Engineer Sean Magee Talks About Restoring the Beatles for Vinyl Box Set
There's a new Beatles vinyl box set that's sure to keep the band's fans buzzing. Released on Nov. 13, 'The Beatles' features all of the band's original U.K. records plus the 'Past Masters' collection. According to the EMI press release, the LPs are all pressed on 180-gram, audiophile quality vinyl with replicated artwork, including the poster from 'The Beatles' (The White Album) original release and the 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' cutouts. The box also contains a "stunning, elegantly designed 252-page hardbound book."
That's a "must" for the Beatles fan in your family this holiday season. To get a little more info on how the box set came together, we chatted with the man behind the mastering of this massive collection, Sean Magee, who talked about the process of putting the project together.
Were these remasters done from the original tapes specifically for vinyl?
Sean Magee: No, we used the 24-bit masters that were made for the CD reissues in 2009, the unlimited 24-bit masters. With the CD format, it's cut down to 16-bit. We took the limiting off to keep them at the highest bit. For 'Rubber Soul' and 'Help,' however, we did use the 1986 George Martin re-mixes.
What were the biggest challenges of working with this material?
Well, the history alone made it daunting, but we're all very happy with it. The mastering is not overly 'loud,' so when you actually turn them up loud, they sound great! We didn't use limiting or compression that is often used for CDs.
How do you think they compare with the original British LPs?
I didn't A-B them. We weren't trying to recreate anything, we were going for a fresh listening experience. We don't have the same equipment to achieve that anyway. They are pressed on the best vinyl available, 180-gram. Very nice.
What do you think of the original U.S. Capitol LPs sonically? Obviously very different to the U.K. titles.
To be honest, I'm not familiar with the American ones, well except for 'Rubber Soul.' The U.S. version of that is the one I grew up with because my parents bought it in New York, so that's the one I knew.
What do you make of the divide between those who prefer to listen to music on their MP3 players or iPods and those who want the ultimate audio listen? Do you find this whole 'vinyl revival' odd or funny after years of ever growing digital technology?
No, not at all. I think it's great that there are so many different ways to listen to music. I actually listen to a lot on MP3, the convenience factor can't be beat. At home I tend to listen to CDs, but at work I listen to more vinyl than anything really.
What's up with the proposed 'mono' vinyl box?
From what I know, it's due out next year.
Was there a particular title you were most excited to work on?
'The White Album,' that was always my favorite. My parents had it and I wore out their copy as a child. Literally wore it out.
The variety of styles on that one album is still amazing!
It goes from real pop to the depths of 'Revolution 9.' Just incredible.
Were the sleeves recreated in the old laminated style?
Yes, they paid close attention to detail in the art department and went back to the original artwork and the book alone is just incredible. It's hardbound, 250 pages, just beautiful.
Is there anything left in the vaults that needs to see the light of day at some point?
Oh, I don't know about that at all. There are very few people they actually let in the vaults.
You also did the remaster on the Sex Pistols deluxe box set? What was working on that like?
That was quite exciting for me actually. I grew up on that stuff, so just holding the original tape box in my hands was something. It sounds great!"
It should be noted that reports are that EMI underestimated the demand and didn't make enough of the Beatles LPs. According to a note sent to various retailers, it seems they "did not manufacturer enough to meet the demand and have allocated a split shipment." The second shipment is due to arrive in early December. In the meantime, there is a special website for fans to sample snippets of the vinyl box.