Michael & Malachi Exchange Thoughts on, Among Other Things, QRP’s “White Album” Pressing

Malachi Lui: First and foremost, let’s note that while this is a review of Quality Record Pressings’ version of the Beatles “White Album” 2018 stereo mix, it’s really more of an excuse for me to humiliate Michael in the best ways as much as possible (laughs).

(For those who don't know, QRP pressed the 2 LP set worldwide. Optimal in Germany, pressed the 4 LP box set worldwide, containing the original 2 LP set plus the 2 LP Escher demos).

Michael Fremer: Always up for that! It’s a way of life.

ML: If you weren’t up for it, then I’d force you to be!

MF: Of course you would!

ML: Since it’s July 3, 2019, we finally have to reveal all of the “of course you/I ______” jokes to readers (laughs again). For you, what is significant about this day last year?

MF: It’s the day we first met. I had no idea who would be coming over or what kind of nerd I’d be meeting. I soon found out!

ML: Before I comment on what this day is for me, can you provide more detail on it? Like, the amount of detail you include in error-ridden posts on Russian-interfered social media platforms only luddites use (ie: Facebook--ed.)?

MF: I fixed that! It’s all now correct. I can spew it here now [excerpts below]:

”One year ago, young Malachi Lui walked into my listening room. All I knew about him was that he’d been on WFMU Todd-O-Phonic Todd radio show and my friend and electrician Craig was listening.

‘Hey Michael,’ he texted, ‘I’m listening to FMU and a young 12 year old analog genius, Malachi Lui is guest DJing. He mentioned you and talks about mastering and pressings—he’s incredible. Just interesting to hear a 12yo talking about limiting, compression, pressing plants and vinyl. I imagine he’s been in touch with you…’

But he hadn’t directly been. Later I found him all over the AnalogPlanet YouTube channel posting very thoughtful, adult comments. I responded to one and wrote “we should meet”. His mother soon responded: ‘Malachi was thrilled to see your message post - it made his day. We’d love to set up time for either a call or a meeting at your convenience!’

That’s how I got to meet Malachi. What I didn’t know at the time was that he was an excellent writer with a strong voice, had musical interests that defy time, is an impressive guitarist (though for now he's not playing, but watch him play "Pinball Wizard" on a full sized SG for an elementary school talent show) and shares my sense of humor.

We talk on the phone, email and text a lot. We always share information and opinions on music, and I’ve come to enjoy some of his favorite music that I wouldn’t otherwise have paid attention to, like Tyler, the Creator, though in general we do have very similar musical taste in rock, jazz, and blues.

Some of both of our friends find this relationship ‘unusual.’ Of course it is! But hey! We don’t care. His parents are terrific. When I visited him in Portland and stayed at their house his mother remarked to some of their friends after Malachi had gone to his room, ‘Malachi and Michael are like the same person separated by 60 years.’ She might be right!”

ML: As you often say, we are having “too much fun!” right now. Meeting you on July 3 of last year was obviously really significant for both of us. Apparently I’ve made you a happier person (says you), and you’ve taught me a lot (you’d probably say the same about me) about music, audio, writing, and how I’m 10 times better at Twitter than you are (laughs for at least the 3rd time). When I walked into your listening room, it was like “woah, this is insane!” And when I saw you close your eyes while listening to records, I learned how to really listen to music, to mine every last detail from it. At the end of the day, that’s what being an audiophile is supposed to mean. Finding ways to enjoy music even more through superior sound quality.

Anyway, I really can’t thank you enough for everything. Since this is a review of a Beatles record, I have to humiliate you once more with something slightly off-topic: the 1976 “musical documentary” (“trash film” would be the more appropriate genre) All This & World War II. Can you tell your hilarious story about that movie again?

MF: Yes I can, but first: At the time you arrived I was already being a much happier person. Everything seemed to be going well for me and then my mentor Wally Malewicz passed away unexpectedly, and then Dave Wilson of Wilson Audio Specialties, though that was expected for some time. And then I went to San Francisco. to interview Siegfried Linkwitz, best known for the Linkwitz-Reilly crossover network. He was in hospice care. So, it was a gloomy spring until you showed up! And really, I’m not a religious person (and happily neither are you) but for whatever reason or reasons you showed up at just the right time in my life.

The “trash film” All This and World War II arrived in Boston theaters in 1976 and I was invited to a screening so I dropped a tab of acid (not something I frequently did, BTW) and went. I found the movie, which was Beatles covers accompanied by World War II combat footage profound! Moving! Astonishing! Answered all of life’s questions! My acidified mind connected the Beatles to WWII, which was a true connection since most were born before or during the war and so were affected by it, and so I found it perfectly appropriate to combine Beatles tunes and WWII footage. It was sort of a thesis on how the war helped produce this great music!

