What's up with lousy bass on classic rock recordings?

Few examples: ACDC Back In Black, Van Halen 1, Boston (1), WHO's Next, Def Leopard Pyromania. 

The low end is almost non-existent. Digital and vinyl. 

It's not my system, I listen to a lot of jazz, other classics like Janis Ian Breaking Silence - bass is rich, full, has slam when appropriate.

Compression? Or were the low frequencies never there? Pretty disappointing. 


@erik_squires good point, never had a boom box, but I did have JBL 6x9's with an Alpine head and amp in the trunk - that was fun


I have been frustrated by the same thing, but of course there is nothing you can do to fix it. Unless someone can get hold of the analog tapes and remix everything.


Responding to VH1, Boston, Who’s Next.

I have those 3 on original pressings and they’re fantastic.

These are LP only listening albums.

VH1 was produced by Ted Templeman who is behind many classic albums.

Boston debut was overseen by Tom Sholz who was an SQ fanatic

Who’s Next-Glyn Johns also has done just about  everyone who’s anyone during the R&R heyday.

If you're not hearing rockin bass on Running with the Devil, Smokin and Baba O'riley, you have a lame source recording and or your setup is not dialed in.

And thats WITHOUT ridiculous cables, fuses, tweaky gizmos or other audiophool gadgets.

Bass and drums are in full effect on those tracks.

The Who “Live at Leeds” is a terrific recording (same for Live at Hull and Isle of Wight).

VH III has fine sonics.

In original recordings the bass is balanced within the mix in most cases. I think those who don't hear enough bass have gotten used to today's remasters with their loud brickwalled low-end. There's lots of bass now but it lacks the detail and definition of original recordings.

Bass takes up a lot of room on a vinyl record, reducing play time. Digital media doesn't suffer from that issue. 

Responding to the comments so far...

I've listened to most of my rock examples on vinyl and digital. VH 1 was a digital remaster (Qobuz).

The vinyl examples are not remasters, but also not original pressings. Another example is a MOFI Master of the Cars (debut album) - sounds really nice but bass is just OK - tight and detailed but not room-filling if that makes sense.

Breaking Silence (I have a relatively new pressing of the 2012 re-issue but it was originally recorded in 1992) - was a very well recorded session and the lower end sounds full, rich and detailed.

Many old Jazz recordings, the double bass often sounds rich and full.

To clarify, I'm not saying there is no bass, I guess they are just not leveraging my subs as much. 

The system is dialed in, or I wouldn't be getting such a full range response with other recordings, and the bass is not bloated or boomy - I hate that.

I will try turning up the crossover a couple of clicks and having another listen though.

The Who “Live at Leeds” is a terrific recording (same for Live at Hull and Isle of Wight).

VH III has fine sonics.

I'll give these a try, thanks for the suggestions.



I agree that something is amiss in your set up. Watch out if using a Server/Streamer (greater compression). vs. a CD/SACD player. I own all of those discs (CD), AC/DC, Boston, Def Leppard, VH 1, and The Who's Next, there is plenty of Bass / low end. Check all Cable/Cord connections.


Happy Listening!

Thanks jayfant but it’s not my system. As I mentioned several of the examples are vinyl. 

Here is another example: I’ve got a lot of Tom Petty on vinyl but often stream for convenience and the bass is great on either medium.

I do not have a CD/Sacd player.

I plan on testing the suggested tracks and playing with the sub crossover levels though - could need a slightly higher setting for tracks with more prominent mid-bass 

I listen to rock to and I do agree with how the recording sound but keep in mind the nature of rock music does emphasize much in midrange frequency where our hearing our more sensitive.  Keep that in mind. 

Did some quick testing using Running with the Devil:

  • Qobuz only (dont have vinyl)
  • Remastered HR version and "Digital 45" CD

D45 was a bit better, both with and without 80Hz sub-pass on, adding gain and volume to subs (separately). Still just OK

and Baba O’Reilly.

  • Qobuz HR and vinyl (2015 reissue)

Vinyl was a bit better bass-wise, filter/gain adjustments as above, still just OK.

Live at Leads (Qobuz) - similar.

My conclusions...

  • maybe the lower sub-bass frequencies that really fill/pressurize the room simply are not there
  • could be the vinyl (I may try and find a couple of original pressings)
  • could be the streaming files (not much I can do about that - other than get a better streamer which is on the roadmap)
  • could be the speaker/sub combo - I’ve often toyed with the idea of getting a second set of full-range "rock" speakers - for example I’ve heard some vintage Tannoy’s with the 12" dual-concentric that sounded pretty amazing - or maybe some JBLs.

