An Abbey Roadblock?

If you're looking for a quick and easy answer to the question "How good is The Beatles box set?" you've come to the wrong place. Each album deserves to be evaluated individually and that's what I intend to do, though the lesser ones (if there is such a thing among Beatles albums) will get less attention.

First, in general, it's too bad the producers didn't pay as much attention to the albums as they did to the book that accompanies the box. It's superb and in fact my EMI contact told me the box was delayed more because of the box than anything else.

The album jackets are second rate, non-laminated affairs and the artwork is a pale imitation of the original. You get the idea that these folks think the extras, not the records are what today's vinyl fans want. Some of the reproduction is better than others. Abbey Road's cover is faded and drab compared to the rich, saturated look of the laminated original. The reissue does reproduce the original black inner sleeve and the label art is accurate.

What about pressing quality? Well so far I can't say it's up to the high standards of RTI, Pallas or QRP. I haven't gotten my hands on the European edition pressed at Optimal in Germany but I suspect that is better than these records pressed by Rainbo.

However, of the ones I've played, they are acceptably pressed: reasonably flat and quiet but not as quiet as the best available now or certainly the best back "in the day." There was visible "non-fill" in the form of what's called "string of pearls" visible in the right light but it was so mild as to be inaudible. The lead-in groove areas of all of the records I've auditioned were physically a bit rough and before the music begins there's a rumbly noise you don't hear on today's best pressings or on original U.K. Parlophones for that matter.

I realize everyone is disappointed that these are not AAA albums or at the very least the 96k/24 bit transfers that had been rumored to be the source.

The problem is this was "production by committee." One group was responsible for the tape transfers and by all accounts that was meticulously done over a long period of time, flat, at 192k/24 bit. Then why down convert to 44.1/24 bit before the actual mastering? The only rational explanation for that would be to make it "mathematically friendly" for the final "bread and butter" version, which was the CD box set.

Clearly vinyl takes a distant third place in the minds and hearts of the producers. At least that's my conclusion. What else can be the reason for doing it this way?

So Sean Magee was handed these 44.1k/24 bit masters and told to cut lacquers. At least he had the good sense to not make them "loud." The CDs were made "loud" (but only moderately so) because I guess the producers wanted them to sound "fresh." Give Magee credit for leaving the full dynamics in place on the vinyl—not that there's anything wrong with a touch of compression to add "pop" to a limp rock recording. These were not limp rock recordings!

So here's what I did with Abbey Road: I first played my original U.K. pressing that I bought in September of 1969 at New England Music City and Cheap Thrills in Kenmore Square, Boston, MA. I've played that record hundreds of times for sure and the top end is all still there. The record isn't worn out nor is it noisy. It's really quite remarkable. Yes there are a few pops and clicks here and there but the top end is clean and transients are sharply drawn.

Equally remarkable is what a total idiot is a guy whose name I won't mention who runs a website allegedly about high end audio who recently wrote that vinyl will not help save high performance audio because 'records wear out quickly." What a MORON (name available upon request). His arrogance is only exceeded by his ignorance.

So after playing the original and then a second, later, but still early U.K. pressing, one where the green apple under side one's track listing had inexplicably been shifted to the left, I played: the American original, an 'early 80's era Japanese box set version, a Toshiba "Pro-Use" Japanese version, the Mobile Fidelity box set version and then the new box set version. Finally I played the new CD version and then the 44.1k/24 bit USB version.

Then after playing these on two "get out here" priced turntables (the Continuum Caliburn and the new Air Force One imported by Graham Engineering that sells for $85,000) using the Lyra Atlas on the latter and the Ortofon Anna on the former), swapping between two very different sounding phono preamps (the Ypsilon VPS-100 that I own and the Zesto under review), I played a few of the records on a more reasonably priced Acoustic Signature Storm 'table under review (still expensive at $7500) using a Kuzma 4 Point arm and a Stein Audio modified Benz cartridge and a modestly priced Musical Fidelity ViNL 1 phono preamp.

Okay? I spent the better part of a day doing this because I really want to get this right. If you're expecting a snarky review because this set was not produced as we might wish, you've also come to the wrong place as you have if you expect a white wash or a cover up or an unctuously written rave! Not going to do it.

