Why recordings made before 1965 sound better.


I’ve brought ht up this topic before, and I believe my point was misunderstood. so, I’m trying again.

Many A’goners have commented that recordings originating in the late 50’s and early 60’s which have been transferred to CDs sound particularly open with better soundstaging than those produced later.
Ray Dolby invented his noise reduction system in 1965 to eliminate what was considered annoying tape hiss transferred to records of the time. The principle was to manipulate the tonal structure so as to reduce this external noise:

“The Dolby B consumer noise-reduction system works by compressing and increasing the volume of low-level high-frequency sounds during recording and correspondingly reversing the process during playback. This high-frequency round turn reduces the audible level of tape hiss.”

‘Dolby A and C work similarly.

I maintain that recordings made prior to 1965 without Dolby sound freer and more open because the original tonal structure has not been altered and manipulated.


Much more than Dolby signal processing happened around 1965.  Mixing consoles got bigger and switched from tube to solid state.  Microphone went from tubes to transistors.  Tape decks also became solid state.  But the biggest change was the widespread use of multi-track recording techniques.  It effectively severed the recording process from the mixing stage.  No longer did artists have to live perform the recording.  A song could now be built up track by track with overdubbing and then using a console mixed into a coherent recording.  The L/R pan control was used to place the track with the stereo stage.  At first it was 8 tracks, then 16 and 24 tracks became the standard recorder.  Mixing console grew proportionately and 32+ tracks became the norm.  Multi-track gives the artists and engineer far more control, but it loses the organic simplicity of 2 or 3 track recordings.

Totally in agreement with all of the above.

I just wanted to concentrate on the Dolby component however.

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In the 70's & 80's I was highly involved with recording my albums on cassette. I did this mostly for my cars & trucks because I loved to listen while driving. I used good Teac 3 head machines and my tapes always sounded much better than any pre- recorded tape. Dolby B & C were always available for me to use. DBX also. but didn't like it either. But there was a distinct difference between w/Dolby & w/o Dolby, the later always being better

I've been around long enough to see all the processing that has been tried with recording music and have come to conclude that the less processing, be it analog or digital, the more natural music sounds. I've also played music (drums & vocals) and attended enough clubs & concerts to know what music should sound like. Now if only I could find  the good old R&B from Motown rt al that wasn't run through  Phil Spector's  "wall of Sound" processing I'd feel like I'd hit the jackpot. What a shame that its only fit to play on a boom box

SO interesting. I'm reminded of that fine Muscle Shoals documentary, though I think that Muscle Shoals was probably post-1965.

I'm not sure if it's realistic to try to recreate that early sound, pre-Dolby and pre-multitrack and pre SS, though I bet some artists have tried. I wonder what contemporary audiences would do with that sound.

Difficult to say why, but I never liked Dolby (B or C) on any of the tape decks I used.

Even today's mastering software such as Nonoise seems to behind sonic fingerprint. And not a pleasant one at that.

The science of recording tells us that today's technology is far advanced compared to that of yesteryear, yet the recordings often tell us different.

I always assumed it was tubes in recording studio responsible for vast majority of difference, early SS not so good. I'd think you'd have to directly compare recordings both produced in tube based studio, one with dolby, other not. Dolby came in around same time most studios switching to SS, so is it the Dolby or SS? Without something in recording notes pertaining to Dolby, how are we to know?


And then the multi tracking creates synthetic sound stage. When I think of the 50's and 60's recording I love, I'm thinking about the virtual live in studio recordings. Natural ambience, timbre, can't beat these for performers in room sense on playback.

Part of it was that stereo lps were relatively new and still a novelty and records were often marketed and sold based on sound quality.  It was the golden age of vinyl. Then the novelty wore off and results became a lot more mixed.


You raise a fair point. My feeling, though, is that the tubes produced a warmer sound than solid state, whereas the spatial element in recordings was compromised by Dolby interfering with the natural overtones of the music. By compressing and replacing the high frequencies the result is an artificial recreation of the natural sound.The openness of pre Dolby recordings is witness to that. It’s simply more real.

When did the vinyl become thinner? Hard to believe that didn't impact the sound. 

