Beatles Mono LPs 2014

Friday 25th July 2014 – Guy Hayden, Vice President of Apple Corps, Kensington, London, cabbed it over to Hi-Fi World's offices in Notting Hill with The Beatles in Mono box set we've been eagerly awaiting. The wait – review samples were delayed – had heightened our expectations and also made us a little nervous. Our reviewers and review system were primed and ready to meet September 2014 issue deadlines, and the clock was ticking under our October issue. Would the box set arrive in time or would we have to re-schedule the review again? And how would the new LPs sound? In theory they have the ability to eclipse all that has gone before, including early LPs. But that's theory; reality can be quite different. Would our review system reveal damp squibs? We got lucky: Guy lives in Muswell Hill and dropped in on the way home, Friday night. That's him with the box set, in our picture at right.
    My fear of what may emerge rose from experience. Playing our in-house collection of The Beatles LPs, from early Parlophone monos, through to Factory Sample (supplied by Abbey Road) original-mix stereos from the 1980s, sound quality was lacklustre, with early LPs in particular. Our copies of their first album, Please, Please Me, were bass light, flat in perspectives (i.e. no stage depth) and sounded muddled. But as they came from a hurried recording session that consumed one day of studio time in 1963, it seemed reasonable that what we were hearing were the limitations of the original recording, meaning this was as good as it could get – in which case the new LPs could not offer more.
    Our review system, assembled specially for the new mono box set, didn't flatter the early LPs either. Modern hi-fi is ruthlessly revealing. Our new Tannoy Kensington Gold Reference loudspeakers, chosen for authenticity because "all the music at EMI including Abbey Road and most of the Decca Classical output was produced using Tannoy loudspeakers" (in the 1970s, Tannoy told us - see B/W picture), didn't enhance our LPs. Their cryogenically treated crossovers bring deep insight into recordings – great when what's there is clean, not so good when it isn't.

Tannoys at Abbey Road Studios   Looking for magic and remembering my own advice to always use Tannoys with valve amplifiers, we hooked up Quad II-eighty valve monoblock power amplifiers – and the Kensingtons sang.
    Feeding the Quads was an Icon Audio PS3 all-valve phono stage (with volume control and mono switch) and up front a Timestep Evo turntable (modded Technics SL-1210 MkII) turntable from Sound Hi-Fi, fitted with improved servo-control electronics, external power supply, uprated plinth, and a lovely SME309 pickup arm. SME removable head shells were fitted with an Ortofon 2M Mono SE moving magnet cartridge, purposed for this box set, and an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze stereo moving coil cartridge.
    The Beatles first LP, Please Please Me, recorded 1963, was arguably the crudest in sonic terms, if not in editing, and this one was – for me – going to be “the big one” because my LPs (Parlophone mono; 1980s factory sample stereo from original mix down / pressing stamper) are none too impressive in sound quality.
    The first track kicks off with “1 - 2 - 3 - 4” from John shouting into the microphone, to sync the fab four into a rippingly fast tempoʼd I Saw Her Standing There. Immediately, Iʼm aware that this is a real live performance, in a way that has eluded me before. The heavy vinyl gives a firm, full bodied sound, so John has a solid presence at the microphone. Also surprising was the speed and dexterity of Paul's bass line; this is usually difficult to make out, but whilst not heavy, it is now clearly apparent and plays a full part in the performance. Itʼs a raw and exciting track and the new mono LP brings it life, vigour and a firmly anchored feeling of dimensionality from the master tape that my other LPs lack.
    As Misery fades out and Anna starts, thereʼs no noise at all. Iʼve got the volume up in a quiet environment (itʼs Sunday morning in Notting Hill and no one has recovered from last night) and ticks and pops are absent. From 12ft away I canʼt hear groove roar either, just perfect silence. That shows just how good the modern, virgin vinyl of these discs is. I must also mention that they feel weighty and solid in the hand and settle flat onto the platter with a re-assuringly damped clunk. So you get quite a different experience when handling them from earlier Beatles LPs, if not from Quiex-SVP LPs and similar.
   As John delivers Iʼm A Loser into the mic the sheer dynamic range of these new LPs becomes apparent: one minute thereʼs silence – then John is shouting at me (88dB SPL on a B&K SPL meter at the listening position). Itʼs live and itʼs visceral.
  The box is constructed from thick double layer cardboard that gives the flip-top a weighty feel. It has a lustrous white gloss finish. With book, the whole package is heavy at 9kgs, so it isnʼt easy to carry over long distances.
   This piece is a quick look, a snap review of what to expect from the new box set. Now it has arrived we will be running a full review in our October 2014 issue, penned by Hi-Fi World's music expert, Paul Rigby.  Find out more about this new mono LP box set  HERE.


Noel Keywood, publisher.



Update, 3/8/14

The Beatles 'This Boy' analysis


Measuring music on The Beatles in Mono LPs for its energy content produced some interesting figures. They show just how well these audiophile LPs perform by current standards and why they are able to sound so good.
    The analysis shows maximum and minimum music energy levels (white traces) of This Boy, on Mono Masters and recorded November 1963. It is of the entire track, minimum value being silent run-in and run-out grooves. The 0dB datum represents maximum output of the Ortofon 2M Mono SE cartridge, set using B&K QR2010 test disc.
    The green analysis shows musical energy extends from 50Hz to a surprisingly high 12kHz, before there is a sharp roll off in energy of harmonics. The roll off is steep, likely imposed by the tape record or replay head. Subjectively, this track has strong and clean treble and the analysis shows why: treble energy is plentiful and harmonics extended.
    The top white trace shows peak signal levels are -10dB below the cartridge's tracking limit, so the LPs are not over cut to sound loud. There's a generous tracking margin, allowing the music to sound 'secure', free from the breakup of sound that occurs as the tracking limit is approached.
    The bottom white trace shows vinyl noise. These LPs use best quality virgin vinyl (no re-cycled additives) and are very quiet in use. The noise spectrum across the midband is more than 90dB below full output – extremely low noise and a performance comparable to CD. The music covers an 80dB range, which is sizeable too and watching the display showed large energy variations, unlike the music from compressed CDs that changes little, giving an almost static energy level display.    
    Not shown here, but available from analysis, was the dynamic range of the cartridge, between maximum output and its own noise floor (hiss) set by thermal (Johnson) noise from its 600 Ohm DCR signal coils. This measured -110dB. Cartridge noise is 10dB lower than vinyl noise and the cartridge has an intrinsic dynamic range greater than CD. Moving coil cartridges, with 1 Ohm DCR signal coils, are hiss free and offer even greater range, by the way.

Measurement notes
This is a 1/24th octave analysis, made by Hi-Fi World's in-house Rohde&Schwarz UPV audio analyser. The cartridge was connected directly, to avoid preamplifier noise, and RIAA equalisation applied internally. NK




Hi-Fi World, Powered by Joomla!; Hosted by Joomla Wired.