How this box will sound on your system will in great part depend upon how your system sounds generally and of course what kind of sound you prefer.

That out of the way, here's what I found: if you have the Apple USB stick and a really great DAC, you're buying this box for the book and for "the thing." I listened to the stick and the CD using the very costly 4 box MSB Platinum Diamond DAC IV and first of all, the stick just destroys the CD, particularly on top, reinforcing my belief that 16 bit digital sucks eggs. The CD's top end was airless, dark and recessed. Sibilants were smeared too, compared to the 24 bit stick and this is easily the BEST PCM DAC and transport I've heard.

Forget the American pressing. It's as dynamically flaccid and tonally recessed today as it was when I first bought it after buying and enjoying the British pressing. I kept it only because, well, it's the Beatles! The original UK pressing has tremendous presence on top. Not brightness, just presence and transparency.

I paid most attention to side two because it's so well-produced and recorded and so much inner detail, and especially textural and spatial information has been revealed over the years as my system improved. I listened for the space around George's voice on "Hear Comes the Sun" and the fleshy quality to the hand claps. Also the "juicy" quality of the synth parts on "Because" as well as the piano on "You Never Give Me Your Money" and of course Ringo's drums. Also the harmonies on "Sun King" and whether or not you can "hear" the guys smiling. The more you listen to that side, the more you hear, even after forty plus years.

So an original U.K. pressing, early mother and stamper is really the standard by which the reissue and all others must be measured. The later U.K. pressing (when the black inner sleeve had been replaced with white and the lacquer number was in the hundreds) still sounded well-extended and clean on top.

All of the earlier pressings I auditioned, save the American original are kind of bright sounding but in the best sense of the word when applied to most of them—"sparkly" and transparent. The snare "pops", the cymbals shimmer. The soundstage is generously wide and deep, the bass well extended and articulated. The stereo mix is easily the most accomplished of the Beatles albums, producing a seamless expanse.

Tonally, the Japanese pressing was better than I thought when I first auditioned it many years ago. Unlike some Japanese records, it's not overly bright nor is the bass curtailed. In fact the bass is very well-extended and controlled and while it sounds a generation removed from the U.K. original, it's very good and of course impeccably quiet. The "Pro-Use" Toshiba edition is somewhat more reserved and almost mechanical on top as well as being generally dry but its very well-defined in terms of transient detail and clarity and dead quiet.

The Mobile-Fidelity version is uncomfortably bright on top and overly prominent on bottom and that of course depresses the midrange so the record sounds tonally two-dimensional and almost harmonically "black and white." It's nothing a good equalizer can't fix but nothing fixes what a good equalizer breaks! Yes, the vinyl is dead quiet and the 1/2 speed mastering is clean, almost antiseptically so. I own it but I never listen to it and I know why. However, if your system is rolled on top and rich in the mids but not soft on bottom the Mo-Fi box probably sounds just right for you.

So what about the reissue? Tonally it's quite good, particularly in the midrange. The top end is very clean and precise but it lacks the air and extension found on the original U.K. as well as on the Japanese editions and it definitely lacks the transparency and three-dimensionality found on the original—the sense that The Beatles are "there" singing and playing in a space surrounded by and actually breathing air.

The handclaps on "Here Comes the Sun" and the acoustic guitars sound very good, if a bit dry, the synth parts on "Because" are not quite as "juicy" as on the original, but the overall the record sounds good, particularly side two. If you didn't know which version it was, I don't think you'd easily identify it as "digitally sourced," though when you found yourself losing interest for some reason after a while, you'd figure it out.

I thought side one was clearly inferior to the original or the Japanese editions. It lacked sparkle and transient snap and sounded somewhat dull. The drums on that side were kind of soft and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" was kind of soft and limp compared to the original. "Something" sounded congealed and mushy compared to the original played for 40+ years!

Overall though, I thought Abbey Road came out fairly well, especially side two, which you can crank up and the tonal balance remains pleasing and coherent.

