Top Artists – Bob Dylan

Letter of the Week – John Wesley Harding Has Playback Issues

John Wesley Harding

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One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

  Hey Tom,   

So many great records in this batch, but some solid misses too — details coming. John Wesley Harding for example sounds great but has some serious distortion through much of side two; a bit ’too vintage’, in spite of the sound it seems once to have had.

Dear Sir,

Definitely check your front end set-up on this one, there is no actual distortion on the record, just sound that may be hard to reproduce. Make sure you have a recently replaced cartridge for one. Carts that get old have a problem with records like these. We know, we replace our cartridge every three months when hard to play records start straining or getting congested or gritty. The sheen of massed strings, a sound critical to the better orchestral recordings we play, are impossible to reproduce correctly with an older-than-it-should-be unit. A fresh cartridge can make all the difference in the sound of  difficult to reproduce records.

Keeping a cart too long is a mistake 100% of the audiophiles I have known in my life make, so I assume lots of other audiophiles do too.

The other explanation could be that our microfine tip is playing deeper in the groove and missing whatever damage is encoded above it, damage which may have been caused by the older cartridges of the day that were used to play the record by the previous owner or owners. We can’t say it doesn’t happen.

We can say that if you bring this record back, the next person to buy it has a roughly 98% chance of keeping it. Maybe one out of fifty or so ever come back a second time. At least that’s how it has worked out over the last twenty years.


Further Reading

Record Playback Advice

Turntable Setup Advice

Bob Dylan / John Wesley Harding

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Want to find your own shootout winner? Scroll to the bottom to see our advice on doing just that.

  • A wonderful sounding original Columbia 360 Stereo pressing of this pivotal Dylan LP, with insanely good Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them on both sides
  • Here is the bass, richness & vocal presence that make John Wesley Harding one of the better sounding Dylan records from the late ’60s
  • The title track, Dear Landlord, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, All Along the Watchtower and I Pity The Poor Immigrant are but a small sampling of the more memorable songs here
  • 5 stars: “The music is simple, direct, and melodic, providing a touchstone for the country-rock revolution that swept through rock in the late ’60s.”

While Dylan’s albums may not be big-production sonic spectacles, hearing these great songs sound so intimate and lifelike on a top quality pressing can be a sublime experience. We should know; we enjoyed the hell out of this copy.

Believe us, John Wesley Harding is one of the tougher nuts to crack in the Dylan canon. Most pressings are a veiled, smeary nightmare. The harmonica sounds noticeably squawky and unpleasant on the majority of copies we’ve played over the years; you really have to work to find a copy with the warmth, smoothness and correct tonality to get Dylan’s voice to sound right. (more…)

Bob Dylan Listening Test – Here’s One to Wet Your Whistle

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What to Listen For – Transparency Vs Opacity

Presenting today’s Home Audio Exercise. Play your copy of Nashville Skyline — on speakers, no fair cheating on headphones! — and see if you can answer this question. At the beginning of one of the songs on this album two sounds are heard, neither of which is produced by an instrument, but could be said to have been produced by a singer. What are these two mysterious sounds?  

If you have a good copy of the record, a good stereo and the ability to listen critically, you should have no problem figuring out what these sounds are. When you do, drop us an email. Until we come up with a better prize, for now we can offer you an extra 10% off your next order.

Have fun. Once you hear it you will be pretty amazed that you never noticed it before. We sure were.

What’s most striking about this album is the sound of Johnny Cash’s voice in the duet he sings with Bob (we’re on a first name basis, don’t you know). I can’t remember when’s the last time I heard Johnny Cash sound better. The stuff he did for American Recordings had much to recommend it; the first album sounded especially good. It was practically Mono. But you just can’t beat a well produced, well engineered Columbia from this era. There’s a richness and a naturalness to the sound that has almost completely disappeared from the modern world of music. You really do have to go back to these old originals to find it. And then you have to find just the right old originals for it to be there. (more…)

Bob Dylan – Infidels

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  • An outstanding copy of Infidels with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big and rich, with correct tonality from top to bottom, strong bass and plenty of space, this copy sounded just right to us
  • 4 stars: “… its writing is closer to Dylan’s peak of the mid-’70s, and some of the songs here… are minor classics, capturing him reviving his sense of social consciousness and his gift for poetic, elegant love songs.”

