The Beatles The Singles Collection Arrives (REVISED 11/19/19)

I have been assured by co-producer Guy Hayden that this 45rpm box was cut directly from TAPE and that whatever transfers were done (hence the credit) was done as they were for the AAA mono album box, to use as a reference before actual cutting in order to preserve the tapes. There are 3 unspecified singles not cut from tape due to degradation, and of course "Real Love/ Free As a Bird" because those were always digital and on Umatic 1610. Guy is 100% correct that the implication that these were not cut from tape is unfair to Apple, The Beatles and Sean Magee. The other 20 singles I was assured were cut from the original analog cutting masters from the archives, the same tape used for the original UK singles. Hayden claims every effort was made to ensure that they sound as close to their original UK singles as possible, comparing each with an original UK first edition pressing.

I of course stand by my sonic impressions. It's what I heard, but I do owe Sean an apology if I mischaracterized what he said, which I assumed was "on the record", but it's an assumption I should have first cleared with him. It's always my intention of evaluating sonics based upon careful listening and with no "agenda" for or against anyone or any company. I went back and listened again, and I stick with what I wrote. but I also think there's been an overreaction by some readers. I did not charge these were cut from digital. I wrote that's what they sound like for whatever reason or reasons.

There seems to be an overreaction to this review! Yes, I was disappointed by what I heard. It was not what I was expecting based upon the sound of the EP collection and the World Records box. This box doesn't sound as good as it should, as described below: flat perspective, dried reverb that doesn't translate into space and worst of all: a lack of textures to vocals and especially drums: all attack, little sustain, weak decay. Single after single comparisons produced disappointment. As I wrote below, I didn't listen to all of the box before writing. Last night I played "Come Together" and "Something" and the new box sound was very "clear" and not dynamically compressed. "Pretty good" I said to myself. Then I played the "World" box version, and no contest— a return of textures, space, subtlety, etc.. That said, this box does not "suck"! It could have been better but it doesn't "suck" and the packaging is spectacular! How many of us actually plan to sit there and play side after side? People complain about double 45rpm LPs because of the 4 turnovers! So, consider why you were or were not buying this box before saying "yes" or "no". As an "object d' art" (or however that's pronounced) this box is a 10. So please don't overreact to the review!

The Beatles The Singles Collection arrived the other day and it was opened with great anticipation and the embedded YouTube video was quickly produced in a single take before listening to a note. As you'll see when you watch, the packaging is "top shelf" and imaginative and Kevin Howlett's booklet notes are illuminating and useful. Using original artwork from around the world was a nice touch that every Beatles fan will appreciate!

Sean Magee cut lacquers at Abbey Road Studios so I emailed him about the source material and he wrote back: "The audio I used was the same as the Mono vinyl box that Steve (Berkowitz) and I did. It was decided that this was best the way to go in the wake of the Mono Vinyl box.

"Any eq was based on the original cutting notes made by Harry Moss and the eq Steve and I had arrived at and with a few minor alterations to allow for the 7” medium.

"Whereas Mono masters LP was a master created for the LP as one didn’t exist , the singles were cut from the masters as there was no need to unpick then to create a “master”. "Love me do was direct from digits as the 7” sounded better than from a tape dubbed from our needle drop which was used for the Mono masters LP. I tested both."

That gave me great hope for sound that would match the outstanding packaging. However, one credit in the booklet gave me pause: under "Vinyl Mastering: Sean Magee at Abbey Road Studios" was this: "Library and tape transfers: Ian Pickavance and Cary Anning". That seems to be at odds with Mr. Magee's production description of "cut from masters", unless that meant after transfer to digital from original tape masters, because unfortunately, that's what it sounds like (I'm leaving this in because it's what I originally wrote, and now we know those transfers were used as references not for cutting, though I don't recall any such tape transfer credit on the mono AAA album box, and that did set me off in the wrong direction. If this was cut directly from tape, I'll eat the box with a knife and fork! Okay, I take that back (glad I did!) because I like the packaging too much.

