• The Beatles In High Resolution?

    Two weeks ago I toured world famous Abbey Road Studios in London, England. I was fortunate to be lead around by a gentleman who has been with Abbey Road since 1965. I don't believe there is anyone on the planet with more knowledge of this Studio and what's taken place over decades at the Studio than this person (who shall remain nameless unfortunately). During the personal tour I was introduced to someone who'd won a Grammy for his work on Beatles 2009 remastered albums. After a brief introduction I had to ask about the sample rate(s) used for the 2009 releases and if we'd soon hear The Beatles in high resolution.



     

    Circumstances out of my control: No photography allowed inside the doors of Abbey Road Studios (I found out the hard way) and I don't have permission to release the names of the individuals I talked to at the Studio.

    That said I still want to share the experience with Computer Audiophile readers. I believe I have a scoop on The Beatles that I've yet to see anyone release. In fact I've seen and heard other people "in-the-know" repeat incorrect information about the 2009 Beatles project. When The Beatles 2009 remasters were released on CD followed by the 24/44.1 USB Apple, a few people said they "knew" the remastered albums were converted from analog to digital at 24 bit / 192 kHz. After talking to a person who won a Grammy for his work on the project I believe I have the information straight from the horse's mouth. The Beatles analog to digital transferring was started around five years prior to the albums release date on 9/9/09. At that time high resolution was not on many people's radar. Thus the decision was made to transfer all The Beatles material from analog to digital at 24 bit / 44.1 kHz. That's right 24/44.1 is all we're going to get out of the 2009 remasters. I vividly remember many people crying foul when the USB Apple was released at only 24/44.1. Many people, myself included, thought higher resolutions would be released in the coming years. This would allow maximum money extraction from true Beatles fans who purchased the material first and would repurchase at the higher sample rate. I guess this cynicism was unwarranted as The Beatles did release the highest resolution material available form the 2009 remasters. "At least there is job security for those involved in another possible A to D transfer at high resolution." Said two engineers at Abbey Road Studios.

     

    Continuing on my tour I really enjoyed seeing the original EMI consoles built for Abbey Road. These are still working today but not used as much as the newer consoles from Neve and SSL. Once in awhile an artist will ask for the old EMI consoles because a certain sound is needed. The sound is not necessarily more accurate it's simply different. I also saw a nice selection of tape machines from Studer and a host of other digital components I'd love to have in my listening room. Prism Sound is well represented at Abbey Road and a bit of Sonic Studio gear is still in use. One engineer I spoke with about analog and digital sound said unequivocally that digital is by far more accurate than analog ever was. Sure this is one person's opinion, but it's an opinion of someone who has been around the block a few times and knows how his recordings should sound. If the decision is up to him he said he'll never use analog again.

     

    A few interesting notes about the actual recording studios at Abbey Road. Many readers already know but it's worth sharing again. B&W loudspeakers and Classe components are in heavy use around Abbey Road. This B&W / Classe equipment is used for monitoring in at least the main studios. In studio number three there is a very unique room for recording drums or piano. It's an incredibly live room (opposite of over-damped) to say the least. The walls are all mirrored and full of asymmetrical shapes commonly seen in concert halls for diffusion. I'm no expert in studios or recording but I was a bit surprised that such a live room was needed. Lastly, studio one at Abbey Road is gigantic. This studio can house a full orchestra for a recording session. While I was in the studio such an orchestra was setting up to record the score to a video game the following day. It's nice to know video game producers are spending the money to record at such an illustrious place and including high quality sound into their games. Back in the days of Atari, Nintendo, and Sega Genesis I bet nobody saw this coming :~)

     

    For a much better view of Abbey Road Studios check out the website http://www.abbeyroad.com


     



     

