Unbiased reviews of new vinyl releases, audiophile reissues, and more

Monday, September 7, 2009

First Listen: Beatles Remastered Compact Discs vs. U.K. Stereo Vinyl (Abbey Road)

Well, the day is finally almost here--9/9/09 is two days away. And if you haven't yet decided whether to buy the remastered cds, are wondering how they sound compared to your Blue Box or original U.K vinyl, or you're still waiting for newly remastered vinyl, you've come to the right place. While Myvinylreview can't make up your mind for you, we're going to try to help you over the next week with a review and comparison of a different album each day. First some stereo issues, then some monos.

Because this is first and foremost a vinyl review site, I do not plan on comparing the original issue 1987 compact discs to these remasters. Instead, I will compare them to original and reissued U.K. vinyl: Original Yellow and Black Parlophones, one-box, two-box (Blue Box era), '82 reissue Parlophone monos, and U.K. Apples.

Today, we'll start with the Beatles' last recorded effort, Abbey Road. Originally released on September 26, 1969, Abbey Road was the Beatles last recorded effort (though Let it Be was released later, it was actually recorded earlier) and is generally considered to be their album with the highest fidelity and is a perennial fan favorite.

The Beatles (1969)

For Abbey Road, I compared an original U.K. Apple (with -2/-1 matricies), a later Blue Box era U.K. reissue, and the current 2009 remaster. I chose not to compare the MFSL vinyl, which despite having dead silent vinyl, I consider to be more of a novelty listen due to its excessively bloated bass.

Although I did do some back to back comparison listening of various cuts, my primary method was repeated listening to full album sides. I have a *phono preamp with its own volume control, which allows me to closely match the phono volume level to the cd volume level. For anyone interested in the equipment I am using for these evaluations, I have a page that can be accessed on the right margin, entitled *System Profile.

remastered compact disc packaging

It can't be a huge surprise that the clear winner in this shootout was the first pressing (-2/-1) U.K Apple pressing. This record has incredibly high fidelity and detail, while at the same time possessing a full, liquid midrange that washes over the whole album, infusing vocals with character, guitars with organic crunch, and McCartney's bass with realism and presence. The bass has just enough punch to keep the drums sounding like drums, rather than some amped up version of them--but make no mistake, this record is anything but bass-shy. This is simply an incredible pressing of a fantastic album and I wouldn't change a thing about it.

But let's face it, clean first pressing U.K. copies of Abbey Road are difficult to find and are likely to run well in excess of $100 if you can find one. That leaves most with the option of a later reissue vinyl pressing or a digital version. And both the Blue Box era vinyl reissue as well as the 2009 remastered cd have their advantages.

The cd remaster is full of detail and has bass that is punchier than either the first pressing or reissue U.K. vinyl--and as with all compact discs, it is obviously devoid of any surface noise. The Blue Box vinyl has less detail and less bass than the remaster. But what it gives up in detail, clarity, and bass, the Blue Box vinyl gains in listenability and lower midrange sweetness, which allows the vocals to be delivered with bit more compexity than the sometimes uni-dimensional remaster.

The Beatles (1969)

While the use of noise reduction isn't immediately apparent on the cd remaster (some hiss can thankfully be heard on I Want You), the use of compression/limiting is apparent. The pumped up bass, which results in louder drums, also results in a wimpier guitar in the chorus of Come Together--that fuzz guitar part simply has more impact on the vinyl versions.

What does all of this mean for the cd remasters and for the upcoming vinyl versions? I can't yet make any sweeping generalizations until I have spent a bit more time with all of these remasters (including the mono box). However, based upon what I have heard from the Abbey Road remaster, I still have high hopes for the remastered vinyl.

The warm feeling I get listening to both of the vinyl versions of this album, that isn't quite there while listening to the cd, is likely due to differences in EQ, the use of compression/limiting, as well as its lower resolution. I suspect that in preparing the vinyl releases, EMI will go the way of the mono cd boxes and employ no limiting or compression in either the stereo or mono releases. Furthermore, assuming the full 24/192 digital masters that have already been prepared are used, resolution will be significantly greater than the 16/44 cds.

So what to do now? The remastered cd sounds great for listening in the car on on an Ipod. It sounds very, very good on my home reference system. For anyone fortunate enough to have the first U.K. pressing, hold onto it. You won't have to make a single sonic compromise. For those who don't, you'll have to decide whether you want the punch and clarity of the cd remaster, or the warmth and midrange character of the Blue Box vinyl. Or, for around $15 each, you could just have them both.

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

Related: First Listen: The Beatles MONO Box Set (The White Album) 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)


Tim (Dream Operator) said...

Nice review. Having compared the remastered CD with a vinyl rip of a Japanese Toshiba Pro-Use LP, I agree about your points on noise reduction and compression/limiting.

Looking forward to your other reviews of the remastered CDs as well as the new vinyl when it comes out.



Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Let me take you down....

Late one night, not very long ago, I had a dream that the Beatles were still among us, making us laugh and sing in the same way they did when they were the undisputed Princes of the Planet Earth all those years ago. That's what was so wonderful about the Fab Four: they not only sang like the scruffy angels they were, but they were so damned funny! All one has to do is view the films "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help" and you're once again reminded that they were a great comedy team - one of the greatest. When I awoke from that dream - thinking it had been real - the blunt realization that the Beatles are gone forever was too depressing to even contemplate.

In 1995, the night the video "Free As a Bird" premiered on national television (the first "new" Beatles song in over a quarter of a century), I watched it with a young woman who was born in 1970, the year they broke up. Hearing them sing together again - Paul and George sounding strong and clear; John, by that time long dead, his voice transferred from an old and faded cassette tape, sounding as if he were singing from far, far away - was a very moving experience. When she noticed my reaction, she laughed and said, "Oh, Tom! What's the big deal"? I told her that no one who didn't live through that turbulent era, could possibly understand what that band meant to their troubled generation.

With our love
We could save the world
If they only knew....


Tom Degan
Goshen, NY.

volleyguy said...

I have Rubber Soul and I think it is awful! The music gone yes you can hear everything and very loudly but this for sure is not music. My Blue box Rubber Soul blows it away! I just want to turn this mess off.

Yo Mama said...

"...I can't yet make any sweeping generalizations..."

You’re entire blog is a compendium of sweeping generalizations! Describing mid-ranges and using terms such as organic crunch and uni-dimensional conjure your dissatisfied dismissal in meaningless abandon. Be concrete! Gone are the clipped peaks of Lennon’s final scream in “I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and annoying is the presence of the high pitch ring for the entirety of “Come Together”. Hear McCartney chuckle while delivering the lyric of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in absolute clarity! Pin-point the subtle details that you haven’t detected before.
I agree with your assessment that this album is indeed “creamy”!

Fred Olbrecht said...

And just what is supposed to be the point of your review when you don't even specify whether it's the mono or stereo remastered CD's you're comparing the vinyl to?

My Vinyl Review said...

Abbey Road was never released in mono on any format--only stereo.

joe said...

How can I tell which vinly version I have?

EDSON MELO. said...

Boa tarde, Beatles, á maior banda de todos os tempos, eu adoro suas musicas, á qualidade musical deles é impressionante, musicas de 40 anos atras, possuem uma sonoridade fantastica, parece que foram gravadas onteém.
Um abraço.

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