I don't know if the box set will sell out in a hurry as some on line sellers are claiming. I'd say this: buy this album as a separate and see how you like it. If you do, you'll probably like the box. You can then give the album to a friend. If you don't, you can give the album to a friend and then start your Ebay quest for pricey originals, including the German Hor Zu Magical Mystery Tour, which aside from the box, is the only version with side two in real stereo. I'd also add the double Past Masters.

The only other record in the box I've had time to listen to is the first album, a basic, almost primitive recording that I thought sounded great: tonally coherent and reasonably transparent.

As a record producer friend said to me this evening "It wasn't produced the way you wished it to be, but sometimes the end result is better than you might have expected, even if it's not as good as you wanted it to be."

That was my conclusion after all of this listening. I will get to the rest of the set ASAP though I have low hopes for Help! and Rubber Soul mastered from George Martin's not well-regarded CD resolution remixes.

Music Direct Buy It Now

joerand's picture


Thanks for the review.  I remember from my youth that import Beatles vinyl always sounded better than the stuff from Capitol.  I'm considering ordering the vinyl box set from the UK.  It would interesting if you could compare the US remastered vinyl to the remastered pressings from Germany.  At least for a LP, (Abbey Road) if not the whole set.  Thank you.

marmaduke's picture

Even though I do not appreciate EMI's overpromising and underdelivering on this reissue from the quality of the vinyl to the false reports of the digital master used and most everything save that book in between, I have ordered select titles from Amazon U.K. to see if this dark cloud has a silver lining.

My Rainbo titles are all being returned unopened.

Bad behaviour should not be rewarded.

Dpoggenburg's picture

Thanks for the thoughtful review. I'm looking forward to my own comparative listening this weekend. Damn I love this website!

NRVinyl82's picture

I echo the comment above, amazing review, the detail and care put in is why this is such a great site. Bummed to hear about the jacket being less than ideal but still looking forward to my copies of yellow Submarine,Let it Be and Abbey Road. Holding out on the mono set for the others.

Paul Boudreau's picture

You listened to nine different versions of "Abbed Road!"  You are an iron man.  Or possibly nuts.  Thanks for the detailed review.

Inner_Groove's picture

Picked up the Box Set in Canuckland Costo for $289 + 14% tax :(

I have only the mono and stereo CDs complete circa '86 AAD and ADD remasters ... Pathe (Francais) pressings of the Red and Blue albums,  Canadian EMI - Twist and Shout (Can equiv release only of the Pls Pls Me US release), Abbey Rd., the LOve SOngs UK issue double-album and plus a few Canadian Cassettes, Let It Be, White Album and Pls Pls Me.

My first spin (Abbey Road) hit me with a suspicion that maybe my LP12 / Grace / Dynavector was either not ready to play or I'd lost a few Caps in my Pre-Amp (Sunsui C2101 DCC phono stages so no caps in signal path!)  ... there was a dearth of information at the topend ... or certainly a full blown recession of these vital aspects to recorded sound!!  But the mid and bottom were

Culprits it my view, combination of the Benchmark DAC used plus the limited Fq cutting head!! C'est la vie!!

Well, i'm new to the site and just felt that some backup comments were inline .... Great package generally, but I may just not play it as often as was originally intended :))

7 Stars

dobyblue's picture

I think you've made an error in suggesting that you shouldn't get the vinyl if you have the 24-bit USB stick, because the files on the USB stick received the same dynamic range compression as the 16-bit CD's did. If you want the remastered stereo recordings without any limiting then you'll want the vinyl. I knew that I didn't want to bother with the US pressings as soon as I heard Rainbo were doing them. I ordered Abbey Road and Let It Be from Amazon UK to get the German Optimal pressings, hopefully they'll be here within the next fortnight.

I'm also surprised that Sean didn't discuss with you why he felt there was no reason to go all analogue on these or higher than 24/44.1 - he said the cutter they used rolls off after 14kHz and cannot cut above 24kHz. While 24/48 then would have been ideal, we're still getting up to 22kHz albeit rolled off. What advantage would there have been to 24/96? None according to Sean's posts at the Steve Hoffman forums.

That said, I guess it's also time to try and track down an original UK pressing of Abbey Road, haha, but I do like most of the EQ decisions on the remasters so I'm still excited to get my copy in the mail.