     
    Comments 90 Comments
    1. DaveLew's Avatar
      DaveLew -
      It should be a supprise that Abby Road has what you describe as a "gigantic" studio. It used to be and may still be owned by EMI who I know use it to record opera requiring a full orchestra. The Pappano/Domingo Tristan comes to mind.<br />
      <br />
      Oh, about hi res Beatles. They use high res not because they believe people can hear the difference but because it gives them additional signal to noise and resolution for signal processing.
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      Interesting.<br />
      <br />
      I've seen pictures of the place in magazines. I guess you don't have enough clout yet. I'm not surprised they don't allow cameras. I imagine to protect the privacy of any celebrity clients that may be there. Not like they have trade secrets or technology to protect. These days, for a modest investment, anyone can have a studio in their garage.<br />
      <br />
      I thought it was common knowledge that the Beatles transfers were done at 24/192. Wasn't this described in various publications and web sites?<br />
      <br />
      It appears they have more gear made in UK than elswhere.<br />
      <br />
      Cool.
    1. ManWithAPlan's Avatar
      ManWithAPlan -
      Chris, I'm completely jealous that you got to tour the joint with such a knowledgeable tourguide, that's great. By the way, I have the green Apple USB of 24bit/44.1KHz Beatles remasters from 2009, and I have to say, the FLAC files are amazing. For instance, I grew up with Revolver, and know the album front to back, upside and down, have owned easily 4 different copies of it, listened to it my entire life, and honestly, it has never sounded better than the 24bit FLAC's on the heavy green apple USB. The collection was well worth it. I personally consider anything delivered in 24-bit format or higher to be "high-rez", including 24bit/44.1. Obviously 24bit/48 or 24bit/96 or heck 32bit is preferred, but the added bit depth overall provides a significant increase in resolution from a 16bit as comparison. All things being equal of course, and of course assuming the studio is competent and delivers on the other factors affecting sound quality, YMMV, all that stuff...I can't believe that more people have not "discovered the Apple!". Cheers, sounds like you had an amazing visit there.
    1. vortecjr's Avatar
      vortecjr -
      I bet your accountant is going to have a blast figuring this one out....lol<br />
      <br />
      Jesus R<br />
      www.sonore.us
    1. blindjim's Avatar
      blindjim -
      Which Classe amps and what B& W monitors were in there? Nautilus? 800D's? 802Ds? <br />
      <br />
      I'm suspecting the amps to be monos.<br />
      <br />
      Notice the converters at all?<br />
      <br />
      Cabling?<br />
      <br />
      I've read Abbey used/uses other than B&W, see any?
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      <a href="http://www.audiophilia.com/wp/?p=5589"><img src="http://www.audiophilia.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/studio-two-med-650x430.jpg" /></a><br />
      Abbey Road Studio Two has recently been upgraded with the new 800 Diamond speakers. IIRC they use the Classe Delta series mono-blocks (2 per speaker). These were reportedly installed when the previous B&W 801D (again IIRC) were installed. Prior to these they used Chord amplification with the B&W N800 series. More details are available on the <a href="http://www.abbeyroad.com/services/equipment-and-tech-facilities/">Abbey Road</a> web site. <br />
      <br />
      Studio One is (as Chris says) huge. It's often seen on (at least in UK) TV and was featured in the series Live from Abbey Road on the UKs Channel 4. <br />
      <br />
      Abbey Road studios have seen a turbulent few years with threats of it being sold as a development site. This culminated in the building being designated a Listed Building which should afford it some protection from redevelopment. EMI do still own Abbey Road but the company's long term future is far from secure. <br />
      <br />
      Eloise
    1. JamesP's Avatar
      JamesP -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      I'm confused....so will there be a High Resolution release 24/192 or 24/176 for the Beatles on digital? Also What happened to the Vinyl re-issues that were in the works? is that project dumped? when can we expect the Vinyl or Higher Rez Beatles?
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -
      See: http://www.audioprointernational.com/features/146/Remastering-The-Beatles<br />
      <br />
