Saturday, January 29, 2011

1963, February 25: Sources: CHAINS

“CHAINS”

Versions. There is only one version.

Foundational Variations. UPDATE February 3, 2011: A “Foundational Variation” is any preceding base for a released recording which (with some exceptions) has no extra material. For this song, the original twin-track Take 1 is not available for inspection. On the released Stereo recording, it is possible to isolate the guitar, bass, and drums (with bleed) in the Left channel, but this does not constitute a Foundational Variation, only a karaoke opportunity. Thus, we can go no further back than the released mixes.

Variations. There is only one Mono mix, designated Variation 1.0. Any mastering differences for "Chains” 1.0 have not been given any new Variation.

There is also only one Stereo mix, but two Variations.

The first Variation, 2.0, is designated to all releases except The Early Beatles Stereo LP.

The second Variation, 2.0.1, is a derivative of 2.0. On The Early Beatles Stereo LP, “Chains” has a bit more reverberation than on the UK Please Please Me album, possibly by use of compression (or perhaps even delayed bleed). It’s not “cavernous” (as are some other tracks on this US LP), but it nevertheless earns a Variation.

Not Variations.

(1) In testing* “Chains” on the German Stereo Die Beatles LP, considered to have less processing than all other Stereo Please Please Me pressings (details: here), I heard a tiny (if any!) discrepancy in the reverberation quality on the vocal (Right) channel, but not enough to earn any new Variation.

* I tested using both vinyl (German Please Please Me) and needle-drop FLAC (Die Beatles), performing A-B tests against several other sources, including UK Please Please Me (vinyl and FLAC), Blue Box Please Please Me (vinyl and FLAC), MFSL Please Please Me (vinyl and FLAC), and the 2009 Please Please Me remaster.

(2) Discrepancies in channel loudness generally do not earn any new Variation.

(3) Concerning the “Mono Fold-Down” (Mono-from-Stereo) track on The Early Beatles Mono LP, it’s interesting from the standpoint that it proves this album to be filled with such fold-downs, but it can be replicated by simply summing to Mono while playing the Stereo track, and therefore earns no new Variation.

Fuzz. There are unmistakable instances of a guitar amp making a fuzz sound throughout the recording. This is almost certainly a bad cord or wire, or amplifier speaker, although some have erroneously described it as premeditated “fuzz guitar.” At one point, about 0:30 into the song, it does sound intentionally “dirty,” like a mini-Marshall amp. But numerous other such moments, during the section from about 1:02-1:15, and in the fade-out at about 2:13 and 2:18, obviously point to equipment failure. Why did The Beatles use such a flawed performance?

Theory: The Beatles recorded four takes of “Chains,” but chose Take 1 as “best” for release, a slightly unusual move since the “best” take was usually the final take recorded. Take 1 was probably originally thought unfit due to the equipment malfunction (the fuzz sound), and therefore three more takes were attempted. Having reached Take 4, the boys and/or George Martin perhaps decided that Take 1, with its unusual noise, was quite appealing after all. Thus we see an early example of our heroes innovating by their great intuition.

Sibilance. At times, George does not pronounce the “s” at the end of “chains,” so it sounds like “chain.”

Despite reports to the contrary, there does not seem to be any time during this song that an “s” sound is pronounced as “sh.”

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AUDIO SOURCES

Sonic Ratings. All recommended sources will receive a subjective sonic rating, either Excellent, Very Good, or Good. This subjective rating is based on various factors, including (1) clarity vs. murkiness, (2) smoothness vs. distortion (including harshness) or peaking, (3) balance vs. over-loud elements (for example, too much emphasis on bass), and (4) comparison to other sources under a particular category (for example, Mono). Any source not given a rating of at least Good will at least be provided explanatory notes (including whether or not I’ve heard that source).

Price Tags. Vinyl sources will include an estimated 2010 price tag in US dollars, taken mainly from completed eBay auctions.

Terminology. "Analog" refers only to vinyl. No tapes were tested.

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MONO

Imbalance. “Chains” 1.0 has mastering imbalances of several varieties, differing from source to source. In cases where I was able to test for such imbalance, I provide details.

Terminology. "FLAC signature" and "Channel Duplication Solution" are terms under the subject of imbalance, discussed: here.

End of Song. The last sounds in the fadeout of “Chains” 1.0 are two guitar notes following “chains of lo-----o-----o---ve.” They occur with varying clarity among sources, fullest I think on the Millennium Remasters Red Wax, others fading or cutting off a hair too quickly.

MONO: ANALOG

UK LP Please Please Me (1963) - Mono

$20-1000.

General. Details for various incarnations of this album are: here.

My Sources:

Dr. Ebbetts needle-drop FLAC.

Imbalance. Ebbetts FLAC hiss: link.

