Abbey Road 50th Anniversary Edition Heard on a Real Stereo System!

The misaligned stars leading to yesterday's Dolby screening room software malfunction (you know the story), aligned today. I was on 58th and 3rd at Innovative Audio to spin vinyl and Guy Hayden was just finishing up today's three Abbey Road 50th Anniversary Edition demos (which went off without a glitch).

Hayden emailed asking if there was a chance I could return to the screening room on 58th and 6th Avenue for a proper stereo mix listen. He didn't know I was right down the block! Unfortunately time was too tight for me to get up there, listen and return to Innovative for the 5:30PM event start time so Hayden generously offered to bring the set to Innovative so I could listen on a proper hi-fi system, which seemed like the ideal way to listen to any version of Abbey Road.

We sat down in the event room and listened on a pair of Wilson Sasha DAW speakers driven by D'Agostino Momentum monoblocks, a D'Agostino preamp and a Spectral CD player all tethered with Transparent Audio cable. A fine system certainly capable of showing off the goods, and the bads if there were any. There weren't any.

This was not a "studied" listen—there wasn't time—but it was a more reliable one conducted on known gear in a familiar room. What I heard this evening confirmed all of the positive things I'd expressed in yesterday's write-up that for some readers had gotten obscured by the lead-in drama. Giles Martin's intention here was not to "re-invent" an album most fans already consider to be a musical and sonic gem, nor was it possible for him to "fix in the mix" the kinds of technical limitations imposed on the original Sgt. Pepper's.... stereo mix. Instead, based on what I heard both days, Martin chose to subtly bring forward buried elements in the original mix and to better define the bottom end. This was immediately obvious on "Come Together" in which the bass line was more prominent than on the original (regardless of format) and Ringo's kick drum had added weight without losing any definition. So instead of hearing "more bass", I heard a much better defined kick drum that lost none of its original attack or punch. The bass line on the track definitely excited a room mode, but when "Something began, it was gone. As I noted in the previous post, Billy Preston's springy, supportive Hammond organ part is definitely more prominent on the remix, while still sitting comfortably in the song's "pocket". Ringo's rhythmic accents, particularly his cymbal work, find a space instead of getting buried.

Time forced me on to "side two"'s medley and here again there were no major surprises or revisions, just added but unforced clarity. "Here Comes the Sun" retains its cheery airiness with glistening acoustic guitars and the same delicate blend of Martin's orchestration and Harrison's deft synth parts. You wouldn't want to hear that changed, dried or spatially flattened and it's not.

The multi-part, triple tracked harmonies on "Because", flattened in the 2009 remaster, are here as free, open and round as on the original but when you get to "out of college money spent" on "You Never Give Me Your Money", you are sure to like the sound of Ringo's drums and how they better define the song's intent. Ditto the tom accents on "Sun King". The fuzz lines on "Mean Mr. Mustard had the appropriate grit and edge and the hard strums signaling "Polythene Pam" cut as they have to to announce the song.

The overall spectral balance is as warm full and pleasing as the original U.K. first press and if any additional dynamic compression has been applied to make songs on the album "pop" when inserted into a modern playlist, it's been done so subtly as to not be not be noticed—all least I didn't notice any during this admittedly short, somewhat hurried listen. But then, when an album is as ingrained in one's head as this one has been for most of us for 50 years, one quick listen can suffice to produce an accurate accounting.

I'll stick with yesterday's conclusion: if you have an original U.K pressing (with a black inner sleeve, not even the later one with white inner sleeve) you may not need to have this reissue but for everyone else, especially those owning either Capitol's mastering and pressing or the 2009 "by committee" remaster, this 50th Anniversary remix will bring added pleasure to an album that grows better and more precious with age.

When at audio shows I play for a room full of listeners my original pressing either "live" or digitized", the crowd stays for all of side 2 and then, usually teary-eyed, breaks into applause. I think this remix will have the same effect. Based on what I heard this afternoon, I think even the biggest remix cynic will be happy. I'll soon find out! (Full review to follow shortly after the package arrives). P.S.: at the event this evening I played for the crowd my original "top loader" stereo U.K. pressing and the QRP remix pressing. Most people preferred the remix for its more robust and muscular bass, while some preferred the original's airier top end. I like and listen to both.

P.P.S: The best sonic presentations of all of these Beatles reissues were the two for the mono box set, one at Electric Lady Studios, one at The Grammy Theater, both using genuine high performance audio gear. I don't think a film screening room is the best place to showcase music.

Jack Gilvey's picture

for this. Very, very happy to hear.

PAR's picture

" P.S.: at the event this evening I played for the crowd my original "top loader" stereo U.K. pressing "

Top loader? As in the original UK "White Album"? The first pressing UK Abbey Road is not a "top loader" if that's what you mean - my black inner sleeved copy bought by me on the day of release from Menzies, Blackheath, South London during my lunch break is at hand to verify this. Or have we somehow changed subject without notification in the text?