Neither Amos nor Andy.

it is a common misperception that digital noise reduction [sonic solutions NONOISE, CEDAR et al] per se,  "harms the music" - it ONLY does so when it is misapplied by a cloth-eared ham-handed audio restoration technician. having used these tools for 3+ decades now i can tell you that they are godsends for musical enjoyment of crackly hissy rumbly old phonograph recordings esp. those on 78. this rant out of the way, i can say that it is the ART of recording and not just the TOOLS of recording that matters more in terms of sound quality. i've heard well-done dolby A recordings that had just as much "air" as ones made a few years before dolby A came on the scene.  ya just gotta do the job right in the first place. 

Early stereo recordings of orchestral material might sound better because a few of the best recording engineers of that era were simply trying to capture what the conductor and musicians were creating within the great sounding venues of that time as opposed to "creating" something of their own.  The more simplistic miking techniques they employed went a long way to capturing the spatial quality of the performance.  Most of the early stereo recordings were mastered on triple track 1/2" recorders like the Ampex 300 or RCA RT-21 machines and were very carefully mixed down to the 2 channel sub-masters used to cut the LP's.  Tape hiss and speed variations were audible, but not objectionable with most performances.  In an effort to minimize these issues, 35mm magnetic film recorders were modified to record three 200 mil tracks which were over twice the track width of those on tape, increasing the S/N ratio significantly. The film moved at 18" per second by means of a sprocket driven drive system that virtually eliminated wow and flutter.  The media for that technique was prohibitively expensive, but LP's cut from those masters are pretty impressive.  I'll avoid the tube vs. solid state debate, but maintain that it was mostly miking technique that made the difference.  2 or 3 well placed mics were all that, in most instances, were needed to do the job.  Every additional mic added could potentially spoil the Vichyssoise and guys like Lewis Layton, Bob Fine and Ken Wilkinson knew this well.   The maestro and musicians did the best job of balancing everything. The job of the recording engineer was simply to capture the performance.     

Hypoman nailed it. I once shared a house with an amateur recordist who recorded a local orchestra for his own personal library of master tapes. He used a Nakamichi Tri-mic setup with CP1 omni capsules, a Revox A77 and a DBX compander. Those tapes sounded amazing on my system then featuring Maggie MG3s and an array if DIY subs. No noise, no gain-riding, no overload during crescendos, fantastic string and brass tone. He was an early adopter of PCM too, switching to a Nak version of the Sony PCM-F1 and a portable Betamax. 
No appreciable loss of quality with that rig. It’s all in the micing. 

When Dynaflex records appeared, I recall  

their sound quality was thinner. That was the mid 


Dolby was for TAPES, particularly Cassette Tapes, NOT LPs.

And, prior to improvements in tape formulations and tape mechanisms.


All Tapes make Hiss, and Dolby B was developed for the noisiest: small 1/8" wide Cassette Tapes, running at very slow 1-7/8" IPS.


The narrower the track (less magnetic material) and/or the slower the speed (also less magnetic material), the higher amount of noise i.e. Signal to Noise Ratio!!!

Master Example: 1" wide 30 IPS. Some used 35mm 1-3/8" wide.

Cassettes were originally made for dictation, they ran 1 mono track one direction at 1-7/8 IPS. Then manually reverse, 2 mono tracks at 1-7/8 IPS.

Next: 2 forward tracks: Stereo; and then 4 even narrower tracks on 1/8" wide tape two forward and two reverse, still only 1-7/8 IPS.

Next, auto reverse, and either a 2 track head that spun around, or separate forward and separate reverse heads.

A piece of crap format to begin with, made acceptable, and even better than that by all subsequent advances, and the ability to make your own tapes was a genuine treat. Dual decks, dubbing, OMG the freedom was intoxicating.

similarly 8 track cartridges, before cassettes, the ultimate piece of crap, were initially made for use in radio stations for advertisements (not much tape (i.e. less weight thus less force/abuse involved), And a moving head with serious alignment problems. But, their PORTABILITY was a revolution!

