Abbey Road 50th Anniversary Remix Full Review!

2012 wasn’t all that long ago and culturally not that much has changed, yet from that year to the September 27th release this year of the 50th anniversary edition of Abbey Road is how long The Beatles made records.

Think about it! Had The Beatles released “Love Me Do” in October of 2012, by this September 27th they would have recorded and released Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale, Help, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Magical Mystery Tour EP, The Beatles, Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road. That’s not just “unprecedented”, it’s kind of insane.

This doesn’t include all of the American releases that contained countless singles that were omitted from the U.K. releases but appeared on American Beatles albums, nor does it include the “Red” and “Blue” double LP collections or the 16 song U.K. hits package A Collection of Beatles Oldies (EMI PCS 7016), the import album that startled many Americans completely unfamiliar with the British originals.

Hearing some of these songs in real stereo for the first time and others not “Capitolized” with gobs of reverb and odd equalization was an ear-opener that caused many fans to seek out the rest of the difficult to obtain U.K. originals. Books have been written about all of this including Bruce Spizer’s vinyl-centric ones and, Hunter Davies’ authorized Biography and of course Beatles scholar/obsessive Mark Lewisohn’s definitive chronologies.

For those of us who grew up with The Beatles (or who were for all intents and purposes already grown up), they were, whether or not they intended to be, more than just a group of musicians who wrote great songs that became the soundtrack to our adolescent lives.

As a group and as individuals they became spiritual and relationship advisors, fashion and personal grooming counsellors, figurative drug dealers, and probably more than anything, for the better part of a tumultuous decade they led us into the future, while simultaneously providing comforting security.

The Beatles were always “there”. There would always be the next Beatles album to guide us into the future. This wasn’t only a teenager’s fantasy wish.

No wonder when the group officially broke up in April of 1970 when Paul publicly called it quits (Lennon left around the time of Abbey Road’s release in September of 1969), fans of all ages felt lost and abandoned, were bewildered and actually became resentful of being “betrayed” by The Beatles!

Poor Yoko Ono was unfairly accused by otherwise rational adults of “plotting” and succeeding in breaking up the group. If you weren’t around back, then you might find this difficult to believe but it’s true.

Let It Be, the “next” Beatles album to be released but of course recorded before Abbey Road, was a mess of a production with multiple producers starting with George Martin, and then moving to Glyn Johns and finally Phil Spector who got the official credit but not before George Martin is reported to have said "I produced the original, and what you should do is have a credit saying 'Produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector'". Even the distribution was mired in legal controversies but that’s best covered when Let It Be gets 50th anniversary treatment if it in fact gets it!

Even though the album sold well, critical reception went from muted to downright hostile.

Back to Abbey Road! The graphics-free cover broke new packaging ground. The iconic photo said “The Beatles” better than any typeface could and in retrospect the message that the “boys” were exiting the building literally and figuratively couldn’t have been any clearer.

The 50th Anniversary edition is, as most everyone reading this knows, a brand new remix by producer Giles Martin and mix engineer Sam Okell using the original 8 track session tapes. The original stereo mix provided guidance but the remix does effect some changes similar to what was done on the previous Beatles remixes. However, unlike those, recording to 8 tracks required less “track bouncing” than had been used on previous Beatles albums.

With the messy Let It Be events and production staffing behind them, Giles Martin points out in the set intro (all editions) that engineers Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald were brought back as was his father George to produce and contribute musical arrangements as in “the old days” (two years earlier!). EMI had installed a new TG12345 mixing desk and between it and the new 8 track recorders, the original album’s excellent sound speaks for itself.

So why do a remix of a masterpiece? My inbox was flooded with readers asking that question as many asked about The Beatles double LP, which to many was “perfect” as-is.

