Recordings from mid 80's onward

Hi Forums Folks. Just out of curiosity…What is going on with so many recordings from the mid 80’s onwards?

I was listening to “Honesty” (1978) by Billy Joel via Qobuz. It sounded good with nice instrument separation and tonality. Fast forward to “Uptown Girl” (1983) by the same artist and it sounds like dog crap…two dimensional sound, no depth in the sound stage, poor instrument separation, exaggerated treble.

I’ve heard so many recordings from the 80’s and 90’s that sound so bad. Yet, when I go back to the 70’s recordings by the same artist, those recordings sound good. There are modern exeptions that sound good like Radiohead and Father John Misty to name a couple.

The first thing that comes to mind is compression, but I always thought compression affected dynamics specifically. I’ve only begun to listen to recordings through an audiophile lens. Any thoughts?

Well the 80’s were the begin of the digital era. Nearly everything sounded quite bad until the new technology was questioned at the right points and folks really knew what to do. I remember many vinyl masterings were just 1:1 transferred to CD at the beginning, which didn’t work. Some mastering engineers around here like Bob Ohlsson could probably tell more.

I wish there would be good recordings of so many artists of that era, but it really was an era of mainly bad sound until quite some time later. But anyway you’ll find those who preferred (and still do) what came in the 80’s to what was before.

But it may certainly also be an individual topic of certain recordings. There were good and bad in any time.


For most post 1980s albums, I seek out an audiophile remaster whenever available. For example, Mobile Fidelities SACD remaster for An Innocent Man sounds amazing.

Listening to Jefferson Starships’ Respective CD, the tracks are in rough order by release date. Everything up to “Jane” was recorded in the 70’s. The deeper into the 80’s to more glaring, glossy and compressed the sound.

The Moody Blues have likely the greatest rock recordings on the era. Their 1981 album “Long Distance Voyager” has great material but lacks the audio engineering their prior recordings.

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During this period the “loudness war” began. Albums got mastered to sound louder than competitors so they sounded better on TV and radio. The process seems to have been turning everything up to eleven. Dynamic range became non existent as even the quiet bits were loud. My teenage years were in the 80s and 90s, I’ve been a metal fan most of my life and much of the music I purchased then was treated really badly, terribly recorded and then terribly mastered. Lucky for me that some of the bands I liked got produced by Steve Albini so I was able to learn what dynamic range was about. Being an audiophile metalhead can be a difficult task sometimes, the better equipment can really give you an insight into how awful an album sounds.


Glaring and glossy. Yes, exactly!

The crappy 80’s recordings are ubiquitous, but you know the first song that really let me hear this phenomenon? It was “Dancing Queen” by Abba (1977). My childhood memories of this song were powerful and I was expecting and amazing soundscape with a higher resolving system. When I played it, it was dreadful. Totally made for A.M. radio.