Sonic Rating. VERY GOOD. Good: Clear, with springy bass. Cozy feel with excellent vocal quality. Bad: Seems to be missing a tad in the mid-range. The ending is short two notes.

Pbthal needle-drop FLAC.

Imbalance. FLAC signature.

Sonic Rating. EXCELLENT. Good: Compared to Ebbetts, the mid-range is not as elevated, and therefore the bass stands out. The ending is complete. Bad: Perhaps a bit dull in the upper-mids.

Millennium Remasters Red Wax Japan LP needle-drop 320 kbps mp3.

Imbalance. Millennium Remasters mp3 signature: link.

Sonic Rating. VERY GOOD. Good: From the spectral analysis, one would think this the same as, or even brighter than Ebbetts, but it is in fact a bit darker. The ending is most complete here, I think. Bad: Some questions of clarity.

Pbthal Red Wax Japan LP (Toshiba EAS-70130) needle-drop FLAC.

Imbalance. FLAC signature.

Sonic Rating. VERY GOOD. Good: Exactly like Millennium Remasters, except the complete ending fades a bit quickly. Bad: Exactly like Millennium Remasters.

UK EP The Beatles' No. 1 (1963)

$5-50, the lower price for the reissue from the vinyl box set

General. This (Parlophone GEP 8883) is also part of The Beatles EP Collection 1981 vinyl box set.

My Sources: (1) Vinyl box set, “-1N” lacquer. (2) pbthal FLAC.

Imbalance. Vinyl, untested. Pbthal, FLAC signature.

The CDEP is reportedly remastered differently (see below).

Sonic Rating. Vinyl, VERY GOOD. Good: Zesty. Bass (a bit low), guitar, and vocal (a bit distorted) are quite chummy. Low fidelity sound has charm. Bad: Drums a little distant.

Pbthal, this looks and sounds like a louder version of pbthal’s red wax LP (see also remarks for pbthal’s EP FLAC for “Anna”).

US LP Introducing the Beatles, et. al. (1963) - Mono

$100+ (Introducing the Beatles, if genuine)

General. I did not test “Chains” on any other Vee-Jay album, but I assume they use the same master as Introducing the Beatles.

My Sources: (1) Vinyl. (2) Dr. Ebbetts’ needle-drop FLAC.

Imbalance. Vinyl, untested. Dr. Ebbetts, none.

Sonic Rating. Vinyl, VERY GOOD. Good: Nice and bright, if you like that, which in this case I do. Bad: Low end nothing to write home about, the bass and drums somewhat quiet.

Ebbetts, EXCELLENT. Good: Bubbly mastering, sounding similar to Ebbetts UK LP FLAC, with some increase in the lows, decrease in the highs. Full ending. Bad: Not much.

Mexico EP Devil in Her Heart +3 (1965)

$20 up

My Source: Vinyl (1971 reissue).

Imbalance. Yes.

Sonic Rating. VERY GOOD. Good: For a change, a Mexican EP sounds nice; to me, very much like the UK vinyl EP. Bad: Besides a terrible imbalance, it’s missing the two guitar notes at the end.

Mono, Analog, Notes

(1) Concerning the Japan LP Beatles No. 5, I was not impressed with the master for this song. Very different from the UK LP, the bass frequencies are way low in favor of increased highs. High marks for vocal and guitar, but overall a disappointment. Very quiet vinyl.

MONO: DIGITAL

CD Please Please Me (1987)

My Source. CD.

Imbalance. link.

Sonic Rating. VERY GOOD. Good: Peppy, even edgy, with a huge mid-range. Full ending, though a very quick fade on it. Bad: Somewhat bright, but not to irritation. The drums and bass have a little bit of a stony quality.

CD EP The Beatles' No. 1 (1992)

General. This is from the CD EP box set, although it can also be found at auction as a separate CD.

My Source. CD box set. Note. Dr. Ebbetts' UK EP Collection (2000 edition) used the CD EP, not vinyl, for this track (checked with Audacity).

Imbalance. None: link.

Sonic Rating. VERY GOOD. Good: Clean and dynamic. Soothing bass, with no great loss of high end. Full ending. Bad: You might think the bass is intrusive rather than soothing.

CD Please Please Me - Remaster (2009) - Mono

My Source. FLAC.

Imbalance. FLAC signature. Spectrum analysis of WAV file from CD showed same characteristics as FLAC signature.

Sonic Rating. EXCELLENT. Good: Quite similar to the CD LP, with some small modifications in both the high and low end, making this smoother than smooth. You can’t beat the vocal EQ, and the bass rocks! Full ending. Bad: Is it possible to be too smooth?