8 tracks were meant to be thrown away when that ad campaign was over). essentially same width track as cassettes (8 tracks on 1/4" wide tape), and twice the speed of cassettes, 3-3/4 IPs. Never advanced like Cassettes did.

The beloved consumer loved portability and like mp3, accepted reduced quality for quantity, reduced cost.

improvements along the way: better tape formulations, different bias types, more precise mechanisms, 6 heads AND Dolby or DBX noise reduction combined to yield ’better and better’ results from Cassettes


So, regarding Dolby, as it relates to LPs, is not so easy to decipher.

Let’s not forget, early auto systems weren’t great either.


rvpiano, from your comments I'm not sure you understand how Dolby works.  It boosts selected low level signals during recording and lowers them during playback.  There's no replacing of high frequencies.

Dolby WAS for LPs. The tapes on which the music was recorded, before being cut to LP, were done with Dolby A. The extra two processing steps could not help but to compromise SQ, but for the reduction in hiss. What rvpiano has described has been written of over a long number of years.

Dolby A is very complicated and works on the entire spectrum.

On the older recordings, whether in LP or CD form, you can hear the tape hiss. On the later ones you cannot. Of course, there are other post-production anti-hissing devices that may be in use to mitigate this.

Of course, as has been said, earlier recordings were made with much simpler techniques, to wit, fewer and very carefully placed microphones. That may also account for an airier presentation.


... similarly 8 track cartridges, before cassettes, the ultimate piece of crap, were initially made for use in radio stations for advertisements (not much tape (i.e. less weight thus less force/abuse involved), And a moving head with serious alignment problems. But, their PORTABILITY was a revolution! 8 tracks were meant to be thrown away when that ad campaign was over ...

That is not correct. Broadcast carts are similar to 8-track cartridges but have some distinct differences. First, they run at 7.5 ips. (And some ran at 15 ips.) Unlike the 8-track, the broadcast cart has no rubber roller. Instead, the roller pivots up into the cart from the player itself, and then presses the tape against the capstan. Also unlike 8-track, tape heads are fixed in cart machine.

Most cart machines were either mono with a second track reserved for cue tones, or 2-track stereo with a third track for the cue tones. And they weren’t disposable, but were bulk erased and re-used.

The best cart machines were very, very good.

Dolby noise reduction solved several problems that plagued early analog magnetic recording.  Prior to Dolby, it was of critical importance to maximize record levels  in order to avoid excessive amounts of tape hiss and to achieve the greatest dynamic range that the tape was capable of.  Unfortunately, this came at a price.  If you hit the tape too hard, the tape would get saturated and would clip (although gently) the loudest portions of the signal.  Then you had the problem of print through, the propensity of loud portions of the program to impart a ghost image of itself on the next layer of tape (a bit like magnetizing a screw driver by rubbing it on something magnetic).  There was also the issue of additional distortion experienced at higher levels of modulation.  When Dolby was introduced, it was then possible to increase the dynamic range possible by lowering the noise floor (tape hiss) amongst other things.  Tape manufacturers were introducing new, more highly doped oxide coatings that could withstand higher levels of modulation before clipping and backing treatments that would reduce static and print through to a degree.  It was a technological race to reduce noise and expand the dynamic range possible.  This was even more important in small tape formats like the compact cassette where slow speed and narrow track width presented even more of a challenge.  Of course when digital recording became a reality, so many of the problems of analog magnetic recording were at last overcome.  The constant maintenance and alignment needed and the associated cost thereof were certainly not missed.            

Haven't read this whole thread but just though I'd chime in with this ditty.

Back when I had a pretty good Denon cassette recording machine... you know, when dinosaurs roamed the land... I used to record cassettes to play in my car's cassette player and for other folks who wanted to play tunes in their car's cassette players.  My machine had Dolby B & C and something, as I recall, that was called HX Pro?  Can't remember for sure.  Anyway, I quickly learned that recording (usually from vinyl but sometimes I used mics and recoding live stuff, too) in Dolby was better than not but playing back without Dolby was much better than playback in Dolby. Compress once; not twice.

I agree with oldaudioopjile.  Dolby recording was OK.  Playing your deck with Dolby on took all the air out of your music.  Does anyone want to buy my cassette deck?