I compared the singles in this box with a few originals I have here on American labels Swan and VJ, released before Capitol "lowered" itself and decided to distribute The Beatles, figuring later Capitol singles would have been Dave "Dexterized" and so not be a fair or useful comparison. More importantly, I compared these to the World Records "The Beatles Collection" box set produced in 1978 by EMI for its mail order only division, which you'll see in the video.

Revisiting these old singles was of course an act of pure nostalgic joy and I came away realizing how key was Ringo Starr to the band's success. His drumming has a visceral, earthy, sexy quality that might have subconsciously driven the girls back then mad, more than Paul's goo goo eyes! I'm serious!

However, while the drums on the World Records set are texturally and timbrally rich, on the new box they sound flat, dead and cardboard-y. Mono can have depth as the World Records versions prove and the added reverb helps produce the space.

The new box sounds dry, flat and boring. All of the voices reside on a flat plane, attack is stunted, sustain minimized and decay almost non-existent—all of the telltale signs of bad digitization—obvious even on the early "primitive" tracks. After comparing a few I moved forward to "Baby You're a Rich Man" and after that comparison I stopped to write this. I was going to digitize a bit of both so you could hear it. I realize that somehow digitizing an already digitized single is oxymoronic (and some of you may think having a discussion about sound quality of Beatles singles is just plain moronic, but it's not!). The World box singles sound alive, exciting and packed with transient details and depth. The top end sparkles where appropriate—like on "Ticket to Ride", where the guitar jangle is intense and Ringo's toms have depth and texture. On this box that track is flat and just plain boring, but "Baby You're a Rich Man" is even worse. I have chosen not to digitize and put any of it up here for you to stream just to avoid possible legal issues.

To say I'm disappointed with the sound is an understatement. It's as weak as the packaging is strong. As a souvenir or attractive shelf item this set gets an 11. As something you'd want to play it gets a 5: middling. I don't know what happened here but it produced a dull top, rubbery bottom, congested midrange, flat, dry perspective and heavy dynamic compression. To my ears that sounds like uncritical digitization using a mediocre A/D converter and with plenty of dynamic compression added for the "kill". I just don't believe this set was cut from tape. I don't blame Sean Magee, he cut from what he was given, but I re-read more critically his email and it doesn't make clear that he cut from tape. It sure doesn't sound like it. Nor does it sound as if the tapes have simply deteriorated from the time the World Records box was produced in 1977. The sonic differences between the two are major: one jumps from the speakers and is filled with timbral and spatial detail that excites the senses and the other just lays between the speakers and bores.

As a Christmas present it's better than a lump of coal in your stocking, mainly because of the superb packaging, which makes it a worthwhile and welcome gift for any Beatles fan, but sonically, it's strictly fossil fuel.

This box is a major sonic disappointment that I don't believe had to be. Yes, the packaging is exquisite but someone wasn't paying attention to the sound.

Music Direct Buy It Now

vinylsoul1965's picture

Quick question, Michael: Is Day Tripper mono or stereo? If it is stereo, does it have the "fade out" after "tried to please her?". That would prove that it would be from tape (and not the 2009 digital files). I would ASSUME that they used mono until Get Back or Ballad of John and Yoko (if they are using UK masters)...

Michael Fremer's picture
I have 100% confidence that the original tapes were used. The question is cut from tape, or transferred to digital first....that's the question...
Michael Fremer's picture
The later 45s do sound better than the earlier ones but the "World" version is still better on this and on "Come Together" and "Something"
Htobin5051's picture

During the Summer of 1983 Abbey Road was open to the public for tours before a major remodel. I happened to be in London for the first time and had a wonderful time. Highlights including listening to the original Acoustic Demo of Well My Guitar Gently Weeps, soaking in the atmosphere and using same Bathroom as the Beatles. (Kind of Dog leaving their sense thing)
My Photo its at Abbey Road

richiep's picture

History repeats itself! Now that there's money to be made in vinyl, the big record companies have taken over reproducing and controlling the music for quick profit as fast as they can regardless of the finished quality. I think the bands are as copiable not demanding the highest possible quality of their music for its historical preservation. The cycle will return to the quality manufactured material that we should demand from the likes of MFSL, Acoustic Sounds and the many other companies of the highest quality. I'm so disappointed that they would think more of the pictures than the sound, maybe the Beatles will speak to us from the sleeves? That is nice stuff but don't forget what moved us growing up and still does today!

