ABKCO's Rolling Stones Reissues: The Manhattan Transfers

This article originally appeared in the final edition of Art Dudley’s Listener magazine, before the Rolling Stones catalog had been reissued, but after the promo sampler had been distributed. The SACD catalog has been out now for some time and it's been a phenomenal success.

Now of course we have the Stones LPs cut from the DSD masters and judging by website visitor’s emails, those who have bought some of these LPs agree that they sound great. Not as good as original DECCAs, but damn good. I just borrowed a Mo-Fi Stones box and will do the obligatory comparison ASAP.

How the material made it from original analog tape to DSD master is included in the Listener article.

Back in 1995 in The Tracking Angle (Volume 1, issue 4), I surveyed the Rolling Stones on record and CD. After sampling the sound and packaging of ABKCO’s Decca/London era CDs, I concluded “This catalog cries out for a re-do using the original British master tapes, and art work.”

Seven years of catalog wailing later, the deed has been done, and based on a 21 track hybrid SACD demo disc I snared the other day, the results are nothing less than stunning—and I’m using the word literally— no surprise given how it was accomplished under the watchful eye and ear of Restoration Producer Jody Klein.

Original tapes were procured from both sides of the Atlantic and in some cases from members of the Rolling Stones themselves. The tapes—in great condition it turns out— were transferred by Steve Rosenthal at New York’s the Magic Shop using an Ampex ATR 102 reel to reel deck restored and heavily modified by ATR Service Co, the outfit that does restoration/mod work for most of your favorite analog studios and reissue mastering engineers. Simultaneous transfers were made using a DSD (Sony’s acronym for the 2.83MHz/1bit recording process that yields SACDs) recorder/editing/mixing console, a Sonic Solutions digital audio workstation, and a half-inch 30 IPS analog recorder. The DSD flat transfers were shipped to Bob Ludwig’s Gateway Mastering. Ludwig referenced the transfers to original American and UK pressings on a Well Tempered turntable fitted with what looks like a van Den Hul cartridge driving the Manley Steelhead phono amplifier.

Ludwig told me he tried to master the tracks “true to the spirit” of the originals. There was no “modernizing” ala the putrid work done to The Beatles on their best selling 1 hits package. When there was hiss on the tape, you’ll hear it on the SACD. In the process of finding the true original source tapes, the researchers made some significant discoveries—for Stones fans, anyway—including wrong speeds on all versions of “Mother’s Little Helper,” and “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadows,” and the entire Beggar’s Banquet album (too slow), and a bandless master of Let It Bleed, indicating that the group’s intention was for the songs to flow one into another. The restoration corrects speed errors and presents Let It Bleed as intended, though individual tracks are programmable.

I hear your questions and I can answer all in the affirmative. Yes, electronically reprocess for stereo tracks have been removed and replaced with blessed mono. Yes, true stereo mixes have replaced mono “when available and appropriate,” including “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Around and Around,” and the others where stereo mixes have appeared sporadically on bootlegs and foreign CD editions. Yes, The Singles Collection has now been assembled using the original single masters, and both Hot Rocks and Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) include stereo mixes where appropriate . Yes, there will be both American and UK issues of key albums where tracks differed such as Out of Our Heads, Between the Buttons and Aftermath, and yes, Metamorphosis will finally be issued on digital disc, and yes, it will be the U.K. version with additional tracks. More Hot Rocks will include 3 additional tracks including "Poison Ivy" which has also never before been available on a CD, and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” without the overdubbed audience used on the original Got Live if you Want it.

There will be 22 hybrid titles in all (the CD layer being 20bit SBM sourced from the DSD recording) with single disc releases selling for a very reasonable $18.98 , and I wish there were 3 additional ones: the mono mixes of Aftermath, Between the Buttons, and Beggar’s Banquet. Perhaps those will come later. Packaging will be the much preferred Digipacks which will remain as faithful as possible to the original LP issues. Andrew Loog Oldham’s and the excruciatingly self-import Anthony DeCurtis’ liner notes for the singles collection have been retained.

I hear you, but I can’t give you a definite “yes,” on that, though I did lobby Jody Klein personally at the “listening party,” and via email. I suggested Kevin Gray at AcousTech mastering, and RTI to plate and press, which wouldn’t be a stretch since RTI presses the current abysmal sounding digitally remastered ABKCO Stones LPs. Forgive me for breaking with “electrical correctness,” but I also suggested that they listen to test pressings mastered from the DSD as well as the 30 IPS analog transfers and choose whichever sounded best.

So there you have it: one of the most important, pleasure inducing, memory jogging, vital catalogues in all of pop music, restored and even improved to (and in some cases beyond ) its original glory. How good is the sound? I played the SACD layer on an Accuphase DP-85 I just finished reviewing for Stereophile, and the CD layer on my reference Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 3D CD player, and both layers revealed heretofore unheard musical details, which surprised the hell out of me, but beyond that, there was a clarity, liquidity and ease about the demo tunes that reminded me of great analog. I’m betting that you will be impressed, as will the surviving Beatles. Given that EMI has also committed to support the SACD format, can the Beatles’ catalog in SACD (and perhaps 180g analog vinyl) be far behind?