost caused by compression or an EQ boost versus a decision to simply let through what was on the original master tape to begin with?

As I'm sure you are aware, it was not uncommon in the 60s (and later) for mastering engineers to cut the bass level during LP mastering out of the belief that many people's home systems simply could not handle everything that was on the master tape. So how do you know when you are hearing bass that has been boosted in the EQ for the CD remasters versus just hearing it without the level cut that had been done for the LP? This only seems like a justified assumption if we know for a fact that the LPs were mastered without any EQ.

Anyway, please don't take the above as a criticism, I'm just wondering if you think there is a way to differentiate (absent of course having access to the master tape itself).

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Please forgive me in advance for being a little off-topic as I don't limit my comments to Revolver. However I hope people reading this find my comments informative. (Also I use the word "you" meaning "one", not a specific person!)

It sounds from this review that the difference between solid state vs tube equipment has been described, with regard to the Valve mastered and transistor mastered vinyl Revolvers. If you read the hifi press at all, you'll know that valve amps are often punchy and full-bodied, at the expense of a little bit of "wool" - i.e. less detail at the frequency extremes. Transistor amps are often more detailed, but instruments and voices lack body, and are relatively sharp in the treble. Therefore, the differences in Revolvers may not be down to any treatment of the actual mixes. Rather, that is simply the difference between valve & tranny mastering equipment!

I have all the Beatles albums on vinyl (varying ages, from original copies to vinyl transfer of the 80's digital version), and I have to say that, when reproduced on fairly high quality equipment, (of at least the quality of a Rega P3, let's say) they really rock. The stereo mix of Hard Day's Night, despite the panning limitations, is uncanny. At times, I could almost see John harmonising at the mike, playing the guitar. Ditto Rubber Soul - Norwegian Wood in particular is so vivid it's possible to see fingers strumming the guitar strings.

So how do both CD versions stack up to this? Well, I have only heard the Past Masters 2009 remaster. As luck would have it, I also have Vol 2 on 87/8 release. Therefore I decided to make a composite track of Day Tripper, using Apple's Logic Software, to splice together segments of the vinyl (from 62-66), the 88 CD and 09 remaster. This was very interesting, in that the waveforms of all three are virtually identical. Listening also confirmed this. The biggest anomaly is the relatively huge amount of reverb that has been applied to the 87 version. I believe Martin went back to the mixer tapes and used 80's 16-bit digital reverb to reconstruct some of the effects, and this has not been entirely successful. In this song's case, some of the pace, rhythm and timing has suffered. EQ wise, it is also more trebly than either the vinyl or 09.

I think the 09 stacks up to the vinyl very well indeed. It is a bit cleaner - leading edges of notes are slightly more defined - but there are no obvious EQ or loudness war nasties. In faqct the volume levels between all three are about the same. None of the editions sounds bad BAD - and I believe it would take a very high quality hi fi set up to appreciate much of the difference between even the 2 CD editions.

So my advice is - if you have only heard the Beatles on 87 CD, and have no ambition to buy a quality record deck, then provided your CD system is up to revealing it, the 2009's will recreate some of the magic that the 87's lost. If you have good copies of the records, and a quality deck, then you probably don't need the remasters. Unless of course, you have gaps in your mono collection that need plugging.

Now, if only all albums were remastered/mastered in this way...

Anonymous said...

Dogdamnjamesboy says:

The remastered "Revolver" is an awful lot better than certain others in this series. But you need to reduce the stereo image at least some 50 percent. Domestic stereo Hi-Fi systems in the 1960s (a rare commodity outside the US, incidentally) did not have today's perscribed three metres between the speakers, but rather half of that, which is what these mixes were made for, obviously. A small mixer stuck in between your CD player and pre amp can solve that easily and I strongly recommend it. You're not gonna believe how much it helps until you've tried it. I sometimes even prefer it to the mono mixes, particularly the so-called "White Album"

Anonymous said...

Can someone please clarify the difference between the stereo version of Revolver included as a bonus on the 2009 mono CD remaster and the stand-alone 2009 stereo CD remaster ?

My Vinyl Review said...

There is only one remastered stereo cd version of Revolver--and it is available either as a single disc or as part of the Stereo box set. The only discs within the Mono box set that come with stereo bonus tracks are Help! and Rubber Soul. Hope that helps.

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