Top Artists – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan – Empire Burlesque

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  • A truly KILLER pressing of Empire Burlesque, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too – folks, this one is As Good As It Gets!
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness, 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
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Say what you want about Empire Burlesque — at the very least, it’s the most consistent record Bob Dylan has made since Blood on the Tracks, even if it isn’t quite as interesting as Desire. However, it is a better set of songs, all deriving from the same place and filled with subtle gems… this is as good as Dylan gets in his latter days.”

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 – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

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  • This vintage Columbia 360 2 Eye Stereo pressing has stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • Both of these sides are amazingly spacious, full-bodied, natural and clear with great presence
  • It’s clear these classic songs have stood the test of time: Blowin’ in the Wind; Girl from the North Country; Masters of War; A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall; Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right and many more
  • 5 stars: “This is rich, imaginative music, capturing the sound and spirit of America… Dylan, in many ways, recorded music that equaled this, but he never topped it.”

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is clearly our favorite of the early Dylan albums for both music and sound. We’re picking up both mono and stereo copies when we see them clean (which is rare) and both the mono mix and the stereo mix can sound out of this world.

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 very copy.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Bob Dylan singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

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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, on some tracks the mono pressing 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…)

The Traveling Wilburys – Learning the Record, Any Record

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Many of the pressings we played of Volume One suffered from too much compression and a phony hi-fi-ish quality on the vocals. We knew there had to be great copies out there somewhere, so we kept dropping the needle until we found a few good men. Here is what we had to say about a killer copy we ran into during that process.

We heard a lot of copies with a spitty, gritty top end, but this one is smooth like butter and sweet like candy. Side two is nearly as good but doesn’t have quiet the same energy factor. It’s still dramatically better than most copies out there.

Now that we’ve discovered these Hot Stampers, the sound is finally where we want it to be. Until this week, we were convinced that these songs sounded better on the radio. (That’s what tons of compression and FM bass boost will do for you.)

Learning the Record

For our recent shootout we had at our disposal a variety of pressings we thought would have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that other pressings do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given copy reproduces those passages.

The process is simple enough. First, you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection.

The problem is that unless your a crazy person who bought multiple copies of the same album there is no way to know if any given copy is truly Hot Stamper. Hot Stampers are not merely good sounding records. They are the copies that win shootouts. This is a fact that cannot be emphasized too strongly.

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to start the shootout process all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best.

You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, and always against other pressings of the same album. There is no other way.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty to forty shootouts.

And very likely learned something new from every one. (more…)

Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks

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  • With solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides, this is an outstanding Blood on the Tracks from start to finish
  • For tonally-correct, un-hyped acoustic guitars and vocals, the sound of this album is tough to beat in Dylan’s catalog
  • The better copies are rich, warm, tubey and full-bodied – in other words, they are exactly what’s good about the vintage analog pressings we offer to the discriminating audiophiles who appreciates the difference
  • 5 stars: “…it’s an affecting, unbearably poignant record, not because it’s a glimpse into his soul, but because the songs are remarkably clear-eyed and sentimental, lovely and melancholy at once. Dylan made albums more influential than this, but he never made one better.”

This is an outstanding recording but it takes a special pressing to bring it to life. It’s nice when the copy in hand has all the transparency, space, layered depth and three-dimensionality that makes listening to records such a fundamentally different experience than listening to digitally-sourced material, but it’s not nearly as important as having a rich, relaxed quality. A touch of smear and a slight lack of resolution is not the end of the world on this album. Brightness, along with too much grain and grit, can be.

This was a “comeback” album for Dylan, one that completely reinvigorated his following in the mid-’70s. No recording of his with which we are familiar since then can compare to this one. Recording technology has gone backward at full speed, and, to be charitable, his voice has not exactly improved with time either. Drenching his voice in reverb on albums like Time Out of Mind makes his raspy croak sound worse, not better. (more…)

Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

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  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • These early pressings can be killer when you find one like this – they’re clearly more lively, more transparent, and richer, with dramatically more immediacy in the midrange so that Dylan’s voice is front and center and in the room with you
  • You would be hard pressed to find a copy that sounds this good and plays this quietly
  • 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.”

NOTE: There is a mark that plays haflway through track five about eight times at a moderate level.

You may be aware that it is hard to find a 360 Columbia Stereo pressing from 1965 that plays any quieter!

It’s tough to find copies of this album that give you all the tubey richness and warmth that this music needs to sound its best. Too many copies seem to be EQ’d to put the vocals way up front, an approach that renders Dylan’s voice hard and edgy. Copies like that sound impressive at first blush (“Wow, he’s really IN THE ROOM!”) but become fatiguing in short order. When you get a copy like this one that’s smooth, relaxed and natural, the music sounds so good that you forget about the sound and just get lost in the music.

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Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde

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More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on ALL FOUR sides, this 360 stereo pressing was one of the better copies of Blonde On Blonde we played in our last shootout
  • You won’t believe how big, rich and full this album can sound on a copy this good
  • Includes tons of quintessential Dylan classics: Rainy Day Women, I Want You, Just Like A Woman, and more – they all sound phenomenal
  • 5 stars: “Blonde on Blonde is an album of enormous depth, providing endless lyrical and musical revelations on each play… It’s the culmination of Dylan’s electric rock & roll period — he would never release a studio record that rocked this hard, or had such bizarre imagery, ever again.”

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Bob Dylan / Another Side of Bob Dylan – Sundazed Mono Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: D

Another bad Sundazed record. Most of the Dylan catalog they did is just awful, regardless of what the audiophile reviewers at the time may have written to the contrary. 

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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 five hundred 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…)