Anyway thanks for the review and I am looking forward to your hands on, at home, review later. My pre-order for the single LP is already in. As for the other albums' studio banter, aborted takes etc. they are listen to once out of curiosity only items for me and I will probably just stream them from Qobuz for this purpose.

Michael Fremer's picture
Just to be clear....
Bill Mac's picture

You listened to the cd at Innovative (since there's no turntable in the equipment list) and determined that "it sounded as warm full and pleasing as the original U.K. first press"?

Bill Mac's picture

Do I understand that you listened to the cd at Innovative (since there's no turntable in the equipment list) and determined that "it sounded as warm full and pleasing as the original U.K. first press".

Michael Fremer's picture
The event used a TechDAS Air Force III with SAT LM-09 arm and Lyra Etna cartridge but they brought in a Spectral CD player so I could audition the CD version of the remix. The vinyl wasn't available. But yes, based on this listening, the spectral balance on the remix has not been shifted from what it was on the original vinyl as best as I could tell. I'm not saying "identical", nor was this a full-fledged review, but I'd have heard it had Mr. Martin "brightened" up the sound. After sending someone at Abbey Road a 96/24 transfer of my original pressing the comment was how "warm and full" it sounded. I don't know if that was used as either a reference or even an influence on the remix (perhaps that's my 'massive ego' talking) but what I heard last night was definitely on the warm and rich side and not at all bright and/or edgy sounding so I'm very optimistic...
Bill Mac's picture

fantastic news - thanks!

firedog's picture

I think I'm going to be happy with my deluxe box set.

rakalm's picture

Thanks so much for the early take on a classic. What was the QRP pressing you are referring to? Did they take over after the Rainbo fiasco on the Stereo remasters?

Michael Fremer's picture
QRP pressed all of the 2 LP "The Beatles". Optimal pressed all of the 4 LP box set that included both "The Beatles" and The "Esher Recordings".
bkinthebk's picture

Any theories on why QRP would do the remix only?
Is it that the queue to get stuff pressed for release date required using two plants?

Billf's picture

Thanks for you supplemental review. Sounds promising! I know that Apple reserves the pristine masters for the Blu-ray and vinyl versions, putzing around with the sound on CDs to appeal to more modern, young ears. I get that. But why must I buy the deluxe box, and multiple versions of the same material, to get my hands on the Blu-ray? Seems antitheical to the 60s tradition of leaving single songs off the British albums to give fans value for their money.

Mazzy's picture

Occasionally I've been at a movie theater where there are framing or focus issues or bad sound (channel out or some other audio problem). When that happens I always git to the lobby and tell them , and the problem is pretty much always corrected. Not sure what I would do in a small situation, but somehow I would want to signal to someone that there is an issue. As I wrote earlier, I cannot imagine in a room fill of audio freaks, no one personally stood up and said something or at least walked top to the host with a note.

Ivan Lietaert's picture

I'm an enthousiastic reader of of analogplanet reviews (and stereophile etc.) I really appreciate you guys.
Often, you post videos and pictures of the listening rooms where the event took place, but not always. These visuals are very enlightning. Often they show nice, large rooms. Sometimes they show cramped rooms, with unrealistic/bad setups, like speakers set only 1.5 meters apart. I'm not sure if even an experienced audiophile public can judge audio quality correctly like that.
One of your colleagues at Stereophile recently reviewed Klipsch's Khorn speakers. These are the Klipsch flagship speakers. They are really heavy, corner placed speakers. He was unable to put them in the corners of his listening room, so he put them in the middle of the room. At least, this is what most readers read between the lines, and he never really came clear about it. For the klipsch fans - they are very loyal to the brand - this was enough reason to slash the review on their forums. If he had posted a picture, it would have been more fair and more honest.
In this present age of smartphones, it is easy to take a quick shot of the listening room. They will be appreciated and are very informative.

mb's picture

I just don’t get the point of re-twiddling the knobs just make the living members a little more up front. It’s not as though the original mix kept Abbey Road being one of the greatest albums of all-time.

Beatlejuiced's picture

Am I to understand from this review that Michael Fremer actually enjoyed the sound produced by a Compact Disc? I just peered out my window and see no flying pigs. I turned on the news and saw nothing about Hell freezing over. I checked my phone messages and heard none from super models begging me to spank them. Has the world turned upside down, or have I misunderstood?

Beatlejuiced's picture

I just listened to the advance release of "Something" on YouTube. I heard it though my Event studio monitors with no EQ applied. I am ignorant of the data compression rates of YouTube videos and don't know what was the resolution of the original file posted to the site, so please bear that in mind.

To my ears, there is plenty of bass. Bass in abundance. That is what I heard on the original record (U.S. pressing) and subsequent hearings on radio, so it is not surprising, but I believe I heard more bass frquencies than I remember from previous hearings. The highs seem to be fine, although the backing strings sounded a bit strident to me. All in all, a very pleasant sound.

The one thing I noticed that sounded new was that certain elements in the mix seemed to stand out more clearly. The rhythm guitar though a Leslie speaker, for example, was much more clearly defined. I liked what I heard from this recording. Count me in for the new LP.