Abbey Road Studio's Sean Magee Talks About Mastering The Beatles LP Box

I spoke today with Sean Magee about the just released Beatles LP box set. Magee's resume is impressive. He's cut both lacquers and DMM and does a great deal of AAA cutting for Pure Pleasure among other labels. Magee produced the lacquers from which the LPs were sourced. The first interesting thing I learned was that the lacquers were cut from 44.1k/24 bit masters not 96K/24 bit masters as I'd originally been told.

The 192/24 bit transfers were done flat to produce an archival copy of the tapes and then those files were reduced to 44.1k/24 bit files for final mastering. The final EQ masters were then truncated to 16 bits for the CD box set and ..... well instead of me telling you all of this, why not listen to the entire interview? It's here as an MP3 file. I was recording to Iphone and unfortunately the phone ran out of memory so the interview ends abruptly but it was nearly over at that point anyway.

Vinyl copies available upon request:

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Dpoggenburg's picture
thanks for that!

Fascinating to hear from a guy who's actually directly involved.

While conceptually I'm probably part of large contingent who will be sorry to hear these weren't cut from 192, 96, or even 48khz files, etc etc, I've been very impressed with the sound of the USB stick (other than drop outs on various songs that, based on web comments, I've discovered consistently plague that particular product).

PLUS, the limited vinyl that has come out (RSD singles and the recent MMT deluxe box with the Blu Ray movie and the recreated EP), has sounded pretty good, so, we shall hear for ourselves and decide...

4insure's picture
I posted this same

I posted this same information months ago, but nobody cared. Oh well, I'll just be over here writing down useful information and throwing it down a storm sewer. calculator

marmaduke's picture
Et tu Bit Masters?

Not able to listen to the full interview, but the revalation of lower master bit rates has me less concerned about getting the box of records out of the slip case intact, or whether Rainbo gave us quiet pressings than checking the return policy of my etailer.

The fact that quite detailed descriptions of this set were available on many vendor sites during the "Get a first pressing frenzy; order now hoopla" and now upon release and purchase these detailed descriptions are becoming suspect or outright refuted?!

Certainly takes the bloom off the rose for me.

Good chance these are going back unopened.

Let's hope within the 30 day return period my apprehensions prove unfounded.

Smafdy Assmilk's picture
I could've saved you all a lot of time and effort...

I posted this same information months ago, but nobody cared. Oh well, I'll just be over here writing down useful information and throwing it down a storm sewer.

marmaduke's picture
You can lead a horse to water.....

Yes ideedy do you did call into question the early info on this set and I took note. 

However shortly after the 'official' EMI release info seemed to me to refute your cautions, and I gave the credibility to the owner of the masters themselves failing to note that the release was likely generated by the sales and marketing department.

Well it would not be the first time a reissue simply confirmed the superiority of previous iterations.

Just ask the folks who purchased the most recent Exiles on Mainstreet remaster!

In fairness I have not listened to any of the new versions of the Beatle's albums, but my expectations of their fidelity are heading down hill fast to lessen the apparent disappointment ahead.

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.........

BarakaPDub's picture
Thanks For Posting Your Phone Interview

Mr. Fremer,

Thanks for posting this interview.  I found it to be very educational but I am curious what some of the other mastering engineers would say about the tips getting too hot around 16 kHz.   Have you heard statements like this before?  I guess this is somewhat lathe dependent and if they can keep the tip actively cooled without compromising the cutting process. 

Also, I am glad you plugged QRP.   I am disappointed to hear they only audtioned two pressing plants.   Maybe you can start working as a consultant to the record companies or get some PR pay from QRP smiley

Michael Fremer's picture
16kHz "tips"

Frankly that made little sense to me. I felt I'd let Sean speak his mind and state his claims. However, I have heard from a few mastering engineers who dispute what he said. I will follow up...

gubarenko's picture
Damn

Heard rumors, did not believe in them.

WHy use 44/24bits? So we have same quality as USB set. Good that i've ordered only Abbey Road and Let It Be.

 

then let's wait 3-5 years till EMI will license it to someone like MoFi and we'll have normal Beatles on vinyl.

Michael Fremer's picture
USB Shtick

Yes, these LPs are at the same resolution as the USB stick files. They sound damn good! The only difference is Magee's claim that dynamic compression was applied to both the stick and CD versions while none was applied to the LPs.

The other variable is the quality of your DAC versus Abbey Road's. 

