To clarify my comment above I meant release not previously available.
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More info on the releases and quite interesting regarding the mixes.
I conccur with the findings the sampler sounds very good indeed.
News: The SACD Remasters
In January this year Sony finally announced that they will be renovating Dylan's back-catalogue.
In short, on September 16 they will start by releasing fifteen remastered Dylan albums in hybrid Super Audio CD format. The finalised list of titles is The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Another Side of Bob Dylan*, Bringing It All Back Home*, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde*, John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, Planet Waves, Blood On The Tracks*, Desire, Street Legal, Slow Train Coming*, Infidels, Oh Mercy and Love and Theft*. The six asterisked titles will include not only the remastered stereo mix but also a surround-sound mix playable through multi-channel SACD players. See the news item on bobdylan.com , and the hi-fi trade reports at
Setting aside for a moment the matter of the surround mixes, each recording will be remastered in two types of digital encoding. The first is the normal PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) system used for regular CDs; the second is the much newer, higher-fidelity DSD (Direct Stream Digital) system used for Super Audio CDs. These two versions will be pressed as separate layers on a single "hybrid" disc. This is the approach recently taken by ABKCO for their reissues of the Rolling Stones' old Decca/London catalogue.
Listeners with standard CD players will be able to listen to the regular CD layer, and should get the benefit of the effort Sony have put into using lower-generation source tapes, improved digital mastering and so on.
Those with Super Audio CD players will get to hear the DSD-encoded layer. This will reproduce more of the subtleties of the original analogue recordings, provided their loudspeakers - and their ears - are up to the job. I'm told that you really need loudspeakers with supertweeters on the top: these will reproduce the extra high-frequency information that carries the subtleties missed by ordinary CD encoding.
It's worth noting that the only previously-released Dylan SACD title, Blonde On Blonde, is a single-layer disc which can only be played on SACD machines. It's welcome that this album has now been added to the list of hybrid releases, as this means that Michael Brauer's much-improved 1999 remix of the album will at last be accessible to listeners without SACD players.
To find out more about the Super Audio CD format, visit http://www.sonymusic.com/sacd/ . (Note that at the time of writing the pop-up announcement about the Dylan SACD release program still contains the superseded list of titles.)
The Stereo Mixes
The original stereo mixes of the 1960s albums were produced for what was at that time a minority market, almost certainly without any involvement from Dylan himself. They display many faults which would not have been part of Dylan's vision when he created the albums, and have a sound quality which was constrained by early stereo vinyl technology - above all, very limited bass.
Thankfully, it seems that Sony have decided to abandon these mixes, probably in order to get the most impressive sound quality, but in some cases also because the old stereo mixdown tapes are worn out. Certainly at least three of the albums (Blonde On Blonde as noted above, plus Another Side of Bob Dylan and Bringing It All Back Home) have been remixed in stereo from the original multi-track studio masters, and with luck this will prove to be true for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and Highway 61 Revisited as well, in this initial batch of releases.
Sony's promotional 6-track sampler CD for the new reissue series includes one track each from Bringing It All Back Home ("Love Minus Zero / No Limit") and Blonde On Blonde ("Memphis Blues Again"). These certainly sound excellent even in regular CD mode, far better than on previous CD releases. If all the stereo remixes are to this standard then this will at least partly make up for the exclusion of the original mono mixes - see below.
Five of the albums will include a 5.1 surround mix in the SACD layer in addition to the stereo mix. To enjoy these you'll need a multi-channel SACD player, a six-channel amplifier, five identical top-flight loudspeakers, one sub-woofer, and a lot of experimentation with furniture and speaker positions. An average home cinema set-up will not do, I'm told; the requirements for multi-channel hi-fi audio are much more exacting.
Assuming you have the space and the money for this type of set-up, what will you hear? Well, there appear to be different ways in which producers can opt to use the additional channels of surround sound. The first option is to remix the original multi-track recordings and feed some of the tracks into the rear channels, so that for example you might hear someone playing an instrument behind you. This might be feasible with Dylan's later albums which were recorded on a large number of tracks, but wouldn't make much sense with the early recordings which were recorded on four tracks at most. (Or at least, it wouldn't make any more sense than the familiar stereo mixes of Dylan's first couple of albums, where you can have guitar, vocal and harmonica all coming at you from different directions.)
The other approach is to use the rear channels for ambience only, to give the illusion of being in a particular space that isn't your own living room. The mixing engineer can create this ambient information either by pure electronic synthesis, or by playing a stereo recording in a particularly favoured room which is miked-up to record the results in surround-sound. Either way, of course, this has nothing to do with the reproduction of any historic reality, but it can potentially make for a more involving listening experience.