      and numerous other sources quoting the actual engineers who worked on the project confirming that the transfer was done in 24/192, and basically repeating the story found in the above link.<br />
      <br />
      Your source may be your source, but I don't think numerous reputable journalists who interviewed Alan Rousse and his team were making up such detailed descriptions of the mastering process.<br />
      <br />
      Beyond that the "24/44.1" story doesn't pass the "common sense smell test" - it makes no sense, even with technology of 5 or 6 years ago to transfer the tapes at 44.1 bit resolution.
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Reading that link FireDog, it sounds like the multiple-track tapes were transferred to digital at 24/192 and then cleaned up. They were then converted back to analogue for the mixing process and then converted to 24/44.1 for the final mastering. The Mono and Stereo mixes were approached separately.<br />
      <br />
      That would indicate the master's are at 24/44.1 and to get something at higher resolution would require remixing.<br />
      <br />
      I maybe wrong but that's what I understood from that article (and other sources). <br />
      <br />
      Eloise
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -
      Hi-<br />
      <br />
      Here's another link: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/oct09/articles/beatlesremasters.htm<br />
      <br />
      and a podcast of the engineers describing the process:<br />
      http://www.chordstrike.com/2009/08/interview-with-beatles-remastered-engineers.html<br />
      <br />
      I'm not trying to say that the CD and USB remasters weren't done in 24/44.1. <br />
      <br />
      But it is apparent to me from these articles that there are also what I would call "reference files" in 24/192 - hi-res digital transfers of all the analogue master tapes, slightly edited, etc to fix gross "errors" - and the process resulted in what's called in <a href=" http://www.audioprointernational.com/features/146/Remastering-The-Beatles">this article</a> "a new, edited master file".<br />
      <br />
      These 24/192 "master files" were then downsampled to 24/44.1 in order to do a final 24/44.1 remaster which was the basis for both the CD and USB releases in 2009. But the 24/192 "master files" are clearly intended to be the basis for future releases. And since Abbey Road clearly has remastering notes and board settings from from the 24/44.1 remastering, the amount of work, discussion, and decision making needed to make a new hi-res version from these "master files" would be much less than what was needed to do the 2009 remasters. <br />
      <br />
      No remixing necessary, just as no remixing was done for the 2009 remastered CD's. If it wasn't clear, the 2009 releases were based on a digital transcription of the finished analogue master tapes, not the individual tracks. A pure remaster project, not at all a remix. No remixing done. So a hi-res remaster project, while not a trivial undertaking, is certainly nothing as involved as a remix of the original tracks, or even the making of the 2009 releases.<br />
      <br />
      I have read elsewhere (couldn't find the link just now) where Abbey Road staff confirmed they are working on new LP masters based on the 24/192 transfers, and not the original analogue master tapes (much like what was done with The Doors LP re-releases).<br />
      <br />
      I'd actually like to hear the material remixed, but it's pretty clear that Apple has no intention of doing that for now. They are painfully aware of the legacy of the Beatles and the scrutiny every release receives, so they aren't interested in making any kind of radical changes to the sound of the "source". <br />
      <br />
      So I don't know if Chris didn't understand his source or his source was unclear or misinformed, but clearly there ARE digital hi-res transfers of the Beatles analogue masters and these could be made into a hi-res releases without a "start over" as Chris' report seemed to say.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Guys - My source is definitely in that Sound on Sound article in the above link. <br />
      <br />
      I was told the project was "done" at 24/44.1 for the reasons stated in my article and higher resolution releases would result in job security because they don't exist. There were many other things said, but I can see there was definitely room for ambiguity in my conversation. <br />
      <br />
      It appears the transfers were done at 192 but the other work was done at 44.1?
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -
      Chris-<br />
      <br />
      Your source was right that the final "remaster" was done in 24/44.1<br />
      <br />