EDIT: other examples why I don't think it's my system - MOFI recordings of Truth, Dire Straits (debut) and DSOTM - all awesome.

It just so happens I was listening to Who's Next this week via Qobuz. I loved the balanced mix of the remaster. Keith Moon's drums killed. And there was enough separation to hear Entwistle's bass.

@lowrider57 Looks like you have a nice system - I don't disagree with you - in hind-sight "lousy" bass was a poor choice of words. 

What's missing is deep, lush bass that I've come to really enjoy that is present in many other rock recordings (and other genres of course).

You are correct there is no low level sub bass in older hard rock. I’d say it’s not much below 80hz. Try recordings with a prolific bassist like Phil Lynott, Jack Bruce, Felix Pappalardi etc. Or Beatles - Come together. If you are running Roon there are 779 recordings of Come Together to try :) Musica Nuda makes a fun version.

I think it may be the recording or even desired sound - I have Boston, LPs, DSD files and can stream lossless and they sonic characteristics are very close yet Boston doesn't have the bass line of Jazz I listen off of Linn Jazz.

There was a lot of variation on LP pressing in the 60's, 70's and early 80's. There was a bunch of different pressing plants just within the USA and there could be a number of reissues the same year as the original release and up to 10 years later due to the large volume of sales. 

I find most of my earlier LP pressing to have a more balanced mix than some of the remasters today but rarely lacking on the bottom end. I have some fantastic new pressings from Analog Productions and MFSL and also remasters from some of the original labels like MCA and Columbia but I do find some of the new remasters to be a little heavy on the bottom end. I'm sure a lot of people like the amped up bottom end but I prefer the more balanced attack of the old original pressings. It's all a matter of personal taste in music. 

Many rock recordings of that era are quite poor - others are quite good. But yea, lots suck.  Many many reasons, one famous one being that several of them were going deaf with traditional old male hearing loss, accelerated by their jobs. Pete Towshend was afamous for over-riding on mixing -- balancing what HE heard. 

Many are also heavily compressed, and the house sound was achived with mix after mix, so you have a 27th generation tape in effect.  Not exactly audiophile purity.

On the other hand, listen to LA Woman, or much Bowie - surprisingly good.

I've noted many times that a huge advantage of streaming digital is that you have access to remastered copies of great old, rock and pop albums. Wile they are not perfect they are all much better - and often that trumps any quibbles you may have with digital. Certainly it does for me - big time.  And i have some VERY good vinyl gear.


The best recordings remain purist.  3 mics and no mixing to speak of. Verve, some lue note, mercury LP etc.  Those are the polar opposite of most rock mixing and production techniques. After all, George Martin was the 5th Beatle.


It all depended on the recordings. Tying all classic rock into one lump won't do it justice. Prime example Tommy Bolin's Private eyes and Teaser, both vinyl from the mid seventies, if you can find better bass anywhere, in any genre, or any period, I would like to know about it.

However the majority of BIG classic rock bands used very average recording methods back then since their name alone was enough to sell records. I find the lesser known bands went much further out of their way to hire better technicians  to get a better quality sound in hope of being discovered. And it is a good thing for me since most of my collection is off the mainstream bands.

@baylinor @itsjustme @relayer101 @overthemoon @gosta 

Thanks. All interesting and meaningful comments.

Quick comment, I have LA Woman on vinyl, I was really surprised how good the SQ is too - bass is great - it's a lot of fun listening to that one cranked.

:-) Yep.  Listen to the remastered MQA on a great DAC. IMpressive.


OTOH so many awesome albums are terrible.


Pink Floyd does a good job.  Much Moody Blues. The Who is mediocre to OK.  Beatles mediocre.Rush downright bad (so sad).

Many of the acoustic versions created by various Grunge bands qre excellent, whereas their studio versions are high energy but have about 3 dB dynamic range. Groll admits it in one of his documentaries but thinks that energy is the point... and he's the artist so i defer to him

Back in the day, when rock was just rock, not "Classic" rock, I had no problems with bass.  Had those huge Cerwin Vega speakers with 15" woofs(bright orange surrounds) and horn tweeters.  My university dorm mates sure heard bass.😋

Lawrence From MI

They were EQ-d with highs in the sky and bass down, almost like forgetting the NAB curve conversion from the master tape... :)  (That was a pun, but quite applicable.)

