'Unlistenable' early digital recordings?


Obviously, today’s engineering of digital masters is far superior than the early years. Some say that many CD’s from the early years are ’unlistenable’. I used to agree. But, over the past couple of years, I’ve spent considerable effort to clean up the power to each of my digital components. Now, early CD’s are quite listenable. They might not be ’audiophile quality’ but the music comes across just fine. No more digital nasties. No more glare or etch in the HF. No more excessive boominess in the LF. I’m definitely a clean power convert. So much so, that I recommend cleaning up the power before upgrading to a new DAC. What’s your experience?

steakster
I recently purchased a Torus power conditioner. And I am now using ZU event power cables. The sound seems to come from a much deeper - blacker place. I think mostly because of noise reduction. There is so much noise around us due to technology, wi-Fi, lights, appliances, electric, etc, that addressing multiple noise generating sources at one time really shows a major improvement. 
Don't forget the DACs.


They've gotten so much better over the past 10 years, especially with Redbook playback.



Early cds can sound very good or very bad, just like more recent pressings. Early playback gear was more often the problem.

Some people prefer 1980s vintage cds because their dynamics are not as compressed as many, but not all, cds mastered since the early 1990s. You have to decide which release of a particular album you prefer on a case by case basis. Power conditioning can help too, of course.

In the rush to get CD’s to market in the format’s early days, record companies used the old production masters made for the pressing of LP’s. Those LP-mastered tapes had their low frequencies filtered out to make the records playable by the cartridges the vast majority of consumers owned, and the highs were boosted to compensate for the losses incurred during plating, pressing, etc.

Newer recordings in most cases have not not mastered for LP pressing, and the sources used for mastering haven’t been subjected to the same filtering as were the older tapes. But as many have noticed, they ARE being compressed so as to create a higher average-level (louder) signal.

Some record labels adapted to digital technology better than others in the early to mid 80’s. Deutsch Grammophon was way behind the other classical labels and released terribly harsh CDs for years. Their multi and close mic’d recording style combined with new digital technology produced many unlistenable CDs. Since the problems are on the master, there’s no going back to fix them. Although, they keep trying to remaster these discs.
It’s a shame since many of the great conductors and orchestras were under contract with DG.

It’s true that many of the "unlistenable" CDs in all genres can now be reproduced well by modern components. The control of jitter and clean power contribute greatly to digital playback.

My vote goes to Ry Cooder’s Bop til you Drop. 
I’m with Eric.  Upgrading my DAC solved the problem.
It was Ry's idea to record Bop Til You Drop digitally, and damn was he pissed when he heard the results. He eventually heard a Water Lily LP, and couldn't wait to be recorded by Kav Alexander (on A Meeting By The River). Kav's recorder's electronics were designed and built by Tim deParavicini of E.A.R.-Yoshino.
lowrider57 - completely agree.  I’m a classical music fan and have many DG recordings of otherwise great music and orchestras that are unlistenable. And, I don’t think it’s my DACs or lack of clean power.  It’s DG’s crappy recordings. I have a particular “demonstration” recording of Mahler’s 5th on DG. It’s so bad, it hurts to listen to it.  Unfortunately, it took me a while to learn to stay away from a label - so I have more than a few of them.  Thank goodness for high quality streaming - I now have access to a huge library and can usually find at least a decent recording of a decent orchestra or ensemble of a piece I want to listen to.  
Hey, coinkidink! The early CDs were unlistenable and so are the later ones! You owe me a Coke. 
@mgrif104 
As I stated earlier, they can keep trying to remaster these bad recordings as Karajan did. But you can't polish a turd.

Have you compared one of these terrible Cds vs. the same recording on Tidal or Qobuz?
I've heard these recordings on FM classical music and they sound thin and edgy.

My vote is for Joe Satriani "Surfing With the Alien". The LP sucks just as much sound wise as does the CD. A pity since otherwise I like the music. 
Most other early CDs sound just fine to me. Although yes they have less bass than one would expect...
The early CD issues are what I look to buy. More organic presentation, better imaging. I agree they don't have deep bass extension, especially compared to the same release on vinyl.

It was certain record labels that had issues producing good CDs in the 80s.

I hadn’t occurred to me to listen to those recordings streamed via Tidal. (I don’t have qobuz yet).  I may try that but I’m guessing they’re just as bad streamed.  

On the other hand, I have some EMI, Phillips and other labels from the 80s that are very good.  You’d have thought the mastering engineers at DG would have had more pride in their work or that the conductors would have demanded better.  They were producing records for some of the top orchestras of the time.  


There’s an interesting DG recording of Camille Saint Saens 3rd Symphony (organ) where the sonics aren’t too bad, but they recorded the organ separately from the orchestra and piano.  I can imagine how difficult it is to do at the same time.  But, on that recording (great performance btw), there are times the organ and symphony are out of sync. It’s the performance that keeps drawing me back to it.  Perhaps familiarity.  But, I sure wish the recording were up to the performance.  Anybody else have a favorite of this work? 
I listen to mono 78s that were not well cared for by their original owners. Who cares about sound quality? Not me, bring on Sinatra and the Modernaires.
viridian:

 "Who cares about sound quality?"

     Gee, viridian, I don't know.  Perhaps every single member on this site except you!
     What planet are you from?

