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The Beatles – “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” The Ultimate Review: My Process ~ Vinyls Vs. Digitals W/ Mono And Stereo Love!…Part #1
Ok I’m going to be straight, I’ve been working on this project for a long time…it’s finished but because it’s so frickin’ big, halfway through my formatting goes whack..but the project is done and backed up. So it says in this review that I wanted it all to be in one article…so since that is too much for the computer God to handle….I’m going to break it into two parts. One I will re-format the whole thing… and post the first part right now. Tomorrow will be part two on Vinyl Comparisons and also compare them with this post…Part 1 CD and Digital. Thank you for your patience and understanding.
PART #1 Out Of Respect For Miley Cyrus’ Lips….
This review as you will see is the definition of a Mega-Post. This is not just about the album in review here but also the start of a new way of reviewing all reference releases of a particular album. You do not even need to be a Beatles fan to get something meaningful from this piece. There is no one place on the internet that presents the aggregation of data that you will see here about a particular album in one review. It is the culmination of a belief I had about this process, where I wanted to present said data in a way that was not done anywhere else. A place where one could come in the future and use this information to cross reference formats and learn about our art forms as the music continues to evolve.
Instead of doing many hours of research to find all the information in many places, one could learn at an audiophile level in one single review here. This post (and other reviews that will follow) did not take months of research and listening with a trained ear, it took decades. With the ability to weed out the best, as well as having the sources, I can present a stripped down structure that one can sink their teeth into quite easily. Presenting reviews in this organically evolving way is new to me as well so I will get better at it over time. I must reiterate that everyone’s desired sound signature is subjective and different, and what I write is obviously not law. You may agree with some of what I say and disagree in other areas. The real point is that the framework of what is considered “the best” has variations but there is much agreement amongst audio fanatics.
The final thing I want to say about the reviews that I will do here is to the audiophiles. I know there will be controversy as to what I write because some will say well…duhhh, of course this or that mono or stereo or CD or Vinyl or digital is the best known source. First, I would say to that, this is for all those who cannot do what we do with the same fervor. Second, someone needs to do it somewhere…so here we are. Third, I could not do it without the years of knowledge and dedication shared by the real artists beyond the bands….the rippers, and to them I say a huge thank you. Someday I hope that you and your “art” will be recognized as it is, just like Banksy did for graffiti. The way I look at this is I am the writer and archivist of the text…I hope to be seen someday as a freelance journalist that connects the music underground with mainstream in a new exciting way. That is of course if my writing can improve! Well that’s enough for now…enjoy the art, and welcome to “The Machine”.
The following preamble will be present at the beginning of all reviews and is subject to change as things evolve.
Our reviews will not be the normal kind of review that you usually see about an artist release. These will be different as we will be aggregating all sources available …320kbps(Lossy Audio taken from the CD FLAC Rip), CD (EAC Lossless 16Bit/44.1kHz Rip), HD Tracks (Hi-Res Digital Downloads from 24/96 to 24/192), 24/48 ALAC Hi-Res Apple Lossless, Vinyl Rips (Often from different countries & catalogs transferred by different rippers with different set-ups), as well as other high quality sources as the become available such as Pono music. That’s not to say I will not add any subjective commentary(I’ll be open as to what I like and do not) but I will try to remain as objective as possible. As we know music listening is a very subjective, or personal experience, therefore I will try to stick best with theory to give you what I believe is the best format to own of any given release.
Part 1 of 2 / Both In This One Review (Part1 = CD & Digital / Part 2 = Vinyl):
The album I present to you today is one of the most influential recordings in history. It is considered one of the pinnacles in rock music and cultural history, and as I’ve said before influencing everything that would come thenceforth. It would put the biggest artists of their day on their heels, from Stevie Wonder to The Rolling Stones. As the Beatles took inspiration from The Beach Boys – “Pet Sounds” and others, now the rest of the world would parse this album to bits to find it’s mystical secret. It was the point at which the Beatles would finally shake off there “Boy Band” image with a bang. Drugs, Magic, and Hedonism would become En Vogue…but that was the public reaction and not the true spirit of the album. Considered the first concept album, John, Paul, George, and Ringo wanted to write this album reflecting visions of their experiences growing up in the working class England. The pivotal years in history 1966 and 1967 are really considered the beginning of the age of mind expansion, the only exception would be for Ken Kesey’s visions in 1964. This album as you now know was and is The Beatles 1967 release “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”.
When I was young my pops would play Beatles cassettes with music transferred from vinyl, but for some powerful reason I remember Abby Road and Sgt. Peppers the most. One thing that happened to me that was strange was the Sgt. Peppers cassette had “Strawberry Fields Forever” on it….so I grew up thinking that track was always part of the original track order.
