"Copies of Beatles Master Tapes" Played at CES and RMAF 2013

Exhibitors at The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and at RMAF have been using reel to reel tape as source material. Some use Tape Project tapes, which we know are copies of copies of actual master tapes licensed by and supplied by the record labels. Yarlung is also doing this using masters of self-produced and recorded material.

However, at these shows tapes have been represented to me as being purchased "copies of Beatles master tapes" and "copies of Chess master tapes" among others.

I can't speak about some of these but I can speak about The Beatles master tapes and the likelihood that any of these purported "copies of Beatles master tapes" are the real thing: they are not!

Back in 1997 EMI planned a 30th anniversary CD reissue of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The plan was to master it both at Abbey Road and at Masterdisk where long time Sterling Sound mastering engineer Greg Calbi was then working (he's since returned to Sterling Sound).

Calbi asked me if I knew where in the New York area one might find a Studer C37 2 track recorder originally used to mix the album. As it turned out I did and I helped arrange for the machine to be at Masterdisk for the project.

I was invited to attend and meet Geoff Emerick who had hand-carried the master tape from where they are stored. I brought with me the Mobile Fidelity version of the album, which, after about a minute's worth, Emerick declared "rubbish" because of the high frequency boost applied throughout (and to the whole set). I then played him the mono Japanese Odeon red vinyl reissue from the early 1980s, which he said was "perfect".

The master tape was not in a cardboard box. Beatles master tapes are not stored in cardboard boxes. They are stored in metal boxes containing a white paper insert. You can see this on the Mobile Fidelity box set album covers.

However those are not the tapes shown on those covers! For one thing, the master of Sgt. Pepper's... was not banded though it is on the Mo-Fi cover. For another, I believe the same tape is shown on all of those covers and the number of bands do not match up with the number of songs on each of the albums.

If you do a web search on "Beatles master tapes" you will not see even one image of an actual Beatles master tape. Not one. That's how carefully these tapes are guarded. Emerick told me the procedure required to get the tape out of the vault and onto an airplane and trust me, no one has made and removed an unauthorized copy.

According to another of my sources, the tapes at Capitol are, for a variety of reasons, at best third generation tapes. Tapes sent to Mexico and other Western Hemisphere EMI affiliates were copies of those tapes, sent by Capitol, not by EMI.

So when I hear at a hi-fi show in hushed tones that I am going to be hearing a "copy of a Beatles master tape" I know it is pure, unadulterated bullshit. And then when I hear what is being fobbed off as such, I know it is pure unadulterated B.S. because back in 1997 I heard a Beatles master tape. So aside from it being totally illegal to sell such a thing if in fact it existed, whoever is representing it as such is full of shit.

Obviously the image used for this story, whatever it is purported to be (I found the picture on line) is not a Beatles master tape or anything close to one.

Paul Boudreau's picture

I wonder whether the original masters (stored somewhere near the center of the Earth in a special cave, right?) will ever be used again to produce reissues or whether it's all digital sourcing from here on out?

Just curious:  Did GE opine on the UK "blue box" stereo '80s reissue LPs?  I think there were also UK & Japanese mono boxes produced around the same time but I've never seen an example of either.

Michael Fremer's picture

Subject didn't come up

rl1856's picture

Mikey,  If you can not afford mint Parlophone pressings, what in your opinion are the best sounding analogue alternatives?     Keep up the good work !      Thanks.   

planarhead's picture

I've heard from others, that these people simply make high resolution digital or DSD transfers to tape at 15 ips and call them "safety masters" then sell them for enourmous prices. A real shame considering there are legitimate companies trying to reissue old or original music on rtr.

Michael Fremer's picture

You write "...these people simply make high resolution digital or DSD transfers to tape at 15IPS...." using what as source material????

planarhead's picture

Not sure about the Beatles in particular, but with things like Brubeck's Time Out or Miles Kind of Blue there are SACDs that they can use as a source to make tapes. These are two common titles I sometimes see sold in grey markets as 15 ips "safety masters". I can not say for certain if these are digital dubs, but it seems peculiar that everyone has "safety masters" of these 2 titles.

Michael Fremer's picture

You are probably correct about those titles. Of course there are no "safety masters" of KOB as we know...

Jay's picture

Thanks for the heads up on this one Mikey. I suppose it's predictable, but still it's nice to dream about high speed Reel to Reel copies of the Beatles albums from the 1st generation tapes being made available

c1ferrari's picture

provenance...provenance enlightened

vinyl listener's picture

... mofi beatles were rubbish.

confirmed by someone who should know.


Michael Fremer's picture

They had an opportunity to produce something special by just being mostly true to the original Harry Moss EQ cutting choices but chose instead the "car stereo EQ valley". So there's elevated top and bottom and a midrange valley. If you have tone controls on your preamp or integrated amp you can make it better but otherwise it sounds recessed and lacking in energy right where most of the music resides. So what's the point?

timorous's picture

Perhaps they figured most people in the U.S. wouldn't have heard the original British pressings, so any re-jigging they did would sound better than the screech and no-bass of the Capitol pressings.

