The Beatles "On Air- Live at the BBC Volume 2" on 3 Vinyl LPs

Between 1982 and Capitol/Apple’s 1994 release of the original The Beatles Live at the BBC (C1724383179619 2 LPs, cassette, CD) the BBC broadcast annual Beatles specials that included the music the group performed on the British radio institution between 1962 and 1965. The older listeners had heard all or most of those performances when they were first broadcast.

Americans, unless they found a way to get the bootlegs, heard little or none of this. Between 1962 and 1965 The Beatles performed multiple versions of 88 songs on the BBC—more than 275 in all—including 36 the group never recorded for Parlophone.

So when the 1994 set was released hardcore fans were outraged, while casual Beatlemaniacs were happy with what they’d been given because they didn’t know what they were missing. The 1994 The Beatles Live at the BBC release included but 56 of the 88 different songs and just 30 of the 36 never recorded for Parlophone.

Live versions of big hits were missing along with notable obscurities. The two LP vinyl packaging was so-so but at least there was vinyl.

’On Air-Live at the BBC Volume 2’(Apple/Universal 3750506) includes 37 previously unreleased performances, ten never recorded by the group for EMI, two released for the first time and 23 “newly available” speech tracks. I’ll leave it to someone with more time on their hands and greater fanatical fervor to collate the material.

Apple/Universal has way upped the packaging. This is a laminated triple gatefold presentation, with attractive sculpted cutouts on each panel that make easier removing the sleeves. The layout, the photographic reproduction, the sleeve artwork—all are well-implemented.

And, as best as I can tell, the pressings are from Optimal in Germany. The look, feel and inner groove scribes and numbers aren’t familiar, plus the pressing quality is exceptional physically and sonically. Okay, you’ll be paying a premium for the third 180g record that is exclusively “Pop Profile” interviews that probably could have just as easily been put on a CD, but if you’re buying the vinyl you’ll probably want it all that way.

The more you listen to these guys play live during these early years, the more you appreciate just how tight they were and how high was the energy level. Music today doesn’t jump with this energy level nor do people speak with it. Face it: this past, so familiar to many is starting to look old the way silent movies looked to boomers when they saw them recycled on television.

Yet The Beatles’ music remains fresh and exciting to new generations for reasons that are clear when you listen to these spirited performances—clearer in fact than when listening to the more polished albums.

The Beatles performed constantly during this time period and they had a BBC radio show too called “Pop Goes The Beatles”. Of necessity they had to do covers. From Arthur Alexander, to The Shirelles to The Miracles and the Donays (!), to Carl Perkins, Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, The Beatles clearly had eclectic musical tastes, but they didn’t extend far into to blues. You’d have to look in Mick and Keith’s record collections for those. The covers illuminate but the originals amaze. How did one lead to the other?

As for the sound, I’m sorry but the despite the mono and despite the suspect quality of some of the sources, when The Beatles talk on vinyl it sounds like “the radio” (and they sound life-like), but when you hear the same talking on the CD it sounds like an iPod. Don’t ask me why. As for the music, at least on my rig, the vinyl sounds like The Beatles and the CD sounds like the Fab Faux (not the great cover band, but a drab digital recreation of the Fab Four).

I know, I know I know, the source for the vinyl is a DIGITAL FILE. I don’t care. You’ll listen to the vinyl. It will bring this all to life for you. It will thrill your senses and if you’re of a certain age, re-live all of the initial excitement. At least I did. The CDs will not do that for you. At least that was my reaction and it surprised even me—and I was listening on the best digital system I've yet heard: a $100,000 plus dCS Vivaldi digital system I’d just finished reviewing for Stereophile.

Billf's picture

Perkins. It's Perkins. Please fix this otherwise great review.

Michael Fremer's picture

orry about that....

Joachim's picture

Why is it that digital sourced vinyl still sounds better than the digital file? I do understand that the CD-version is worse du to the 16/44 limitation. But to me it seems to be the same with 24/192 files. Mastering process? Digital playback chain?

PeterPani's picture

There are many trys to understand why digital masters sound better on vinyl. Thruth is: we don't know, we don't understand fully. It seems we have to live with the fact that the mass itself (weight) of the media matters. Maybe we can hear the effort that was put in the making of the vinyl. Something crazy is going on that we simply do not understand with our limited senses.

Joachim's picture


I like your ideas: weight of the media and particularly the effort put into the process may well leave a mark. I can relate to that.

PeterPani's picture

When I play the same stuff of 44.1/16 PCM from the digital track of laserdisc compared to that same file on CD (original CD or burned from the laserdisc to CD-R) the laserdisc sounds "better".

J. Carter's picture

One, it could be like you say the playback chain in digital compared to the analog chain. In Michael's case he definitely has invested more time and money in his analog chain that his digital so that could be it.


My personal belief is that much of it is phychological. People are more apt to like something they are more comfortable with than something they are less comfortable with.

Some of it may also be that the noise (for lack of a better term) the vinyl adds is comforting and makes it seem more analog or pleasing to some.

Paul Boudreau's picture

is now three LPs, can I assume it's expanded from the '90s release?  It now has 71 tracks.  Do I want/need to buy it again is obviously my question to myself.

Michael Fremer's picture

This morning the three LP Volume 1 test pressings arrived. I've yet to listen but the pressing quality appears equal to Vol. 2. The track listings are not on the label but I do have the CD set for that and I will get to it ASAP....

HeyBulldog's picture


Just wanted to reply to your question about The Beatles at the BBC.  This is a completely new release titled On Air - The Beatles at the BBC, Vol. 2.  So, the tracks are different, the songs are different and everything is different from the 90's release, The Beatles at the BBC. I think this has been released on 3 vinyl discs as opposed to 2 discs to possibly improve the quality of the sound on the recording.  So, a "new" Beatles album!!

Preston's picture

Long ago, I read an interview with a designer of high end equipment and I recall him saying (paraphrasing liberally here) that the reason that analog sounds more "real" has to do with the fact that you are physically creating/recreating the sound (i.e., a needle moving in a groove) as opposed to taking a bunch of digital ones and zeroes and converting them to analog and then moving a speaker driver.  If I recall correctly, he was implying that you have to eventually (physically) move something to get sound and you are closer (or more analogous) to that when you use a physical method of recreation.  An interesting premise.

wao62's picture

Thought we were promised the mono Re-mastered vinyl set for Christmas!  Not that I mind waiting too much, but I wonder if the delay is due to changes in their approach resulting from lessons learned from the stereo's set implementation.  It's interesting that this BBC set is only (I believe) manufactured in Europe. 

rdh79730's picture

I was sure I'd have Beatles in glorious mono by Christmas.  It's even mentioned in the stereo box book!  But no mono.  I'm bummed.

StonedBeatles1's picture

In my opinion music is plain and simply percussive. So, even if you have a quality digital source it will still sound better once tranferred to vinyl (or tape even).  You have the percussivnes of the grooves vibrating into the stylus hence recreating a more natural source, feel and sound.

AnalogPlanet and Flipper Rules!

Bill-B's picture

just don't cut it...... as I listen to the Chambers Brothers now drulin'for Beatles.

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

Bought the CD but yet to have a listen. Reason being I have vol 1 on CD from 20 years ago. I always thought the audio quality of this did not justify forking out on an expensive vinyl version. These BBC recordings are  never going to be true high fidelity though obviously I am wrong about that ? BTW have heard the DCS a couple times at shows and all that money thrown at digital may improve it incrementaly but nowhere close to good (modestly priced) analogue.