That remix was, in my opinion, a complete success because it remained true to the original but made some useful improvements that included restoring the bottom end that had been attenuated on the original LPs to better play on the lesser turntables used by kids back then. Martin’s mix was also a more “in the pocket” edition that produced greater mix coherence and placed everything more tidily than did the original mix. The original U.K. vinyl edition does things the remix doesn’t and vice-versa. It’s nice to have both!

The Abbey Road Remix

I compared to this new remix an original very early U.K. pressing bought within a week of the album’s release (side 1 second lacquer [I assume the first was damaged], 3rd mother, stamper #70, side 2 first lacquer, 3rd mother, 21st stamper), a somewhat later U.K. pressing with a white inner sleeve instead of the black original that has the offset green apple under the side one track listing and other cover art anomalies (same lacquers and mothers but triple digit stampers), three original U.S. pressings one pressed by U.S. Decca that’s super rare and doesn’t include “Her Majesty” on either the jacket or label, one pressed at Capitol’s Winchester, VA pressing plant and a third, the provenance of which I didn’t bother checking out. If you really want to get into the American pressing “weeds” go to the Fab 4 Collectibles website. A mint U.S. Decca pressing must go for stupid money because that site didn’t list the price it sold for, but after listening to these three, I wouldn’t give you ten cents for any of them. The sound is atrocious: bright, grainy and not at all pleasant. I guess if you are a jacket and/or rarities collector, you might enjoy but if sound is important to you, I doubt there’s ever been a worthwhile sounding American pressing.

This is the “super rare” version of the American album, description on that website.

This is a more common version. There are so many variations you’ll wonder how that was allowed to happen! At least I did.
I also listened to the Toshiba “Pro-Use” Japanese pressing (EALF-97001), the Mobile Fidelity box set version with the “smiley face” equalization and especially to the 2011 box set version cut from the digital master used to produce the CD and I gave the USB stick 24 bit version a quick listen. Oh, and I fired up the Nakamachi BX-300 and played the original cassette that I happen to have.

Of course all are from the same original mix, though they are sonically very different. The Mo-Fi is very “clean” and well-detailed with black backgrounds but with the midband life sucked out if it. The Toshiba is similarly kind of dry and sterile but with more midband life.

I haven’t played the 2011 box set version since I reviewed it so I went back and at first it sounded ‘okay’ but as it played it got really annoying and by “Oh Darling” I couldn’t take any more of it and I’ll spare you why. The stick was similar but with a “bit” more (actually 8 bits more) resolution and life but still sterile.

The only truly exceptional sounding original I found here was the early U.K. pressing, with the second somewhat later pressing cut from a much later stamper coming very close.

I’ll leave it at that, which means most Beatles fans have never really heard a great original pressing of Abbey Road.

I brought a digitized version of the original pressing to the audio show in Tampa last winter and played to a full large room side 2 on a big rig and no one got up for the duration. When it was over there was applause and some people were weeping. I’m not kidding!

Young people getting into vinyl who bought the 2011 LP are “ripe for the picking” if this new mix is any good.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Johnnyjajohnny's picture

I can easily answer that question, and you, DaveyF, are welcome to answer it as well if you like, but since I asked Fremer first I would like to see his response first before I answer it myself.

ViciAudio's picture

... there is no such thing as "a digital file pressed onto vinyl". Cutting a lacquer is always a totally separate "mastering" process in itself. In the case of a digital source, to master to vinyl it is always converted to analog in the first place, and then it is at least always adjusted for vinyl groove spacing and other parameters, and that's just the mandatory part of the process, usually almost all vinyl cut from digital sources today undergoes several other steps (EQ, dynamics, etc) that are specific to the vinyl cut mastering. Also, people tend to confuse the digital source used for mastering with the commercially available high resolution digital version... it is very rarely the case. There is one digital master, from that master all commercially available formats are mastered. They are not using format A mastering to master format B... So, it makes little sense to talk about digitally sourced vinyl as if it shares the same mastering as the correspondent digital format release. It shares the source, but not the mastering. The mastering is what makes it sound good or bad, it's a big thing :)

DaveyF's picture

Digital master...imo belongs on a digital format. Is vinyl a digital format?

