Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds

23rd January 2016

Label: Capitol
Year: 1966

“It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water…I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life. I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that album.” Paul McCartney

Like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon or The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pet Sounds is one of those albums that has seeped into the public consciousness. Also, like those popular albums, there has been umpteen re-issues on various formats and all of varying quality.

EMI took an anniversary as an excuse to spruce up the sound quality. The Pet Sounds: 40th Anniversary package includes the album’s mono and stereo mixes plus a bonus track. The limited-edition CD/DVD digipak features the album in mono, stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and 24bit/96kHz PCM Stereo mixes. It arrives in a suede-feel package. You also receive a DVD with plenty of rare footage. The DVD is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and 24bit/96 kHz PCM Stereo audio mixes of the album plus a 24bit/96 kHz PCM Mono mix of the bonus track, Hang On To Your Ego.

The CD version, remastered as HDCD, is highly recommended with only slight reservations. For example, the mono mix has been recorded at a higher level than the stereo or 5.1 tracks which accentuates the original mid-range harshness and an audible tape hiss but is also more dynamic. The stereo mix is excellent, it’s a lot smoother. The improvement relates to the 5.1 surround mix too which is basically the same as the, earlier, recommended DVD-A version. There are no vocal or instrumental grouping gimmicks, in the surround field, it all sounds like a natural extension of the mono mix.

For vinyl fans, the new work translated into a double album version of Pet Sounds under the same 40th Anniversary banner. Presented as a coloured vinyl package, it was limited to 10,000 numbered copies worldwide and features both the mono (which was taken from a new, first-generation, mono master) and stereo mixes (remixed from the original 3-, 4- and 8-track master tapes) in a gatefold sleeve. This release marked the first time that these 13 stereo mixes have ever appeared in the vinyl format. The cutting of the vinyl was completed by the veteran and highly regarded vinyl man, Ron McMaster.

It was in early 1996, 30 years after he produced the original album, that Beach Boy, Brian Wilson, remixed Pet Sounds in stereo, “The original instrumental multi-track was transferred onto a digital multi-track and then after carefully matching the tape speeds of the track and vocal tapes, the vocals were manually synchronised to the track using the (1966) dubbed track on the vocal tape as a guide,” said the re-issue engineer, Mark Linett, of Your Place Or Mine recording studios, whose task it was to recreate the stereo track version. At this point, Linnet knows more about the Beach Boys’ master tapes than anyone else and he’s lavished the group’s catalogue with a care and attention worthy of such distinguished work, “The result was a single multi-track master tape of each song with all the discrete tracks that Brian recorded in 1966 in sync.” Linett also handled the mono mixes which exhibit differences from the stereo mixes.

Linett was also eager to retain the analogue ‘warmth’ of the recording, “I mixed from Nuendo (a modern media production system) but mixed analogue through my API 2488 (a classic analogue studio console) and, in some cases, also fed through tube outboard modules that are the same as the ones they used in the original console at United Western,” Linett said. “As on the stereo mix, I tended to feed the basic tracks and, in some cases, vocals back through the console just because of the sonic footprint it would impart. We transferred everything at 24bit/96kHz and mixed back to Nuendo and also to analogue (via a Studer reel-to-reel) at 15ips SR (SR refers to Dolby SR, which enhances the low end at the 15ips speed), which is where 90 percent of what we used came from.”