I also thought the artwork and covers were highly touted by Abbey Road/EMI as being a big reason to want the vinyl remasters, all accurately reproduced. It sounds like that wasn't the case with the copies you've got, wonder if the EU pressings will be any different?

Michael Fremer's picture

None of this was Sean's decision. He got involved once the files had been prepared. I really didn't hear much compression on the "Abbey Road" stick version..... I was generalizing about the artwork based on "Abbey Road". It wasn't what I was hoping for...

Martin's picture

For the review.

Once again, demonstrating why this is the place to come to when looking for informed opinion and information.

A good, balanced review. The Album on its merits. Good, clean and reasonably well executed.

However, not even close to what could have been.

I guess the take away is, if you've got clean originals, the box set would just sit on the shelf unplayed.

Paul Boudreau's picture

"Equally remarkable is what a total idiot is a guy whose name I won't mention who runs a website allegedly about high end audio who recently wrote that vinyl will not help save high performance audio because 'records wear out quickly.'"

That's unfortunately a widespread misconception, possibly resulting from the fact that very few people take/took proper care of their records.  I corresponded at one point with the fellow who runs a Procol Harum site in the UK and he was disdainfully dismissive of vinyl.  What a shame.  Personally I'm still trying to find a decent copy of "Shine On Brightly" on Regal Zonophone!

Michael Fremer's picture

I've got one but I'm not selling!

Paul Boudreau's picture

Allow me to say "Aargh!"  In looking for one recently, I noticed that Joe Cocker's first two LPs were also on RZ in the UK - who knew?

thomoz's picture

You've got me thinking that the original MFSL cut and the MFSL boxed set cut use very different eq; my original MFSL does not have the boosted highs you speak of.

"Equally remarkable is what a total idiot is a guy whose name I won't mention who runs a website allegedly about high end audio who recently wrote that vinyl will not help save high performance audio because 'records wear out quickly.'"

Ha ha, I loved this.  Running a record store for 3-1/2 years I had to dispel this myth all the time.  I went to the last two AXPONAs with a 31 year old Lindsey Buckingham lp under my arm (Law & Order) as reference, this album has been played 500 times easily - the first month I owned it, I likely played it 2-3 times a day (laughing). The detail on that record is astonishing (particularly the track "Shadow Of The West"), which is why it goes to AXPONA with me.

Thank you also for the interview with Sean, I feel that if he had been given the opportunity to cut these new lps from TAPE that we would all be singing a different tune about the new box right now - as they are indeed well cut.  Further info, by at least one account (from someone who bought BOTH pressings of the 2012 boxed set), the UK pressings' jackets have better color fidelity than the US pressed copies.

firedog55's picture

Sourced from the 24/44.1? I don't get it. Except maybe they couldn't get approval again to source it from the 24/192 or the 24/96. Hard for me to understand why they would need "approval" to just release a digital transcription  of what's already been released many times.

Anyway, I've got a good DAC and the USB stick and the mono set,  so I guess I'll stick with that. 

earwaxxer's picture

These record companies are a trip! Its really no different than it was in the 60's and 70's. You could flip a coin as to whether a recording was worth a crap or not! They didnt seem to care.

Just when they are starting to 'get it', because their backs are up against the wall with the collapse of the CD, they go and blow it. Again. It was bad enough with the umpteen bazillion crappy 'remasters' of DSOTM. Do it right for gods sake! Quit listening to the no nothing MBA's that are running the company!

I guess the genius's are trying to pull an 'Apple'. "Lets give them just enough to get them to buy, dont give them the good stuff yet (or ever)".

Bigrasshopper's picture

Based on what has been stated, it would appear that their remains a technical issue that is hanging out here as to whether a lathe or only the particular lathe used to cut these files can be an effective transducer of information above 22K. Sean is saying that his lathe heats up and rolls off above 16K.  One the digital side, I've heard various opinions about the need for headroom in the A to D.  Was that headroom present?Conversion conversation can become real technical real fast, even so, it may be helpful to try to source an excpert opinion who is outside this reissue process, who may be in a position to offer another perspective on the cutting to lacquer of higher resolution files.  