When I was a teen I would get into friendly arguments with people because I would always say when someone played Pepper’s, “Where is Strawberry Fields” and they would argue rightly that it was not on Peppers, it’s on MMT. I would question my belief but that was always the way I heard it…what gives? Well there’s one of two answers and I’m not sure which one is correct. “Strawberry Fields” was written first along with Penny Lane in what is considered to be the era just previous to the Sgt. Peppers sessions. Brian Epstein needed a single to put out as Peppers was not finished. So George Martin gave Brian SF and Penny Lane to put out as a single. Now, In modern times, George Martin has been quoted as saying not putting SF on Peppers was one of the biggest mistakes of his career.
So what are the two possibilities for my mistake, because I listened to MMT and SF was on that album. The first one is easy, my pops would sometimes record vinyl to cassettes for ease of use. What may have happened was there was time left at the end of the cassette and what did everyone used to do, add any extra tracks to fill the cassette. So what may have transpired was the SF vinyl single was recorded on the end of the leftover tape. Simple right?
The second possibility is more complex. There were several vinyl bootlegs that circulated over the years with alternate material with differing track orders, and there is one that I came across and it may help explain my conundrum. There is little known about this vinyl bootleg but it seems to have been made around the time of the original release. It contains alternate takes and some mono and some stereo tracks put together. It’s known as “1967 AKA TSPLHCB”. The vinyl has a lot of surface noise but it does contain a strange version of SF. Notice in the photos that the album cover is completely different as well as the labels and track listing. So this may have been what I was listening to, I was too young to remember. I was floored when I found it though.
So as you can see I may have been tricked by those pesky kids! Anyway I don’t need to go on about the history of Peppers because it has been done a thousand times and as I have said this review will be quite different. It’s logical that should get any controversy out of the way before I start. As I count my versions of Peppers I come to the number of 35 different sources. Some were transferred or ripped on different setups or different software. Many of the vinyls were done by two or three rippers, the main setup difference would be with cartridges but I have several of each of the best releases each done with the same setups. So there is no variation with them. As far as the CD releases I only source and acquire CD releases done with EAC (Exact Audio Copy), so that closes that argument as well.
(Tracklisting For the length of these posts)
A1 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
A2 A Little Help From My Friends
A3 Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
A4 Getting Better
A5 Fixing A Hole
A6 She’s Leaving Home
A7 Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
B1 Within You Without You
B2 When I’m Sixty-Four
B3 Lovely Rita
B4 Good Morning, Good Morning
B5 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
B6 A Day In The Life
1 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
2 A Little Help From My Friends
3 Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
4 Getting Better
5 Fixing A Hole
6 She’s Leaving Home
7 Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
8 Within You Without You
9 When I’m Sixty-Four
10 Lovely Rita
11 Good Morning, Good Morning
12 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
13 A Day In The Life
CD’s #1 and #2:
So I’ll start with the easy sources as they are quite definitive and will get them out of the way. I have two CD’s one original Canadian Capitol released in the 80’s and one an American reissue from the 90’s. Although the 80’s CD is not as loud as the 90’s CD, they both are unlistenable…they are overly harsh, loud, flat, and bloated. So my fellow Americans if you own any Peppers CD’s from the 80’s and 90’s then you have been listening to garbage and unless you’ve heard the original vinyls from the UK 67, the digital releases from 2009, or the digitally sourced vinyl from 2012, you most likely have never heard Peppers the way the Beatles intended you to hear it. Not only that but your killing your ears as the overly compressed, dynamically sterile, and extremely loud early CD releases in America are ear fatigue city.
Beatles, The – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 1987 Canadian CD
Official DR value: DR 9
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / Label: Capitol Records – C2 0777 7 46442 2 8, Capitol Records – C2 46442 (1987) Ripped by EAC to 16/44.1 FLAC
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 1995 US CD
Official DR value: DR 9
Beatles, The – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band /Label: Capitol Records – CDP 7 46442 2, Parlophone – CDP 7 46442 2, Apple Records – CDP 7 46442 2 (1992) Ripped by EAC to 16/44.1 FLAC
Again there are NO Original Sgt. Pepper’s CD releases that are recommended. All original CD issues are dead on arrival for this review since the release of the 2009 digital remasters in 24.44.1 USB, Mono, and Stereo (16/44.1). These I will get into later in this review.