ViciAudio's picture

.. and by all means, I'm 100% in favor of full analog audio production for vinyl :) However, this question doesn't make much sense, audio formats, technologies, recording/mixing/mastering techniques, are not supposed to belong anywhere, they are just tools at our disposal to achieve the best possible results for a specific task/project. There is no one single "tool" that is always the best option for all jobs. If, for a given recording, having a digital step in the production makes it sound much better than not having a digital step, then it's better to use it... if it doesn't do anything to improve audio quality, then it's better not to use it. Fortunately there are thousands of great examples where NOT using any digital step is actually the best technical approach that provides the best results, and that is probably true for most analog recordings... but it's not for 100% all of them, depending on several factors, some actually benefit from digital tools being there to help with certain issues. As always, for every tool, there advantages and disadvantages, so nothing is perfect...

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

Still, it was a very simple question for Fremer (and DaveyF, if he wants to answer it):
What, if anything, could make you change your mind about your claim that digital isn't audibly transparent to the source/that digital audibly degrades the sound (thereby also implying that analogue is a better technology)?

McFaden's picture

I grew up with the US Capitol in all it of its forms. Always thought it sounded good, i guess. Then a couple years ago I got a beautiful UK first pressing that I giddily announce is even earlier than Michael's (side 1 second lacquer, 2nd mother, 5th stamper, side 2 first lacquer, 2nd mother, 8th stamper). There is a world of difference between those two pressings. Michael is right, there is nothing like those early pressings. I anticipate this reissue will in fact be different but I'm excited to listen and see if it's as good despite the difference.

Also, I think they should reissue Let It Be, I mean why not at this point. BUT regardless of whatever they do with the mix they have to release it as the original UK pressing with the box and the book. That would be a good move in my book.

(Am I mostly posting in order to flaunt my early Abbey Road pressing? No, well... maybe. Maybe.

...Yes.)

Michael Fremer's picture
Love it...
firedog's picture

They are working on a new version of the movie, recut from the many hours of original movie tape.
So pretty hard to believe there won't be an accompanying album, with lots of bonus tracks etc.

firedog's picture

Michael-
Spring for a nice BR capable USB external disc spinner at Amazon - about $100. Then rip the hires and tell us how it sounds :).

Question after that: if you had to live with the hi-res only, how would you feel?

Michael Fremer's picture
On its way!
rwwear's picture

Most newer BluRays have copy protection. You probably have a program to defeat it?

Michael Fremer's picture
I think that's for movies. I'm hoping that these discs were made for accessing the files.. I'll find out.
rwwear's picture

It's been my experience in the past Bluray audio uses the same copy protection as movies. Some of the early issues didn't. I hope you get lucky and experience none. I believe DVD Fab offers a program to remove said protection.

Michael Fremer's picture
It's not possible to rip the hires from the Beatles Blu-ray. Perhaps with a software "work around". I'm working on that now. But I've been able to pull hires files from 2L (la label) Blu-ray discs so clearly UMe or Apple Corp doesn't wish to give that opportunity to people who spend all of that $ on these reissues.
firedog's picture

Software: DVD audio extractor
Passkey for Blu-ray

firedog's picture

Michael-
Did you ever get a rip of the BluRay? I can dropbox it for you if you want.

firedog's picture
wgb113's picture

As with the Pepper and White album reviews this one covered all of the bases for me, a Beatles fan not born until they were 3-4 albums into their solo careers.

The Beatles are THE reason I ever got into stereo equipment. An uncle that's only 10 years older than I had a big influence on my early music leanings and after being into hard rock/metal of the late 80s he introduced me to The Beatles. He had a modest system - Advent Baby IIs, Sherwood receiver, Sony TT, Tape Deck and CD but it was set up "properly" and in a dedicated room. He'd record the local FM station's Breakfast With The Beatles every Sunday when they played the rare outtakes culled from various bootlegs. We'd go to record shows and search out Yellow Dog CDs for the same. He'd point out all of the different little things to listen for that were at different depths in the mix.