      But again clearly there is a "master file" in digital 24/192 with some basic editing and fixing already done.<br />
      <br />
      So yes, the final 2009 remasters weren't done in 24/192 and THEN reduced to CD and USB formats, so THAT remaster can't be released in true hi-res.<br />
      <br />
      But that doesn't contradict the existence of a hi-res transfer where some work has already been done. And again, the amount of work done on just producing and editing the hi-res "master file" is not insignificant. <br />
      <br />
      So, yes, I believe we cynics are right that in a year or two we will see hi-res releases of the Beatles catalogue - and we will have our pockets emptied again by Apple. <br />
      <br />
      I don't know if the George Harrison and Paul McCartney hi-res releases were (or will be) successful, but if they are I'm sure Apple will not miss the chance to release the much more marketable Beatles catalogue in hi-res also.
    1. blindjim's Avatar
      blindjim -
      <br />
      Thanks so very much Eloise. Did BW quit making the Nautilus once the diamond series was released? I thought the BW line up, cosmetically at least and esspecially the Nautilus, were the sexyest looking loudspeakers in the world.<br />
      <br />
      Naturally, I'd never be able to own a pr of The other worldly looking Nautilus', or look forward to amping each driver in them either.<br />
      <br />
      As for the other rhetoric on the question of final released rates and word lengths... <br />
      <br />
      So what?<br />
      <br />
      So what does it matter if and/or during the process what ever rates were used, for wahtever purpose, cleaning up, etc., the final outcome... the tangible 'hands on' product one can acquire, is what ever it is.<br />
      <br />
      Whatever it sound like? That's it boys and girls. There's no sense in arguing any point as to the end product's attributes. None.<br />
      <br />
      Nor is there much to do about the process itself... it's now moot. Done. <br />
      <br />
      I fail to 'get it' sometimes why folks contend this or that, argue numbers and so forth here or elsewhere about any item or product... too very often.<br />
      <br />
      Either... you enjoy the final release, in what ever it's native format actually winds up being, or you do not. Very simple stuff.<br />
      <br />
      Either one wishes to re-buy (ad nauseum) these re-runs, or one does not.<br />
      <br />
      Unless.... unless... of course, it's all about who's right ... who's sources are right... and that's pure ego at that point and quite childish a tact to pursue, isn't it?<br />
      <br />
      it's like this aside on Chris' trip to & inside the Abbey Studio... no pics, no one to quote... no closer examinations he can reveal.... might as well as just watched the podcast, or previewed the website history.<br />
      <br />
      Eloise, info was more revealing than was Chris, IMHO. But I suppose an editorial had to be published.<br />
      <br />
      It all comes down to what we enjoy listening to, the format itself indicates PERHAPS, some greater definition or resolution, however it is NOT a given, slam dunk "Hey everyone go buy or re-buy it!" assignment.<br />
      <br />
      What's on the horizon? Again, it's moot. Naturally the most popular items will be re-released, until they garner no more popularity... or no more $$$$. 50-70s music, for example is seeing it's last horizon, as the Baby Boomers, it's strongest demographic of support, begins to wane, wither, and shuffle on off to ????<br />
      <br />
      Life's too short to muddle about the inane, mundane and inconsequential we can't change it crap.<br />
      <br />
      I'd be far more interested myself in subjective accounts of the actual percieved quality of these recordings than the covert or disclosed recording/remastering process.<br />
      <br />
      IMHO... I could care less if the engineers all strained the music thru a farmers straw hat and corn cob pipe, poured it into a home made distillery, and bottled it in 4 gallon milk cans, and brought it to market in a hay wagon.... if it sounds good, or some credible srouces say it sounds good or great, that last tid bit of info appeals to me a lot more.<br />
      <br />
      My point is always, Can I afford it? If so, then do I buy it?<br />
      <br />
      Anything previous to the final cut is merely swamp gas. So far, I'm not being knocked out by a good bit of these formner 50-70s reformating releases.<br />
      <br />
      Nor am I about to drop $30 - $>> just to find out.<br />
      <br />
      The only real part of contention in the format is IF some gear will replay it or not. Past that it is always, "How good does it sound?"<br />
