Giles Martin’s “Pass the Salt and Pepper” Remix on CD

It all started as a misheard request for a condiment, Paul McCartney recollects in one of the introductions to the box's sumptuously produced book. During a flight back from America, the band's roadie Mal Evans asked Paul to "pass the salt and pepper", which he misheard as "Sergeant Pepper".

The deluxe box set arrived yesterday containing among other things, a gatefold LP jacket in which are four CDs as well as a DVD and a Blu-ray disc. The box represents packaging and musical completeness worthy of an epic album like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The vinyl is sold separately and is on its way.

It will take time to go through all of the previously unreleased outtakes and instrumentals on CDs two and three and the original mono mix plus bonus tracks on CD four, as well as the Blu-ray disc containing 5.1 channel remixes in DTS HD Master audio and Dolby Tru HD 5.1 plus 5.1 remixed bonus tracks “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” (which George Martin said not including on Sgt. Pepper’s… was perhaps the greatest mistake of his Beatles producing career), as well as the 1080i video content— the 1992 documentary “The Making of Sgt. Pepper” and three promotional videos—as well as the hard-covered book. All of this, while interesting, pales in importance compared to the main event, which is the re-mix.

So let’s cover that now because getting to the rest will take some time. Please read the previous post about Giles Martin’s re-mix strategy. Last night I sat down to first listen to the re-mix on CD and then to an original UK stereo pressing (lacquer 1, mother 1, stampers 4 (side 1) and 13 (side 2).

Obviously CD isn’t my favorite format. I would have preferred hearing the 96/24 high-resolution file, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to get it off of the Blu-ray disc and onto my computer. I don’t have a Blu-ray audio disc (or DVD-audio disc) player. This is a real shame because for many it limits access to the files. The solution is probably to buy a Blu-ray drive and ripping software.

I was twenty years old the first time I heard this album—I bought it at E.J. Korvette’s in Douglaston, NY the day it was released (I remember it as if it was just the other day) so when The Beatles sang “it was twenty years ago today”, that seemed like the distant past, but not as long in that direction as hitting sixty four would be in the future for McCartney who wrote it when he was sixteen or for any teenager or twenty-something listening in 1967. Now that I’m past that age, well……I am digging a garden as I’ve been doing for decades and “mending some fuses” as an audio writer but hardly as McCartney pictured the sixty four year olds in the song—no doubt McCartney feels likewise as an almost seventy five year old still going strong on the concert stage.

What I thought I heard at the McIntosh Town House event is what I heard at home. The more times you’ve heard this album, especially in stereo, the more you will probably enjoy this re-mix.

I am not going to go track by track and describe the stereo/mono differences between the originals because the superbly produced book does that track-by-track. Martin had to decide whether to produce a new stereo mix that mirrored the original mono or keep the original stereo elements such as McCartney’s “missing” wails at the end of the “Sgt. Pepper’s…” reprise that can only be heard as an echo track. That of course was an example of a mixing a mistake not an esthetic choice. Many of the crossfades in stereo were not exactly elegant compared to the smoother monos. The stereo machines sounded different than the mono ones, different compressors were used for the stereo and mono mixes. All of this (and more) contributed to the easily heard differences between the two mixes. From the two “passes” I’ve so far made, it’s pretty clear that Martin’s goal was to produce a stereo mix that more closely mirrors the original mono including purposeful speed changes and vocal effects requested by The Beatles that are on the original mono but not the original stereo.

While stereo by 1967 had been around for almost a decade, for most young listeners the novelty was still fresh of hearing different “things” in the left and right channels as well as in the “phantom center channel”. However, the passing of time as in fifty year’s worth, makes clear that the original stereo mix was a disjointed, messy affair, in which “globs” of pre-mixes intended to be folded down to mono were almost haphazardly placed hard-left, hard-right and center because the mixers’ choices were so limited.

The vocal pans across the soundstage, while novel and “fun” in 1967 (especially listening for the first time stoned through Koss Pro 4A headphones) was not what The Beatles themselves had ordered or probably wanted—not that back then they paid attention to the stereo mix.

This new mix is not a “re-imagined” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Rather it’s a clarified and far more orderly and coherent mix, with a more natural stereo spread that’s not as wide and disjointed as was the original. Vocals are centered where they would have been had it been possible back then to put them there. The holes have been plugged. The “clusters” have been more effectively woven into a seamless whole. The bottom end is somewhat more powerful and McCartney’s bass lines made more prominent but thankfully not to the point of distraction as they were on the 2009 CD (and FLAC 24 bit Flash Drive) and 2012 vinyl box sets. In fact, the bottom end, at least here, is ideal.

One thing Martin did not do is sledgehammer dynamics. I put the tracks up on Audacity and there were no “flat tops” but that was just to confirm the audibly wide dynamics.

