Sean Magee, who worked as remastering engineer on the new Beatles remastered stereo vinyl box set that comes into U.S. and Canadian and Canada stores on Tuesday (and Monday in the UK , Japan and Germany), told Beatles Examiner in a phone interview that there is a big difference between this set and the remastered CDs that came out in 2009. The vinyl set doesn’t have the audio limits that the CDs did.
“These are the 24-bit ones. They haven’t been truncated down to 16 like the CD ones. It’s one stage before the CD master is made,” he said.
The Abbey Road engineers began working on the vinyl remasters in October, 2009, he says, right after the release of the remastered CDs. From the beginning, the challenge was how to do the best way. He said they looked at various possibilities, including going back to square one, but finally decided to use the tapes as remastered in 2009.
“To recreate all the EQ changes and fixes and stuff that we did for the remasters would take a considerable amount of time, like a year or so just to get back to the state or so we were already in. It was considered impractical to do that,” he said. “So having spent 4½ years remastering the project, cleaning everything up, getting everything as I wanted it, we decided that that was the best course.”
What they didn’t do was use the same masters used for the CDs, which had limits on the audio.
“We didn’t use the limited ones because limiting was a requirement for CD, really, to get the level up to some sort of commercial level. So we went for the unlimited 24 bit remasters,” he said.
The first stage required the creation of a disc to be used during vinyl manufacture. It was decided to use the older, alternative method to cut the sound into the soft lacquer coating on a nickel disc. The next step was to use the Neumann VMS80 cutting lathe at Abbey Road. Magee then cut the LPs in chronological release order using those 24-bit remasters rather than the 16-bit ones for the CDs and without the limiting required for CD production.
To put it more simply, he said, “We went back to the basic tracks for the basic albums, took the limiting off and kept them at the highest bit that that were there, unadulterated, if you like and with all the mastering fixes.”
And he says he’s very pleased with the results.
“As vinyl records, they sound great. They don’t sound anything like a CD. You put them both together and they give a very good account.”
He added, “I don’t like comparing the vinyl and the CDs. They’re different media and one’s been limited and one hasn’t. I think the limited ones did very well for CD and is right and proper that they were done like that. But for vinyl, it wasn’t the thing to do.”
He says the stereo vinyl remasters are even closer to the original sound the Beatles intended than the CD remasters were.
“I think with these vinyls you’re getting something closer to the original master tapes, the sound that they wanted. Less compromises have been made. You make a lot of compromises when cutting records to get them nice and loud. And with a new record, you have to get the record as loud as possible so it stands out in a bunch. We didn’t. These have been out for 40, 50 years and it wasn’t necessary to do that. What was necessary was to get the remasters onto vinyl with the least amount of compromise. So that meant if we can keep the stereo nice and wide and have them 2 or 3 db quieter, well then that’s what we did.”
He confirmed that a mono vinyl box set will be coming in 2013, though no target date has been set. And through we tried to get any hints possible about other releases in the works, he said he didn’t have any news about any other projects to give.
Did he get any direct feedback from the Beatles on the new vinyl remasters?
“No. What usually happens with a Beatles project is that when we were done and were happy with everything, we say it’s done and they’ll check it out.”
But, he added, “when you don’t hear anything, that’s a good thing.”
(Note: Capitol Records and EMI are sponsoring promotional events in the U.S., including double decker shop buses in New York and Los Angeles and listening events around the country.
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