With the decision to use the 44.1k/24 bit 'work files' for the LP edition comes the feeling that the vinyl was more a marketing thing than a desire to give vinyl fans the real goods, though once that decision was made, the follow through on the box set's quality appears high.

When I think of the sonic differences between the Rhino box set mastered from truly high resolution files and Analog Productions' recent double 45s cut from the tapes AAA I'm fairly certain Beatles reissues can yield far better sonic results than we're getting here.

I thought the Rhino box sounded very good until I heard the AAA LPs. Will we ever get another pass at the original tapes? That depends on EMI's financial state, it's need for cash and the wishes of Apple Records, the surviving Beatles and those of the late Beatles' estates.

I'll publish what I'm hearing as soon as I've gone through the entire set....

usernaim250's picture
It differs from the USB set

It differs from the USB set in that it is not dynamically limited.

Bigrasshopper's picture
Mp3 ?

I've been reading from this site on my ipad so mabey I'm missing some flash link, I don't see a link to the interview.  Is there some other way to hear it?  Help !  Are you going to transcribe it for your readers. Can someone  say where the Euro pressing where made?     I have to say, the fact that these are 44.1 files really takes the wind out of my sails.  Was Sean asked why?  I really can't get my head around why a a vinyl album wouldn't  be made from a higher sampled down rate.  Did Sean make that call.  It's like these guys are completely cut off from from high end audio, not to mention simple technical rationality.

How about musicality?  Do they not understand that vinyl is more capable.   Can anyone penetrate the thought process of those making that decision.  That specification imposes limitations that either they do not care to admit or are somehow unable to appreciate.  Where is the disconnect?  Sean had to know that what he was mastering was inferior to what could easily could have even laid down. I feel that Sean is the target that has been put out there, he is responsible, he should tell us why he feels justified in in his product.  Some one needs to  have a follow up conversation when the review is complete.  I expect one will be deserved.

    I would be very surprised if Micheal can find these to be spacious and three dimensional.  I'm  away and cannot listen on my system, I could run up to Listen Up in Albuquerque and check out an album or two there, but their turn table is strictly entry level.  Preamp - middling, amps better, speakers - nice.  But then I might have trouble returning the box.   I would certainly check Music Directs return policy specifically regarding this box before I open it.  Would someone with a decent system be willing to comment on the sound at this website.  Would that be deemed preemptive?  I hope not.  I need a solid sound impression in 30 days or less. 

These may sound OK, better than the CDs, but I'm confident ( without hearing ) that an opportunity has been needlessly wasted.  Unless this was done strategically, inorder to offer the mono set at higher resolution.  Speaking of the mono set, I am not clear from Micheals previous comment about stereo albums in the mono set.

Of course their are perfectly legitimate reasons to keep this set, but my high hopes have moved on down the road a little further.  I like long and winding roads, but mostly when I'm the one in the drivers seat.

 

 

 

MusicNut612's picture
Sound nice to me but...

I don't have a super setup like Mr. Fremer or I'm sure a lot of people on here, but I think they sound pretty damn nice. Although for my problems with Abbey Road pressing I'm pretty damn happy. I mean if you're expecting something like the recent The Doors set, look elsewhere. But taking into fact the non the less ideal practices that went into making these there great. I'm using a Modded Technics 1210M5G, Sumiko headshell with a Dynavector 10x5 attached going into a  modded Jolida JD9. Use a Marantz SR8000 (A/V not vintage model) going out to a pair of Klipsch RF-42 II. Like I said not the most impressive setup but I feel far from what the general listening public has and I'm more than happy with them.

Prancing Horse's picture
It was very easy to hear you

It was very easy to hear you were immensely disappointed to hear these were cut from the evil numbers 44.1. You soldiered on with the interview none the less.

It was also very easy to hear you were VERY surprised they used that utterly mediocre Benchmark DAC1 in the cutting room.

I agree with the other poster, this is a massive excercise in fuitlity. It is for guys who want to fondle Vinyl. Too bad. Hmm...released just in time for Xmas.

Lastly, the compression on the CDs was inconsequential. I have the uncompressed Band On the Run and McCartney i, and they have to be cranked up 2/3 on the preamp volume knob to sing at all. Compression IS rock n roll. It is a necessary tool.  But like all tools, it has been over used by morons like the idiots who did the last batch of Stones remasters.

zamazeev's picture
Must we suppose those LP analog?

I really do not quite understand why unciper digital record to LP?

