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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Thursday, October 21, 2010


A couple of people have responded on the matter of the Sundazed (in particular) and vinyl (in general) versus Bob's new mono CDs (in particular) and digital (in general); see the Comments under the previous post. But I hope more people will contribute here, especially if they Know About Sound.

For me it was a pleasure to read someone writing unequivocally that 1960s vinyl sounds better than anything that's come along since. But is it true?... Certainly I remember the first time I ever heard a CD it was blaring out of a hi-fi shop as I was walking past - and it sounded mind-blowingly fantastic (even though it was Simon & Garfunkel). This was partly because of the then-eerie lack of any hiss or crackle, but it was probably mostly because they were playing it on mega-expensive equipment of an unattainable nature.

Then further down the line I read that engineers were building a bit of hiss back into CDs because the music sounded funkier that way... and certainly when I played Bob's 'I'll Keep It With Mine' directly from one of the Great White Wonder LPs to some Dylan Discussion Weekenders last month, the noise that rose up with the music produced a certain fond amusement.

I may well have said all this before, but if I had money, my sound system of choice would be a shockingly pricey turntable and two mono valve amps in sync for stereo, linked to excellent speakers. The change from valves to transistors was for cheapness' sake, and sold on its convenience - transistor radios on the beach - not for anything to do with sound quality. As for digital, well, I don't know enough about it. Maybe you do...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Over the past few months I have read Pat Ford's positive reports about Dylan's vocals, and was unconvinced-Having listened on youtube to some recent performances he does seem to singing &playing again with conviction & feeling. I enjoyed and was touched by these ...

10:26 am  
Anonymous Wee Tommy said...

The old joke was that the people who cared most about sound quality were the ones who owned the fewest records – thousands of pounds worth of kit and one LP of the Flying Scotsman going through a tunnel. Grossly unfair, of course, except that most of us have probably known people who weren’t that far away from the stereotype.

I can’t help feeling that the reason people get so excited when the marketing men tell them that some new reissue is ‘like hearing the music again for the first time’, is less to do with the music and more about their desire to recapture their own lost youth. Of course, we’ll never hear them again as if for the first time, unless they get round to inventing some kind of ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ memory erasure. Or until we’re reincarnated – but then, there’s always the danger that you’d come back as a Donovan fan.

When I bought my original Dylan LPs (some of which were mono, but only because stereo was more expensive at the time) I was playing them on a single-speaker mono record player that my father bought with cigarette coupons. While subsequent listening has enabled me to hear the music better – and even to hear things that were inaudible before – I’d be lying if I said that anything has really increased my enjoyment. Nothing comes close to the sheer excitement and pleasure of playing those – often very secondhand – albums on that machine.

Of course, it’s possible that my sceptical relationship to questions of sound quality has been shaped more than anything by having spent quite a lot of the intervening decades listening to reissues of Charley Patton Paramounts (anybody else remember the Herwin reissue of ‘Joe Kirby’ and ‘Jim Lee Blues’?).

11:26 am  
Anonymous John Carvill said...

By the way, Michael, you don't even need an 'expensive' turntable. I have a turntable made by an English company, called a Pro-ject Debut, which cost around £220. It sounds fantastic, and many audiophile people rate it as almost as good as a Rega Planar turntable costing over twice that amount.

12:55 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Wee Tommy: you write that "The old joke was that the people who cared most about sound quality were the ones who owned the fewest records – thousands of pounds worth of kit and one LP of the Flying Scotsman going through a tunnel." I've never heard that before but it's a brilliant, very funny description.

John, thanks for that. I haven't even looked at turntables for a couple of years now, but last time I did it seemed as if there were some at about £150 and others at about £1,000, and there didn't seem to be anything much in between. So of course I assumed that a really good one was, well, pretty expensive.

Mine, by the way, was given to me in 1977 when I came in from the cold of freelancing and worked as head of press at United Artists Records (1977-79), handling the Buzzcocks, Stranglers and Shirley Bassey... It's a Sony. But unlike my parents' Pye Black Box, it doesn't play 78s. Shame.

4:41 pm  
Anonymous John Carvill said...

Yes, it often seems that there are only cheap or exceedingly expensive turntables. I certainly recommend the Pro-ject one, I think it's called a Debut II. I've had mine for ten years, with the standard stylus that came with it, no modifications of any sort, and it produces an astonishingly good sound. Any time I do a comparison between a CD and a (decent) vinyl copy of the same album, I am left wondering how we all got sold such a pup of a format back in the 1980s.

But then, as you say, CDs sounded so astonishingly clean, crisp and clear. And back then a lot of people 's 'hi-fi' consisted of one of those all-in-one turntable/radio/cassette systems, so when they bought a new hi-fi, with a CD player, naturally it was going to sound better.

I think vinyl is coming back into vogue now, though. Of course, that has the downside of dramatically increasing the price you have to pay to get good condition original copies of classic stuff like Dylan and The Beatles on ebay, etc.

11:18 am  

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