When I got home I called every influencer I knew in Boston and I knew many of the important music and film critics and radio personalities etc. I told them they must see this movie! Since I had some influence, they all went the next evening and I sat in the row behind waiting for their intense gratitude and thanks!

About ten minutes in I realized how awful empty and stupid the movie was and how lame the Beatles covers were too—not as bad as the Sgt. Pepper movie which I parodied as “Peter Frampton’s Open Shirts Club Band” and by then I knew enough to not drop acid to see a movie. I feel after hearing about my intense humiliation under the influence, I have done more to dissuade you from trying acid than anything some lame drug counselor peddling fear could possibly manage!

ML: Seriously, you could probably make a video about your embarrassing All This & World War II experience, stick it on a new DVD, and sell it to schools for $100 per DVD. Schools will buy it and use it in health classes, and it will be quite effective. Nobody wants that type of humiliation!

I actually tried watching the movie recently. I’ve only gotten halfway through it - it’s awful!!! Tina Turner’s cover of “Come Together” is especially dreadful. However, studies show that those who enjoy “trash film” (the most famous example being The Room, but I’m sure All This & World War II counts as well) are generally of higher than average intelligence. But anyway, I highly recommend the film for it’s utter brilliance, NOT!

Going back to your first point, it’s crazy how things can happen with immaculate timing. And as you said, I’m not religious either - I’d find something to critique in every one, which defeats the point of being religious! Though if somebody made The Church Of Kanye/Yeezus/Yeezy, I’d be one of the first to join. That would be the only religion that I could agree with and devote myself to.

MF: I am going to forward you some really interesting info a very politically conservative V.A. Administration radiologist I know sent me about “magic mushrooms” and LSD therapy. There’s a video involved that will explain to a great degree why I found profundity in that awful movie!

ML: That will be interesting!

But wait… we need to talk about Quality Record Pressings’ “White Album!” Of course we do!

MF: Yes, and IMMEDIATELY!

ML: Quickly before we get into the QRP pressing of Giles Martin’s remix, let’s talk about the actual music. Do you have a favorite of the 2LPs or a favorite side out of the four? I far prefer LP2 over LP1, and side 3 is my favorite run of songs overall.

MF: Side 3 is my fave too! But, hey! That’s not surprising. However, I like tracks on all sides and it’s a double LP I can play all the way through and enjoy because it’s been so well tracked.

ML: Agreed… The White Album doesn’t have that much filler. But on the topic of that, what are your least favorite songs on it that you could happily do without? For me it’s “Piggies” and “Rocky Raccoon.” Over the years, I’ve eventually come to tolerate “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Unlike others, though, I never had a problem with “Wild Honey Pie.” If it was a three minute song, it would likely be quite annoying but at 53 seconds, it’s great.

MF: I like “Wild Honey Pie” because it is “acrid” and reminds me somehow of “You Know My Name”. Never liked “Piggies;” too obvious a theme and execution. Orwell owned the “pig” franchise and adding the grunts sealed it as among the worst on the record. I find “Rocky Raccoon” charming. Paul’s “ditty” tunes are either you swallow and like or you detest. “Bungalow Bill” becomes more interesting the more you know about the song’s background. I like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and most ska/reggae inspired stuff.

ML: You can kill me now, but I prefer “Wild Honey Pie” over “You Know My Name.” In some ways, I wish that “Sour Milk Sea” or “Not Guilty” took the place of “Piggies” as the George Harrison song on side 2, but then that would change the rest of the album. I still love the Esher demo of “Sour Milk Sea.” That song had so much potential but instead Jackie Lomax made his own overproduced version which essentially ruined it. As far as filler material goes, “A Beginning” before “Don’t Pass Me By” is great but I don’t know how it would’ve fit. One of the great mysteries of life.

Are there any songs on the White Album that you feel are overrated or overshadow other songs too much? For me it’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Revolution 1,” “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” (as great as it is), and even though I love it, “Helter Skelter.” Lately I’ve preferred “Cry Baby Cry,” “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” and “Good Night.”

