Bob Dylan 3-Way Not a Devil's Triangle

A New Zealand-based reader recently emailed asking if Mobile Fidelity's double 45rpm monophonic Bob Dylan reissues were "worth the money". He added that he was a big Bob Dylan fan.

I gave him my opinion and now it's your turn. Below are three samples of "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" from John Wesley Harding. One is from an original Columbia "2-Eye" pressing (1C), another is from the Sony/Legacy mono box set cut at Sterling Sound from the original tapes and the third is the double 45rpm edition also sourced from the original analog tapes, though none are identified.

Please listen and see if you can tell which is which and please give your preference. I brought these three records to both Audio Advisors in West Palm Beach, Florida and Ovation AV in Indianapolis, Indiana (the Indianapolis airport does have the fastest, most easily accessed free Wi-Fi I've yet to experience—as promised by The Los Angeles Times).

Though the systems and rooms were very different the preferences among the listeners were identical though I'm not divulging that here now. Later!

File "1"

File "2"

File "3"

COMMENTS
Findog3103's picture

I don't notice so much of a difference on my computer based near-field system but #2 seems richer to me.

ArthurOtt's picture

File 2 provides much more detail than does 1 & 3. I can hear the individual bass notes and more detail in the vocals on File 2.

EdAInWestOC's picture

File 1: Quiet vinyl but it also sounded a bit constrained/compressed. The guitar in file 1 was clean but a bit 2 dimensional sounding. Bass was lower in level than either file 2 or file 3.
File 2: Was an improvement over file 1 but the vinyl was a bit noisy. File 2's bass was an improvement over file 1 but the mastering placed the lower level information down in the background noise and that ruined the presentation of file 2. The guitar in file 2 was improved compared to file 1.
File 3: Had quieter vinyl than file 2 and file 3 had the best and deepest bass of the three files. Overall file 3 had the best sonics with quieter vinyl than file 2 and had the best 3 dimensional presentation of the guitar.

kramth's picture

agreed

clucking's picture

Concur with the above assessment. The opening acoustic guitar sounds closest to real in file #3. The bass in #3 comes in a big aggressive but ultimately backs off to just right once the vocals come in - vocals also sound the most natural to me in #3.

clucking's picture

"a *bit* aggressive", not 'big'.

Happy Will's picture

What a test for a Monday morning - After playing them 3 times over I just ended up listening to the song. Having no-way of knowing what it sounded like in the recording studio doesn't it come down to personal preference. Listening over my computer I found myself drawn to 1 but it seemed almost too transparent, with some harmonics stripped, I thought 2 a bit murky and dull acoustically, and 3 was somewhere between 1 and 2. Which is which? My guess is 1 - Mo-Fi, 2 -Original and 3 -Sterling.

jokerman's picture

I hate to say it but the old CD is my preferred version. It is only one which got the bass right. I have bought everything possible on this one including the MFSL, SACD, original mono, Sundazed, etc and they are all a let-down. The first CD sounds best and I heard that they supposedly lost the tape used to make that one so its done now unless someone else finds another tape.

kramth's picture

solid bass and open mids with better decay on the vocals

seltaeb's picture

To these ears 1 and 2 are almost identical and I like them both. File 3 has an over pronounced sub-low EQ (compare the mic pop the first time he sings "priest"). Maybe 1 and 2 are rolled off? Anyway they sound more natural. File 3 also has a scooped mid EQ. Actually come to think of it, 3 sounds like it has the "Loudness" button of an old style hi-fi amp turned on! Don't like it at all. I only have the mono box version which sounds good to me.

saronian's picture

Still have my original 2-eye (1B) copy and have listened to it may times over the years. Dylan's phrasing and those unmistakable popping "P's" are embedded deep into my memory.

#3 matches what I'm used to hearing. While it may not be the best sonic reproduction, there's only one original.

#1 & 2 seem corrected to sound more neutral with #1 being the most devoid of phrasing and emotional cues.