One another note, though related to an answer on that question - Have the lacquers for the mono box already been cut?  If not, is there an opportunity here, through continued dialogue with Sean, and for us, as a community to muster a message for a reexamination of the digital process for the mono set?  We do not exist in a complete vacuum, as some people suggest.  We can, in the form of a letter to EMI, give voice to our desires.  If we don't tell them what we want how can we be justified in our disappointment?  Is this not an appropriate place at this moment to attempt to reach out, to educate those in control.  Those in position may be completely oblivious of our wishes.  All we may be asking for is a higher sample, something that already exists.

Is that suggestion completely naïve of the legal tangles? Of a mindless machine.  Is that just a dream for another day?  If we were able to speak as a single body, maybe we could help in preparing the ground for another release, a higher res. release. 

Micheal, the context, clarity and evenhandedness of your perspective is why I'm here.  But is it enough to educate only consumers.  Is it enough for consumers to only consume?  Can we explore means, perhaps with Seans cooperation, if he is on the same page, to send a message, even though it fails?



squeezeflo's picture

Most of the people at the companies must be walking around with Ipod plugs in their ears. They wouldn't know good sound if it bit them on the butt. Further, I don't think they care. It's the bottom line and nothing more. I couldn't agree with you more.

unclebill's picture

Just recived my box set from Music Direct. Have not yet opened.

First, what or who is rainbow ?

Second, how can you tell where pressings are done ?

Jim Tavegia's picture

It seems to me that QRP from all we've read is a state of the art facility.  Are they not capable of producing the kind of qtys that this kind of release would require? Why were they not contacted about the US distribution for this set?  There are still too many people in the record business who keep messing it up. The Beatles deserved better, as do their customers. 

I have the CD Beatles' Remasters and might have bought a few of the vinyl, but Not now. 

JC1957's picture

Appreciate the review Michael, I enjoyed reading it. My question is who on earth selected Rainbo to press these LP's? This whole release has turned into a amalgamated disaster. At least here in the USA.

Rainbo's idea of quality is "just get the product out the door and it's not our problem. Let EMI worry about it."

Off center pressings, badly warped records, steel wool like treatment on surfaces, non fill issues and the list goes on.

Well their reputation is pretty far down the toilet now so all I can do is wish Rainbo to go out of business in 2013.

Other facilties can do the job better and us fans certainly deserve it.



Jack Gilvey's picture

 "if you have the Apple USB stick and a really great DAC, you're buying this box for the book and for "the thing.""

Love the review. I normally buy first and ask questions later when it comes to the Holy IV. The digital master gave me pause, though, since I already had the USB apple. So, since since it's my favorite thing ever, I ordered Abbey Road as a test. I spent a good deal of time going between the 24-bit FLAC and new vinyl on my uber-modest rig and the only real distinguishing feature I could discern was the noise of the pressing. I still really want "the thing", though, to go with my UK BC13 box. I'd love your impressions of the Euro vinyl.

 Also, there's a typo under the Music rating. Says "10" where the "11" should be.



MicallefK's picture

Box sets were flying out the door at J&R Music in Lower Manhattan, so said the security guard. "All morning long...".  

tbromgard's picture

I ordered half the releases from elusive disc but shipping was delayed. I canceled the order until I can learn more abot the various albums and how they each sound. Thanks for the heads up Michael

Mazzy's picture

I love these records and no mater how many reviews you read it will alsways be different for you. Your ears, your system, your taste. You will probably never hear them the same and this or any reviewrs. Plus will all are listening for different things or purely just for an overall great recorded sound. I think these work for that. I actually like them better than my MF collection. I have them all I think this is a geat box with some pressing issues here and there. My 2 cents

TommyTunes's picture

This is what I expected when the LP project was first announced.  This is The Beatles, everything requires approval of the remaining two and the families of John and George.  If EMI had wanted to do anything different the entire process would have to started from scratch.  We'd be waiting another 5 years.  Choosing Rainbo is inexcusable US pressings should have been better.

As I said countless times to friends, this set was for the general vinyl consumer, the newbie who wants the Beatles on LP.  The Beatles, of all groups, sold in the millions, even now there are enough UK pressings floating around to satisfy the audiophile community. 