MF: I will never kill you not even figuratively. But not preferring “You Know My Name” comes close to me changing my mind! I don’t blame Jackie for the overproduction [of Is This What You Want?]… or James Taylor on his debut. It was Apple amateur time and money to burn! Yes the wimpy “Revolution” [“Revolution 1”] was limp. “Good Night” used to make me cry like a baby… seriously. Oh, and “Cry Baby Cry” is seriously good. One of my faves is “Long, Long, Long”. Such atmosphere and the mysterious close-the-box ending always gets me. I like “Savoy Truffle” too. Great arrangement. I think side 4’s gems get overlooked because of “Revolution #9”, which like many things Yoko was WAY AHEAD OF IT’S TIME. We now live in “Revolution #9” sensory and informational overload.

ML: “Long, Long, Long” is extremely underrated, likely because “Helter Skelter” overshadows it.. “Cry Baby Cry” is my favorite White Album song lyrically“Savoy Truffle” is seriously underrated as well. Musically, it’s a fantastic arrangement and lyrically it’s fun to hear.

“Revolution #9” is brilliant. Nearly 51 years later it still sounds like a cutting-edge piece of experimental music. Yoko Ono never gets enough credit for her artful musical contributions, which is probably due to the old, disproved rumors of “Yoko broke up the Beatles.”

MF: We are pretty much in agreement here!

ML: Of course we are!

Now let’s get to the topic that makes everybody click on this article: the QRP pressing of the standard 2LP remix set. For me, the pressing quality is nearly perfect, with only some slight warpage on LP1.

MF: Yes, the QRP pressing was physically excellent visually and sonically though there was a slight “skip” or “jump” at about 1:35 into “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey.” I have to check it out - it could be dirt (etc.). Because I have a vacuum hold down I can’t comment on slight warpage. The records got sucked down flat.

ML: Before we discuss the sonics, let’s briefly talk about the packaging. I noticed that the QRP pressing had a glossier, whiter jacket and a stronger blind emboss on my copy than that of the Optimal pressing’s jacket. The poster is slightly thicker on the US pressing than the EU box set, although the EU pressing has thicker photo inserts. Overall, however, I prefer the EU jacket - the flatter embossing just feels more appropriate for the White Album.

MF: Yes, the QRP pressing is as you write as are the physical differences inside and out, but I found the differences trivial overall. I would have preferred a top-loader fold over jacket like the original but perhaps that’s too costly and asking for too much. Nothing compares to the original top loader for visual and tactile excellence.

ML: I don’t think a top-loader jacket is too much to ask for. The 2014 mono White Album has an excellent top-loader jacket and that retailed for $38.99. This new 2LP set with a standard side-loading gatefold jacket retails for an absurd $39.99 (don’t pay any more than $35 for it). Apple/Capitol/UMe really have no excuse for not giving us a top-loader jacket. Yet they still advertise this new reissue’s gatefold as “faithful to the original album.” More like faithful to the US pressings and the later UK pressings! But not the original!

MF: Yes, but the original is no longer in production because UMe claims it “too costly” to produce so look for one like this one in the (likely) mono box re-release.

ML: “Too costly” meaning not even an extra dollar per jacket. It probably doesn’t even cost an extra 50 cents per jacket at the scale they’re making these. They really have no excuse.

MF: I’m usually not comfortable speculating about this, so let’s move on!

ML: Good idea! As for the sonics, I far prefer the Optimal pressing for LP1. The QRP LP1is hard and bright, albeit more accurate to the MQA files I listened to. The Optimal, while not as detailed, provides for a much more pleasant listen. However, QRP’s LP2 smokes the Optimal. The latter sounds sleepy in comparison.

MF: Again we are in agreement. QRP does not polish its metal parts (nor does RTI). Optimal does. It’s also called “de-horning.” I’ll skip the double entendres! It means that tiny metal imperfections that can produce pops and clicks for a play or two are eliminated but according to those who don’t like polishing, it also smooths out the top end. I wonder why? It’s just catching the top surface, not where the highs reside to being with…

ML: Strangely enough, I actually found the Optimal pressing to have louder surface noise than the QRP.

I find that on the QRP, “Dear Prudence” is painfully fatiguing, as are many other songs. “Blackbird” is great until you hear the Optimal which puts McCartney’s voice in a more intimate sonic setting. And QRP’s “Julia” loses the dreamy vocal quality.

MF: I agree with your sonic assessment, which is interesting considering the turntable cost differential! I think the QRP is more accurate to the file and Showell cut, but the smoother sounding version works better on disc one. This is a very similar difference to hearing the same tape used to cut lacquer and DMM. the DMM always sounds sharper and with cleaner and more accurately rendered transients, but which one prefers usually depends on the recording.

No doubt that QRP presses some of the quietest and most accurate records you can get.

