Some audiophiles would argue "let it be," but the Beatles' discography is finally being brought fully into the digital 21st Century: Apple Corps Ltd. and EMI Music have just announced that the completely re-mastered back-catalog of recordings will be released on September 9.
It's the first time that the albums have been given the full digital remastering treatment--when transferred to CD originally in the 80's the tracks were basically roughly pulled off existing fair-copy analog versions. Originally, the band themselves recorded many signature tracks with the bare minimum of technology, which contributing to the characteristic sound of the music, and in some cases exploiting tricks you couldn't replicate on a CD--like the infinite repeating loop on the run-out groove of Sgt. Pepper's--so perhaps it's no surprise the remastering has taken so long.
But digital music technology has progressed in leaps and bounds, and Apple Corps. has decided it's time to bring the recordings up to date. A "dedicated team of engineers at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London" has been carefully running the remastering program for four years, and they've used both state-of-the art digital electronics and "vintage studio equipment," to perform the analog-digital conversion from original EMI tapes. The intention has been to carefully keep hold of "the authenticity and integrity of the original analogue recordings," according to EMI, which should go some way towards pleasing die-hard analog music fans. Nevertheless, the companies did decide to do a little editing and have chosen to remove "electrical clicks, microphone vocal pops, excessive sibilance and bad edits"--but only where they didn't affect the "original integrity" of the songs.
All 12 albums, plus "Magical Mystery Tour" and both volumes of the collections dubbed "Past Masters" will be released in stereo, with original artwork. Most of the albums will get an extra new-media tweak too, as they'll have bonus quick-time video documentaries on the making of the album. Since the Beatles were recording just as mono was giving way to stereo, there's also a 10-album mono recording set, with the original tracks recorded in their original format and with reduced-size copies of the original record sleeves.
That's a lot of deferential treatment to an important set of recordings.
Of course there's one thing digital music fans will spot missing from this news: involvement of the other Apple, and its iTunes store. It seems that agreement is still stalled, and the Apple Corps. press release simply states "Discussions regarding the digital distribution of the catalogue will continue." Perhaps the launch of the Beatles Rock Band game--on the same day this September--will be a consolation prize.