Inside The Making Of The Beatles Remastered Catalog
I've come to Electric Lady Studios in New York City for - what? Yet another remastering of the Jimi Hendrix catalog? Actually, that's coming next year (I kid you not). But the subject at hand, after a 22-year wait, is the Beatles making only their second appearance on CD. And it's time for a first listen to a handful of songs and a chat with some members of the remastering team.
Over the past 4 years, that team has worked at Abbey Road Studios to transfer (and sometimes repair) the Beatles' original recordings at 192 kHz/24 bits. And because of the size of the project - the entire catalog, both mono and stereo - it really did take a team. Led by project coordinator Allan Rouse, it included recording engineers Guy Massey, Paul Hicks, and Sam Okell; audio restoration engineer Simon Gibson, and mastering engineers Steve Rooke and Sean Magee. Each has had years of experience working on-staff at Abbey Road. Some have since gone freelance; others are still there. All have spent a good portion of their professional lives safeguarding the sound of the Beatles.
Personally, I haven't really minded the 22-year wait. I always prefer a catalog to be handled judiciously, in moderation. But after all these years, I do have questions. And here at Electric Lady, I'm sitting in a control room with Rouse and Massey. As the project's senior recording engineer, Massey was in charge of the stereo remasters. A few weeks later, I will call London to speak with Hicks, who was in charge of the mono remasters.
Okay, Messrs. R. and H. and M. - time to assure the public!
Sound + Vision: The press release mentions some of the "state-of-the-art recording technology" used for transferring the original recordings, such as a Pro Tools workstation and a Prism A/D converter. Why did you choose the Prism?
Massey: Abbey Road uses that converter in its present systems: the Prism Sound ADA-8XR. We were very happy with it.
Sound + Vision: What about the "vintage studio equipment" that was also used?
Shown preparing for the Our World live-TV broadcast of "All You Need Is Love" in 1967 are (from left) manager Brian Epstein, producer George Martin, and engineer Geoff Emerick.
Massey: The Studer A80 tape machine was the main piece of vintage gear.
Rouse: And the EQ was from an old EMI console. In addition, we tried out valves - sorry, tubes - and yes, they provided that warmth. But ultimately, in terms of noise levels and other things, for the stereo remastering . . .
You've got to remember: The recordings are 40 years old, so you've got fans of them for 40 years. But also, this is a remaster, and what we're attempting to do is hopefully keep the recordings going for another 10, 15, 20 years, until they're remastered again.
In the meantime, we were actually considering, what with the onset of The Beatles: Rock Band, if all these kids go out and buy that videogame - or if their parents go out and buy it for them, which is more likely, because the parents want to play it, too, and then the kids start to play it and think, 'What else has this band done?' - we wanted to improve the recordings at least to an extent that helps them sound better, perhaps, for the 21st century. I suppose you could argue that you should remaster them twice: once for the people from the '60s, and again for the new generation.
Then there's mono vs. stereo. I grew up with the Beatles, yet I have no huge desire to listen to mono; I prefer stereo. I'm well aware of the history, of when the Beatles sat in the studio and made their decisions. They were nearly never in the studio for the stereo mixes. But that doesn't mean those stereo mixes aren't . . .
Everybody says that Sgt. Pepper in mono is it. But for me, it's not. It's stereo for me. Everybody has their own different views about the monos and the stereos. But primarily, the monos are going to be for those people who grew up during that period of time and who recognize that, strictly speaking, those are the "real" masters.
Sound + Vision: As for the American capitol "masters," I won't go there . . .
Rouse: I won't say anything about those.
Sound + Vision: No baking of the original multitrack tapes was necessary?
Massey: No. Some of the leader tape was coming apart; the glue had dried. But there were no problems at all with the actual oxide. The tapes have really been looked after.
Sound + Vision: So all of the music we're hearing is from the original tapes?