The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper at 50 (Part 1) : The New Surround Sound Mix

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For example, at the Chorus ends during "Strawberry Fields Forever" you'll hear that sort of Sitar-Harp sound skip gingerly around the room leading into the next Verse.  Likewise, on "A Day In the Life"  the mix is gently immersive, blooming only as necessary, especially on the massive final chord; as much as I might like to hear a madly-wild tripped-out aggressive surround sound mix on this song, Giles Martin's decision to keep things grounded is wise because the song is already madly-wild and tripped-out enough! 

AR-BeatlesSgtPepper50Package225.jpgVocals are now much clearer, enabling you to make out every syllable. You can more easily detect individual Beatle voices even amidst densely layered harmonies. On "Fixing a Hole" those lush voicings are much more up front, almost like the way George Martin mixed The Beatles' backup vocals for the Abbey Road album (think "Because" and "Sun King") two years later. It is really beautiful to hear these richly detailed parts. 

The strings on "She's Leaving Home" are remarkable, offering up detail -- such as low cellos on the chorus -- which I'd never fully noticed before. Remember that in addition to the recordings being bounced down multiple generations (losing fidelity along the way) there was always some level of compression applied to the vinyl records to accommodate the limitations of the average record player back in the day -- if a record was cut too hot, the discs would make the "needle" skip (if you will) because some lower cost players simply could not track that sort of wide range musical information.  That said, with this newly very Hi Fi presentation, this song feels almost like this could be a modern recording by The Kronos Quartet. Its really haunting to feel the Harp behind you as Lennon's aching voice floats away with a somber "Bye-bye..."

The cut-up-spliced-tape Calliope carnival parts on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. kite!" trip gleefully around the room; hey, it was 1967 after all! The rich combination of Indian and traditional orchestral instrumentation on "Within You,Without You" -- Violins, Cellos, Sitar, Dilruba -- makes for a lovely surround showcase as those final rushes of Harp-like sounds gently hug you. The back up harmonies on "When I'm 64" really pop!  And now you can feel the earthy woodiness of the acoustic guitar opening strums to "Lovely Rita" -- and throughout -- delivering a wonderful rhythmic twang.

Ringo's drumming on "Good Morning, Good Morning" is absolutely fierce throughout while the raw urgency in Lennon's vocal sounds borderline punk emanating from the center channel. Spoiler alert: listen closely for the animal noises at the end of which culminate in the back left rear speaker; those final clucks behind you give way to that all important electric guitar pull-off riff which leads us back into the Reprise -- diagonally across the room in the front right channel! This new surround sound mix makes me realize what a quite brilliant production choice it was for The Beatles to begin wrapping up the album with this song as it leads into the"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (Reprise)" and into "A Day in the Life." 

AR-PepperTapeBox2225.jpgThere are three videos on the Blu-ray Disc and, curiously, those mixes seem to be a little different than the audio-only surround sound versions (so be sure to compare and contrast when you get the set to decide for yourself).  Also interestingly, the surround sound audio for these videos is quite different than the previously released surround mixes on The Beatles #1 collection of just a few years back and on The Beatles Anthology DVDs from 2003 (which contained as far as I know the first attempts at mixing Beatle music into surround sound). So, for example, the bass on the videos for "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" seems more prominent -- perhaps too much so -- on the The Beatles #1 version than on the new Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Super Deluxe Edition. And while on "A Day In The Life" the sound on The Beatles #1 version is much bigger than on The Beatles' Anthology DVD set (the Anthology version of this song also has some different video edits happening in it, so hold on your copy for now!), the new Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Super Deluxe Edition version differs significantly as well. Most notably, on the big build up orchestral section, Mal Evans' time-countdown is is much more audible on the The Beatles #1 version.  All that said, the newer mix is indeed more true to the original recordings, bringing us full circle back to the original purpose of this set.

Gosh.... With all these new mixes to consider, you really get a sense of just how well Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band was recorded. It reminds us that The Beatles were recording in one of the best studios in the world -- EMI's Abbey Road -- with one of the best producing, mixing and engineering teams in the world at the time (George Martin, Geoff Emerick) with the best equipment available.  

The result, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, remains, a world class artistic statement and this new deluxe edition gives us a fine alternative perspective to study for the ages. It is an amazing new way to hear a favorite album more clearly than ever before.

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