Bigrasshopper's picture

Not simply because of the report of poor sound but because of the outright DECEPTION. So Sean McGee is paid to lie and apparently has no qualms about it.
Paid to lie to Analog Planet and all the readers who come here because we care.
I’m immediately thrown back to the release of the stereo box set and the ensuing storm that was generated because Abbey Road refused to cut the Beatles from tape in the authentic tradition of Beatles sound and to all the will and reaction that was generated and was necessary to achieve the mono box set, I’m dismayed because I had hoped that we had crossed a threshold with Abbey Road at least I regards to the Beatles. I remember how Micheal used his position as ambassador, allowing his readers to vent while he pursued a more diplomatic position.
Most memorable to me however was Art Dudley’s piece in Stereophile which I’m having trouble locating, expressed exactly the right tone and force of passion that the readers have for vinyl. This would be a good time for a revisit if someone else recalls that.
The Beatles and Abbey Road have a duty as custodians of history to maintain an authentic legacy of that time. That they would intentionally confuse and blatantly deceive customers in order to please the insurance company is disgraceful ! Even multi million dollar works of art are bought out of storage routinely so the public can understand what actually IS the significance of art in all of it’s fullness.

Michael Fremer's picture
We are at the surmising stage here so far. If I’m wrong, I will gladly eat digital crow... we need to get facts...
PeterPani's picture

they know, how they should do it (AAA). And then they do it ADA and try to tell us it is AAA. I was not convinced from the beginning, it always was like somebody trying to trick me into this.

arthur63's picture

Hi Michael,
Your reviews and opinions I highly value so am very disappointed to read the sound quality is poor. I was so looking forward to this release for asking price and poor sound quality I'm leaving it.
I'm lucky to have the earlier singles and EP box sets so will stick with these.
One interesting point with the 1978 singles box is that the 4 page fold out leaflet includes the names of the band members and their date of birth - the release pre-dates John's passing so there is no date of death.

stretch35's picture

..plan to sit there and play side after side? Do we need a third rating category for packaging? Is this set available without the vinyl, just the packaging?

Macman007's picture

This latest news comes as no shock... Taking the easy way out. Sgt Pepper and The White Album 50th vinyl rollouts were on 100% on point IMO. Then they screw the pooch, by not including the making-of book in the 3 LP Deluxe Abbey Road Vinyl set, only in the Digital Deluxe box.

It's a systematic mentality that is endemic of UME/Apple, dating back as far back as the 2009/2011 Mono/Stereo CD sets and Stereo Vinyl set, if not farther. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the double LP 'Ones' vinyl mixed and released in 2000 ? Then it was remixed again then re-released in 2015, further muddying the vinyl waters. What was so critical, what had changed so radically with vinyl quality during those 14 years? Nothing really. It's a cash grab, because there are so many Beatles fans blind in love and gullible, they will preorder or buy just about ANYTHING Beatles/ Beatles music related when it rolls out, just to say they have it.

The Mono Vinyl sets and individual Mono albums were rolled out in 2014 to try and appease the situation and backlash from the CD and vinyl releases from 2009 forward. Thank You Michael for your help in getting that out. Not keeping them in print, now that was STUPID. UME/ Abbey Road are at it again, tish time with the much anticipated Singles vinyl collection. I don't believe anything that comes from Sean Magee and Abbey Road et-al, anymore. Someone above feels that are all paid to lie and I honestly believe it. Unless you show can me documented footage detailing everything, from conception to release on an all-analog chain, master tapes to the vinyl in jackets, I'm simply not falling for it again. Sadly, there are other companies that do the same with their vinyl releases, hiding behind ambiguity and techno speak.

