By Frank Wells.
The hearts of Beatles fans the world over are all a flutter over this recent announcement by Apple/EMI:
Apple Corps Ltd. and EMI Music are delighted to announce the release of the original Beatles catalogue, which has been digitally re-mastered for the first time, for worldwide CD release on Wednesday, September 9, 2009 (9-9-09), the same date as the release of the widely anticipated The Beatles: Rock Band video game. Each of the CDs is packaged with replicated original U.K. album art, including expanded booklets containing original and newly written liner notes and rare photos. For a limited period, each CD will also be embedded with a brief documentary film about the album. On the same date, two new Beatles boxed CD collections will also be released.
The albums have been re-mastered by a dedicated team of engineers at EMI's Abbey Road Studios in London over a four-year period utilizing state-of-the-art recording technology alongside vintage studio equipment, carefully maintaining the authenticity and integrity of the original analog recordings. The result of this painstaking process is the highest fidelity the catalogue has seen since its original release.
Technology has not stood still in the years since the Beatles' recordings were first released, nor since some of the material was re-released on compact disc, and since some (but not all) of the material first released in glorious mono was remixed and released in stereo (and subsequently rejected by many Beatles "purists"). The opportunity to hear deeper into the artistry of the original recordings is compelling for Beatles fans (and for some of us first owning vinyl copies, then earlier CD versions, it's exciting to have the opportunity to purchase these recordings yet again--OK, spending the bucks again isn't actually all that enticing, but that doesn't mean that many of us won't likely suppress our financial remorse in favor of owning an improved copy of these beloved classics).
That said, let's revisit the statement that started the last paragraph: "Technology has not stood still in the years since the Beatles' recordings were first released." I'm saddened to see no mention of release of this material in a higher resolution format than compact disc. I'm not one that believes a CD can't sound very good, but I do believe that there is readily available technology that can deliver those of us who care a much better experience.
I'm not talking SACD (now relegated to boutique status), nor DVD-Audio (an all-but-dead format, even though I have quite a collection that I still often enjoy), nor the new capabilities of Blu-ray players (not now, nor possibly ever, in wide enough use), nor even as hi-res audio data files in their various guises (nearly a primetime delivery method for high-resolution audio and video, even if gently data compressed, and possibly soon for full-resolution audio; the internet conduit and storage are no longer barriers to full-resolution audio delivery, though IP rights issues still are). I'm not talking surround remixes (though that's something I'd love to hear).
I'm talking high bit-depth audio (at least 20-bit), and preferably high sample rate audio (88.2 or 96 kHz). What format capable of delivering such content does have near universal penetration in the consumer marketplace? DVD of the DVD-Video flavor. And, in case you've forgotten, the DVD-Video spec requires as mandatory that players be able to reproduce 24-bit/96 kHz audio.
Apple and EMI have been fairly reticent thus far to share details of the re-mastering process, but I can't imagine that any engineer worth his salt in 2009 would not have used the highest resolution capture and archiving media available, regardless of the release format. So maybe you include CD versions for full universality and portability, but it's a cryin' shame that there will apparently be no higher resolution versions of this material available.
Were it so, I would be among those that would feel no remorse at all over making such a purchase.