It was ear opening! So much so that as soon as I saved up enough money I invested in my own stereo system - NAD integrated amp and CD player with NHT SuperOne speakers. Anthology Vol. 1 was my first CD and the first thing played (and played and played) on that stereo. I was thrilled.

I've got the Super Deluxe CD box and 1-LP on order with my local. Looking forward to diving in this weekend!

Thanks Michael!

Robin Landseadel's picture

My dad bought Abbey Road and the original cast recording of "Hair" on the same day, which was weird considering he was into Sinatra, Ella, Nat King Cole, etc, & had plenty of nasty things to say about the Fab Four. Guess he must have liked "Something". We played the record a million times on the sort of record-eating gear popular at the time. A few years later, when I worked at Wherehouse records, would regularly go to a nearby "Big Ben's"—Wherehouse's attempt at the sort of scale and level of stock one would find at a Tower. I grabbed all of the UK imports of the Beatles catalogue, also the wonderful German pressing of Magical Mystery Tour. Eventually I started collecting the Japanese imports [with shrieking EQ] of the Beatles records, along with other LPs like the Charlie Parker series on Japanese Verve. But the most interesting/weird pressing I encountered was at Peter Howard's "Serendipity Books" in Berkeley. I don't know why Peter Howard liked me, but one day the irascible proprietor handed me a copy of Abbey Road, in immaculate condition, of a pressing from the Netherlands. Excellent sound, very quiet surfaces, good bottom octaves. BUT! "I Want You/She's So Heavy" had a fade out [instead of rising to pure distortion and then cutting off, like Xenakis' "Bohor"], and there was no "Her Majesty" on side two [?!?].

Serendipity Books was one of the World's great bookstores, the link is to a New York Times article noting its closure in the wake of Peter Howard's death back in 2011:

https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/07/serendipity-books-r-i-p/

weirdo12's picture

The text has moved...

McFaden's picture
Michael Fremer's picture
The Apple moved. The text absolutely did not!
weirdo12's picture

The wall moved...better? :D

Keen Observer's picture

Use the wall as the reference frame. Compare the apple to the background pattern. There's been no movement of the apple relative to the wall. If the text is one's reference, then you'd have to say both the wall and the apple moved. Michael just lacks simple pattern recognition skills I reckon.
The 1979 MFSL release, for example, is a very different story. The text has moved, but there's been a drastic move of the apple.

weirdo12's picture

"Compare the apple to the background pattern. There's been no movement of the apple relative to the wall."

Russo7516's picture

What about Prssing PCS 7088 ?

Steve Smith's picture

"The original U. K. vinyl edition does things the remix doesn't and vice versa. It's nice to have both."

Amen. I get so tired of this 'either/or' noise when there is 'and'.

swissguy's picture

Michael, do you have the MFSL version for comparison?

swissguy's picture

Just watched your video.

DrJB's picture

Your observations about the snare drum, attenuated top end, and sluggish bottom are threatening to harsh the Beatle birthday buzz that I have going at the moment.

You see, yesterday, my wife presented me with the 2014 mono version of Sgt. Pepper for my 64th--a very appropriate gift on several levels! It was the only mono release that I was missing from that series, mostly because I wasn't paying attention in 2014, and now they are going for stupid money. She found a sealed copy in Italy for $150 and it arrived exactly on my birthday. I cued it up on my mono-dedicated deck and I still haven't come down from that experience. I was hoping for a repeat performance on Friday, but if it's not to be, I can always put on the recent mono versions of Rubber Soul or Revolver which I think could be two of the best engineered rock recordings I've ever heard (yes, to many in my generation, the Beatles are a rock band).

