The prime directive in returning the Beatles' album catalog to vinyl is ridiculously simple.
"We want them to sound as close as possible to what they heard in the studio when it was recorded," Abbey Road recording studio engineer Sean Magee said last week when unveiling the set.
The result is musically and physically imposing: The nearly 6-inch thick, 22-pound box contains all the Beatles' original studio albums, recorded from 1962 to 1970, plus two more "Past Masters" discs filled with singles, B-sides and other non-album tracks.
It also includes a 252-page illustrated book about the making of each album. The collection retails for $319, but the 16 LPs (all audiophile quality on 180-gram vinyl) will also be sold individually, retailing for around $24 for single albums and $33 for "The Beatles" and "Past Masters" two-LP sets.
New digital technology let Magee and other engineers pinpoint any elements of a master recording that might result in distortion when transferred to a format such as vinyl.
He said the team was able to hone in on very specific portions of the Beatles recordings — words containing Ss are always challenging — and then apply the absolute minimum attenuation to prevent any signal distortion.
The original recordings, Magee noted, are "stunningly good," he said. That reflects the work of the group itself as well as that of longtime producer George Martin and the EMI engineers who recorded them from the beginning.
Jane Ventom, EMI North America's senior vice president of catalog marketing, said 17 million more Beatles albums have sold since the remastered CDs appeared three years ago. And after joining the world of iTunes in 2010, they've tallied 10 million song downloads and 2 million digital albums.
A $319 box set of vinyl LPs may not strike some as having the makings of a blockbuster with mainstream music fans, but as one veteran retailer put it years ago when sales of reissued Fab Four recordings obliterated industry projections, "Never underestimate the power of the Beatles."