The Audiophiliac chats with the project's mastering engineers to get the inside scoop on the Beatles sound.
by Steve Guttenberg
February 15, 2014
On Sunday, February 9, in 1964, 73 million viewers in the US and millions more in Canada watched the Beatles' American television debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The band's very first LP, "Meet the Beatles," sold 3.6 million albums in the first two months in the US, and Capitol Records went on to sell 15 million Beatles albums in the States in 1964. These were different albums, with different combinations of songs than the Beatles albums released in England. That separate release pattern continued until June 1967 with the release of the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album, which was exactly the same record all over the world.
Now, with the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first US appearance in full swing, Capitol Records has remastered the entire US catalog and released 12 individual albums and a deluxe box set. I spoke with the project's audio supervisor, Steve Berkowitz, and mastering engineer, Greg Calbi, to learn about how they fine-tuned the sound. The project stretched out for months as they auditioned a vast number of analog and digital masters of the US and British Beatles albums. Berkowitz and Calbi also had access to unplayed original US Beatles LPs, and they used them to get a handle on the sound that Beatles fans heard the first time around.
What's the best archived version of a Beatles song? That gets really complicated, and something Berkowitz and Calbi had to sort out, and did so on a track-by-track basis. Then when those tunes were assembled to make complete albums, it was Calbi's job to make them sound good together. When I did a series of comparisons on my own with LP and CD versions there were clear sonic differences, but I was thrilled with the 2014 US Beatles remasters' sound. Unlike the 2009 stereo-only British CDs, each US album has stereo and mono versions of every tune. That's a pleasant surprise; the 13-disc "Beatles in Mono" box that came out in 2009 currently sells for over $170 on Amazon.
The two US movie soundtrack albums, "A Hard Day's Night," and "Help!" had Beatles tunes and a handful of non-Beatles score tracks, but the British albums had Beatles songs only. The new US remasters have the score tracks, which were mastered from the original analog tapes. I always skipped over the score tunes when I was a kid, but I'm really enjoying them now.
I bought the US Beatles Capitol Albums sets when they were remastered in 2004, and compared those discs with the 2014 remasters. Frankly, there's no comparison; the new ones sound better. They're more fleshed out, less compressed, and clearer. So even if you own the 2004 sets I'd recommend buying at least some of the 2014 Beatles albums.
I was hoping Capitol would have remastered the only official Beatles concert album, "The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl," which debuted in 1977 on LP, and never appeared on CD. I'm sure that'll eventually happen. New vinyl isn't in the plans right now for the US Beatles catalog, and neither are high-resolution downloads, but there's always next year.
Credit: CBS Interactive/CNET