ML: I don't think the TT cost differential makes a big difference in the overall sonic character we hear. If the sound is on the record, it's there on all systems, despite each system interpreting that sound differently. It's like saying "wow... it's interesting that I can play a record on a $100k turntable then play it on a $150 TT and still hear music!"

MF: I think it’s more than you have an excellent cartridge on the Rega and a good phono preamp too.

ML: True, but I could grab a $100-$200 turntable with a built-in phono stage from my closet (which is home to two budget turntables and a giant 300CD "jukebox") and still hear the same overall sonic character in each record.

MF: No point debating this… let’s move on!

ML: I think it's about time we each put in our scores for music and sound on each disc of the QRP along with the packaging.

Music:

LP1: 9
LP2: 11

Sound: LP1: 7
LP2: 9

Packaging: 7

MF: I wasn’t planning on that but I agree with your scores.

LP 2 is musically superior but LP1 is still awfully good and the sound of QRP LP1 is definitely not as good. However It’s probably more accurate to Giles Martin’s mix and Miles Showell’s lacquer cut. And Giles probably dropped the top octaves on disc two for one reason or another.

In my opinion, that makes the Optimal LP1 preferable sonically…

ML: The solution here is the classic advice of "get both!" Optimal's 4LP set is a must-have because of the excellent Esher Demos, and that's the version I'd go with if you are willing to sacrifice superior sound on White Album LP2. However, the QRP is still great to have even if just for LP2 - but if that's the only reason you buy the QRP, don't pay more than $30 for it.

MF: Agreed. (attaches screenshot of clickbait earwax removal article with the line “Seriously, stop sticking q-tips in your ears!”)

ML: Of course you agree! And you just attached a screenshot of a clickbaity earwax removal "article" for good measure!

MF: For a laugh! Given what we are fetishing over…

ML: Makes perfect sense!

Before we go, why don't we both give a quick rundown of what we've been listening to lately. For me, it's been lots of Kanye of course (specifically Yeezus and The Life Of Pablo, which are masterpieces), the new Injury Reserve album, the Raconteurs' Help Us Stranger, Thom Yorke's ANIMA, and of course Tyler, the Creator's magnificent IGOR.

MF: I’ve been listening to the new Raconteurs album too. It’s currently #1 on the Billboard Top 200 and sold 25,000 vinyl copies in its first week. According to the newspaper, it was the sixth biggest vinyl selling week since 1991.

ML: Not surprising since it's a Jack White release and the first Raconteurs album in 11 years.

Have you been listening to anything else of specific note lately? Abortion of the Cool?

MF: Also listening to Buzzcocks reissues and originals. Really like that band… and the reissues sound great so far.

The Vinyl Me, Please reissue of Al Green’s Call Me cut from tape by Ryan K. Smith is GREAT as well.

ML: Well, that will be it for today! "Too much fun!" And I got to humiliate you over All This & World War II.

MF: Yes, Malachi, we have been pals for a full year now and it has been too much fun…

Nonetheless I can’t get enough of too much fun and I look forward to another year of “too much fun” with you.

I won’t go all sappy on you and I’ll leave it at that!

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music lover, record collector, audiophile, avid Kanye fan, and a host of AnalogPlanet radio. Read his “Music: 11” review of Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR here. Follow him on Twitter @MalachiLui.)

(note: Malachi, not Michael wrote the following):

(Michael Fremer is the most experienced audio reviewer to ever grace the analog planet, a music lover with an extremely broad taste in music, and has tens of thousands of records, experience as a stand-up comedian and last but not least, the soundtrack supervisor of TRON. Read his “Sound: 1” review of the sonic mess that is UMe’s Birth Of The Cool reissue here. Follow him on all widely known social media platforms except SnapChat @analogplanet.)

COMMENTS
Lazer's picture

Thanks for letting us listen in on such a remarkable friendship.

anomaly7's picture

You guys make a great team. Malachi, you're extending Michael's career by 3 or 4 decades, at least, and for that I'm grateful. And when Michael finally rides off into the Sunset Grill, he can do so knowing the legacy of vinyl records is in good hands for the next generation.

Macman007's picture

someone younger like Malachi who is obviously heart and soul into music, especially the technicalities of analog media and what makes it what it is. Hats off to Michael F. for cultivating a real friendship with Malachi. There is indeed hope for the youth of today, tomorrow, and (analog) music in general, and not just downloads and earbuds. We need to actively find a way to get more of today's youth engaged in the hobby for the sake of its survival. Many school systems years back completely removed the arts and music from their curriculum programs, which I believe created a lack of interest and understanding of music and the arts. Instead we teach computer, literacy not real world skills, everyone gets a trophy for participating, and no child is left behind.