I don't have any problems whatsoever with well produced, great sounding vinyl release having a digital intermediate stage. Perhaps, it's after a flat transfer from master tapes, a tweak here or there, followed by cutting the lacquer, plating and pressing, that is OK. As long as it sounds good, not priced or represented as an all AAA release. Where I do take umbrage is when the lies are told, the facts misrepresented, the fans deceived, regarding the process in bringing the product to market, and how it was made.

If Mike tells me this new Singles release simply don't match up to the World Singles set audio-wise, then I trust his ears. If he says he can hear the results of digital manipulation, I believe him. What I don't get is why the lies are told, why the explanation given to him for his readership is kept deliberately ambiguous. My guess? It is simply to justify a limited and expensive Holiday release.

The other question begging to be asked here this is why can't Abbey Road and their engineers put out a decent sounding vinyl product of Beatles material containing a digital stage, and why are these things so expensive? There are plenty of other classic era rock and pop titles and box sets, coming out of Abbey Road containing a digital stage within, cut to vinyl, that sound great. Many of these releases, if you didn't know, you may never guess there is any digital manipulation contained within.

An even bigger question is why lie? You have to know you will get caught? Or do the principals themselves not even know for sure? Plausible deniability? Obviously, Abbey Road must think that Beatles vinyl fans listen to their Lp's and the new Singles Box on a Crosley Cruiser. I know Mike doesn't and I sure don't. Plenty of others don't either., and it's a lot of money for something not worthy to play and sit on a shelf collecting dust.

Sounds more like an overpriced lump of coal to me..

volvic's picture

You helped me make up my mind, ordered two cases of wine instead.

Michael Fremer's picture
UMe or Apple Corp would give me clearance to post a two file comparison for you. I realize that on some level digitizing this would be "oxymoronic" but I think it would give everyone a clear idea of what the new set sounds like and why I wrote what I wrote...
Grant M's picture

That's the part i totally don't understand. If you can capture the significant audio quality difference on a home made needle drop between two starkly different records, why are studio versions being released sound so bad in the first place? What goes wrong in the production stage that the result of a new singles box is worse that a Mikey needle drop of an older singles set?

dasacco's picture

Compared any of these new singles to some of the similar tracks on the 2014 "Mono Masters" LP?

ted321's picture

I certainly feel vindicated. I had no intention of buying the new box. I purchased the World records set back in 1978. It sat unplayed for decades until I read a thread a few years ago which talked about it in the Steve Hoffman Forum. It was noted that the records sounded fantastic. I started playing them (with Y connector for mono) and was thrilled by the sound as Mike describes in the review. Yes, it is a pain to get up and change sides every 2-3 minutes. But I play these singles relatively often now..the sound makes it well worth it. Sure the artwork could have been better. The new sleeves are really nice. I however am buying 75% for sound quality 25% for artwork. The steep price and the fact that I highly doubted anything could equal the World Records pressings resulted in the fact that I never considered buying the new set.

Macman007's picture

a person could easily record each single to analog tape for playback purposes. I've done this with various 12" 45RPM remasters including Fleetwood Mac Rumours, The Doors S/T, and Peter Gabriel SO. Open reel 1/4" quarter track stereo @ 7.5ips, using high quality tape, such as ATR's MDS36 with a decent machine sounds perfect, identical to the material recorded. That elegant looking, perfect sounding, ooey, gooey, tasty analog solution versus making a recording of your Beatles Singles collection just for the sake of creating an easier access 'playlist' (digital, ewww, yuck).

The Singles box offers a perfect scenario for using your old-school open reel machine or cassette deck, recording modern audiophile-quality vinyl played on a quality turntable, using a modern higher quality cartridge and phono stage. The result? The analog Beatles singles collection all together, on what we old farts used to call a Mixtape...Now, if only the new Singles Collection box set was a AAA recording. Oh well

...Long live analog..