From the book of Geoff Emerick "Here, There and Everywhere". About a new SS mixing consol:

 "As it happened, the first week of the Abbey Road sessions were quite peaceful without John and Yoko's presence, though  a bit tentative because of equipment problems. The new mixing console had a lot more bells and whistles on it than the old one, and it gave me the opportunity to put into practice many of the ideas I'd had in mind for years, but  it just didn't sound the same, mainly because it utilized transistor circuitry instead of tubes. George Harrison had a lot of trouble coming to terms with the fact that there was less body in the guitar sound, and Ringo was rightfully concerned about the drum  sound-he was playing as hard as ever, but you didn't hear the same impact. He and I actually had a long conversation about that, which was quite unusual, but after a good deal of experimentation I came to the conclusion that we  simply couldn't match the old Beatles  sound we had be- come used to;  we simply had to accept that this was the best we could achieve with the new equipment.  Personally, I preferred the punchier sound we had gotten out of the old tube console and four-track recorder;  every- thing was sounding mellower now. It seemed like a steр backward, but there was nothing we could do-there was an album to record and we simply had to get on with it.


Interesting points.

Perhaps it is the heavy handedness of certain jobbing engineers that’s the real problem.

I’ve got a couple of oxygen deprived CDs (Nat King Cole and Marilyn Monroe) that have almost been ’nonoised’ to death.

There’s no hiss remaining on either of them - nor is there is wish for me to ever play them back again.

Despite all of the acclaim for the Steve Hoffman Nat King Cole remasters, and they are good, I still prefer some of the versions on the slightly hissy Bear Family box set.

It's borderline sacrilegious to say it, but there's simply more natural bloom and air on some of the tracks.


"ya just gotta do the job right in the first place."

Perhaps someone should have told that to the Beatles remastering team!

No doubt the conversion from tubes to transistors affected the TIMBRE of the sound, but I don’t think it had a lot of bearing on the openness.

I think the openness is the result of the aforementioned mini miking, and the absence of Dolby.


It is not just tubes vs SS.

Before 1965 year record were made with a small amount of microphones, console schematics were much simpler with shorter signal path. The signal path become longer in number of times! And each addition electronic stage adds distortions, deteriorate micro dynamics, transparency and tone of instruments.

Moreover they use natural reverberation of hall or studio room before, but started mix signals from different microphone and add artificial reverberation after. 


@onhwy61 has it right. Done correctly, Dolby does NOT change the original tonal structure (timbre) of instruments or vocalists. It takes the original signal and boosts the high frequencies for recording, in playback reducing the high frequencies by the same amount, thereby restoring the original tonal structure. And the hiss encoded into the recording is simultaneously reduced by the same amount, the very rationale for the Dolby process.

By the way, the RIAA recording and playback curve was invented and employed in much the same way, with the addition of a generous bass cut in LP mastering (to reduce bass-induced groove modulation size), a generous boost in LP playback via your phono stage’s RIAA compensation filter.


thanks for the info about cartridges, I have read in several places over the years that 8 tracks were developed by Lear, for radio ads, so I am guilty of repeating bad info, it's good to know more.

consumer pre-recorded 8 tracks, bad as they are, were a revolution because of portability. the 1st time I took one apart, I couldn't believe the mechanism. how does tape come off the inner diameter and go on the much larger outer diameter? 1 revolution, very different lengths of tape on and off???  took me a while to understand the slip sheet and gradual tightening involved. then yanking the tape up and over the top of the spool of tape, OMG.

They sound better because engineers back then had real talent. Today, it is a lost art, like everything else nowadays...pretty sad. Most, not all, recordings today sound like garbage.

I never understood why multi generation mix downs were accepted as means to an end without any consideration of downgrading quality.


There are many factors entering into the possible answer to the question, "Why do recordings made before 1965 sound better (than, I assume, those made in more recent years)?"

