The remastered Beatles catalog arrives on 180-gram vinyl in record stores tomorow (today in the U.K.). While engineers didn't have to spend as much time on them as they did on the remastered CDs, they ran into tricky problems that required weeks of work to solve. One involved the letter "s."
It seems an "s" on LP is "raspy and distorted," says Sean Magee, mastering engineer for Abbey Road, the band's legendary studio. Magee and his team pored through Rubber Soul, Revolver and the other classics to reduce the volume of almost every "s." "A good example is 'She Said She Said,'" he says. "It's time-consuming, but it's the best thing to do – attention to detail, and being as fastidious as you can."
After years of methodical sound-engineering, the Beatles' albums finally came out in remastered form on CD in September 2009. Out this week are the LP versions of all 14 remastered albums, including the 12 definitive versions originally released in the U.K., as well as Magical Mystery Tour, which first came out in the U.S., and the more recent Past Masters Volumes One & Two. In addition, the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP reissue will include the colorful cutouts from the original release, and The White Album will contain the iconic poster with photos and lyrics. Also available: a limited-edition box set containing all the albums, as well as a 252-page book.
"These were never going to be released until they were ready," Magee says. "Nowadays you kind of have to cut things as fast as you possibly can, because the meter's running [in the studio]. This job was a pleasure, because we didn't have that."
Another problem for Magee and Abbey Road's engineers involved the endlessly repeating laughter, gibberish and high-pitched noises at the end of Sgt. Pepper (John Lennon intended the track to irritate listeners' dogs). Early British LP releases of Sgt. Pepper contained these noises on a locked groove at the end of the record; while that effect was relatively easy to recreate on CD, it was incredibly difficult to reproduce on the new vinyl.
"It's very trial-and-error to work out when to push the button," Magee says. "If it's a 25-minute side, it takes me 25 minutes to find out if that works. The stereo took me 15 times to get that right, and about 13 times for the mono."
The new LPs will be based on the stereo mixes. At some point next year, Abbey Road plans mono LP versions of early Beatles albums such as Please Please Me and Beatles for Sale. Under what conditions should Beatles fans listen to the new releases?
"Usually sitting down, I think," Magee says. "In a comfortable position. With a beverage."