Steelhead's picture

Well you can be serious and YES Ringo is definitely a great drummer.

No doubt those four lads just were an amazing freak of nature. They just can't be equaled,


Ringo's drumming over Paul's goo goo eyes being responsible for the shrieks and young girl infatuation. Come on Man. Paul was the one, Hell he still is the one.

Please forgive him working with Michael Jackson, Kayne, and other ill-advised collaborators like Linda, et al.

azmoon's picture

then it doesn't matter if its digital or not. Either way, it is botched based on what you heard. I agree it should be analog. But if it is, and it sounds lousy, it's botched for another reason.
PS - Mikey, please don't back down!

Mazzy's picture

Maybe others should listen to it and make their own call.

azmoon's picture

..and spend the $225 to see how it sounds. Everybody should just do that. No problem for anyone. Unreal.

tnargs's picture

Just shows the dangers of treating personal perceptions as reportable facts on sound waves. It is not a valid approach.

I occasionally try to point this out, but with limited success.

Of course, some people have built entire careers on doing exactly that, so it is never going to be welcome news. If, as it happens, one's casual listening perceptions are only useful to oneself, then there is really no reason to publish reports on them. Huh!

And other people have built entire collections from reading such reports, so they don't want to hear the truth either.

No wonder it's a hard sell!


vinylmus-2's picture

I read this review on the very day FEDEX is delivering the box set to me! Consequently, I just finished sending a message to Music Direct for permission to return it unopened for a store credit [hopefully]. Only just last evening I was enjoying a magnificent MOFI pressing of Dire Straits' Love Over Gold. And then this! Mr. Fremer, I just learned a good lesson from your review: no more pre-orders unless I find some early reviews first!

JR465's picture

Michael- Thanks for your review of the Beatles box. First off I respect the efforts by Sean and others to work from tapes when possible, going back to original mastering notes etc. Speaking for myself, now it's time to go back to the original mastering chain, resisting any and all temptation to 'upgrade' the equipment. At that point EQ and compression curves can be revisited to see if the originals can be improved upon. I'm not interested in Beatles 1/2 speed mastered, pressed DMM, hybrid digital/analog mastering etc, or cut AAA on a state of the art solid state mastering chain, the sound is just not working for me.

Every time I buy one of the Beatles reissues I prefer my 60s and 70s copies. This drier, tighter, less musically engaging presentation does not serve the music. As a friend said when I played one of the reissues 'all detail and no music'.

If this equipment no longer resides at Abbey Road, or cannot be sourced, in my opinion the next best thing would be to send the tapes to Sean Davies at the Electric Recording Company. While this may not be the identical setup used to cut the Beatles it is all Tube from start to finish and much closer represents what was originally used. If I'm not mistaken ERC even has an EMI BTR tape machine like the one used at Abbey Road back in the 60s, and may have even been used on some Beatles albums.

I look forward to the day where Beatles reissues can better originals.

Michael- Keep the reviews coming!


gMRfk6LMHn's picture

You have put into words succinctly! I have often wondered about all the 'tweaking' that goes on with vintage equipment and if by doing so, the mastering engineers were missing 'the point' completely! Modernising vintage equipment and then trying to get one's hands on the original tapes for authenticity seems to be a bit of a contradiction.

James, Dublin, Ireland

bamahooty's picture

Hey Michael and good day. I was halfway thinking about buying this set, but after reading your review and reading some comments, I have also decided against it. I even noticed that there are several sets on ebay for less than retail cost. Anyway, I have not been able to determine if this set is mono, stereo or both. So, did you listen to them with a stereo or mono cartridge/stylus?? I bought the 2014 mono box set last year and read a few blogs about how important it was to have a mono cart for mono recordings.

Thanks a lot
Mark Hooton
Harvest, AL