Listening to the Remastered Saved (Bob Dylan)

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Listening to the Remastered Saved Bob DylanAs previously noted, the most interesting thing about the forthcoming mega-Bob-Dylan-Box-Set seemed to me to be the prospect of hearing a remastered version of his 1980 album, Saved, which no one seemed to be satisfied with in its original incarnation, including Bob Dylan himself. The question was how one might obtain only that item (legally) without buying the entire two hundred dollar set. Well, the remastered albums from that set have apparently already been made available in MP3 and similar compressed formats, on Amazon and elsewhere, although the actual box set isn’t officially released until November 5th (thanks to to Ben for originally giving me the heads-up).

Given my druthers, I’m someone who would like to be able to buy the music in question in a lossless format, e.g. FLAC, or on an actual CD. However, given the significance of this particular content, and the unlikelihood of easily getting it as I would prefer, I could not resist splurging for the MP3 version a few days ago.

Since then I’ve compared the remastered tracks to what I already have on CD, which is a disc that dates (probably) from the early 1990s, being the original CD iteration of the analog album. To my knowledge, there has been no other official version of this album—that is with a change in the nature of the music—until now. To carry out the comparison between the CD and the new remastered MP3s, I called upon two important tools, which experience has proven are always better than any others for me when performing this kind of analysis. Those are my left ear and my right ear.

I listened to the original and the remastered versions both through headphones and through the speakers on my stereo, flipping from one version to the other as appropriate. Now, there’s always going to be a subjective element to how music is heard, but my own conclusion (which I would’ve preferred not to come to) is that there is little if any qualitative difference between the two. The remastered version is louder, more in keeping with how contemporary digital music is mastered (and by no means necessarily a good thing because it means a loss of dynamic range) but otherwise no different. One feature which a listener might zero in on is Dylan’s voice, which on the original is surely somewhat lacking in presence or less than fully-dimensioned or whatever term you want to use. It sounds no better and no different on the remastered tracks. What Saved needed is a true remixing, and it seems pretty clear that it has not received that in this iteration.

Although the MP3 format may be less than ideal, it certainly should have revealed any substantial differences with this remaster, compared side by side with the original. And if it had sounded superior, I would have been eager to then obtain a lossless version if possible. As it is, I’m afraid I’d have to conclude that that would be a waste of time and/or money.

If someone could explain to me how this remaster is better than the original, I’d love to hear it. Failing that, I’ll just have to put this down to an exercise in idle cynicism by whoever made the decision at Sony/Columbia.

None of this is meant to condemn the content of the album itself, which I’ve always thought is filled with both passion and tenderness. It’s just a shame that the audio quality has yet to live up to the songs and the performances. (By the way, I do dig the fact the original cover is being used again with this release, not that it improves the sound any.)

I don’t have plans to acquire the other remastered albums that are currently being released, because I’m not dissatisfied with the versions of those albums that I have.

But for the record, here’s the list of the rest of these 2013 remasters:

Self Portrait (1970) – which just came out in remastered form on the recent Another Self Portrait box set.
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) – I think the original is one of the most beautiful-sounding recordings ever made, so I cannot imagine making it “louder” will improve it one jot.
Dylan (1973) – I guess it’s news that this one is being re-released at all, whatever about the remastering.
Street Legal (1978) – This was muddy on first release, and was remixed and remastered in 1999, to a pretty good standard, I thought.
Empire Burlesque (1985) – It is a perfect mid-80’s artifact as it is, amusingly and beautifully anachronistic. Why make it “louder”?
Knocked Out Loaded (1986) – Cannot understand why this needed remastering.
Down in the Groove (1988) – Likewise.
Under the Red Sky (1990) – Likewise.
Good as I Been to You (1992) – Likewise.
World Gone Wrong (1993) – Ditto.