When I first heard that The Beach Boys were preparing a 50th anniversary box set I must admit I pondered, "How many times can this band reissue the same old songs?" Well, The Beach Boys have succeeded, digging into their vaults far beyond even the superb 1993 Grammy-winning Good Vibrations collection, unearthing some truly magical moments in the process. But, even after the endless reissue campaigns of the past 35 years, Made in California still offers an avalanche of the best sounding and most interesting nuggets yet from the band's long, storied career.

"I really never get tired of doing this; I'm always finding something new and fresh," Mark Linett, the set's co-producer and longtime Beach Boys compiler/archivist/engineer [Tape Op #47], told me recently. New and fresh, indeed. If you think you're tired of hearing the same old Beach Boys tracks, you'll really be in for a treat. Made in California features nearly 200 of the best sounding versions of just about every one of their classic songs you can think of, including over 60 previously unreleased recordings. And the deluxe set is presented in a lovely, high school annual-inspired hardbound book with personal recollections from the band's members, replicated versions of original artwork, memorabilia, photos from the band's archives, and handwritten yearbook-style inscriptions from surviving Beach Boys Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks.

"The Good Vibrations box set was done in the early days of digital mastering, so everything was on analog tape using the mono masters," Linett told me. "Even when we got to later projects, like The Pet Sounds Sessions box set (in 1997) with true stereo mixes, it involved syncing up the tracks by hand on tape machines and constantly watching them to match the phase as closely as possible; but all by hand. In the meantime technology has improved, and we've accumulated a whole bunch of stereo masters and have recovered a lot of missing session tapes. So that's made a huge difference in what we can offer on this set. And, of course, now we're in a much more advanced digital world. Our stereo mixes are really heads and shoulders above what's come before, both sonically and technically."

According to Linett the new analog transfers were captured at 88.2 kHz, 24-bit off of Scully 3 and 4-track, as well as Studer A820 8, 16 and 24-track tape decks through Pacific Microsonics, dCS, and Apogee converters clocked from the Antelope Audio Isochrone Trinity master clock (featuring the atomic clock option). Plug-ins included Waves V-EQ4 (EQ), NLS (virtual console), and the Altiverb 7 convolution reverb, running samples Linett made of nearly all the live echo chambers in Los Angeles. "I know people who swear by the plug-ins that match the technology used at the original sessions," Linett told me. "I'm more concerned with, 'Does it sound good' rather than, 'Is it the absolutely correct plug-in.'" This approach has certainly paid dividends on Made in California.

Highlights of the box set include spectacular stereo versions of "Don't Worry Baby," "California Girls," a host of tracks from the recent SMiLE Sessions box set, and - for the first time in stereo - the classic "Do it Again." But even the original mono masters of tracks like "Warmth of the Sun" and "Good Vibrations" have never sounded better. If you're a Beach Boys fan, then this set is a must-have.

So is this the final word on The Beach Boys? "It's funny, but we have filled in gaps in the archive by people coming forward with session tapes and outtakes, and we've encouraged the label to make a big push in the press about that in the hopes that more people will come forward with missing tapes," Linett confessed. "Since tapes have been recovered as recently as the SMiLE Sessions box, I'm hopeful that more reels will come to our attention."

And finally, since I had the man largely responsible for bringing The Beach Boys' catalog into the 21st century, I had to ask what he felt the best sounding version of Pet Sounds was. "I think the recent Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab version is the best, hands down," Linett told me. "It's just a superb mastering job. It's absolutely the one to get."

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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