Well-known engineer Michael Brauer produced the surround mixes for Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde On Blonde. Talking about the last of these, he says: "The sound field is all about what is going on in front as opposed to hearing instruments behind you (except for the first song). There is more depth, it's more like a panoramic stereo."
It sounds, then, as though the surround mixes will at least be sensible and avoid gimmickry, but whether they will be worth the effort and expense to hear, I can't presently say. I can't even find a local hi-fi dealer who's got the set-up to play me the tracks on the sampler. Perhaps this technology is cheaper and more readily available in developed countries like the USA. Initial response to the sampler's surround mixes from one or two US correspondents has been very enthusiastic.
One final point: the fact that only certain albums have been selected to include a surround mix is quite baffling. If it were all the later, more technically sophisticated recordings that had been selected this would perhaps have been more comprehensible, but half of the chosen six are 1960s LPs. So did Sony only have enough budget to do six titles? Will surround-sound enthusiasts have to buy some of these albums yet again in a couple of years' time when they do add the surround mixes? And from the particular perspective of this website, what is the logic of providing surround mixes for Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde On Blonde but not Highway 61 Revisited? Answers by e-mail, please. For now, I can't help thinking that the inclusion of a smattering of surround mixes has more to do with the promotion of SACD technology than it has to do with the thoughtful restoration of Dylan's catalogue.
No Mono Versions
Dylan fans, myself included, have campaigned strenuously for the inclusion of the original mono mixes of the albums up to Blonde On Blonde. These records were originally mixed first and foremost for mono listening, and these are the versions that Dylan would have given all his attention to at the time. The hybrid SACD format has plenty of room to accommodate these on the SACD layer. However, it's now clear that this is not to be. Sadly, Sony would rather create surround mixes that very few people are currently equipped to play than make historic works of art available in the best possible quality.
It's good, of course, that most of these historically definitive mono versions are currently available once again via the licensing deal with Sundazed Records. But the fact that Sundazed are only allowed to release them on vinyl indicates that Sony - and presumably Dylan's office - view them as being relevant only to a dwindling nostalgia market. These original mono mixes really should be made available in an archival-quality, noise-free digital format, and it seems that a major opportunity has been missed.
No Bonus Tracks
The idea of a Dylan reissue series was first floated by Sony several years ago. At that time they suggested that it would be along the lines of The Byrds' CD reissues. These added extra tracks to each title, including contemporary singles and out-takes. Insiders say that tracks were indeed chosen for at least the first few projected Dylan releases.
However, it's clear now that no additional material will be included other than the surround mixes on six of the albums. This reflects a trend within the industry for handling reissues of major artists. Some years ago David Bowie's RCA albums were issued on CD with bonus tracks, but the latest remastered series has none. And the recent Rolling Stones reissue series also includes no additional material.
Opinion among Dylan enthusiasts is sharply divided here, but personally I'm in favour of this reconsidered approach. As works of art I think the original albums stand better on their own than diluted by tacked-on outtakes, however good those tracks may be. The shape of the album gets changed. How could Bringing It All Back Home end with anything other than "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"? You need silence after that, not "If You Gotta Go, Go Now".
And it must be remembered that most of Dylan's best outtakes from 1961-1989 have already been released on the anthologies Biograph and The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3. If Sony can ever get Dylan's permission to release more historic studio material then I would much rather see done it as further volumes in the Bootleg Series. Sony and Dylan, of course, may have additional, more commercial reasons for sticking to this approach.
The Bottom Line
If you're a hi-fi enthusiast and you have enough money then you'll probably get all the gear anyway - have fun. Otherwise, never mind the SACD and 5.1 surround technology - I believe the real value of these new editions will be in the improvements they bring to regular CD listeners. The signs are that they'll give us the first decent stereo mixes of Dylan's 1960s albums, and noticeable improvements on some of the 70s material. Roll on September 16!
Last updated July 2003
Well.... thanks for all that, Ben! I keep up with this through bd.com and the discussion forum there (where I post under the same moniker), but I'm really glad to see another Dylan freak here! I don't think there are very many on this site.
Saw M&A a couple of months ago as a guest of Columbia...I loved it. The fantastic reviewer for the "Chicago Reader" also liked it, as have a few other mainstream critics (although, as you say, most critics don't get it).
Cp-it's not really just for Dylan nuts like ourselves as this is so far THE biggest reissues on SACD for a major artist.
From the sampler the remastering is a big big step up on redbook-for those who enjoy the benefits they hear on SACD it should be great too.
Similarly even a modest Rock/songwriting fan should own 4 of these records-Bringing It All Back Home,Highway 61 Revisited,Blonde On Blonde and Blood On The Tracks.
Undoubtly 4 of the greatest albums ever made.
I've started negotiations with my local independant record shop for the whole set!