Vinyl remasters: To buy or not to buy?

Michael Gerber
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Three years after the CD remasters, we now have the vinyl remasters of the Beatles catalog. (Mono vinyl remasters to follow). The question is, are the remasters worth buying, if you already have Beatles vinyl in good condition?

The decision is more complicated than it was for the CD remasters, because the Beatles CDs from the 1980s were fair to horrible-sounding. But the original Beatles vinyl versions still sound great if they’ve been well cared for.

If you’re trying to make up your mind, you’ll be interested in the following Chicago Tribune piece, in which a panel compares the sound of old, new, and Mobile Fidelity versions of Beatles vinyl:

After looking at the condition of my current Beatles vinyl and reading early reviews, I’m unlikely to buy many of the vinyl remasters. How about you, fellow Beatles aficionados?

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  1. Avatar king kevin wrote:

    I still want to buy the Mono Box! Having adult responsibilities sucks.

  2. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    For the record lover, always great to have the Beatles in LP size but I’m more interested in having whomever remixed the music for Yellow Submarine in 1999 remix all of the Beatles music. Mono, Stereo and remixed.

  3. Avatar matt m wrote:

    tl;dr: not to buy.

    I had the opportunity to listen to a few cuts from the new vinyl releases yesterday, and in spite of the tribune article, the mobile fidelity sound lab remasters on vinyl are still sonically superior to the new versions to my ears. though the new releases seemed expertly and appropriately EQed for the vinyl medium, much of the ambient sonic ‘character’ present on the MFSL versions–and on the originals, to a degree–is lost. the new remasters seemed much less ‘present’ and ‘warm,’ elements of that traditionally difficult-to-define sonic character of the vinyl medium that makes up a major reason why people still buy vinyl in the first place. (unless they’re DJs or nostalgic for the presentation.)

    this is likely because the new series was made using the 2009 digital remasters, the same ones used for the CD series. where the original and MFSL vinyl was produced in an exclusively analogue chain, from recording to mixing to mastering to the medium itself, the new versions were mastered digitally, then returned to analogue. because of the introduction of the digital conversion, the records sound sharper, harsher, more sterile, and other highly subjective descriptions of the tone. they are, essentially, like listening to CDs printed on vinyl. you still get the benefits of listening to an analogue recording medium, but the sonic imprint on that medium is no longer as rich or full as it could otherwise be.

    actually, that article may not be so off, after all. at some point, when listening to the MFSL vinyl, one of the reviewers commented that he felt more “in the room” compared to the new vinyl–another common description of the best of all-analogue recording work, and when it comes to representing George Martin’s incredibly sympathetic, organic production, I’m looking to get as close to that room as possible.

  4. Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

    Matt, you make a very good point about the vinyl remasters having gone through a digital incarnation before being transferred to vinyl. That’s a major reason for my hesitancy about buying any of them: I value the spacious and warm qualities of analog recording, and those will inevitably be lessened if the music has been digitized along the way.

  5. Avatar Wolynski wrote:

    Off topic, but the documentary on Netflix streaming, “Beatles Stories” is very interesting.

  6. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    I bought the original albums (U.S. Capitol versions) in the ’60s. I bought the CDs in the 90s. I bought “Let It Be Naked.” I bought the John Lennon box set, the Anthology series. I can’t buy anymore.

    Also, my hearing at this point (after years of loud concerts and TMJ) makes it difficult for me to appreciate the subtle differences of remasters. I think I’m done.

    – Hologram Sam

  7. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    I’m with you, Sam, 100%.

  8. Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

    Sam, I think I am too (done with buying iterations of the Beatles catalog, that is). The CD remasters were necessary, because the original CD issues were so weak, but beyond that I don’t see the need to go.

    I wonder, though, if the primary market for the vinyl reissues will be people who don’t own the records — especially young people. And I’m very glad that good-quality pressings are now available new. It’s been sad to see people spending $20 or more on a “good” condition copy of Revolver, and nice to know that those folks can now get a much better quality listening experience for not much more money.

  9. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Nancy, I posted this further down, but because of its distance, you might miss it. Here is a link to the Everly brothers doing “Wings of a Nightingale”…

    Hologram Sam

  10. Avatar Dorinish wrote:

    hey dullbloggers –

    wanted to share this piece with you:

    it would allow for a Rishikesh label on your sidebar, which clearly you need!

    I have read every single one of your posts and had read Magic Circles well before discovering the blog (found it in Northwestern University’s great music collections).

    At this point you all seem like old pals as you’re the only folks I know who also think about the lads enough to think and write about them pretty much daily. So far I write on my own, but one of these days I’d like to comment substantively and hope to graduate from spectator to participant. For now, I’m such a blogging novice I couldn’t even figure out if there was a way to message you other than leaving this non sequitur comment.

    Anyhow, enjoy the Granta story…!

  11. Great story, Dorinish–I’ll make a post for the front page. Could you please drop me a line via my blog,

  12. Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

    Sam, thanks for that link to the Everlys’ recording of “Wings of Nightingale.” Not bad, but overall I prefer Apple Jam’s versions, especially the “1964” one.

    Someday I may write something about McCartney’s apparent bird/flying fixation . . . .

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