‘You never give your money’: Do you really need that new ‘deluxe’ version of ‘Abbey Road’?


‘You never give your money’: Do you really need that new ‘deluxe’ version of ‘Abbey Road’?

 
TL;DR: Yes. Yes you do.

Last Friday when the (eagerly awaited) Abbey Road Blu-ray box set arrived at my front door, I hastily ripped off the cellophane, popped it into the player and smoked some fine gourmet hash oil that I had been saving for a special occasion. Based on my past opinions of Giles Martin’s Beatles remixes, I expected that his sonic refurbishing of Abbey Road would be another job very well done. And that it most certainly is.

Indeed I felt so enthusiastic about what I was listening to that I decided to live tweet my real time reactions to the experience. At this point I was listening to the stereo remix of the album and had yet to try the 5.1 surround sound mix on for size. Depending on your attitude, or your audio equipment, the 5.1 mix is either the main event, or a non-event. I’m into both, but started off on my two-channel system. Since it was spontaneous, I’m going to embed that Twitter thread here to get across just how much I was digging it. And dig it I did. My middle-aged man’s dream stereo system—or as I like to think of it my own personal IV drip of endorphins and other happy brain chemicals—was pumping out audiophile magic…
 

 

 
I was so impressed by Abbey Road‘s new stereo mix (which was in fact performed mostly by audio engineer Sam Okell, Giles Martin’s partner on these Beatles endeavors, by Martin’s own admission) that I didn’t even bother listening to the 5.1 mix, which, to be honest, is what I personally see as the main event with a release like this, until last night.

Everything that I noted about the stereo version was true of the surround sound mix, but even more so. Heard with the bottom end we moderns have come to expect, “Come Together” caused my subwoofer to shake our entire house down to the foundation. Ringo’s drumming seemed infinitely more subtle than I’d ever come close to noticing in that song before, but his heavy pounding on the chorus saw the picture window in the room I was in visibly move as if struck. If you’ve only ever heard “Come Together” on a middling system, if you knew what I now know, your mouth would be watering.

“Something” sounds really good, and sonically robust, in surround, but here, as in much of Abbey Road, Martin and Okell made fairly conservative choices for the 5.1 version. This is not to say their instincts were in any way faulty. If you consider the full spectrum of Martin’s 5.1 revisioning of his father’s original work—the mixes for the 1+ Blu-ray were conservative because it was a video product; Sgt. Pepper’s very tastefully went a bit further out with swirling circus sounds and more as appropriate to that work; the White Album has always been all over the place and so was the surround mix, and now Abbey Road—what comes across is his absolute fealty to the classic originals. When a remixer makes a joke about “working on the Sistine Chapel” the unstated implication is that no one, but no one, wants to see anything other than subtle improvements. This new iteration of Abbey Road has room to breathe, but it’s still very much rooted to the version first heard 50 years ago, not updated with beats and guest rappers. They didn’t gimmick up Abbey Road! They gave the music balls. And spread it out, making it more widescreen and dynamic.

Take “Sun King.” The glorious triple-tracked vocal harmonies recorded by Harrison, Lennon, and McCartney in 1969 have been transformed into a celestial choir that you are standing smack in the middle of. When I now add “but it’s also kinda the same as it’s always been” what I am trying to get across is how perfectly they pulled it off: It’s never ever jarring. You go with it. You’re thrilled by it. And I can’t see why anyone would be offended by such an update. I mean I feel like I’ve had Abbey Road tattooed onto my DNA since forever ago and there is nothing, not one thing or moment where I thought “Oh, that’s not in the right place,” because it’s always in the right place. Abbey Road has been updated for 21st century audio gear, but I honestly don’t think many people who grew up with the album will find much fault with either the new stereo or surround mixes.

In my live tweetstorm I ended by saying how much the three guitar attack heard in “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” sounded like Swans to me and there is one final thing I wanted to mention: The 5.1 surround mix of that number sounds even more like Swans. There is a sound effect I noticed that I thought was especially clever and this was when the hissing pink noise heard in that song’s epic tailout did this flanged movement that felt like it was travelling from in front of you, then AT you, then past you, then far behind you. But it’s sustained, like a blast from a fireman’s hose. What was before a titanic, lumbering wall of sound is now a violent hissing wall of sound akin to being confronted with a flamethrower. That was a real “wow!” moment and probably something that sounds outrageously good on a Dolby Atmos system—a Dolby Atmos version of the entire album is included on the Blu-ray—but unfortunately I can’t tell you about that because I don’t have one. Even scaled back it was a stunning effect. When the song abruptly cuts off, the silence hung in the room.

I rate this new iteration of Abbey Road, both the stereo and surround mixes, a 10/10. It’s what I expected, it’s what I wanted and it’s got a few very nice surprises which I hoped for but could not have anticipated.
 

The Audiophiliac himself, Steve Guttenberg reviews ‘Abbey Road’ on his daily YouTube update.
 

Analog Planet‘s Michael Fremer does an “unboxing” video for the deluxe vinyl edition of ‘Abbey Road.’

Posted by Richard Metzger

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09.28.2019

03:07 pm

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