Bob Dylan • Bob Dylan

Columbia/Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2122 & MFSL2-420
Hybrid SACD & 45rpm LPs
1962/2015

Music

Sound

Bob Dylan • Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits

Columbia/Mobile Fidelity & MFSL2-417
45rpm LPs
1967/2015

Music

Sound

by Marc Mickelson | January 4, 2016

n Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel and Ethan Coen's movie set during the folk revival of the early 1960s, Bob Dylan makes a cameo appearance -- in voice, not in person. Near the end of the movie, during which we hear the entire repertoire of the title character, a talented but irascible folk singer, we hear Dylan play "Farewell" and the message is clear: Llewyn Davis might be talented, but this skinny, nasal-voiced kid from Minnesota possesses genius.

These two albums from Mobile Fidelity's continuing exploration of Bob Dylan's catalogue show him in early form, revealing the roots of that genius, and as he artistically matured, changing folk music forever -- and rock music too. On his eponymous 1962 debut, you hear echoes of the folk-music scene la Inside Llewyn Davis along with the unmistakable signs of what's to come. Greatest-hits collections are a way for record companies to repackage and resell content they've already paid for, giving casual fans a self-contained collection of a performer's choicest cuts. This is certainly the case with Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, but the sheer creative energy of the music, which glows even more brightly because of its historical importance, gives the album a life of its own. Even people like me who own nearly all of Dylan's catalogue have a copy or two of Greatest Hits. Listening to it is like speed-reading a book on Dylan's first seven albums and the musical climate in which they were created.

Mobile Fidelity chose to cut these reissues at 45rpm in order to wring the last drops of musical detail from the tapes. I have two very early copies of Greatest Hits [Columbia KCS 9463] and a Japanese pressing of Bob Dylan [CBS/Sony 25AP 268] for comparison. Both of the "two-eye" Greatest Hits sound tizzy and dry, issues that are resolved on the MoFi reissue, which has a much better balance top to bottom, due to the presence of a real bottom end that's less woody, more resonant and better differentiated than what's heard on the original pressings. "Huge difference, all for the better" say my listening notes. Bob Dylan is a closer call, mostly because the Japanese reissue I have sounds glorious -- vivid and in-the-room present. The MoFi reissue sounds slightly drier and flatter, but it conveys more of the fine touches of the playing and singing. It's also better balanced, mostly because of its more prominent midbass. The pressings for both MoFi albums are terrific -- flat and exceptionally quiet.

These reissues are also an indication of just how seriously MoFi takes the "Original Master Recording" ribbon on each jacket. Greatest Hits has this, but Bob Dylan's reads "Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab." The distinction is based on the source materials: master tape for Greatest Hits and some other high-quality source for Bob Dylan, likely because the master tape was in poor condition. No sonic corners were cut. Bob Dylan was created just like all other MoFi reissues: at half speed with the GAIN 2 Ultra Analog system, which features a custom Studer tape player and handcrafted cutting amps that drive the Ortofon cutting head of a Neumann lathe.

If you're all digital, you're also in luck, because the SACD of Bob Dylan is available now and Greatest Hits is coming. Both are titles that Sony chose not to release as part of their own series of hybrid SACDs. But if you are an absolutist regarding Dylan's music, the MoFi LPs are definitive.

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