Once upon a time my young friends there were these small silver discs called CDs …
Okay maybe a tad bit dramatic but actually that’s not too far off base.
Of course, CDs are still among us – barely. Every day that goes by though the death of physical media looms like a hawk in the night waiting to swoop down and take our beloved musical objects.
Alright, lol, I’ll stop with the hysterics.
I do feel though that the point of this blog is to share some of what it was like collecting music in the late twentieth and even the early twenty-first century. I’ve spent years putting together a nice physical media collection and it’s hard to just switch gears and go strictly non-physical digital.
For me collecting music from say 1986 until now involves collecting mainly compact discs, CDs for short. CDs are no hassle to play, they can be programmed, they sound great and there are no pops and groove wear and don’t need to be endlessly cleaned.
Plus the artwork is carefully protected by a plastic jewel box that can be thrown away if it gets broken and easily replaced – what’s not to love?
For you streamers out there one of the other major bonuses of collecting physical media is the fact that over the years there have more than likely been several different “masterings” of most kinds of music released on say either vinyl, cassette, CD or what have you.
What is mastering exactly you say and why is it important? Those are good questions.
Mastering music involves processing the mix (either mono or stereo) into its final form to be listened to on a physical or digital medium. The mastering of the music determines how loud the songs are, how dynamic they are and how they sound when played on different audio devices.
Mastering of music after say 1995 or so usually involves making the music sound very compressed. This compressed sound sucks the dynamics of the music being played making it sound louder and more aggressive.
This modern approach to mastering the sound of most pop/rock music louder is because of the advent of earbuds and music being played in cars or ipods or more likely nowadays phones.
Music sounds better in a pumped up state on these smaller devices but for people like me who grew up listening to music on home stereos the modern approach to mastering music is a major assault on the ears.
Older music especially loses a lot of its magic and majesty when songs you’ve known for years and years sound louder and less dynamic. People say they’ve lost their interest in music but is it actually the music itself or the way it’s been mastered that changes ones perception of the quality of the music?
The reason that modern compressed mastering matters to people my age (over fifty, yikes!) is that a lot of the music that I love and purchase was recorded and released before 1980. The previous issues of this music on physical media (vinyl, cassette, eight-track and pre-1990 CDs) retain their full dynamics so people my age and collector’s seek out the older masterings of this music as they sound better.
So where does this lead me for today’s blog post? Well today I’m sharing a lovely black “bread box” style CD collection called “The Beatles Collection”. The reason I’ve been sort of ranting about sound and compression is that this bread box, as I like to call it, is filled with the first issue CDs of the entire Beatles catalog.
Let me back up a bit for a minute.
The Beatles catalog was first issued on CD in 1987/88. In late 1988 or 1989 a complete collection was put together and sold in these black box cases (see photos above and below). Not only was “The Beatles Collection” box set available on CD but it was also made available on cassette and vinyl as well and each in a different size black bread box.
By the way all of the various bread box sets were derived from the then current 1987/88 digital masters.
(Note: you could also call these box sets roll-top style boxes but I like the sound of bread box better.)
As for these first digital masters I view the sound of many of them as really quite good and much less compressed and easier to listen to than the more current remasters that were issued on CD in 2009 (and on 180-gram vinyl in 2012).
From the “Revolver” album onwards I’d say that these 1987/88 CD versions are superior in sound to the more current remasters. Don’t get me wrong, the 2009 Beatles remasters sound good but these first issue CDs retain more of the dynamics of the original recordings and aren’t fiddled with like the 2009 remasters.
(Note 2 : the 2009 Beatles remasters while not using noise reduction have eq settings and digital processes that take out vocal pops and mistakes thus altering the sound of the original masters, cleaning them up so to speak.
The 2009 remasters are by no means bad but albums like “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the “White Album” especially sound much more natural and dynamic with less bloated bass on the 80’s CDs thus sound a bit better to my ears.)
Weirdly enough the bread box set I own is not the set that was put out for sale originally. You see some of these bread boxes were made available by themselves without the CDs inside, or so I was told.
About twenty years ago I purchased an empty bread box still in its packaging (see photos) that did not contain the small booklet that was issued with the set and no CDs inside.
This empty box, according to the person who sold it to me on ebay, was bought from the UK directly from EMI. I don’t know how many empty sets were sold or if indeed this set was sold empty or if the ebay seller got rid of the CDs and sold an empty box but whatever I received a brand new empty “The Beatles Collection” bread box.
A few years later I managed to also score the small booklet that originally came with the full set, also on ebay btw, at a decent price so I now have that booklet included it inside my box.
Since my box was empty I decided to fill it with a grab bag of original issue 1987/88 CDs.
The CDs from “Please Please Me” to “Revolver” in my bread box collection are all first issue West Germany CD pressings while my “Sgt. Pepper” and “Magical Mystery Tour” CDs are original UK CDs and my “White Album” is a later Canadian CD issue with the original 80’s first CD mastering.
My copies of “Yellow Submarine”, “Abbey Road” and “Let it Be” are all first issue US pressed CDs and both my “Past Masters” are also first issue US CDs but they were made in the UK.
And of course I still own the original long boxes for these CDs as well just in case you were wondering but I prefer to keep these early CD pressings together in this lovely old style black bread box.
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of these early Beatles CDs and see some photos of the cool black box “The Beatles Collection” CD set that resides in my collection.
I also wanted to give some sort of perspective why collectors chase down different issues of CDs and vinyl. There are sometimes many different masterings of particular albums and the fun is tracking down these different issues and comparing the sound.
Unfortunately those who go the streaming route are most likely stuck with the latest and loudest version of a particular album or recording which is a shame. Granted younger listeners probably won’t care but for those who want to seek out the best sounding versions of not only The Beatles recordings but many others artists as they’ll have to go to physical media to hear how good these albums can truly sound.
Just a quick look at the fading but to me still alluring compact disc and one of my favorite CD box sets of all-time!
As usual you can see photos of this groovy box set and its CDs and if you’re curious these 1980’s Beatles CDs aren’t hard to track down and are a fun listen if you decide to pick one up and give it a spin.
Well, that’s all for now.
Until next time be well and safe and I hope you had a happy Valentine’s Day yesterday!
See you soon.