SoreFinger's picture

Number 3 for me. It's seems to be more finely etched. There is life where i feel the others are a little less dynamic. It's close though.

SoreFinger's picture

I own the MFSL, the Sony and the Sundazed and I hear more difference between them on my system. The Sony is obviously the brighter sounding of the 3, the MFSL fuller with more open bass notes and the Sundazed is more balanced but loses a little bit of energy. At home my preference is the MFSL.

swimming1's picture

You guys can hear the differences from your computer speakers? Wow!

SoreFinger's picture

... I can definitely hear minor differences. However, as I said regarding my own copies, the difference is night and day when listened to on vinyl.

Tom L's picture

on the setup.
Many serious listeners have a computer linked to their main system.

wgb113's picture

It was close between 1 and 3 for me. I felt 2 either lowered the bass or increased the mids/treble too much. Granted I'm listening on Apple earbuds through my laptop.

tcinoz's picture

I'd say 1 is the Sony reissue, 2 the original and 3 the 45 rpm pressing. I like 2 best.

Tullman's picture

I liked file one the best. The guitar sounded most natural. My guess is this is the original columbia 2 eye.

File 2 and 3 sounded more alike to each other. My guess is file 3 is the MFSL.

realidentity's picture

It seems like a minority opinion, but File 1 sounded the most natural to me.

acousticritic43's picture

my guesses:
#1 is mono box
#2 is orig
#3 is MFSL
I like #2 best, then #3, but on my system I would take #3 as best. What was the playback system and did you check the speed control?

saxman73's picture

I just listened on computer speakers but I like #1 the best. Bass and drums seem more cohesive and grooving to me and I find the voice clearer. It's more natural sounding to me.

I find the bass a bit loud for my taste on #2.

#3 is fine, but it doesn't grab me as much as #1.

I think #2 might be a reissue, because bass seems a bit pumped up to me. Beyond that, I don't know.

Interesting!

Jerome Sabbagh

Frippertronik's picture

1 is the best balanced one in my view
2 is too clinical - superb voices but muddy low end, sounds like a remaster
3 is nice and warm, the cosy one, probably the 1st pressing
Overall they are all very good versions though, this is subtle

Montpier's picture

Sorry, could not resist subject line, but in this case think really need to hear the actual vinyl. Listening to all 3 AIFF snippets + a download version (all @ 96/24 bit via Pure Music) + CBS box set SACD via Playback Merlot DAC (latter in DSD), my major takeaway — aside from what an amazing song/performance — there was so much more variance in balance between the vinyl rips vs the digital source files than within the 3 analog rips. #3 sounded very natural but through my system the bass was far too prominent and bloated, overwhelming vocal, guitar & drums. Would it sound that way on my turntable? I might have opportunity to find out as ironically just parted with my JWH vinyl circa early 80’s in anticipation of finally picking up the MoFi. Hopefully MF will not be leaving us hanging like the little neighbor boy.... (I’m thankful MF didn’t sample tracks from Blonde on Blonde; have accumulated way too many versions of that title over the years to attempt comparison)

alphajim5's picture

On my inexpensive Klipsch desk top speakers Track 3 stood out as having heavier bass that was also clearer.

seltaeb's picture

File 2 wins for me which I reckon is the original
File 1 is a very close second (mono box?)
File 3 is a bloated mess. I think this is the new MFSL version which if correct would be suprising as I have Freewheelin’, BIABH, B on B and BOTT by them and they are all superb.
Interestingly my preferred file 2 runs about 0.7% faster than the other two which are very close with file 3 being marginally slower. That’s all.

JEB-42's picture

I have to say that 1 and 2 are very close for me. I guess that 1 is the Sony and 2 Original. 3 I guess it the MSFL. It appeared to be more relaxed, better decay, it drew me in more than it was presented at me. In the end I preferred 3 listening over my macbook speakers.

seltaeb's picture

You have solved the file #3 riddle. They mastered it to sound good through your MacBook speakers. Thank you.