One question that needs to be answered was, well if all early CD releases were poor representations compared to the original UK vinyls then what did people do for 30 years, just listen to crap? Well yeah but with one caveat…unofficial bootlegs. As I usually talk about how pirates help to push for better releases by releasing, selling, or trading CD copies of the superior sourced ripped vinyl on the black market. I am not giving away any secrets here…There was a famous needle-dropper who for many years sold memberships to a private club which would send people, via post CD’s that were mastered at home from all the original Beatles vinyl rips. This is one major area where I disagree with piracy, that is someone selling other peoples copyright material for there own personal monetary gain. If he gave it away to people who already owned an original CD and maybe people just paid for shipping, that I get. Glad to say many ethical vinyl rippers today trade or give away there artwork for free.
One more thing about by that needle-dropper who sold copyright infringing works. I don’t know if this is true, as I did not know this person…a few of the bootleg rips did land my way, but I read an online statement that said since the Beatles had finally released some quality recordings in 2009 that they would be going into retirement. This person also stated that the real reason they did what they did was to get the band to finally release some quality controlled recordings…If you ask me this is probably how things started out but then it took a lot of time to keep up with demand, therefore he must have felt the need to be compensated financially. I have also heard that he has not really “retired” just not as active as before. Just as I write this I find a website selling his whole catalog of Beatles CD’s, but I don’t know if it’s the same person as there are many other CD’s from other artists being sold there. So who knows. I continue…
HD Tracks & Other Hi-Res Outlets:
There has been no release or even a planned release of quality controlled sourced masters direct to Hi-res digital. Since The Beatles released the USB Key Files in 2009 in 24Bit/44.1, the Mono and Stereo CD Boxes in 2009, and the Vinyl Remasters in the EU and US in 2012. This makes Hi-res files even more of a dream because they probably feel like they already released them via The USB Key. Plus would you release the Analog Digital masters RAW to the public and end the cash cow. Michael Fremer has an unmastered CD of Peppers from the original analogue tapes…so few if any have the holy grail. Also remember that all four remaining interests in the Beatles fortune Olivia Harrison, Yoko Ono, Paul, and Ringo…all have to give their approval on any given release. Who knows what Apple Corp. and Pono Music can drum anything up in the future.
2009 Mono CD, Stereo CD, and Digital USB Key 24/44.1 Remasters:
In 2009 three Box Sets, as mentioned earlier were released, the 24/44.1 Digital USB Key, the The Mono Box Set, and the The Stereo Box Set…all of which contained Sgt. Peppers. The band, especially John Lennon, was clear that Pepper’s and other albums were recorded and meant to be listened to in mono. Here’s the story via George Harrison from Wikipedia:
The Mono Box Set was released to reflect the fact that the Beatles’ catalogue (aside from Abbey Road, Let It Be and Yellow Submarine) was originally released in mono, with the stereo versions as an addition. Many feel that these mono mixes reflect the true intention of the band. For example, in the case of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, all the mono mixes were done together with the Beatles themselves, throughout the recording of the album, whereas the stereo mixes were done in only six days by Abbey Road personnel George Martin, Geoff Emerick and Richard Lush after the album had been finished, with none of the Beatles attending. George Harrison commented:
“At that time […] the console was about this big with four faders on it. And there was one speaker right in the middle […] and that was it. When they invented stereo, I remember thinking ‘Why? What do you want two speakers for?’, because it ruined the sound from our point of view. You know, we had everything coming out of one speaker; now it had to come out of two speakers. It sounded like … very …naked.”
Official DR value: DR10
Official DR value of De-Limited FLAC’S: DR11
The USB Key is flash drive inserted in the top of a green apple. Sgt Peppers was included in this release as both 24/44.1 FLAC files and the popular.mp3 320kbs. The full artwork was presented in a .swf file. “Digitally Remastered for Superior Sound”.
“1. Analog master tape playback
2. 24/192 digital recording using Prism A/D
3. Digital touch-ups/fixes using Cedar retouch
4. D/A using Prism
5. Mastering EQ using Abbey Road analog console
6. 24/44.1 digital recording using Sadie A/D
7. Digital limiting
8. Dither/bit reduction to 16-bit resolution.The flac files were produced from step 7 and the CDs were produced from step 8.”
So I guess we can take comfort in the fact that in another 42 years, there lies the possibility of a release of the 24Bit/192kHz digital remasters..
The USB Sound:
Well to start looking at the Pepper’s USB waveforms, peak limiting was used therefore losing some of the dynamic range in the process. An unofficial de-limited set is circulating, where the gain was lowered and new peaks are interpolated, restoring some of that lost dynamic range but I have not heard them yet. [Update 05/17/14] I just received the unofficial delimited version of Pepper’s, review and Speks will be posted below.
For the official USB Pepper’s, the sound is leaps and bounds beyond the original CD releases. The tracks are detailed and the sound stage is better but not fully there yet. I could tell the difference between the 320 .mp3 and the 24 bit (Using a blind shuffle test) as the 320’s lose a lot of the dynamics and detail from compression. The .mp3’s are sourced from the 24/44.1 digital remasters and although some of that spark gets lost…I would say that the 320’s are easier on the ears than the original CD’s.