I’ll add my guess to the mix: At that time the electrical grid we relied on was much simpler and less cluttered with appliance-generated noise than there is now - there was no digital hash in the atmosphere or entering our power lines - thus the idea that we needed power-conditioning hadn’t yet entered anyone’s mind (to my knowledge anyway) as an issue to contend with when making recordings. Besides, everything audio was purely analog, so there was no extraneous digital noise being generated. Recordings were pressed onto vinyl discs and/or magnetic-tape reels, and there was simply NO digital processing of any kind anywhere in the recording chain.

1965 was simply a less electrically-polluted era, resulting in purer recordings (when they were done conscientiously, with scrupulous attention to detail at every step in the recording process).

I didn’t read every word above, but I don’t think anyone mentioned the proliferation of digital reverb. I worked in the recording industry and there used to be 1 reverb - a plate reverb kept in a separate room away from vibration. That was it. You either used it in various amounts or not. When the digital reverb era hit, we all went crazy, putting different reverbs on each instrument to get them to sound their best in isolation, not realizing that we were putting every instrument in a different acoustic space by using a different reverb. That sound became the norm throughout the 80’s and nobody ever seemed to realize the fact because the reverbs sounded so great. But we lost the humanity of the music that the older recordings made with the 1 reverb often had.

I never understood why multi generation mix downs were accepted as means to an end without any consideration of downgrading quality.

Consideration was given to generational loss, but it was balanced against the extra freedom allowed to the artists/producers/engineers by the technology.  Here's a link to how Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" was recorded.  In practice this type of music can only be created one track at a time and then mixed into the final song.

Just listening to a monophonic recording of violin and piano from 1951, on Idagio. The openness and air around the instruments is more pronounced than on many stereo recordings made of the same forces after 1965.

They don't sound better to me, because I don't like most music recorded before 1965! 😁

I absolutely agree. Dolby gets a bad rap because it was often so poorly implemented. Because of the way Dolby dynamically applies compression on a sliding band, the system requires tight calibration between the recorder and the exact tape formulation used. This includes the correct level of bias while recording to ensure a flat response. Further, the recorder and Dolby circuit must be aligned so that the tape sees the proper Dolby level. If any of these calibrations are off, the circuit can’t work properly.

Many cheap consumer recorders were so poorly made that they could not reliably maintain alignment. And many users used various tape formulations without consideration of whether they were appropriate to their decks. So results were all over the place.

I still have my Nak deck and outboard NR-200 Dolby B/C encoder/decoder. It’s amazing how good some of my old tapes can still sound. Of course it’s mostly just a novelty now.

By the way, the RIAA recording and playback curve was invented and employed in much the same way ...

Hmmm, yes and no. The RIAA curve is fixed. Dolby NR is a dynamic process.

Good point @cleeds. The dynamic element in Dolby makes it more difficult to pull of perfectly than does the static RIAA. I was speaking in terms of the boosting and cutting of frequency bands, used in both Dolby and RIAA filters.

When I bought my first Revox A77 in 1973 (a Mk.3), I bought an Advent 100A stand-alone Dolby unit, but found the Revox quiet enough (I had my dealer---Walter Davies, later known for his LAST record preservative---bias the deck with the reel of Maxell tape I provided him with) so as to make Dolby unnecessary.

I bought myself a pair of the small-capsule condenser mics J. Gordon Holt had very positively reviewed in Stereophile, along with the little Sony mixer he himself used for his live recordings (he was a good engineer), and made live recordings myself. It was shocking to hear how much better they sounded than did almost all my LP’s!

I just popped onto the ttbl the first ? James Taylor vinyl , The Original Flying Machine.  Circa 1967.  I think tubes, no dolby, no fancy mixing multi track consoles all are part of it.  This vinyl sounds like it was recorded in a real place, not a sound booth, and if I were a musician I could tell you if the geetars had gut or steel strings.  How big the kick drum is.  I have been digging thu hundreds of vinyls from around the world.  It is amazing what is on some of them before SS consoles.  Quality vinyl helps.  Not reground vinyl.  Mastering for AM radio certainly lowered the bar. Mastering for CD changed the bar, but did not really raise it back up too high.  Some CDs are great tho.  Any opera fans, I recommend any CD from Inessa Galante.  Chansons Yiddish Tendresses et Rage on Ocora / Harmonia Mundi CD or Harm Mund LP.  Back to LP, John Mayall live in a cafe famous The Turning Point 1a stamper is justifiably famous.  Probably w/o ss console.  Elektra LP there is a photo of the studio and mikes on the back of Theodore Bikel Sings Jewish Folk Songs.  I don't know the brand names but these are the great mikes that Elektra, Jac Holzman, Fred Hellerman, recorded with.  Have fun!