To get them to neutral, bass can use even as much as +10dB or more, and highs -10dB. I often find 10-14dB difference between the high and lows, to bring them to balance. (Not just rock, think of Madonna's Like a Virgin - cut from 500Hz up with a progressive EQ of -14dB by 2kHz, and the normally 80s sounding song becomes a live concert with Madonna in flesh and blood standing in front of you.)

As far as every day users go, playability on the boom box was a top priority. If the bass had been level, then the boom box woofers would have blown. I remember clearly that even adding 4-6dB of bass and cranking up blew several boom boxes of my friends. Keeping the bass manageable was no joke, an absolute necessity.

Folks with the state of the art high fidelity systems of the days had graphic equalizers, and could crank up the bass... which we all did... every time I saw an equalizer, the bass EQ was always cranked to the max.. human nature.

Also, they cranked the highs up because the b.boxes rolled off very early, and pushing it beyond death was a "nice" way to get the high frequencies to the mass of the end user boom boxes. Again, hifi users elegantly turned down the HF EQ if it bothered them...

So, at the time the pop/rock EQ curve was a win-win for everyone...

Another point with the rolled off bass was that it was intended to be played back at concert level, that's where the bass started to come alive. So, if you experience that bass is good with your system on rock & 80s pop - it should happen only when you really crank it very loud. (This has to do with the Fletcher-Munson curve, how the ear hears - bass balance is totally different at normal levels vs very loud).

(Anther way of saying: when you play back a live concert at a much lower level, the bass will seem almost non-existent, even though that was the exact bass / highs ratio at the concert and there the bass was pounding.)

On modern (and vintage) balanced systems rock will sound at best when either bass is boosted at normal listening levels, or highs cut at concert levels. On the order of 10dB.... unless it was mastered otherwise.

That' my experience ;

I think you need to get very granular about particular pressings. I would assume any copy coming off the presses today is pulled from a digital file (not that this is per se bad) but may not represent the best or even close to the best sound that some of the classic rock records can deliver.

I mentioned in another thread that a visitor got to hear a first UK EMI/Columbia of Jeff Beck’s Truth-- he was stunned at how dimensional and real it sounded compared to all the Epic pressings, UK and US, that are in normal circulation.

The early Sabbaths are best represented on Vertigo Swirl UK- not a cheap option;

I have a fondness for the early pink labels from Island. Crimson’s first album really shines on that pressing- an early one--even though it is noisier on the quiet passages than some of the later copies.

Some albums just can’t get out of their own way but I’ve tried to find the best representations. I’m pretty much full up on classic rock at this point and don’t buy much unless it is to fill a gap.

The market is inflated and the early pressings are pricey and not necessarily in top condition. Give it a few years- more of us will die and the market will open up. Being an optimist about this. :)

PS: that Janis Ian Breaking Silence has crazy heavy bass. A better example is Between the Lines, standard issue Columbia press from the era. That's a good quality record, they just knew how to record and press- Brooks Arthur engineered in a little studio in Rockland County, Columbia could manufacture a decent record. I have an approval pressing of it that sounds identical to the commercial releases you used to be able to find in the bins on the cheap. 

Remember the Metallica album where they mixed the bass player out of the Final Cut because they did not like him snd kicked him out of the band. Think a lot of bad production happened when they let the musicians into the engendering room.

@macg19 LA woman was first Doors album with bass player. All earlier Door had Ray playing bass on keyboard. LA Women is fantastic tic and they never looked back!

Maybe they had Cerwin-Vega systems in the control rooms. That would explain it.

As others have noted what mix/pressing you listen to will matter - a lot. One reason is most mass-market produced albums in the 50s-70s were made to be played on one piece consoles with speakers and turntable all in one cabinet. A big bass presence would bounce the needle right out of the track.


I have a double Wally Boston debut and a 1st pressing Van Halen and the bass (low end) is awesome, perfect! I’m really only "Vinyl"  in the house for music internet radio for my sports and talk shows, CD or Mp3 in the truck for music. VTA and tracking force is dialed in on my turntable and level, just finished the Utrasonic cleaning project for all my LP records.

I have 2 systems, one with Fritz Carbon 7 SE's bookshelves and a SVS sealed 3000 model, and a another with Tekton SE double impacts with an SVS sealed 4000 model, listening to just R&R loudly, NO VINYL, just digital CD and stream Quboz.  AC/DC, Def Leopard, Led Zeppelin, Rush, etc. Bass is just GREAT, Dynamic, tight, and accurate, and as others have stated, you will also run into some disc's or songs that just aren't there sonic ally, as they have mentioned, just poor recordings. Robert TN

Use a sound meter app like decibel on iPhone to measure the actual frequency response with a variety of recordings. Are you seeing response down below 40 hz or so with the recordings you know have extended bass? If not adding a proper spec’ed powered sub that is up to the task for your room and mixing it in using same sound app to measure while adjusting the sub to fill in the missing low end will make a huge difference. The key is to measure, see what’s missing and get a good sub big enough to do the job and fill in the low frequencies, not just add more of what you already have otherwise. After that if you don’t hear the bass it’s just not there to hear in the recordings you expect it to be. That’s assuming electronics used  are up to the task of delivering full range sound down to 20hz which is generally regarded as the practical low end for human ears.  Most good quality modern hifi gear should be up to the task. 

@mapman I use an SPL app on my iPhone routinely to protect my hearing and yes the low end down to 31Hz is prominent.

Did you look at my system?

I also find some older recordings to be light on the bass output. Especially true on some older LP's. I find that simply raising the frequency of the low pass filter and turning up the gain on my sub captures what's missing. 

@macg19 looks like you got the bases pretty well covered.    It does look like a larger room.  Have you ever measured using white noise?   That gives a good idea of frequency response and room acoustics. If white noise is not flat down to 20 hz with the subs in play,  then try adjusting the subs accordingly.  

Then you will be in a very good place to assess bass recording to recording.   Of course each will be different and range from lots of bass to virtually none.  Recordings are what they are.   If you have digital files you could always try remastering things yourself using readily available software like Audacity for example.   I use Audacity to master digital I create from my vinyl record collection. I’m sure there are even better ways.   Just a thought.   Where there’s a will there is often a way. 

@macg19 Tell me a specific classic rock track and I will give it a play and let you know what I hear and also stick the meter on it. 

@dmac67 Also I think it’s worth noting that when producing classic or any pop/rock recording, lots of bass is not always a priority. Producers and engineers and the artists they produce for are looking to emphasize different aspects of their music all the time. There is no audiophile in the room saying that they must maintain the bass levels no matter what. Recordings are what they are ie what the makers want them to be. It’s not a democratic process where the audiophile party rules.

The OP may want to get acquainted with discogs to learn what to look for in a period press. 

It's all in the matrix.

Arguably, a first press IS the definitive version of any album.

Van Halen's debut isn't a rare, obscure album to find. The rub is finding one that's unmolested. 

Van Halen – Van Halen (1978, Winchester Press, Vinyl) - Discogs

Boston – Boston (1976, Vinyl) - Discogs

The Who – Who's Next (1971, Vinyl) - Discogs

Find one for cheap in the bins,or pay for someone going thru a dozen used copies to find "the one"  @better-records.com



@mapman I don’t have a white noise generator and the SPL app only measures down to 31Hz, so thanks for the offer!

Baba O’Reilly (I’ve tried HR Quobuz and I have it on vinyl) and VH 1 Running with the Devil and Eruption (Quobuz - no vinyl)

But I really do think it’s the recordings AND the SQ/dynamics that I now prefer.

EDIT: and as someone pointed out some of this is meant to be played really loud, and I try to keep peaks below 90dB

Back in the day my car had a better stereo than my home (JBL 6x9s - no one had subs back then with an Alpine head and amp in the trunk) and what I have today far surpasses anything prior - and it’s all relatively new gear.

@dmac67 if you search I was able to find internet radio stations that play white noise last time I looked.

31hz isn’t perfect but still very useful.  Many hifis sans sub start to roll off well before that  especially in larger rooms.  The key is to keep the room response at your listening spot as extended and flat as possible.  That enables every inkling of bass to be heard at proper levels  

I’ll give Baba a play and report back.


Baba O Riley

I listened in two rooms off same system Cambridge Evo 150 to kef ls50 metas + sub in smaller 12x12 room and in adjacent much larger L shaped room with more full range Ohm F5s, no sub.

In both cases the track starts to roll off steeply below 50-60 hz. When Entwhistle strikes the bass notes during the main riff there is a peak again in the 50-60 hz range, but the same rolloff below that. There is some action down to below 30hz but not much that one would hear. Great tune! Tasteful but limited use of electric bass helps make the main riff hit home and keeps things rolling. That’s about it. No pipe organs……😉