Montpier's picture

but next time around, probably all votes should be accompanied by info if auditioning is via built-in/small computer speakers, headphones, smaller/bookshelf speakers and/or full-range floor standers -- I was the latter through a system largely optimized for vinyl playback and have found some digital media is suffering from overcooked bass in source material, perhaps because this is not how digitized music is typically being consumed these days. (Or vinyl played back on rigs at the same standard as MF's or high-end audio stores?)

melody maker's picture

Hear hear. This is a fun guessing game, but we're critiquing analog pressings of a 1967 album, digitized to listen online, and then listened to somehow, on something, by someone, out here in the real analog world. AND this is an album (from the increasingly-stereo-dominated late 60s) that most would probably agree has a weird stereo mix and is more enjoyable in mono. AND (this is most important) whose urtext original pressings, while wonderful listening experiences, have noticeable mastering (maybe even recording) flaws that you have to ignore/listen through/not focus on.

melody maker's picture

I love this site and respect its community, so I just pulled out a near-mint mono original pressing I've come to think best (it beat out vintage and reissue stereos, as well as the Sundazed mono reissue which sounded clean but digital to me). After shooting my mouth off about an album I've loved for a long time, I thought I should confirm what I thought I remembered about the sound.

I was right. This is a great album, with much wisdom and pleasure to be had from its grooves. But the sound is just good enough, and as stated above, I've been through several pressings and ended up with a good one. It sounds honest and rich and full. But....

The bass is a bit much, and that's not down to one mastering engineer's choices. I intentionally put on side 2, which opens with two great songs. "Dear Landlord" sounds fine. "I Am a Lonesome Hobo" has very overloaded bass that distorts at many places in the song. Doesn't ruin my enjoyment of the song. I've taken in (and enjoyed!) plenty of distortion in my life. Just maybe not ideal here.

Big picture, they wanted big bass on this album. It's mostly Bob Dylan on simple acoustic rhythm guitar, and a rhythm section, so it's understandable that they'd punch up the 'lead' bass (and the drums). It's just that they did it a whole lot.

Even bigger picture: I've read that Dylan was inclined to have Robbie Robertson in to overdub lead guitar, but was talked into the idea that the rough mixes were great and he should put it out 'as is.' Man, when I read that... the album is very good as is, but with Robbie at his best garnishing and dressing it up just enough, it could've been like "The Basement Tapes" meets "John Wesley Harding." Which would be Ultimate Dylan '67. Which would be Worthy Successor to Blonde on Blonde. I mean, it's already that, but Actual Competition for Blonde on Blonde. Because as it stands, it's great, but ....... stark.

P.S. I can't pretend to win the guessing game on computer speakers (and even if I hooked my computer into my real system, it'd be Apple-ized), but Clip 3 seems to have the most fartingly overloaded bass exploding out of the speakers. So maybe it's the original pressing.

floweringtoilet's picture

File #1 is the mono box pressing. Clean, transparent sound (relatively speaking). Arguably bass-shy compared to the other versions.

File #2 is the original pressing. Nice warm sound. Not as transparent as file #1, bass arguably a bit tubby and undefined. Vinyl background noise is higher than with the other 2 files.

File #3 is the MoFi. I don't care for this one. The bass is really exaggerated which also amplifies some of the flaws in the recording (mic pops, etc.). I agree with the poster who said it sounded like the "loudness" button was pressed. This may make for a better listen at low volumes (Fletcher Munson Curve), but to my ears these are poor mastering choices.

Listening done via Sony MDR-V6 headphones plugged straight into MacBookPro (no external dac).

swimming1's picture

Sorry I'm late to the party,but I too,am a Dylan fan.Listening to JWH mono Sterling master.Sounds sweet,harmonica not shrill or hyperbolic,bass there not disco style but very distinct. Maybe your systems' synergy is off? Mine has very good synergy.You must have relational experience with your music,otherwise...it sucks!

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