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Christmas Gift Guide
Audio

You've never heard The Beatles sound like this before

The latest round of Beatles LPs are pure, unadulterated analog -- and sound better for it!

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Apple Corps Ltd.

If you're under 40, there's a good chance you've never heard the Beatles' music the way it sounded in the 1960s. All of their music, every note of it, was recorded on analog tape -- but all of the Beatles' CDs and LPs mastered after 1986 were sourced from digital masters. Even the 2012 remastered stereo LPs were cut from digital masters. So the big news here is the 2014 remastered mono Beatles LPs are the first to be 100 percent all-analog albums since the 1980s. If you've never heard the band's older LPs, the new mono, 180-gram LPs will knock you for a loop. I have the limited-edition "The Beatles in Mono" box set, but the mono LPs are also available individually.

To put some perspective on why I'm making a big deal about this, almost all new LPs by today's bands are mastered from digital sources, even when they were originally analog recordings! Digital is cheaper and faster technology. Analog tapes are delicate, locating an analog tape machine in tip top condition isn't easy, and mastering all-analog LPs can be a big hassle. Generations of engineers have grown up with digital -- they don't always have the skill set required to get the best out of analog tapes.

That's why the latest Beatles mastering job was performed at Abbey Road Studios by engineer Sean Magee and mastering supervisor and all-around nice guy Steve Berkowitz. "The Beatles in Mono" CD boxed set released in 2009 was created from digital masters. For this vinyl project Magee and Berkowitz cut the records with the original analog tape masters, and no digital converters were used. Magee and Berkowitz worked in the same room at Abbey Road where most of The Beatles' albums were cut in the 1960s, guided by the sound of the first-generation albums and detailed transfer notes made by the original cutting engineers.

Their hard work paid off -- the new LPs are the quietest pressings I've ever played, with nary a pop or click. The quality control issues I experienced with the 2012 stereo LP remasters are thankfully not repeated with the mono LPs. The LPs for all markets are being manufactured in Germany.

I own a ton of stereo British and American pressed Beatles albums, but just two original mono British pressings, "Rubber Soul " and "Revolver." Both of these are in excellent condition so they were called into service for comparison listening tests. My old LPs sounded a tad more compressed and less clear, the 2014 versions were more three-dimensional. Obviously, they were much quieter, and there was more depth and body to the sound of voices and instruments. I felt like I was listening back through time and tapping into more of the Beatles' energy. Vocals are more present and, for lack of a better word, complete.

I know some Beatles fans prefer the sound of the mono versions of the albums -- possibly because the mono mixes were supervised and approved by The Beatles back in the day -- the stereo mixes were not. Even so, the mono versions never really connected with me -- but there's something about the sound of the 2014 LPs that's turning me around. The more direct quality of the sound, compared with the stereo versions, is addicting. The orchestral climax on "A Day in the Life" sounds more dramatic on the mono "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" LP. I've heard the tune a zillion times before, and now it's changed for me. That's monumental.

The box set's 12-by-12-inch hardcover book features new essays and a detailed history of the mastering process. The book is beautifully illustrated with studio photos of The Beatles, fascinating archive documents, and articles and advertisements sourced from 1960s publications. The quality of the printing is superb; the large storage box for the LPs and book is nicely done.

For the mono-curious, I'd recommend starting with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," but any album from "Rubber Soul" forward would do; The 14-disc "The Beatles in Mono" box set would make a terrific gift for any Beatle fan with a high-end turntable. The last three Beatles albums, "Yellow Submarine," "Let It Be," and "Abbey Road" were stereo only and never released in mono, so they're not included in this new series.

The 14 discs include:

"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"

"Magical Mystery Tour"

"The Beatles" (The White Album) (2-LP)

"Mono Masters" (3-LP)