Since they finally made it onto Spotify and other streaming services, I have begun listening to the Beatles again, following a gap of a few years. The reason for the gap was that it was often too tempting to explore Spotify rather than getting up to place CDs in the drive or getting around to “ripping” them. Also, my Beatles CDs are fairly old, so not in the ‘re-mastered’ category, and this knowledge would no doubt have spoiled the experience of listening to them while not being a strong enough reason to buy new ones.
The experience of listening to the re-mastered Beatles on my über-system has been “interesting” rather than the unalloyed pleasure I was expecting. In years gone by, I very much enjoyed my Beatles CDs on lesser systems, listening to the music without worrying too much about ‘quality’ – although I always marvelled at the freshness of the recordings that had made it across the decades intact. I had built up such expectations of the re-mastered versions playing on a real hi-fi system that I was bound to be disappointed, I suppose.
What I am finding is that, for the first time, I am hearing how the tracks were put together, and I can ‘hear through’ to the space behind them. With the latest re-masters on my system, you can clearly hear the individual tracks cleanly separated, and the various studio techniques being employed – you can’t mistake them for ‘live’ recordings – and they are rather ‘dry’.
With the Beatles I think that we are hearing music and recordings that were brilliantly, painstakingly created in the studio to an exceptional level of quality, that still sounded great when ‘munged’ through the typical record players, TV, radio and hi-fi equipment of the day – mainly in mono. It is now fascinating to hear the individual ingredients so cleanly separated, but I wonder whether the records wouldn’t have been produced slightly differently with modern high quality playback equipment in mind; after all, we are probably hearing the recordings more cleanly than was even possible in the studio at the time. Maybe it really is the case that The Beatles sound best on the equipment they were first heard on. Other musical groups of the time weren’t produced with such a high level of studio creativity and in such quality and so, with their recordings already ‘pre-munged’ to some extent, are not laid bare to the same degree on a modern system.
For the first time, perhaps I am beginning to see the reason for the re-release of the mono versions. They are a way of producing a more ‘cohesive’ mix without resorting to artificial distortion and effects that were not on the original recordings.