As I described the other day, Martin was able to go back and use the original multi-track pre-mixdown elements rather than just mixing from the final four track pre-mix, thus saving at least one and possible more generations. So take for example, “When I’m Sixty Four”. First, this is a track that McCartney requested be sped up a half-tone to make him sound younger and the track more “chipper”. The stereo mixers probably were unaware because they didn’t do it on the original. Martin did it on the remix.

I promise you’ve never heard the clarinet trio on this track sound this tonally or texturally correct nor the tubular bells sound so properly metallic and “chimey” whether in mono or stereo. The more times you’ve played this record over the years the more you’ll be impressed by how things sound fundamentally the same, yet when they do sound different it’s almost always for the better.

The mono mix on vinyl has always sounded somewhat brighter and harder than the stereo mix and that’s also true here. Did Martin purposely EQ it that way? I don’t know. After listening to the CD re-mix, the original stereo record sounds softer—almost too soft— though at the same time more “relaxed” and spacious, especially in terms of stage width and depth. The re-mix’s upper midrange can be hard at times and the “She’s Leaving Home” strings on the original stereo vinyl kill the CD re-mix strings, which are somewhat harsh-sounding and lacking in bottom end weight but overall and by a wide margin I preferred the new digital stereo mix just because it’s a much better mix that still manages to remain true to the original’s spirit and to the intentions of the album’s creators.

Hope to have vinyl and 96/24 review posted ASAP as well as more in-depth coverage of the other discs and the book and box as a whole. The book includes a track-by-track recording history. Perhaps this line from the “With a Little Help From My Friends” page helps explain why the mono mix has always sounded more seamless and better constructed: “The next day, fifteen versions of a mono mix were made until all were happy with the final one. The amount of ADT (automatic double tracking—an Abbey Road developed technique to produce vocal doubling) added to Ringo’s vocal for the mono version was reduced when the stereo mix was completed after three attempts on 7 April.”

COMMENTS
Steelhead's picture

I was a hick teen in upstate NY when this amazing album hit. After first listen we sat around and just were floored. Still remember the impact and buzz this album made and how it spread like wildfire. Wow, still holds up for me and enjoyed the pro 4a reference as that was my first set of headphones.

I know you and an original engineer slagged the mofi uhqr of pepper but I adore it and it is my go to. Perhaps because warm, dark, and the more tubes the better is my ballpark and maybe the smile eq makes for the perfect recipe? I also have the mono boxset and blue box pepper. Like both of them but the uhqr is the one I always spin.

I pre-ordered this album of course and really looking forward to it. I bought the cd of Love and enjoy the hell out of it. My brother hates it and made me take it off when he visited as he compared it to someone gashing the mona lisa. I liked the mash up and so it goes. Thought Mr. Martin did a fine job on it. Made peace by throwing the blue box Revolver on and everything was fine

Thank you for the review Mr. Fremer. This one I will be waiting at the mail box for.

thomoz's picture

Steelhead:

I have listened to
the UK HTM cut (tube cut) stereo (earliest press)
the UK HTM cut (solid state) stereo
The German "dull color " Apple (earlier press) -AND THE CLEAR WINNER
The AR series JPN (earliest press)
The MFSL
The MFSL UHQR
The black/silver Parlophone Holland 1978
- and if you ever hear that early Apple German (and not the later one w/ the contrast-y bright green label) you will be utterly blown away.

There is a misguided midrange boost on the "HTM UK tube cut" stereo done in an attempt to pull out Ringo's vocal on WALHFMF and it just makes the track sound bad.

Steelhead's picture

I certainly do not have the depth and experience of your listening to Pepper. I also do not discount your preference as I have found certain reissues not to sound as lively (frankly as good) as some of my older beat copies of different albums. I also bought a German press Apple white album in 1972/1973 while stationed in Germany and it easily stood out as sounding special. Many comments from listeners on how nice it sounded. The vinyl has not stood up and it has some nasty pops and ticks but I have probably spun it close to 100 times. Hell, I even have probably heard number 9 around 50 times. I bonded with the UHQR and on my system it just sounds great to me so it is my go to. I am looking forward to the Giles Martin reissue on vinyl though as it is time to see if the UHQR stays in the sleeve. Happy Listening!

J. Carter's picture

The MFSL is the favorite of the ones I own as well (for stereo). Granted I only have the MFSL, BC13 Box version and 2009 reissue.

2_channel_ears's picture

How does Lennon's voice sound on LSD? On the remastered stereo it is horrible, sounds sped up and nasally and not clear vs the mono LP reissue of a few years ago.

jasonv's picture

hooked up via HDMI to a compatible receiver will playback the 5.1 DTS-HD MA and TrueHD soundtracks. Wasn't sure if you were implying you needed a special "Blu-ray audio player." Dying to know how this sounds.