      <br />
      Period.
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      @jim<br />
      <br />
      The last I knew the otherworldly Natilus is still available as B&W's flagship speaker. Beyond it's £35k you need a channel of amplification for each driver: 4 for each speaker.<br />
      <br />
      The slight confusion comes that there was also the N800 range of speakers featuring "Natilus Technology"; i.e. tapered tube for the tweeter. In around 2002/3 the N800 range was replaced with the 800D line featuring their first diamond tweeters. Last year the line was revamped with slight modified woodwork, tweaked crossovers and a full diamond line up (the first 800D line was supplemented with 800S metal domed tweeter models). <br />
      <br />
      Eloise
    1. blindjim's Avatar
      blindjim -
      ...sitting in the lobby of a dealership. Static, but quite impressive. All those thin tubes flailing out behind it, making it look as though it was sailing along.<br />
      <br />
      It envoked me to garner 8 pr of BW speakers before moving onto other brands. <br />
      <br />
      As I'm likely to go back to SS power now with my tube preamp, vs all tubes, I might well revisit the upper end of the 800 N range... unless someone wants to bequethe me a pr of 802D. My room could stand 801s, but my wallet could not.<br />
      <br />
      it's been 36 years since I was in England. Wonder what ARS was like then?
    1. wgb113's Avatar
      wgb113 -
      Nice article Chris! You're one of the lucky few to make it inside the walls of this famed studio. I'll never forget my pilgrimages on the two trips I took to London. I was able to sneak through the open lot gate and have my then-girlfriend take a picture of me sat on the front steps.<br />
      <br />
      Did you get to do any listening at all in the control rooms? If so, how did it sound?<br />
      <br />
      Bill<br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      <i>"it's like this aside on Chris' trip to & inside the Abbey Studio... no pics, no one to quote... no closer examinations he can reveal.... might as well as just watched the podcast, or previewed the website history.</i><br />
      <i>Eloise, info was more revealing than was Chris, IMHO. But I suppose an editorial had to be published."</i><br />
      <br />
      Hi blindjim - Please accept a full refund of your purchase price for reading Computer Audiophile :~)<br />
      <br />
      The monitoring gear (B&W / Classe) used at Abbey Road was something I noticed but was nowhere near the top of my list to remember. That place is about so much more than monitoring gear.
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      If the Beatles albums are released in higher resolution, I hope it's 24/192. Or 24/96 and 24/192 at the same time. And release it on pressed DVD discs with data files. I can't wait to buy something like that.<br />
      <br />
      According to their web site they have 11 mastering engineers. That's almost one for every Beatles studio album. So they should be able to get this done in about a week.
    1. darascal's Avatar
      darascal -
      In the wake of the remaster releases, I read this (information attributed to Beatles historian Kevin Howlett): <br />
      <br />
      "The Beatles and producer George Martin put the most care into the mono recordings. The mono versions were the mixes they always intended people to hear."<br />
      <br />
      Anyone know why this is? <br />
      <br />
      Also, weren't the albums released in stereo? If so, given the above, why?<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2009/09/mono_or_stereo_help_2.html<br />
      <br />
      Thanks,<br />
      rascal
    1. wgb113's Avatar
      wgb113 -
      The mono mixes were the only versions that the entire band sat in on with Martin and the engineers so from an artistic standpoint those are the versions the band wanted you to hear. <br />
      <br />
      The stereo mixes were done after the fact without the input of the entire band, most of the time without any of the four of them. So what you're hearing is the producer/engineer's "best guess" at what it's supposed to sound like.<br />
      <br />
      As a Beatles fan the mono mixes are the reference. The stereo mix (and any other remix for that matter) is just a different take on that reference but it's not how they (The Beatles) wanted it to sound.<br />
      <br />
      This was done primarily because the US market was demanding stereo releases at the time. To confuse matters more Capitol released their own "fake" stereo releases for the US market.<br />
      <br />
      Bill<br />