The Beatles are back! On vinyl, at least.
In a nod to rabidfans and the resurgence of old-school discs, Apple Corps and EMI arereleasing all of the Fab Four's original studio albums (1963-1970), plusthe U.S.-originated Magical Mystery Tour and a Past Masters singles collection, on 180-gram audiophile vinyl. They arrive Tuesday.
Thealbums, which include the original artwork, are available individually($19.99 for single LPs, $29.99 for doubles) as well as in alimited-edition 14-disc package ($399.99). The boxed set includes a252-page book by radio producer Kevin Howlett on the sessions, which"showcase the tremendous joy and energy of a band that was essentiallyplaying live in the studio."
But coming on the heels of a Grammy-winning series of remastered CDs in 2009, why bother with vinyl?
"There'ssomething comforting in the impreciseness of the (analog) medium thatproduces a more open and airy sound," says Sean Magee, the Abbey Roadengineer who spent the better part of a year on the project. "A lot ofmodern CDs are engineered for loud. We went with clean."
A growingsegment of music fans are appreciating vinyl's merits, as evidenced bysurging sales (up 40% in 2011 to a still-small $3.9 million) and thereopening of record-pressing plants, says Robert Harley, editor ofaudiophile journal The Absolute Sound.
"Vinyl is exploding partlybecause the sound quality is noticeably more natural, but also becauseyounger buyers realize that you can start a conversation over yourrecord collection but not so much over MP3s," he says.
Beatlesscholar Martin Lewis says the new release offers fans visual as well assonic bliss. "The magnificence of the photos and artwork that gracedthese albums are lost on 5-inch (CD) squares," he says, noting that the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band disc will come with its original sleeve inserts. "They're works of art as striking as the music inside."
Lewisadds that listening on vinyl also requires listeners to hear songs inthe order the artists intended: "None of that was incidental; everythingthe Beatles did was for a reason."
Among the vinyl release highlights are a 24-page color book tucked inside Mystery Tour (which bumps its price to $24.99) and the double-sided photo montage/lyric sheet and four solo color photos that come with The Beatles (commonly known as 1968's groundbreaking White Album).
"Anything Beatles is in high demand by their fans, folks who want every German import," says Andy Greene, associate editor at Rolling Stone."But these sort of releases are for that small minority of people whostill pay for albums" as opposed to streaming music subscriptions.
Andfor that hardcore crew, more Beatles treasure is being dug up. EngineerMagee is midway through a transferring the band's mono recordings tovinyl. "Up until The White Album, the guys were focusing alltheir creative energy on what their songs sounded like in mono," hesays. "So they're just awesome."
But that's still not the holy grail. "That would be a DVD release of the movie Let It Be," Lewis says of the breakup-era artifact. "We're still waiting on that one."