What is the point? :-)

Please, let me know.

Martin's picture
What is the point???

Why on earth do vinyl records at 44.1/24?

This is nuts. No, it's more than nuts, for a catalog like the Beatles, it's major league stupidity.

I can go onto HD tracks and download 96/24 or 192/24 files. That's if I want digital.

For a catalog like the Beatles, if I buy vinyl, I expect AAA analog.
Failing AAA analog, I have a reasonable expectation of the highest possible digital resolution and fidelity. Not low- resolution files pressed to vinyl.

Here, there was huge opportunity; 
Reissue the Beatles catalog in full glory. Using modern mastering techniques, to even get the reissues sounding better than the originals as we've seen with some recent Elvis, Sinatra and others.

Result;
Total Fuck up.

zamazeev's picture
Re: What is the point???

Stupidity and fuck up - maybe too strong words from Martin. Guys are making business - and it is not our matter.

But the question - why Mike agreed to review digital LP? I think he should reject this offer.  He looks the last guy to cheat people and his web site is called analogplanet.com .

Michael Fremer's picture
Why bother?

The box needs to be reviewed, like it or not. I'm in the process and will give it a fair hearing though conceptually it bothers me as much as it does almost everyone into vinyl.

Dennis Cooke's picture
You Must Try and You Will Hear!

I have both the LP Box set and the USB as well as the CD's in Mono and Stereo. I also have various pressings of the individual albums and I have found that these masters sound the best I have ever heard the Beatles. I hope some day they would issue the catalog on Blu-Ray Audio in full resolution.

My only complaint  would be the quality of the pressings should have been better. I haven’t been able to listen to all the albums but I have already found issues with three.  With the Beatles, Let it Be and Rubber Soul all have issues with surface noise.

I have the US pressed box.

My hope is the Quality would be their choice for the run on the Mono release.   

Smafdy Assmilk's picture
Wait, they used a Benchmark

Wait, they used a Benchmark DAC1? Really!?! Was their Alesis Masterlink being used in another room? Why not just use the headphone output of their laptop? 

The Benchmark DAC1 is sufficient at best.

Isn't Abbey Road advertised on Prism's website? Sould they not have loaned them a converter for these LPs? Seems like a pretty crappy endorsement deal to me.

usernaim250's picture
Listen to the interview.

Listen to the interview.  They chose the Benchmark in preference to the Prism (and presumably several other big boys).  They did so with B&W 800D monitors.  He doesn't say this but most likely they did the testing blind.  They thought the Benchmark was superior. 

deckeda's picture
Mr. Magee and sample rates

Thanks for interviewing and posting this, Michael, and thanks for Mr. Magee for his participation throughout. He sounds like quite a decent bloke.

I can't rectify Mr. Magee's assertion that his cutter head couldn't very well handle frequencies higher that about 16k with all the evidence in our collections that reveal many LPs were cut decades ago with frequencies much higher than 16k. Hell, for CD4 wasn't a 50kHz or so bias tone mandatory? Perhaps he forgot to connect the liquid cooling's plumbing line. (I jest, but you get my point.)

The other issue he raises about not needing to retain higher primary frequencies completely ignores the world of musical harmonics and more importantly how filters work in a DAC, among other things.

In other words it's commonly accepted today you don't use higher sampling rates to merely capture frequency response. You do so to help ensure what's there is captured faithfully.

But look on the bright side? With today's digital releases no one needs a better DAC than that that $1000 Benchmark.

Prancing Horse's picture
It seems to me this was

It seems to me this was project thought up by the marketing department and the bean counters.

This was mailed in. Talk about putting in as little effort as possible..a Benchmark???

They could have EASILY cut these starting with the 192 Khz flat archives then doing what ever they needed to do. There is no wear and tear on digital files.

Essentially these are mastered from a CD.

If they did this correctly, a la Chad Kassem etc, this box would have been around two grand. The only way to make this somewhat "affordable" was put the minimum amount of effort in.

Michael Fremer's picture
Benchmark Supreme

I admire your cynicism. I agree that Sean was making claims with which I cannot agree and I will follow up with questions for him. For the purpose of this interview I chose to let him state his case rather than turn it into a debate.

Prancing Horse's picture
You absolutely did the right

You absolutely did the right thing. Sean did the interview out of good will and he was under no obligation to talk to you. I don't think anyone thought you should have debated him. You did really well.