While I was quite deep into music, playing the guitar, music gear,and the differing types/brands of analog media by the time I was his age (esp. recording in general..esp. recording vinyl to open reel and cassette) Malachi has me and others like me beat with his knowledge and professionalism when the same age. No doubt this is due to a keen intellect, coupled with internet access to information which as difficult at best to access 40+years ago. Guys like Michael are role models, both instrumental and essential in passing the torch to younger generations, in the way our dads and uncles did for us.

I only wish my own kids were as engaged with music as Malachi is, try as I may. Surrounded by great music, good gear, and musical instruments since birth, both my kids took it for granted, showing little interest in music, what it can be, how good it can sound, or even making their own. That said I have not yet given up.

Rock-On, Malachi!

AZ's picture

The 2LP set was also pressed by MPO in France for the European market, primarily.

MalachiLui's picture

Optimal pressed the EU version (EU 2LP and worldwide 4LP) of the Giles Martin stereo remix while QRP pressed the US version of the 2LP remix. The MPO-pressed version from last year is the original stereo mix in the DeAgostini Beatles Vinyl Collection, cut from the 2009 remasters by Mr. Unknown at MPO.

AZ's picture

What I should've said is that the 2LP version was also pressed by Optimal in Germany, not MPO in France, while the QRP pressing was mainly for the American market.

AZ's picture

According to this video (start at 1:12) they do some "de-horning": https://youtu.be/cTMy_NOOmWc?t=72

MalachiLui's picture

I don't see anything other than what is normally done to metal parts nor is de-horning mentioned.

AZ's picture

Hey Malachi,

It's not mentioned but you can SEE 2 seconds of de-horning at 1:12. I'm not saying it's BAD, but where did you read they don't do it? ;(

AZ's picture

Another way of doing it is sitting down at the turntable with a metal part and finding out where those tiny imperfections are, then smoothing them out with a primitive hand tool. They do this as well, but it's very time- and labor-consuming. Although if you do it this way you can remove almost ALL of the unwanted clicks and pops from the stamper (or mother, or father).

doak's picture

Great to know there’s someone to pass the torch to as a truly worthy “Keeper of the Flame.”
Thanks Michael

timorous's picture

Hey Malachi, I can't believe what a deep, encyclopedic and detailed knowledge you posess of such diverse musical and technical things. You must spend an inordinate amount of time on the internet, devouring detail upon detail. You need to get out more...LOL :)

I've always enjoyed the White Album, though it's not my favorite Beatle LP. George Martin mentioned more than once that he felt the White Album would have been much stronger, if it had been limited to a single disc. I tend to agree, but then there'd be some really good stuff to leave out, as well as the chaff that might as well have been. Maybe a 3-sided album would have fit the bill...

MalachiLui's picture

That would definitely be interesting, though I don't know what I'd take out. Even though I don't like some of the songs as much as others, I still wouldn't want to be without them. However, I do think it'd be interesting if "Not Guilty" and "Sour Milk Sea" could put into the place of "Piggies" and "Rocky Raccoon," but as I said in the review I don't know how that would work. Maybe that will be something I figure out... once I return from my upcoming last-minute trip to Detroit to see Jack White's pressing plant and also three Raconteurs shows.

DrJB's picture

Michael--So glad to see you passing your knowledge and skills on to a worthy apprentice, but I suspect that the master will become the student in short order.

Malachi--You seem to have the ability to discern which of Michael's (many) biases are valid and which are just bravado. Way to go. Look forward to reading/watching/listening to your materialsl for many years to come.

Michael Fremer's picture
He knows a lot more than I do about some stuff. And I know more than he does about other stuff (not that he agrees!)
mycophile's picture

As a whole, AT&WWII is forgettable, but Peter Gabriel’s cover version of Strawberry Fields Forever (buried on Side 4) was an unexpected surprise.

Musically atmospheric, with its quasi-trippy overdubbed vocal harmonies, it was especially notable since it represented only the first glimpse of anything he’d recorded since leaving Genesis and completely disappearing from the music scene in 1975.

Incidentally, in the film, the lyric “living is easy with eyes closed” accompanied footage related to United Kingdom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s ironic 1938 “peace for our time” (sometimes misquoted as peace in our time) speech.

Michael Fremer's picture
I needed that cover. "Cover" in two meanings. The kid hits me with a 'SLEDGEHAMMER' about that movie and record every chance he gets!
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