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A confusing aural experience

2014-09-16T14:40:01+00:00

Decades ago, when The Beatles were still popular, I had a couple of their vinyl records. I listened to them on an ancient tube-driven stereo, which generated so much heat that we had to leave the cabinet open lest it cook itself in there. There was no such thing as headphones or even a jack to connect them. So I got used to the songs sounding a certain way, played through a diamond needle on a plastic disc, through loudspeakers, in a white-walled laboratory room. The Beatles released a lot of their material up until 1968 in monophonic, or fake stereo where one speaker had the vocals and perhaps an instrument, and the other speaker had the bulk of the instrumentation and drums. The sound merged together quite well when played through loudspeakers, bouncing off the bright sterile walls.

It sounds terrible in headphones, though. That’s what I discovered when I rounded up the studio albums that The Beatles released between 1965 and 1970, before they broke up, and listened to them all in one day. Some sounds seemed clearer than I remember, and other sounds were muddier or missing completely. Some of the tracks were structurally different because they had been remastered, or they used the original studio track versus the tracks used on compilation releases like “The Beatles 1967-1970” (the “Blue album”).

It made for a very confusing aural experience. It sounded the same, yet different than I remember, all those years ago. I feel like I’m reaching for a memory or an experience that never really existed at all.

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