The Beatles’ acclaimed original studio album remasters, released on CD in
2009, make their long-awaited stereo vinyl debut Manufactured on 180-gram,
audiophile quality vinyl with replicated artwork, the 14 albums return to
their original glory with details including the poster in The Beatles (The
White Album), the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band’s cut-outs, and special
inner bags for some of the titles The titles include The Beatles’ 12 original
UK albums, first released between 1963 and 1970, the US-originated Magical
Mystery Tour, now part of the group’s core catalogue, and Past Masters,
Volumes One & Two, first released individually in 1988, featuring non-album
A-sides and B-sides, EP tracks and rarities. With this release, The Beatles’
first four albums make their North American stereo vinyl debuts There has
always been demand for The Beatles’ albums on vinyl. Indeed, 2011’s best-
selling vinyl LP in the United States was Abbey Road. Following the success of
The Beatles’ acclaimed, GRAMMY Award-winning 2009 CD remasters, it was decided
that the sound experts at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios should create new versions
of The Beatles’ vinyl LPs. The project demanded the same meticulous approach
taken for the CD releases, and the brief was a simple one: cut the digital
remasters to vinyl with an absolute minimum of compromise to the sound.
However, the process involved to do that was far from simple The first stage
in transferring the sound of a master recording to vinyl is the creation of a
disc to be used during vinyl manufacture. There were two options to consider.
A Direct Metal Master (DMM), developed in the late seventies, allows sound to
be cut directly into a stainless steel disc coated with a hard copper alloy.
The older, alternative method is to cut the sound into the soft lacquer
coating on a nickel disc – the first of several steps leading to the
production of a stamper to press the vinyl A ‘blind’ listening test was
arranged to choose between a ‘lacquer’ or ‘copper’ cut. Using both methods, A
Hard Day’s Night was pressed with ten seconds of silence at the beginning and
end of each side. This allowed not only the reproduction of the music to be
assessed, but also the noise made by the vinyl itself. After much discussion,
two factors swung the decision towards using the lacquer process. First, it
was judged to create a warmer sound than a DMM. Secondly, there was a
practical advantage of having ‘blank’ discs of a consistent quality when
cutting lacquers The next step was to use the Neumann VMS80 cutting lathe at
Abbey Road. Following thorough mechanical and electrical tests to ensure it
was operating in peak condition, engineer Sean Magee cut the LPs in
chronological release order. He used the original 24-bit remasters rather than
the 16-bit versions that were required for CD production. It was also decided
to use the remasters that had not undergone ‘limiting’ – a procedure to
increase the sound level, which is deemed necessary for most current pop CDs
Having made initial test cuts, Magee pinpointed any sound problems that can
occur during playback of vinyl records. To rectify them, changes were made to
the remasters with a Digital Audio Workstation. For example, each vinyl album
was listened to for any ‘sibilant episodes’ – vocal distortion that can occur
on consonant sounds such as S and T. These were corrected by reducing the
level in the very small portion of sound causing the undesired effect.
Similarly, any likelihood of ‘inner-groove distortion’ was addressed. As the
stylus approaches the centre of the record, it is liable to track the groove
less accurately. This can affect the high-middle frequencies, producing a
‘mushy’ sound particularly noticeable on vocals. Using what Magee has
described as ‘surgical EQ,’ problem frequencies were identified and reduced in
level to compensate for this The last phase of the vinyl mastering process
began with the arrival of the first batches of test pressings made from master
lacquers that had been sent to the two pressing plant factories. Stringent
quality tests identified any noise or click appearing on more than one test
pressing in the same place. If this happened, it was clear that the undesired
sounds had been introduced either during the cutting or the pressing stage and
so the test records were rejected. In the quest to achieve the highest quality
possible, the Abbey Road team worked closely with the pressing factories and
the manufacturers of the lacquer and cutting styli An additional and unusual
challenge was to ensure the proper playback of the sounds embedded in the
‘lock-groove’ at the end of side two of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Requiring a combination of good timing and luck, it had always been a lengthy
and costly process to make it work properly. In fact, it was so tricky, it had
never been attempted for American pressings of the LP. Naturally, Sean Magee
and the team perfected this and the garbled message is heard as originally
intended on the remastered Sgt. Pepper LP.
- Vinyl (November 13, 2012)
- Original Release Date: November 13, 2012
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: Original recording remastered
- Label: EMI
- #13 in Rock (CDs & Vinyl)
- #23 in Pop (CDs & Vinyl)
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