A lot of what you said about the new Abbey Road could be applied to the most listenable version that I currently own--a '79 MoFi release that I find enjoyable, if not somewhat disjointed. The overall presentation is like the instruments and voices are floating in space without any mix glue applied. I have the two official CD versions from '87 and '09 along with an orange label Capitol release from '76 (be kind, it's all I could find at the time), and, similar to your report on the new version, the MoFi Abbey plays much quieter than my other releases. This can happen when gain reduction (compression) is avoided or only lightly applied during mixdown and/or mastering in order to preserve the dynamic range. It can also account for the timid transients and snare drum attack which would normally benefit from judicious application of a mastering compressor.

Since I have not heard the new version (is it Friday yet?), everything I've just said could be totally and utterly misguided, but I guess it's my way of tempering my expectations.

Tomasz Olkiewicz's picture

Thank you for this excellent, riveting review. I cannot wait to get my copy. Look forward to meeting you in Warsaw this fall.

ananed's picture

I just played my 2009 CD. While it's probably won't touch this 50th anniversary vinyl, it was nice to hear exactly 50 years later through a quad of KT120's. Thank's Michael!!!

BTW, This VW cover is sold out but you can download it...

https://www.volkswagen-abbeyroad.se/home

feldmanacrossthehall's picture

I am heartbroken. Just came home with the brand new 50th anniversary Abbey Road remix LP. Lovingly washed and vacuumed the LP in my RCM, and couldn't wait to put it on my turntable. But the sound coming out of the vinyl is horrible! All muffled and lifeless. "Come Together" sounds as if someone stuffed thick cotton balls into my ears. The bass is boomy and flabby, the highs are muffled, the mids recessed. Heartbreakingly bad.

I rushed to put on my original Abbey Road pressing, worried that maybe my stylus was damaged, but much to my relief, the original LP sounds crips, sparkly, with amazing, hefty taut bottom end! My stylus is still in great shape.

What on earth were Giles and his crew thinking? Did the original tapes deteriorate this much over 50 years? Is it possible that I got a botched vinyl copy?

Also, what happened to maracas in the outro of "Come Together"? On the original LP they're amazing, plainly audible in the right channel. On the new remix they're simply gone, vanished for some reason.

Sad day...

firedog's picture

Can clearly be heard in the right channel in the 24/96 from Qobuz.

Michael Fremer's picture
I felt as you did first play but over time I managed to not compare to the original but enjoy it as is and I found it very sensitive to tracking force! I know that sounds crazy but that's what I found. It's also cut at a much lower level (25 minutes side 1) so if you just go back and forth you will definitely not like the remix. It must be played with the volume turned up relative to the original!
feldmanacrossthehall's picture

Hmm, very interesting point. To be fair, I was impressed with their sensible choices in staying rather close to the original mix (did not like the liberties they took on some tracks from White Album).

Listening to it again, it sounds to me like those digital recordings where engineers tried really hard to make it sound like vinyl. Soft knee and all that. But it still does not gel with me. It lacks that essential visceral dimension. Because to me, the Beatles were all about rock and roll, that kick in the groins. After all, the name of the band itself contains the word BEAT!

ananed's picture

Sorry, maybe you could past this into the previous post

https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a29234607/volkswagen-beetle-beatles-ab...

David Martin's picture

Thank-you Micheal for your time and, input on complex and, varied subject matter. For me as a young person, the purchasing of this Beatles release was memorable. All of the record bins in the music dept. at the local White Front Were all Abbey Road records. Up one side and down the other. (Not) the End, Dave M.

Martin's picture

First up, I have an original UK first pressing of Abbey Road, Apple off to the side and all, which sounds great.
Plus a second, "-2U" press. Which also sounds great.

This morning I purchased the HD tracks download.
Which on my Sennheisers here in the office anyway, sounds great.
Will run it through my system this evening. Yes, a very good DAC.

The thing is, in general, why on earth would I get digitally sourced vinyl when I can get the source files? And bypass all the issues associated with vinyl.
It's a generalisation I know, but digitally sourced vinyl must be one of the biggest wanks perpetrated on the music buying public.