PAR's picture

..but I think that Michael is referring to the 24/96 PCM version that is also held on the Blueray disc. I have had to think similar thoughts and to hear it I would need a USB Blueray drive plus special ripping software. Checking the(UK) prices this would cost me 110 gbp for the box set, around 70 gbp for the drive and $39 for the ripping software. So call it 200 quid to hear one album.

I thought a bit more, realised that I already own 5 different versions of Sgt. Pepper, wondered whether I really need another of dubious artistic merit (it not being echt Beatles - that being solely the original mono vinyl disc) and threw in the towel.

imthewalrus79's picture

For the Blu Ray, if you have a Blu Ray player hooked up to a home theater receiver via an HDMI cable, that's all you'll need to hear the high resolution mixes from the Blu Ray disc. Obviously, you would need to have a surround speaker set up from that receiver to properly hear the surround mix. Even if you don't have the Blu Ray player hooked up via HDMI, but have the audio hooked up for surround via a digital optical cable, you'll still be able to listen to the surround mix. The only difference is that you won't get the full resolution (Dolby TrueHD or DTSHD) but the slightly lower resolution core (plain Dolby Digital or DTS).

As for the DVD, having not seen the disc yet, I cannot comment on if they made it a DVD-Audio disc, which would need a specialized DVD-Audio player to play back the higher resolution audio mix. But again, as long as you have your DVD player hooked up for sound to your receiver's digital optical input, the disc should be set up for you to listen to a slightly lower resolution version of the music. That said, considering that the DVD-Audio format is pretty much dead, I would think this is just a standard DVD with a primary focus on the audio.

Either way, as long as you have the DVD/Blu Ray player and a proper home theater setup, you shouldn't need to buy anything extra to enjoy listening to the music on these discs vs buying any other DVD or Blu Ray disc.

PAR's picture

...I think both Michael and I concerned about how we get to hear the stereo PCM 24/96 version through our main stereo audio systems not via a home theatre setup (which I don't have in any case even if I do have an old blueray player/recorder - no way of connecting it to the stereo).

vinyl listener's picture

... hook up as per any other line level component.
better yet invest in a cambridge audio or oppo universal disc player which will handle all these non-redbook digital formats.
:)

StonedBeatles's picture

Bloody Wanker Piece of Shite Giles Martin..

Michael Fremer's picture
Not sure from where your anger stems but it's not from anything Giles Martin has ever done. This remix was done with input from Paul and Ringo plus Yoko and Harrisons. The original stereo mix was the "wanker mix" actually.
StonedBeatles's picture

Why change what is still an amazing picture of a 1967 stereo studio creation? Do you really think Macca cares about a a remix or is it how much thicker he can pad his bank account?
Next Beethoven will come back to rewrite his 5th and 9th symphony's.

VictorV's picture

All the time went into the mono mix.

MrRom92's picture

When the big day hits, I'll be listening to my UK mono 1st press. I believe that will always be the reference, the "go-to" (my McIntosh power amp is also from 1967 so it will be that much more period-authentic!)

That said, I'll be listening to the 24/96 remix immediately after. And then maybe repeatedly through headphones. This is my favorite album of all time, so I'm really excited to hear what Martin & co. have done with it. I have no doubts that it will top the original stereo mix. While entirely possible, I don't expect them to surpass or improve on the mono mix but if they can approach it and create something that better resembles it then they've succeeded IMO.

MrRom92's picture

PC blu ray drives are cheap and there is freeware software out there for extracting audio from your blu rays- I used this to great effect with the 1+ blu ray set, as that had all the new remixes specific to that set In 24/96 as well - LG makes the best drives on the market right now, ideally go for something like the BE16NU50. Very reliable, great build quality and feature heavy.

Michael Fremer's picture
You will like it... it's the mono mix in stereo...
Jack Gilvey's picture

as well as the 5.1 mixes. Not afraid to hear it new ways. Bring it on!

firedog's picture

Any inexpesive external disc drive can read DVD discs. Then you just need DVD audio extractor. 30 day trial available. Newer versions also work on BlueRay.

soundman45's picture

After hearing the first two preview tracks of the remixed Sgt. Pepper I actually hear more compression in the new mix than the original stereo mix. Although the instrument balance is fine I have always looked at the sfx mix in the stereo as the better version. In the mono what always bothered me was that you can actually hear the starting up of the tape machine in a couple spots. It was probably intentional but to me it sounds like a mistake. Lame.

saronian's picture

Summer '67 KRLA radio phone in battle between "A Day In The Life" vs. "Good Vibrations." Tough choice, I believe The Beatles just edged out The Beach Boys.