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STEREO

Mix Information. The takes were recorded as twin-tracks, two tracks recorded simultaneously, instruments to one side, vocals and harmonica to the other. For Stereo mixing, the instrumental side of the twin-track was sent hard (wide) to the Left channel, while vocals and harmonica were sent hard to the Right channel. Drums are variable, mainly in the Left channel, but moving to the Right channel whenever the lead guitar has a decisive presence, a consequence of microphone placement. There is nothing (except bleed and occasional echo) Center, approximately thus (“I” = instrumental track, “V” = vocals/harmonica track):

Left _I_________________V_ Right

Deviations from this standard, if any, will be noted below.

Relative Channel Loudness. This is the relation of the Left channel to the Right channel. Each source has its own recipe, affecting the listening experience, especially under headphones.

Relative channel loudness differs from overall loudness. Whereas the former may cause a desire to rebalance the channels (by whatever method), the latter (which I will call “gain”) motivates to adjust the volume knob.

Sonic Rating and Mono Summing. The deviations to Wide Stereo are limited, those deviations being (1) channel placement (see “Mix Information” above), (2) relative channel loudness (already covered), and (3) equalization. Due to this minimalism, I decided to listen in Mono to determine the sonic rating (this also satisfied any curiosity concerning “how it would sound”). When I double-checked my findings in Stereo, I was pleased that they matched.

Sibilance. Stereo releases have issues with sibilance, especially at the line “your lips are sweet” (about 1:33 into the song). This will be noted for each source.

Healthy Competition. The Left (instrumental) channel for “Chains” in Stereo has a tendency to overpower the Right channel, especially as the song goes forward.

End of Song. As with Mono, the last sounds in the fadeout of “Chains” in Stereo are two guitar notes following “chains of lo-----o-----o---ve.” They occur with varying clarity among sources, with no clear-cut winner.

VARIATION 2.0

UK LP Please Please Me (1963) - Stereo

$50-24,000

General. Details for various incarnations of this album are: here.

My Sources:

UK LP, Two-box label, "-1" lacquer.

My Sources: (1) Vinyl, “2” mother, deep stamper (9th label, ca. 1970). (2) Pbthal “Tube Cut” needle-drop FLAC.

Sibilance. Vinyl, yes. Pbthal, yes.

Relative Channel Loudness. Vinyl, this source is a little louder than most. FLAC, attempts to rectify by lowering the overall gain.

Sonic Rating by Mono Summing. Vinyl, VERY GOOD. Good: An excellent mixture of the elements. Full ending. Bad: Besides sibilance, the bass is a little low.

Pbthal, GOOD. Good: It’s very clear. Bad: Where’s the bass?

UK LP from The Beatles Collection ("Blue Box"), "-2" lacquer.

My Sources:
(1) Vinyl. (2) Dr. Ebbetts needle-drop FLAC.

Sibilance. Vinyl, mostly yes. Ebbetts, not really.

Relative Channel Loudness. Vinyl, the vocal channel is a little quieter than the first lacquer. FLAC, compared to Tube-Cut FLAC, is gained a little higher.

Sonic Rating by Mono Summing. Vinyl, I didn’t like this. Besides sibilance, there are many frequencies debilitated.

Ebbetts, EXCELLENT. Good: Very even mix of the elements, with almost no apology in dynamics. Complete end. Bad: Bass just a touch low.

US LP Introducing the Beatles (1963) – Stereo

$ expensive !

General: Vee-Jay album, catalog SR-1062.

My Source: Dr. Ebbetts needle-drop FLAC.

Sibilance. Yes.

Relative Channel Loudness. Compared to Tube-Cut FLAC, a little more gain.

Sonic Rating by Mono Summing. Mediocre, sounding muffled.

German LP Die Beatles, or Please Please Me (1966-1977) - Stereo

$ 20-100

General. There is no perceivable difference in reverberation for “Chains” 2.0 here compared to other sources. Details on the German sources for "Chains” 2.0 are: here.

My Sources: (1) Vinyl, German Please Please Me (Apple Electrola 1C 062-04219), lacquer “SHZE-117-A2/-B2.” (2) Pbthal Die Beatles needle-drop FLAC. (3) Dr. Ebbetts was used to verify testing.

Sibilance. Vinyl and Pbthal: not much.

Relative Channel Loudness. Vinyl, compared to Blue Box vinyl, the same. Pbthal FLAC, compared to Tube-Cut FLAC, gained slightly less.

Sonic Rating by Mono Summing. Vinyl, maybe it was for the sake of removing sibilance, but the dynamics seem sucked out. Oddly dark.

Pbthal, about the same, but even more distant, perhaps because of lower gain.

Japan (MFSL) LP Please Please Me (1986)

$50 up

General. This release (MFSL 1-101) was also part of a box set (the “Black Box”).

My Sources: (1) Vinyl, from The Black Box. (2) Dr. Ebbetts needle-drop FLAC.

Note that Dr. Ebbetts’ 2008 Upgrade was a remaster, not a needle-drop. I deal with this appropriately.