Michael Fremer's picture
I disagree. For many reasons....
jazz's picture

Would you mind shortly giving your main reasons what you think why it makes sense to play hires digital by vinyl? Thanks!

jazz's picture

Sorry, I now read two of your reasons on the first comment page (better resolution than CD and probably better DAC at the recording studio than at home)...but is there anything else when comparing the vinyl to a hires file of the album why you would recommend the vinyl in most cases of such digitally sourced vinyl?

DaveyF's picture

+1000

Martin's picture

with all the outtakes.
All the ones I've had a listen to so far sound great.

From the mixing and mastering, this is a great job.
Love it.
Like I loved the White Album deluxe edition.
But. It's still 96/24 digital.

StonedBeatles1's picture

No Comment

-George Martin..

firedog's picture

Sounds fantastic. Can easily hear all the detail, there's good space between the instruments (not too much), and it still has a sort of warm sound that was part of the original.

The more powerful bass/drums is not overdone and also is an improvement.

I usually listen to Abbey Road with the 24/44.1 2009 version over a system with very good bass. So hearing prominent bass isn't such a huge change for me.

But this remix is really good.

Well done, Giles and team.

Now if my box set will just arrive....

Macman007's picture

Will the deluxe book you show only be in the digital box and not the vinyl box,..I'm calling them that,.. assuming its a box set. The 3 LP set will only include the new remix, and the 2 demos LP's? I've looked all over for a concrete answer, maybe I'm blind. Seems kind of pointless and backwards if it is not included with both sets, rewarding the digiphites with a DVD and a book, but the loyal vinyl guys dropping their coin on the 3 vinyl set get stiffed.

In my case it makes no sense for me to buy the digital set. While I would read the book, and might watch the DVD, the CD's would never get any play. I own the 2009 CD Stereo box, the Mono CD box set, and the original '87 CDs. I never listen to them. My CD box sets have all but one title still sealed the mono Sgt Pepper. I've got millions more miles on the LPs which the CD's will ever see. Not even my 87'cd's received very much play. The CD's never seem to sound as good.

If I want to hear the boys in the car, it'll be on a cassette copy made from the LP on a Nak Dragon, and not on a CD. I do own and play CD's that sound good, but FWIW, Beatles music never sounds right on them. My one regret (2 actually) was buying the Stereo and Mono CD box sets and not the Mono vinyl box, and prices are beyond what I could pay to get one...but I digress

Why would they NOT put the book in the deluxe vinyl box? I was all set to buy a copy pending Mikes review, not I'm not so sure..

Apologies all around if this question has been answered, or I missed it..

stretch35's picture

yes, book only in cd bluray set. UME wants you to buy both if you want the book.

Macman007's picture

Thank you for clearing that up. I am having the same thoughts,seems they want you to go for the Trifecta, Deluxe vinyl and digital plus the picture disc just for kicks. I'll be going for the vinyl for now and add the digital box later. There is too much other vinyl out I can get with that extra 80-odd dollars The picture discs never sound great, but they look cool framed on the wall, and make great conversation starters. It would be nice if Apple/UME limited the number of picture discs pressed. That way one day they might actually be worth something. Not that I'll live that long!

By the way, does anyone know if any of the new AR anniversary releases are limited runs, like the Mono vinyl box was? I'm really peeved at myself because I missed out on that one, and prices tripled or quadrupled. I'll probably never get a chance to hear or own one, I hear it's the best set to listen to out of all of their releases except the original UK Mono's.

Just curious, how does the 50th anniversary AR vinyl compare to the 2012 stereo vinyl? It's got to sound better, even though it's mixed differently from the 2012 stereo and the original UK vinyl.

NikonNick's picture

Tena Koe from New Zealand. Cheers for the great review Mike. Have my 3 vinyl copy on order. Can’t wait to hear it.

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