Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Something New About Something New...

Yes, I'm still fascinated by my exploration of my old vinyl collection. Tonight's discovery was a copy of the Beatles' Something New, still unopened. I have a well-worn copy, but apparently I bought a second copy sometime in the 1970s; this is on the green Apple label, not the Capitol label that I think of whenever I recall these old Beatles albums. Since it's brand new, the sound is quite good--very clean, no surface noise to speak of, crisp upper end, strong bass, little to no rumble.

Of course, there are those who will argue that every copy of Something New must sound bad, because these are Dave Dexter's Americanized remixes, not the pure British mixes of these songs. Well, these are the mixes I grew up with; the extra reverb adds a richness to the music that I have always missed in the British mixes. Hearing this album again on vinyl makes me acutely aware that Dexter's contributions are unfairly excoriated; I think that, had he not added that extra resonance to the Beatles' songs, they might not have had the AM hook necessary to make the Beatles a musical phenomenon here in the US.

I played around with settings for a while; I tried a few of the THX and Dolby II & III settings to generate surround sound fields out of the stereo mixes, but none of them sounded right. Instruments were muddied, voices seemed distant, and some sounds seemed to fade in an out, as if someone were fumbling with the slider volumes throughout the playback.

I tried standard stereo; it sounded better, but a little bit weak. Then I discovered a setting I had never used on my Pioneer 7-channel amp: 7-Channel Stereo. A more accurate name might be "6.1 channel stereo," because what it does is to play the left channels through the left front, left midfield, and left surround speakers, and the right channels through the right front, right midfield, and right surround speakers. There's no sound at all from the center channel, and the bass is directed to the subwoofer.

Suddenly the Beatles sounded just like they were supposed to sound. No extra processing, no wonky effects--just stereo through three pairs of Infinity speakers, so that wherever I moved in the room the stereo was rich and resonant. The voices were vibrant and lifelike, and I felt like I could hear everyhing that I was supposed to hear. That warmth that so many vinyl fans talk about was clear and everpresent, and the music took on an vitality that was missing from most CD mixes.  This was the Beatles as I heard them back in 1964, only with equipment exponentially better than anything I dreamed of back then.

Turns out I also have unopened copies of Meet the Beatles, the Beatles Second Album, Help, Revolver, Rubber Soul,  Yesterday and Today, The Early Beatles, and Sgt. Pepper's. I'll be opening one each night for the next week, relishing the chance to hear these albums fresh from the shrinkwrap.

No comments: