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. 


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.