to cd3181  Old vinyl has a lot more detail that we can retrieve now that we couldn't  10 or 20 yrs ago unless maybe with $50K of equip. Today a ttbl for a few thou, arm the same, cartridge too, we or at least me can hear lots of music not heard before.  And yes good engineers using proper equip helps too.   If you read Pete Townsends autobiography "Who I Am" he goes thru a lot of equipment development that he did to record for The Who.   I read interview with Jim Messina who recorded and engineered some Buff Spring and POCO etc.  Poco 1st album. Picking Up the Pieces, sounds lousy. Tthe next one just title Poco sounds great.  He did it.  When vocalist is recorded separately in a sound booth, the ambience is all gone and you can tell he is not singing with the band. 

Old vinyl has a lot more detail that we can retrieve now that we couldn’t 10 or 20 yrs ago unless maybe with $50K of equip. Today a ttbl for a few thou, arm the same, cartridge too, we or at least me can hear lots of music not heard before.


Not true.

Best turntables, tonearms and cartridges from 80x can compete with any gear of today.

For example, Micro Seiki 5000, 8000, Yamaha 2000, Technics sp10mk3, EMT 950,... turntables. Fidelity Research tonearm.

The same story with more affordable gear.



@rvpiano Great post. I was listening to Dave Brubeck's 'Time Out' vinyl album (Columbia CS8192) which I believe is from 1961 and likely cost a couple dollars back then.  The 1st cut on side 1 (Blue Rondo a La Turk) is so lifelike you swear the musicians are in the room performing for you. I've never heard instruments sound so real such as the bell of the cymbal used extensively on this song. That's a sound not captured correctly on most current recordings.

Everyone's comments about the process and equipment to record back in the 50's & 60's being so different than today's recordings is likely why no current recordings I'm aware of have the same lifelike sound qualities.

This topic is very good and it clearly demonstrate that the tube is better choice  in transmit the sounds.

Great thread. Seems to boil down to simple vs. overdone recording/processing and tube vs. SS equipment.  The switch to SS probably mandated by the recording/processing complexity. 

I see that some in this thread are doubtful of the effect Dolby had on the sound post 1965.  If you listen to acoustic instruments, such as in classical chamber music and orchestral music the difference can clearly be discerned.

 Manipulation of the natural order of overtones, no matter how skillfulI, had an effect on the final product.


I don’t think I have any modern digital recording, whether it’s DSD, hi rez PCM, or an LP from a hi rez digital source, that are as involving as my better analog based LPs. A few examples I don’t like:

1) Saint Saens Symphony 3, Reference Recordings LP, 2015. I don’t understand all the accolades. This is one of the most lifeless, airless recordings I’ve heard.
2) Mahler 2nd, Benjamin Zander, digital, played through my PS Audio Directstream DAC. Sounds lifeless and unsatisfactory.

Some excellent examples

1) Colin Davis Sibelius cycle LPs on Philips, 1979. Absolutely thrilling and engaging sound and performances.

2) Grieg Peer Gynt suite, Philips LP 1968. At the very top of sound quality. Competes with anything I’ve heard.

Notice that these two are not heavy weight vinyl, plus they’re QUIET.

3) NHK, Transcription.  I got lucky enough to pick up #124 recently. These were made from live performances for Japanese broadcast. I don’t know the year, probably mid ‘70s. Technically superior to anything I’ve heard. This was a holy s__ moment when I first heard it.


4) Reiner Sound, Chesky Reissue. Excellent air, very fine detail, very enjoyable with source tape overloading on peaks notwithstanding.

There are many more excellent older recordings in my collection. Some of it is the recording chain: RCO in Amsterdam under Bernard Haitink, all analog is exemplary. Fritz Reiner with Chicago Symphony is also great.