This is one of the better sounding Dylan records from the ’80s. It’s not exactly Blood on the Tracks, the only Dylan album we think is qualified to be on our Top 100 Rock and Pop List, but it sounds good for a record from this era. (more…)

Bob Dylan / Hard Rain

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  • An outstanding vintage stereo pressing of Dylan’s live 1976 release with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • This copy is hard to fault – big, open, clear, with space and three-dimensionality that modern pressings can only dream of
  • “At times, Hard Rain sounds bloated, featuring performances that are sometimes too ragged; though knowing the subtext of the events, some moments feel triumphant: musical and personal. We may not know Bob Dylan, but it’s an awfully close look at a stranger.” – Magnet Magazine

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Bob Dylan – Oh Mercy

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  • This pressing boasts very good Hot Stamper sound from the first note to last
  • These sides were doing just about everything right – they’re clean, clear and spacious with weight down low and strong vocal presence
  • “Oh Mercy was hailed as a comeback, not just because it had songs noticeably more meaningful than anything Bob Dylan had recently released, but because Daniel Lanois’ production gave it cohesion… at the time, this production made it seem like the equivalent of his ’60s records, meaning that its artiness was cutting edge, not portentous…”

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Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

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  • This Red Label ’70s reissue pressing boasts very good Hot Stamper sound on both sides
  • These pressings can be quite good – lively, transparent, and fairly rich, with dramatically more immediacy in the midrange than anything to be pressed in the modern era
  • 5 stars: “With Bringing It All Back Home, he exploded the boundaries, producing an album of boundless imagination and skill. And it’s not just that he went electric, either, rocking hard on “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Maggie’s Farm,” and “Outlaw Blues”; it’s that he’s exploding with imagination throughout the record.”

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Bob Dylan – At Budokan

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  • KILLER sound throughout with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on sides one, three and four, and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second side – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • “The fire and brimstone are behind Dylan, [but] this hardly means the fight has gone out of him: Bob Dylan at Budokan is a very contentious effort—and, for the most part, a victorious one.” Rolling Stone

This vintage Columbia pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What outstanding sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1979
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the concert venue

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We Listen For on Bob Dylan At Budokan

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Mr. Tambourine Man
Shelter From The Storm
Love Minus Zero/No Limit
Ballad Of A Thin Man
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Allright

Side Two

Maggie’s Farm
One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below)
Like A Rolling Stone
I Shall Be Released
Is Your Love In Vain?
Going, Going, Gone

Side Three

Blowin’ In The Wind
Just Like A Woman
Oh, Sister
Simple Twist Of Fate
All Along The Watchtower
I Want You

Side Four

All I Really Want To Do
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding
Forever Young
The Times They Are A-Changin’

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Mono Versus Stereo

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The noisy (aren’t they all?) mono copy we keep around as a reference presents Dylan and his guitar in a starkly immediate, clear and unprocessed way. The stereo version of the album is simply that sound with some light stereo reverb added.

More than anything else the mono pressing on some tracks sounds like a demo. It’s as if the engineers threw up a mic or two, set the EQ for flat and proceeded to roll tape. This is a good sound for what it is, but it has a tendency toward dryness, perhaps not on all of the tracks but clearly on some. Certainly the first track on side one can have that drier sound.

What the stereo reverb does is fill out the sound of Dylan’s voice respectfully. The engineers of the late ’50 and ’60s had a tendency to drown their singers in heavy reverb, as anyone who’s ever played an old Tony Bennett or Dean Martin album knows all too well.

But a little reverb actually benefits the vocals of our young Mr. Dylan on The Times They Are A-Changin’, and there is an easy way to test that proposition. When you hit the mono button on your preamp or phono stage, the reverb disappears, leaving the vocal more clear and more present, but also more dry and thin. You may like it better that way. Obviously, to some degree this is a matter of taste.

The nice thing about this stereo copy, assuming you have a mono switch in your system (which you should; they’re very handy), is that you have the option of hearing it both ways and deciding for yourself which approach you find more involving and enjoyable — if not necessarily truthful.

We suspect your preference will be both listener- and system-dependent. Isn’t it better to have the option and be able to make that determination for yourself? (more…)

Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming

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  • A KILLER sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • The big hit here is Gotta Serve Somebody – Mark Knopler of Dire Straits is featured throughout
  • I doubt this is anyone’s very favorite Dylan album, but it’s sure a lot more enjoyable when you have sound like this

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