Sibilance. Vinyl, yes. Ebbetts, not really.

Relative Channel Loudness. Vinyl, gained pretty low, with the channels evened out. FLAC, compared to Tube-Cut FLAC, has a much louder instrumental channel, and a somewhat bigger vocal channel.

Sonic Rating by Mono Summing. Vinyl, EXCELLENT. Good: Fight me all you want, but this is a big winner. Delicious bass, and you can still hear every crackle on the guitar. Bad: Sibilance, and the complete ending fades a bit quickly.

Ebbetts, VERY GOOD. Good: Similar to the vinyl, with a big bottom and lots of crackle. Bad: Vocals have a raggedy sound. At the very end, digital noise!

Dr. Ebbetts 2008 Upgrade. Much different than Ebbett’s original MFSL offering. Pretty close to the sound of the Blue Box FLAC, but gained much lower. Skip it.

Variation 2.0 Analog, Notes

(1) The Millennium Remasters red wax runs fast, which is enough to reject it.

VARIATION 2.0: DIGITAL

CD Please Please Me - Remaster (2009) – Stereo

My Source. FLAC.

Sibilance. Minimal, if any.

Relative Channel Loudness. Compared to the Blue Box FLAC, louder instrumental channel, and slightly louder vocal channel.

Sonic Rating by Mono Summing. EXCELLENT. Good. Edge comes off in favor of softness. Does it work? I think yes. Nice powder-puff bass. Bad. Not much.

VARIATION 2.0: BOOTLEG

Fabulous Sound Labs HDCD Please Please Me

My Source: 320 kbps mp3.

Sibilance. Yes.

Relative Channel Loudness. Emulative of the 2009 Remaster (or the other way around).

Sonic Rating by Mono Summing. VERY GOOD. Good. Many of the same qualities you’d find in the 2009 remaster. Bad. The sibilance is very prominent. Hum at the very end.

VARIATION 2.0.1

General. This Variation adds some reverberation.

US LP The Early Beatles (1965) – Stereo

$5-10

General: Capitol album, catalog ST-2309. It’s the familiar “American” sound, if you will.

My Sources: (1) Vinyl (orange label; also, Apple label). (2) Dr. Ebbetts needle-drop FLAC. (3) The Capitol Versions Vol. 2 FLAC (since this is actually digital, I cheated here).

Sibilance. Vinyl, no. Ebbetts, no.

Relative Channel Loudness. Vinyl, about the same as the first lacquer UK LP. Ebbetts, compared to the Tube-Cut FLAC, is much louder. Compared to HDCD, the instrumental channel is louder, the vocal a bit quieter. The Capitol Versions, even louder than Ebbetts (disqualified from further testing). I am not convinced that Ebbetts did not use the Capitol Versions CD as his foundation.

Sonic Rating by Mono Summing. Vinyl, VERY GOOD. Good. Good mid-range, the guitar crackle standing out but without adding sibilance to the vocal. I like that reverb. Full ending. Bad. A little bright, on guitar especially. Bass is a tad low.

Ebbetts, GOOD. Good. Close in texture to the vinyl. Bad. It’s way too loud!

OUTFAKE

General. An "outfake" is a fan-created mix or recording.

Bootleg, Dr. Ebbetts' Please Please Me "Stereo Remix"

Dr. Ebbetts worked a “Stereo Remix” (details: here), with the Right (vocal) channel very close to Center, approximately thus:

Left _I__________V_______ Right

This was accomplished by mixing the vocal channel into the instrumental channel, and low frequencies into the vocal channel (giving the impression that Paul’s bass is somewhat Center). As well, guitar and drums are often heard in the Right channel. It’s pretty good.

Naturally, being unauthorized, this is not a Variation.

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MONO FOLD-DOWN: ANALOG & DIGITAL

The 1965 Mono LP The Early Beatles (Capitol T 2309) used a Mono-from-Stereo fold-down, as did the 2006 CD set, The Capitol Albums, Volume 2. This “mix” is not collectible nor a Variation, as you can “make” it yourself by pushing the “Mono” button on your amplifier. For a few more details on the original album, go: here.

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VIDEO SOURCES

Section updated February 16, 2011

CARTOON

(1) The Beatles cartoon series, Episode 5, includes an animated sing-a-long, depicting the boys on a sailing ship. A capture appears below. The song starts without the harmonica intro and ends without the coda fade.



(2) The Beatles cartoon series, Episode 6, includes a clever animated segment wherein Ringo is a pirate captain and the other Beatles are his prisoners. A capture appears below. The song begins without the harmonica intro but includes the full fade-out.

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Tom Wise
gengar843@msn.com

Although I use quotes from sources, or cited fact, much of the material on this and other pages of my blog is original, from my own pen. This is not cut-and-paste, it is a work of art. Copyright © 2010-11 Tom Wise.

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