As well-recorded as the Beatle stuff is, it seems to me, George Martin's focus was having the vocals cut through on the radio. Thus the slightly elevated upper midrange. I find the Norman Smith recordings to be noticeably cleaner than Geoff Emerick's, but this is mostly due to the experimentation involved in the latter.

samman's picture


MrRom92's picture

Yes, of course the first generation masters are probably under the tightest guard in the world. But you forget that there have been dozens of copies sent out around the world for cutting in other territories. These would be 2nd generation. It's not farfetched to say that these will eventually end up in collectors hands. Just a year or two ago, mono cutting masters for the Mexican Capitol release turned up on the market. Those were authentic.


People who pay out the nose for such a thing are likely to run copies for others to recoup the investment. I would know, I have a few beatles master dubs myself, in my collection of 1st generation masters and safeties. None of the beatles titles are any further than 3rd or 4th generation. And they sound spectacular, mind you. Not a chance in hell of being digitally sourced.


That isn't to say there aren't people dubbing from CD and selling the tape... I see a number of people do this all the time and they get hundreds for their crappy spliced together cheap "odds and ends" tape, on a pancake no less. This disgusts me to no end. This is nothing but preying upon the small but dedicated tape collecting community.

Michael Fremer's picture

My sources tell me that some of what Capitol USA received from EMI was already 3rd or 4th generation for reasons I can't now talk about. Therefore Capitol then took the tapes and did their "thing" with it, adding echo, cutting bass, doing EQ etc. to produce their final "master". Then a cutting master was made and then a copy of that went to Mexico... that would be so many generations down the tape is probably more of a collector's item than something worth playing for sound.

Bruce B's picture

So yes Michael... there are Beatles "verifiable" copies out there.

Guess you have to be at the right place at the right time!

hi-fi's picture

I suppose it might seem like sacrilege to some, but just because Geoff was the kid that was thrust into the 1st engineer's chair doesn't mean it couldn't have been anyone else.  I'll stop right there because my point is not to question his good fortune, but let's face it, Emerick got the job done because he was in the right place at the right time, and his book lays that out pretty clearly.  I often wonder how much better those recordings could have sounded if it were not for EMI's rigid recording protocols. It wasn't Geoff's foresight that pushed the recording envelope, it was Paul's insistence on having more bass prominence, and the impetus for special effects and Emerick's achievements were the results of The Beatle's imagination for anything unique, previously unheard of and cutting edge, and the clout to demand it.  I find it hard to put any significant volume to most Beatle's LPs without wincing when those bright and prominent Vox amps are fed by those blazing Rickenbacker guitars.  Ringo's drums are usually buried (even for that time period).  Mixes were inconsistent where one song may begin to have some drive while other songs on the same LP are starngely void of pulse even if they fundamentally "rock" more (no specific examples, there's plenty of them).  And even with Paul still using a pick when he switched to the Rick didn't add much more definition (if any) than when he used the toneless Hofner!  Even if he used flatwound strings, how do you end up with a tone-deficient Rick...with a pick...and the world's most important rock/pop group?  We have Emerick's recordings, that's a fact and we're indoctrinated to that sound and accept it as some kind of reference.  Perhaps Emerick di a fine job tracking, it was the mixes and mastering that held back what the possibilities are (and I'm trying to be generous here). Case in point, look what Giles did with the tracks on "Love" or "The Beatle's Songtrack".  Those remixes show what those songs could have been all this time, and still waiting to be, yet for some reason there's this clinging to yet another version of old masterings that may have been fine for radio or a GE Wildcat, but they are not as hi-fi as you'd think the 20th century's most prominent musical influences should be.  If that ever comes to fruition, all the Beatles, recording staff, and original fans will all be dead and gone, and the best part of The Beatles sonic legacy will have never benefited those that created and supported it for generations.

Anyway, I do not find the MFSL's rubbish.  My Linn/Acoustat playback is above mediocre and I know what I hear as well as what I'm not afraid to say I like.  I do enjoy the Japan issued Red monos as well, but there's a charm to the MFSL's that have always been lacking in the originals, Blue Box, et al, and that overly-cliched "smiley car curve" accusation gets it closer to where the recordings become more enjoyable unless you have a zippy and bloated playback system (and no, mine isn't dull and anemic).  I just simply have the balls to express that.  Sorry Geoff, you may have spent an enviable amount of time with The Beatles, and thank you for the recorded memories, but that doesn't make your ears or perspective necessarily better than many other engineers who have tracked amazing recordings in the same time period. I'm probably in the minority consensus, but because I believe it rather than worry about being defined by it.

Sorry about the length, the topic caught my interest and I felt a need to stand behind MFSL on this one.  They don't walk on water but I must say I've only been  disappointed rarely considering the breadth of their entire catalog, and their Beatles Box is not one of them.

Michael Fremer's picture

But i suggest that if the Mo-Fi box sounds good on your system, it is because your system must be adding the midrange sucked out by Mo-Fi  and suppressing to some degree the bleached, bright top end added by Mo-Fi. Those records are bleached, clinical and lacking in natural midband energy and thin and bright on top.

As for Emerick's recording talents, if an original UK pressing of "Abbey Road" doesn't sound stellar on your system, it's your system not the record. And I think his work on Elvis Costello's "Imperial Bedroom" well demonstrates his production abilities.

stargeezer's picture

I just came across this thread. Mike, there are indeed copies of Beatles tapes from EMI out there. I know because I have a couple. Capitol may have supplied tapes to Mexico but not Europe. My tapes are original safety's on 12" pancakes with AEG hubs and EMI labels.