November 13th, 2012

Posted in Tunes / Vinyl Blog by Randy Wells

NEW BEATLES VINYL FROM EMI

I came across a copy of this LP just released today at my local record store: The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – in stereo.

I know what you’re thinking… “Wasn’t this famous record with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr at the top released in 1967? And, Randy, don’t you have the original UK, US, German, and Japanese pressings from that year, plus a bunch more?” Well, yes actually it was, and yes actually I do.

So what’s the big hullybalou? I’m not sure really, especially when you consider this U.S. reissue vinyl record is reportedly cut from the 2009 USB (24-bit/44.1khz) digital file without limiting and was pressed at Rainbo. Heck, the jacket doesn’t even have flipbacks like on the 2009 CD digipak (you do get the full size psychedelic inner sleeves and a cool pamphlet though)…

Well, I’m about to sit down and listen to this one anyway, which is the real test of any record. Will this 180 gram LP be warped? Will it be noisy? Will it replace any of my other dozen copies of Sgt. Pepper? I’m about to find out.

Update (later on 11/13/12): First impressions are not all that encouraging unfortunately. The relative SQ is arguably not quite as successful as it was on the 2009 stereo CD (one of the best from that series). The balance of this new LP is a bit tipped up, clinical, and dry compared to my UK Parlophone original, and the soundstage is flatter than on that older all analog pressing, although that’s not surprising.

There’s also a hardness on this LP (which turns out to be somewhat system dependent) that I’m not liking at louder volumes. On the plus side – the bass is tight and full, and details are brought even further up in the mix compared to the 2009 CD – if you’re into that kind of presentation.

There are a few instances of what sounds (and looks) like “non-fill” evident on the first couple of tracks on Side 1, which produces a short ripping noise periodically (a cleaning did not help). Side 2 is quieter. At least my example isn’t warped. I guess for $18 I shouldn’t be too picky…

The jury is still out at this early stage, but I’m afraid this may turn out to be a missed opportunity. The new LP is certainly better sounding than my original US Capitol copy (what isn’t). And yes, it’s arguably even an improvement over the 2009 CD in some ways. So, for the average consumer looking for a vinyl copy of Sgt. Pepper this one may just fit the bill. Yet, in comparison to my German Apple LP and original UK Parlophone pressing, this new LP is certainly not as well pressed and sounds more “hi-fi” (less like the illusion of a band playing in my listening room).

Perhaps the EU LP of this mastering pressed at Optimal will sound better?

NOTE: Some editing was required on this review during the first 1/2 day of it being posted because of new information.

(Cover Photograph: Michael Cooper)

Further Update (11/28/12): There are quality control issues of non-fill reported for the 2012 U.S. pressing of Abbey Road, as well several other titles. I understand that EMI ultimately decided these new stereo pressings should sound different than the original UK vinyl. I’m all for that. But I really wanted these to sound better than the originals, not necessarily the same (or worse). Obviously I have not heard the master tape, but I’m sorry to say that “better” didn’t happen for me with these new LPs. It’s subjective for sure. I also realize that I’m listening on my own system and with my own set of experiences. I do agree that it’s nice to have another choice, but for me the vinyl surfaces need to be reasonably quiet and warp free for that to even become a factor.

Besides the well documented US pressing defects, it’s the lessened feeling of realism in the vocals and the flattened soundstage on many of these newly reissued stereo LPs that keeps me from enjoying them completely over the long run. Some sound very good, but even when I play those (including the highly regarded Sgt. Pepper), I find myself getting up from the listening chair after a while and doing other things. When I play the UK original, I’m glued to the chair. It may be that my system accentuates these differences rather than compliments them. I do have a dedicated listening room where the speakers are placed four feet from the back wall and about eight feet apart.

For more reviews on this new Beatles vinyl reissue program, please see Michael Fremer’s articles at AnalogPlanet. Michael also noted the harder (less open/extended) quality and flatter (less airy) soundstage I described for the new Sgt. Pepper on the Abbey Road reissue vinyl.

Further Update (12/20/12): Unfortunately, the EU LP of this mastering pressed at Optimal (Sgt. Pepper 2012) does not sound a whole lot better, The pressing is quieter, but there is still a flattened presentation and lack of “believability” compared to the best pressings out there. A German Apple reissue from the late ’70′s is not that hard to find and will cost you about the same as this one (once shipped from UK Amazon).

While I believe these are satisfactory reissues for the most part, in my mind there still remains a legitimate reason for The Beatles catalog to be reissued again. C’mon EMI use the master tapes already.

Final Verdict: After listening carefully to Please Please Me, A Hard Days Night, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper here’s my opinion of these latest (hopefully not the final) masterings : “Good enough” for casual fans. For serious fans, keep looking – there are better masterings out there.