So although a bit sterile, clinical and overly loud…I would recommend Pepper’s from this set but it’s not the best of the best. Another thing I can say after a lot of listening, is that the 24Bit USB Key Pepper’s is the best of the released digital formats. Below are the spek analysis for the tracks, titles (Bit Depth and Sample Rate) noted in the spek shots. First the 24/44.1 and then below that the 320’s.
The final review for this release is for the unofficial de-limited 24Bit USB pepper’s. The differences are notable both in the sound by listening and the sight measurement of the spectrogram. It’s not a large difference, but a small amount in an area were every few percentage points in better sound quality is welcomed. The poignancy of the clinical sound is slightly more tame as the mix is less hot. Above the newly interpolated peaks there is more room to breathe and with the cooler mix as a result of the lowered gain it sounds better in certain areas, or at least the same. In these kind of mixes that are tamed and the quality of the sound is not adulterated, often times what I do not hear means less ear fatigue.So in short the USB Key is a good source, nice to find early in this review.
24/44.1 USB Digital Stereo
24/44.1 USB Digital Stereo (2009 24-Bit Remaster, 2014 De-limited)
2009 Stereo EU CD Remaster:
Official DR value: DR10
Sgt. Pepper’s: CD8-1 – CD8-13
I hate to start this section of this way but just as we were moving uphill with the USB Key, the Pepper’s 2009 CD Remaster brings it right back down again. The Pepper’s for this Digital CD Box Collection is sourced from the same 24/44.1 transfer (just a dithered/ bit reduction to 16 Bit), however the Pepper’s CD has lost some of the beauty of the USB Key.
Many people argue that one cannot tell the difference but my system is very revealing and this release is not as detailed as the USB. It is still not only too loud, but now a different dimension of loud, to the point of shrill brightness especially in the vocals and guitars. Other differences include, overly compressed, less transparency, and the instruments and vocals are not as tightly controlled as the USB. I can here them lose control in the sustained upper frequencies, which were tight in the USB. The treble sounds tinny in many areas especially with the vocals and cymbals. The USB resulted in no ear fatigue…the remastered CD here did quite quickly.
As I said loud similar to the USB but more sterile, clinical, and fine details sound buffed out. One characteristic I have not yet touched on, is that neither the USB or this stereo remaster has the punch or tightly controlled slam of some of the vinyl or the Mono Box Pepper’s release review which is up next. If you are not of the belief that many CD’s today are way too loud (See Loudness Wars) then you will have no problem with this CD. If you want to hear it sound the way it should, read on. I do not recommend this release unless you want to damage your ears or only listen on a room stereo setup. If there is any redeeming quality, it is listenable and superior to the original CD’s from the 80’s and 90’s. Below are the Speks for you to see and compare if you like.
16/44.1 EU CD Stereo (2009 Remaster)
Official DR value: DR12
Sgt. Pepper’s: CD8-1 – CD8-13
Now we’re getting somewhere! The True Mono version of Pepper’s is quite stunning. Most of the problems associated with the stereo remaster are gone. The recording is very transparent. The mix is tight and controlled in all areas. There is sibilance in Ringo’s “Friends” but it disappears after that. The highs are well controlled and mids are even and revealing. I hear lots of detail that pops up everywhere in unexpected places. There is that great slam with the bass and drums and no bloat. It’s still louder than the original vinyl releases but it is not over the top. The mix has headroom, breathes, and even has the effect that you forget you are listening to mono…producing a nice open sound stage and dare I say it a wide fidelity image.
It’s quite interesting as well because it feels very nostalgic listening to such a landmark album, which I only listened to the stereo versions growing up, the way it was meant to be heard. Now knowing what I do, I listen to a lot more early mono releases from other bands as this type of mono made me realize why it just works better for some albums. As I said before the Beatles were involved in the mixing of the mono material and you can see their vision fully realized. Everyone knows the genius of the Beatles but when you finally have that “a -ha” moment for their mono, one can almost see the thinking process as well as the music that was in their heads. More importantly what intention was playing out in their minds after the songs had been written but not yet recorded.
This release of Pepper’s is fully recommended, as it does what it’s supposed to do sound right. So far the best of the modern releases are, first, the Pepper’s Mono 16Bit/44.1kHz 2009 Remaster CD and second, the 2009 24Bit/44.1 USB Key 2009 Remaster.
Next up vinyl, but before that a set of the speks for the mono release are posted below.
16/44.1 Japan CD (True) Mono (2009 Remaster)
That is the End Of Part 1 of 2…Vinyl is added to the mix tomorrow and compared to what you see here!
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