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CD review: The Beatles remasters sound clearer, crisper than ever

It's about time.

Finally, more than 20 years after they were first released as CDs, the Beatles' studio albums are getting a much-needed digital touch-up.

The 14 remastered U.K. albums (starting with "Please Please Me" and ending with the compilation "Past Masters") spanning the career of the biggest band in Western music are long overdue.

The original CD releases, which came out in 1987, sound OK, given the technology at the time. But the remasters -- a stereo boxed set, a mono boxed set and 14 individual CDs will all be released tomorrow -- sound noticeably better, and at best, breathtaking.

If you're an average fan who already has all the Beatles' albums on CD, it's a little hard to justify buying them all again just for better sound quality. If you're a Beatle-maniac, an audiophile or a fan looking to expand your Beatles collection, the remasters are must-haves. ...

For audiophiles: The bottom end, from Ringo's drumming to Paul's bass, has more heft. There's extra oomph on the bass drum in "Mother Nature's Son," and the strings on George's masterpiece, "Within You Without You" slink like never before.

Nuances like guitar strings being plucked and once-buried harmonies are suddenly, stunningly audible. Remember Paul's fiery solo on "Taxman?" It really sizzles here. And orchestral arrangements on songs such as "Eleanor Rigby" and "Something" sound bigger and bolder than ever before.

This is also the CD stereo debut of the first four albums, which sound remarkably fresh, given that they're almost 50 years old.

For Beatle-maniacs: Each of the CDs comes with long-overdue expanded booklets, featuring liner notes and rare photographs. Why didn't all of the 1987 pressings have these? Also, each disc (except "Past Masters") has a mini-documentary (several minutes, on average) with voice-overs, photos and some video about the making of the album.

For average fans: It took a team of EMI engineers four years to finish the remasters. Their work paid off. These albums are clearer and crisper than ever. The analog hiss is gone, but its warmth, depth and richness remain.

Listening to these CDs, my index finger was almost always on the skip button, but I couldn't press it. I was stuck between the urge to finish listening to one song and the need to see what the next track had in store.

As of now, there is no news on potential Beatles digital releases. It's also sad to think these gorgeous remasters will most likely be lost on my generation -- a generation that's largely content with poor quality mp3s. But there are plenty of audiophiles and Beatle-maniacs who will snap up the re-issues. For them, it will be quite a treat.

(Photos from Baltimore Sun archives)

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