Now that the Beatles remastered CDs are flying off store shelves, one major question remains: how good do these albums sound? Are they worth they money? To answer these questions, I conducted a very unscientific A/B audio CD comparison, examining the remastered stereo CDs against the 1987 albums (the only exception being the Yellow Submarine album, which I compared to the 1999 "songtrack," a remixed version of the original soundtrack). First, I selected several songs that contain certain elements that could be identified: bass, drums, other percussion, guitar, vocals, and various sound effects. Through headphones, I then listened to the 1987 versions, then the remasters, noting similarities and differences. In general, this experiment demonstrates that remastering resembles cleaning a dirty windshield: once the grime is wiped away, clear vision is restored. The Abbey Road engineers' digital remastering reveals the intricacies of various classics, allowing fans a new perspective on some very familiar songs.
The following list contains song titles, albums, years, reasons songs were chosen (drums, vocals, etc.) and the A (1987 CDs) and B (2009 remasters) comparisons. Again, since this is a largely unscientific listening experiment, the track list represents a very small portion of songs I most looked forward to hearing anew. The list contains a disproportionate number of harder rocking songs, as they contained some of most easily identifiable sound elements to compare.
Please Mr. Postman (With The Beatles, 1964, drums and vocals): Version B features a thumping backbeat, and John Lennon's vocals have never sounded clearer or more vibrant. While his appropriately raspy rock voice shines, Ringo Starr impresses here with his steady yet exciting drumming. The background harmonies of Paul McCartney and George Harrison stand out more from the instrumentation, as are the handclaps toward the end. Version A starts at a very quiet volume, and the sound is flat and treble-heavy. Ringo's drumming barely makes a dent, and overall the track sounds like it was transferred from a third-generation tape. Version B positively rocks, and it offers the listener a glimpse into what their raucous Hamburg and Cavern shows sounded like.
And I Love Her (Hard Day's Night, 1964, guitar and percussion): This classic tune greatly benefits from remastering. Version A sounds much softer and muffled, while B encompasses a fuller, louder sound. The double-tracked voices are clarified, and flow together in a smoother manner. Hearing the tremble in Paul's voice during the "dark is the sky" lyric will amaze, and George's guitar solo rises from the instrumentation. An interesting note: Paul slightly hums right before the final guitar solo, which I had never noticed before.
Mr. Moonlight (Beatles for Sale, 1964, vocals): A much-maligned song, "Mr. Moonlight" features one of John's rawest vocal performances (listen to him scream "Mr. Moonlight" at the song's beginning). Studying Version A, I found the harmonies distorted, and John's voice sounded too muted. Version B increases the volume, but not to the point of sacrificing sound quality. John, Paul, and George's harmonies are more distinct—in particular, Paul's voice can be heard quite clearly. The gentle percussion stands out, although the organ solo (which they should have eliminated originally; it adds a corny touch) briefly drowns out the instruments, so the leveling should have been adjusted. However, the overall clarity is impressive—listen for extra harmonizing during the fadeout.
You're Going to Lose That Girl (Help!, 1965, vocals, guitar, bass, percussion): While Version A sounds one-dimensional, the remastering cleans up the vocals and instrumentation to render this classic Help! track three-dimensional. The 1987 CD mutes Paul's bass, and George's guitar solo sounds tinny in the right channel. Ringo's bongo-playing fares the best in Version A. Version B places the vocals at the forefront, and raises the general volume. The bongos really jump out in the right channel—I detected rhythm patterns I never noticed before. The bridge vocals blend together smoothly, creating fuller harmonies. In addition, the remasters eliminate the previously tinny guitar solo, letting fans experience the full-bodied sound of George's guitar. Amazingly, the digital cleanup makes the track sound as if it could have been recorded today.