Monday, November 9, 2009

Beatles Remastered Box Set

The impetus for this post came in the mail some weeks ago. It was the September issue of the "Collector's Choice" music catalog. I've ordered a few things from them in the past, so now I'm on their mailing list. Most of their prices are to high, but they have released a few soundtracks on their own label (one reason to buy from them), and have had an occasional sale in the past, during which I purchased some limited edition soundtrack CDs from them (which I collect).

My purchases from Collector's Choice have been made mainly from their website because their catalog only offers a half page of soundtracks! What caught my eye was the cover of the catalog, which advertised the new Beatles' remastered box set. I was interested in what the content and presentation for the new box set containing all the Beatles albums would be. Of course I already have them all, but I was eager to be talked into buying them again. The Collector's Choice description says that the "long awaited" re-mastering was labored over for four years by an "engineering team" and are thus worth re-buying for the improved sonics alone!

After examining what it was that was being offered up for sale I am disappointed to report that this new box set fails to deliver the goods. Content-wise the box set (presented in stereo) is missing the mono mixes. According to the description the "markedly different" mono mixes are "the way George Martin and the Beatles intended the albums to be heard". Why weren't the stereo and mono mixes included on the same disc? Certainly this was possible, since most of the Beatles albums are under 40 minutes in length.

Instead, in order to get the "markedly different" mono mixes, Beatles enthusiasts – who most definitely would want to hear the music "the way George Martin and the Beatles intended" are forced to buy the mono set - and, either pass on the stereo set, or shell out more than $400 for both.

This, IMO, is an obvious ploy to take advantage of Beatles completists. Yes, this may be the last time in the foreseeable future that the Beatles catalog will be reissued, so they are milking it for all they can get. I understand that. Still, I can't help but think that the marketing executives are taking Beatles fans for a ride with this release. For that reason I rate this release "poor", value-wise.

Another reason to rate this release a poor value is because the limited edition mono set is more expensive - even though it lacks three of the albums in the Beatles catalog. "Yellow Submarine", "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be", because they were originally released in stereo, are excluded from this set. Although both the "Help" and "Rubber Soul" discs contain mono and stereo mixes. Because, according to Wikipedia, they were remixed in stereo in 1987 for release on CD. The rational doesn't make any sense to me.

Presentation-wise the box is also lacking. Instead of the industry standard jewel box, the individual discs are housed in cardboard envelopes. Cardboard envelopes are the absolute worst CD packaging option. Cardboard envelopes usually result in scratched discs. A few examples I can cite include the laser etched 2-disc deluxe "Star Wars", and the pop-up dino release of "Jurassic Park: The Lost World".

I purchased these discs new and found them to be scratched when I unsealed them. There is a reason why the jewel case is the industry standard. It is the best way to protect CDs from scratches.

In summary - this box set fails to deliver in three of four categories - content, value, and packaging. As far as the mono set being "limited"... first of all why? If this is "the way George Martin and the Beatles intended the music to be heard", it should NOT be limited. This is a historically significant release, and should be available for anyone who wants to buy it for the foreseeable future.

Secondly, I don't trust the "limited" claim. Wikipedia says initially 10,000 units were released, but they quickly sold out and the label decided to press more. But it is still limited, or so they claim. Sounds like a scam to get people to "act fast" or miss out.

I previously mentioned that I collected limited edition soundtracks. In that community most collectors view the "limited edition" claim to be sacrosanct. Pressing more copies, even if you vastly underestimated what the demand would be, is considered a betrayal of trust. It rarely happens (apart of the fact that the labels who release limited edition soundtracks are almost always 2nd party licensors and contractually limited regarding many copies they can release).

Also, because of the historical significance of this release, I seriously doubt the mono mixes will be shelved and unavailable forever. Not having heard these discs I can't address category four, which would be how they sound. And I won't be able to judge them sonically anytime soon, since I'm going to be sticking with my original releases for now. I want it, but aside from not being able to afford it, I'm upset that they didn't release ONE set with both the mono and stereo mixes.

The stereo albums are currently available separately. The mono mixes are not. If the mono mixes ever do become available separately I MAY eventually buy them. I'm guessing that they will be. Although I'm fairly certain that the stereo and mono mixes will NEVER released on the same disc. It wouldn't make sense when the way this release has been handled has made it clear that the goal is to squeeze as much money out of these reissues as possible.

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