Tim


Music lovers don't let an appreciation for good sound get in their way.    They just try to make the best of each recording.  It's not rocket science!
Nostalgia should have limits. Dooby, dooby do!
Hold on... Yeah some really great recordings.. sadly have poor sound. It can be pretty easy to ignore (more like forgive) poor sound with a really great performance! 
I would take a poor sound quality but spectacular performance over "Jazz at the Pawnshop" any day!!!
@steakster,
Great topic. I recently figured out how to use an old Blue Circle Thingee as a standalone device instead of using it in line and once that AC was cleaned up, everything sounded better.

Old CDs that were just too soft, ECM CDs that were too polite, and the like, all sound rather good, if not outstanding (ECM). I didn't realize how bad the noise was on my AC.

All the best,
Nonoise
Ha,ha,ha, Timmy made a funny! Why same planet as your mom, of course.
It stinks history and education are tarnished by a butthole of an engineer and gear. Thank you to whoever said polishing a turd. It’s appropriate. 
I have the Bop til you drop LP and my old ears like the detail and dynamic range.
Are you saying that it was recorded digitally or were you referring to the CD version?
Just curious.. my hearing fades out as low as 9500 hz these days....not sure what I'm missing.  :-(
Have a listen Daryl Hall & John Oates "Abandoned Luncheonette"
Atlantic 7567-81537-2 German pressing, it will blow you away.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Abandoned-Luncheonette-Daryl-Hall-John-Oates-CD-1990-Atlantic/153505779358?epid=3098740&hash=item23bda84e9e:g:xagAAOSwx6Fc7aIi

Cheers George
When Bop Till you Drop came out on LP it was one of the first digital recordings. IIRC the CD sounds very similar to the LP.

From wikipedia,

“Bop Till You Drop is Ry Cooder’s eighth album, released in 1979. The album was the first digitally recorded major-label album in popular music. Bop Till You Drop was recorded on a digital 32-track machine built by 3M.”
A sh$tty recording is going to produce sh$tty sound. A good recording with a crappy dac and you will get crappy sound. Put a good quality power cord or interconnect on a crappy dac is like putting lipstick on a pig. A good dac will benefit from good cables to get the best SQ out of it. 
I also agree that a lot of old rock recordings have little bass. Blues and jazz recordings didn’t have this issue.
@steakster.  You are ansolutey right. Cleaning AC power allows the beauty of early CDs to come through. Particularly “isolation” of the ac power to the digital from the analog components. I’m fortunate to have refined Spectral Audio and MIT I/cs and ac power cords and every improvement to ac isolation is clearly audible. I use isolation transformers and Equitech balanced power to both digital and analog to wonderful effect. There can’t be too much isolation! As well, there’s no “digital noise” that went into the recording process. The old CDs are clean. 

First CD I bought was Rush Power Windows, around 1985, Every track sounded like glass shattering on my M&K sat/sub system.

CD's sound so much better now. Still prefer vinyl.

With pop/rock at least, "early" CD's are sometimes poorly mastered but usually listenable and often are a better version than the remastered ones that were produced during the "loudness wars" from about 1995 to about 2005.  I have been going through my collection and supplementing or replacing badly-mastered CD and HDCD titles with well-mastered SACD's or CD's.  As was said above, it has to be researched case by case. 
My favorite Organ Symphony is the old Paray/Detroit version.
Many DG recordings were indeed hard to take in their early digital incarnations, especially Wilhelm Kempff records, but I still prefer them to vinyl.
On the whole, early CD remasterings for Classical blew away the lps.  Sony alone saved Bernstein, Szelk and Ormandy from the sonic graveyard.  Bernstein Mahler 7 would be Exhibit A.  And RCA lps had become unlistenable by the 1970s due to the exceptionally poor vinyl.  At least the first CD remastering lacked surface noise and tracked 
Telarcs are an excellent example of early digital that showed off dynamics but tended to sound rather hard and metallic sometimes, but some are great. It depends. The Terminator and Robin Hood CD is pretty amazing. And many others, too.
Mahler123 - thanks for the suggestion on the Organ Symphony. I’ll look into it.

Best,
mgrif
I've had a Tice Power Block III Signature for about 25 years and it seems to do a good job of cleaning up the power. I also live in a semi-rural area where my power is pretty good to start with. As far as early digital recordings there were indeed some bad ones. My vote for the winner in the Digital Recording Hall of Shame is Devadip Carlos Santana's "The Swing of Delight." This was one of the first all digital recordings done in 1980 and it sounds unbelievably bad. It's thin, flat, and harsh. I wonder what they were thinking when they released it.

Ironically, I consider the 80's to mid 90's the golden age of recorded music. This was when tape and mixing console technology hit their strides and it was before the loudness wars. Most of the best sounding CDs in my collection were recorded and mixed on tape during this period. The CD of Anita Baker's Rapture (1986) for example sounds gorgeous. I also have the vinyl version and, at least on my system, the CD completely holds its own in SQ. 

A note about HDCDs. One of the main advantages of this format is that the master tape was converted to digital using a Pacific Microsonics workstation. At the time this was pretty much the best sounding digital transfer you could get and the studios that had them tended to be more meticulous about their digital masters. Pflash Pflaumer, one of the main designers of the equipment, has gone on to make highly regarded D/A converters under the Berkeley Audio Design label. I've gone out of my way to buy HDCDs and I believe that they are some of the best sounding digital transfers of the period. I have become extremely leery of "Remastered" recordings because usually they have been slammed with a limiter to make them louder and they absolutely sound worse than the original.