The Beatles’ Remasters are nothing short of fabulous. Having spent probably too long this week researching the differences between the mono and the stereo versions – and driving myself mad in the process – I finally plumped for the stereo boxed set yesterday having concluded that £200 for an incomplete collection (you don’t get Abbey Road or Let It Be in in the mono box, seeing as they were originally released only in stereo anyway) was too much even for me to part with. Purists will tell you otherwise, that mono is how these albums were intended to be heard, that it gives more vitality to the music (especially the earlier, raw albums), but quite frankly I am not an audiophile, I do not have the hearing of a dog and, like a lot of people these days, mostly listen to my music in a digitised format on my iPod. Much as I’d like to hear the mono versions out of sheer curiosity, the manner in which they are being sold (via the box only, you cannot buy them individually) reeks a little too much like exploitation of the hardcore fan to me. So instead I’ll settle for the stereo mixes, ripped at 256kbps AAC.
Even in their compressed form you can hear the love and the effort that has been put into this restoration project over the last four years and cherish the fact that – finally – the most important back catalogue in popular music has been given a release befitting its legacy. They sound wonderful and it really is like hearing these songs for the first time, clear as a nun’s conscience. The packaging of the albums is gorgeous – each CD digipak presented as a gatefold, recreating the feel (if not the exact look) of the original LPs. Compare these to the miserable looking CDs bunged out by EMI in 1987; it’s frankly astonishing that it’s taken this long for the albums to be properly released for the modern age. Although that’s not strictly true of course: buying music in the modern age increasingly means clicking a button and downloading whatever you want from an online music retailer. Despite the rumours circulating this week, you still won’t find The Beatles on iTunes or anywhere else – the only legal means of getting your hands on this music is to physically buy the asset. It’s all very 20th century. But when the product is presented to you in this way, you really wouldn’t want to settle for downloads anyway: it’s a sheer joy to open the box and handle the individual discs, to pore over the artwork, pictures and sleeve notes. All very old fashioned (and I speak as someone who doesn’t buy CDs anymore either) but, for a release of this importance, it’s the only way to do it. Besides, if anything is going to encourage me to set up my stereo properly again and listen to an album in the way it was intended, it is this.
In the meantime, I’m going to spend the day listening to the entire lot through my iPod hi-fi. It may be compressed (and stereo) but it still sounds amazing to my ears, like someone has taken cellophane off a classic work of art allowing you to experience it properly for the first time.
Even Mrs Sane, who is not a big Beatles fan and couldn’t care less what format the music comes in, professes to hear the difference and quite frankly, that alone justifies my purchase as far as I’m concerned. Worth every single penny.