If you are really a Beatles fan, put a little effort into it and get even a late seventies pressing.  Sure 1st issues will cost you but there are reasonably priced alternatives. The 1969 one box EMI’s show up and you can pretty much find near mint ones for $100 or less.  Many of those use either 1st or 2nd stampers and are pressed on thick quiet vinyl.  The 1978 UK for U.S. BC-13 blue box generally can be had for less than the price of the reissue set.  The 1978 box has generally lower stampers than the 1982 set and even has laminated covers.  As a bonus it includes a unique copy of Rarities with only 3000 pressed.

Hopefully EMI will skip doing a Pink Floyd set because the members of PF are second only to The Beatles in terms of red tape.

Mazzy's picture

I've been buying these records for almost 50 years and I still have every Beatles LP still. All the variations, international pressings, box sets and so on . Yes I am one of those people. I would say I have a pretty good rig, not really high high end but solid, and I think these are some of the best of all the Beatles records on vinyl. Yes you could pick and choose tracks here and there from other pressings and like somethng different, but I think these are pretty great overall.

I agree the weak link here comes from the pressing plant, Irregular. All my discs are pretty quiet except for Abbey Road which is a disater. Again not the sound, but it seems someone took my copy and danced on it before they slipped in into the sleeve. Acoustic Disc is swapping out that one disc for me so I do not have to return the entire box. 

dmgrant1's picture

Now that it has been exposed as a digital transcription, I can save my money.  Thanks Mikey.

malosuerte's picture

Right now it is $319.00.

mother3251's picture

Hi Michael,

Like all the other Beatles fans here, I wish to thank you for your very honest findings and feedback with your comparison testing.

I have held off buying these, even though I want to, especially for the book, I will wait now for the Mono's, with baited breath.

I could not afford the original vinyl albums in the 60's, but have spent the last 30 years collecting the Mono's and Stereo's LP's, including the UHQR, and MFSL. I compared the very first Beatles LP, mono with the gold lettering, how lucky was I to get that, against the MFSL box set and the Beatles 2nd pressing on my SME 30/2, the original blows them away. I sold my MFSL box set.

In the UK, there are plenty originals to be had especially on Ebay, at reasonable prices.

The info on the digiatl files used for the remastering is disappointing, and for you guys over there, you deserve better pressings, what was the company thinking about, not using the best available was a big mistake.

I am looking forward to hearing the UK buyers comparisons with the originals.

Keep up the great work for all us analog fans everywhere

soundman45's picture

First of all, Thanks to Michael Fremer and this site. As a professional audio engineer for over 25 years I am finally taking a big leap backward  and sonic leap forward and rebuilding my long lost vinyl rig.

After reading this article and following the various remasters of Beatles projects since 1987, my big question is why must all Beatles projects have to use in house people? I know that they have been great archivists of an historic collection but are Abbey Road mastering engineers the best in the business?

Why not give someone like Bob Ludwig or Bernie Grundman a crack at it?

Alex's picture



Don't you know that Abbey Road only use in-house people as well as equipment? I don't think that it's because they have the beast, I believe that it's more like a family tradition or philosophy.

hishou's picture

Michael, how would you compare this with the Rolling Stones DSD vinyl? Are the differences between analogue and digital sources the same with the Beatles releases?


Michael Fremer's picture

You can find the review on this site using the search engine.

bill lettang's picture

Hello Michael and All...This is my first post and I hope a valid one...In regards to the brightness of the Mofi's I found out that Stan Ricker (much to his disappointment) was told by MoFi management to add +10 db at l5K, and +5db at 10K.  Steve Hoffmans suggestion  to "correct" this (no guarantees) was to cut -3 at 12k or 10k with an option of adding +1 at 500 and +2 at 3K....I do not have any eq software but do you think these corrections make it possible to return the MoFi's to the original (Stan's) intended EQ? Also in general is it really possible to correct "over the top" EQ decisions on already cut LP'S?  If so, what would you suggest for a stand alone EQ unit? Thank you, and I look forward to much education from this the way, born and raised in College Point Queens, so we share many N.Y. experiences..............Bill Lettang