I don't think he was making "claims" in regards to the Benchmark or 44.1 khz..those are facts. What is debatable I guess are some of theorhetical technial claims.

Again, well done. Sean should not be a target here. I am sure he did what was decided by those higher up.

dbowker3d's picture
Un-Believably Short Sighted

OK granted I've invested more in my analogue front-end than my digital, so these LPs would be superior in that sense. And maybe the re-mastering was better than what was easily available. But still! This is the dumbest, most short-sighted way to release a flagship project I've ever heard. Dump a CD onto a record: brilliant idea guys.

And how did it get that far anyway? Wasn't there anyone to ask the obvious questions? And why was there no-one listening?

saronian's picture
Thanks to Michael for

Thanks to Michael for extracting the information and to Sean for being forthcoming. A dissapointment for fans everywhere and another lost opportunity.

Dpoggenburg's picture
24 Bits

I'm no expert and won't try to argue the digits (other than most agree the higher the sampling rate, the better), but there's a VERY important comment made during the interview when Michael suggests that the bit length at 24 bits makes a critical difference in the sonic outcome.

My experience with the Beatles USB stick, which is 44.1/24 was that it sounded demonstrably better than the CDs. My limited listening to some of the LPs last night (both sides of AHDN, Side 2 of Pepper and Side 2 of MMT, Side 1 of Let it Be), correlated here, principally with instrumental textures. The kick drum on Two of Us SOUNDS more like a kick drum here, the piano on When I'm Sixty Four just sounds more like a piano, etc etc.

I'll get around to comparing the new set with my original UK pressings (plus other countries' pressing) to sort out which sounds best to my ears, and while this was either a missed opportunity or a business decision to be able to re-sell the catalogue again at 96/24 or 192/24, my guess is this collection sounds a hell of a lot better than what most people have in hand (no noise issues on the four lps I've played - not DEAD quiet like from Pallas or Quality Records, but qualifying so far as well-pressed).

Michael Fremer's picture
You Nailed It

I think you've written the most even-handed, well-informed post so far published here. I am certain that these reissues sound better than Capitol originals in most cases. I have only played some of this box so far and I agree about the pressing quality. It's pretty good but not as good as Pallas, RTI or QRP.

Goochified1's picture
Beatles 2012 Stereo Vinyl - Yes & No

Yes: Beatles For Sale and A Hard Day's Night (US pressings) sound GREAT, with next to no surface noise. Only audio ding: "When I Get Home" suffers a brief right channel volume dip about 1:00 before the end. I have no other vinyl pressing to compare this to, so not sure if this is the pressing or the actual tape. (I don't remember that from the 2009 CD.) Oh, and the gatefold of BFS does not open the way it originally did (where you had to take out the record from inside the gatefold).

No: With The Beatles (US pressing) has a real bad sucking/pumping thing happening throughout most of side 2. The volume goes away about every revolution from the second song all the way through to somewhere in the sixth song. Haven't listened to Magical Mystery Tour yet, but the good news is that it DOES come with the book (and it's printed on thick stock too), but it's not glued or stapled to the spine like the original 1967 issue. That being said, at least it'll never tear away!

Awaiting my box set to see if the US box set uses the same US pressings as the individual LPs, or whether all box sets across the globe use the same pressing from somewhere else. (I ordered mine from Elusive Disc and it comes tomorrow!)

Martin's picture
You're a brave man, Mr. Magee

Going online with Michael Fremer, consenting to have your words posted on the web. Respect.
I don't think there would be many others prepared to do that with an issue like this.

I've been wondering what it was like for Mr. Magee, mastering and cutting at 44.1/24, knowing there is 192/24 he could - I assume - be cutting from.
I'm guessing with 192/24 the originals would almost certainly have been bettered. Given the compromises necessary in the '60s.

With a full AAA analog chain I'm guessing Mr. Magee would have hit the ball out of the park.
Like some of the recent MFSL Sinatra reissues have shown can be done. Or the recent Sony Bob Dylan '60's box. Or the Analog Productions Elvis reissues, the 45rpm ones. Or any number of other recent AAA reissues.
It's a real shame that what was likely the most anticipated vinyl release - and likely the best selling - of recent years is well, a bit of a disappointment.
Admittedly, I've only heard a few tracks of Abbey Road and Sgt. Peppers. When I went into my local record store and put 'em on. They sound good and they sound clean. But that's all they are.
I didn't buy.

I'll stick with my Parlaphone and Apple originals. The originals have soul.