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THE BEATLES IN MONO LP BOX SET, 2014

 

 

MONO MASTERS

 

 

A new 'The Beatles In Mono' LP box set is due, as well as individual mono LPs. It's an all-analogue release for enthusiasts – derived from the original master tapes. Noel Keywood explains all.

 

We are about to be treated to another set of Beatles album releases. I’m not going to catalogue the many that have gone before, so much as describe in fine detail for Beatles aficionados – and the rest of us! – the thinking behind this new release of a box set, as well as individual albums.
    This release is just about the ultimate in authenticity, insofar as any re-master can be. I visited Abbey Road Studios and spoke to mastering engineer Sean Magee to find out more.
    The Beatles music was first released on LP, so this LP box set is the original music delivery format – unlike recent CD re-releases for example, including a 2009 mono CD box set.
    Mono was the dominant recording method at the time of 'Please Please Me', their first LP, a 1963 UK release. At that time and for some time after, Beatles songs were mixed for mono: the final master tape was mono. To produce new-fangled stereo required a different mix down and this was done hastily after the mono mix because at that time stereo was a small market commercially.
    So the mono mix was the primary source into which most artistic effort had been put on early LPs; stereo was secondary. This new LP set is mono, referring back to notes made by Harry Moss for the original mono mix-down. The music on these LPs is therefore as the original artists and engineers intended. Re-mastered mono LPs have not been released before.

The Beatles in Mono LPs

 

The Beatles in Mono 2014 box set. It is lavishly produced and contains a large book. Each LP comes in a protective transparent plastic re-sealable sleeve. Let it Be and Abbey Road are not in this set, because they were mixed in stereo.


    A set of re-mastered stereo LPs were released in 2011. There were concerns from Beatles enthusiasts –  especially the USA where re-mastering historical back catalogue is an art form bordering on religion – that these stereos were derived from a 24/192 digital archive master recording made back in 2005. The taint of digital was smelt and rejected.



    To be authentically valuable re-masters, the new, definitive mono LPs had to be derived from the original analogue master tapes – and that’s what this new box set does. Yes, they got out the master tapes and re-ran them for these LPs – a heady thought. Also a dangerous one – what if an old tape breaks, sheds its oxide or whatever? Items like this are national treasures; Abbey Road is a listed building by the way (but the zebra crossing is not yet listed!).
    The new LPs are, therefore, about as close to the originals, or even closer, than any LPs before.
    How can they be closer than before? Because the replay signal chain is technically better and the final LPs are stamped into better vinyl from new stampers. What you get now, then, is of higher basic quality than was available in 1963.
    Intriguingly, because the music on these LPs has not been digitally processed it also has not been cleaned up: buyers get a ‘warts-and-all’ version as close to the masters as possible. This is not to say the LPs are unequalised from the master tapes; they have been equalised following the original studio notes and against copies of the digital masters, so the sound balance has not been altered.

 

Abbey Road Studios

 

Abbey Road Studios, London NW8, where The Beatles early albums were produced. Paul McCartney still owns a house close by, in St John's Wood.

Below is Studio 2 where they recorded.

 

Abbey Road Studio 2

 

How Abbey Road and Universal got to decide upon such an audiophile release is fascinating. In response to enthusiasts' insistence that digital could not come into it, Sean Magee re-cut 'Please Please Me' from the original analogue master tape to a lacquer acetate (not a metal master) just before Christmas 2012, using the Studer A80 tape recorder and Neumann VMS80 lathe with SX-74 cutter head seen in our pictures. The audio was not passed down a digital delay line to allow the lathe to adjust groove spacing; instead a 900mS pre-read head on the Studer was used to derive this control signal. What was cut into the acetate was pure analogue.

 

Studer A80 Mono

The Studer A80 tape recorder with mono replay head used to re-run the mix-down master tapes. Sean Magee fingers a specially fitted manual azimuth adjustment control to ensure the replay head aligns with the tape's recorded azimuth.



    After Christmas 2012 Jeff Jones from Apple Corp listened and was impressed by the improvement in dynamics the new cut gave compared to earlier LPs.
    Sean Magee told me this cut “had a life to it” that impressed all those who heard it. So the decision was made to go ahead with a new set of mono LPs, the ones I am talking about here.

 

Sean Magee at Abbey Road 2014

 

At left of cutting engineer Sean Magee is the Neumann VMS80 lathe with SX-74 cutter head, used to cut the latest mono LPs. In front is the mixing desk and behind him a B&W 800D studio monitor.


    In most cases the original tapes were used but 'Please Please Me' was starting to shed oxide so a new analogue ‘transfer master’ had to be made for safety’s sake. A new tape was also made to compile the two 'Magical Mystery Tour' EPs and Mono Masters, because no LP masters for these titles existed. Magical Mystery Tour has only appeared on CD as an album in 2009, and Mono Masters was also created in 2009 for the mono CD box set; neither has been on vinyl before in this format.
    From these tapes and the originals, audio from the A80 was run through the mixing desk you can see in our studio shots. Equalisation was applied in real-time as the tapes ran, as done in the past. The signal was then cut to an acetate; Sean said they had not heard a metal master that sounded as natural as an acetate and, in any case, a DMM would destroy the authenticity of this release.
    And the LPs themselves? They are made by Optimal Media, based in Robel, in what was once East Germany (http://www.optimal-media.com/en/press/vinyl). Sean told me they produced a consistently high quality product – difficult with the LP where stampers become damaged as they wear out and vinyl quality can vary.

 

Please Please Me mono 2014

 

LP production at Optimal Media, Robel, Germany. Clean conditions are used to avoid dirt and finger marks.

 

Magical Mystery Tour mono 2014

 


    The vinyl used is virgin, not re-cycled, and the LPs are 180gms, with a lip, similar to the originals. Sean assured me the centre hole is always well aligned – so no ‘swingers’ – and the LP is flat, not dished, a problem caused by differential cooling when the LP is taken prematurely from the press. The sleeves and covers are identical to the originals; Optimal Media even used original folding machines!
   

A release date has been set as September 2014. A box set costing £288 and individual LPs will be made available. For more information go HERE. We will be reviewing this new box set in our forthcoming October 2014 issue.  Early review HERE.

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The information in this article comes directly from Universal Music and Abbey Road studios.  All facts have been checked by them for accuracy, so the article is an accurate and reliable record.

 

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