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CD Editions: Polydor 1987? (831 596-2), Polar 1988 (POLCD 262), Polydor 1997 (533 983-2)*, Polar 2001 (549 952-2/960-2), Polar 2005 (Part of CSR boxset)

* 1999 US Polydor is a clone of this disc [minus bonus tracks]

Abba is the first album that showcased the proper Abba sound: lots of harmonies, multiple overdubs and a Spector-esque wall of sound with many details and subtleties hidden within. For instance, if you put 'Bang-A-Boomerang' out of phase (using a centre pan removal tool or the karoke button on some CD players), you'll hear what sounds like a saxophone which is otherwise buried in the mix.

Despite containing hits such as Mamma Mia and SOS, Abba took a surprisingly long time to arrive on CD and indeed was the final original album to be released internationally in the 1980s (Ring Ring and Waterloo made their international CD debut in 1992).

The first CD versions were the first Polydor version (possibly 1987) and a Polar edition from 1988. Both versions came from whatever tapes the record labels had to hand although Polydor, which had clearly decided not to release Waterloo and Ring Ring, added five bonus tracks from those two albums, which were culled from its master tapes of an unknown compilation.

Overall, the CD sounded very similar to the label's later versions of Ring Ring and Waterloo: harshly equalised and slightly noisy, especially the five bonus tracks.

A year or so later, Polar finally produced its own version for domestic consumption. Again, this version was a warts and all transfer of whatever tape came to hand. However, in this case, the tape used was far superior to the Polydor version and the CD sounds better than any subsequent release.

The tape used for the Polar CD appears to be of an unusual low generation (by Abba CD standards). While it is quieter than other releases, it has a better stereo image, punchier bass [this is especially apparent during Mamma Mia] and reveals more detail than them. Unfortunately, of all the 1988 Polar Abba CDs, it seems to be the hardest to find.

The album was first remastered in 1997 by Jon Astley and Michael B Tretow at Abbey Road Studios in London. Astley compressed the sound to reduce its dynamic range, hence allowing him to make it louder.

He also applied heavy noise reduction [probably using the CEDAR system] and altered the original equalisation to suit his tastes.

Abba was among the albums that suffered worse in this process, particularly one of its bonus tracks, Medley (1978 version), which was overcompressed and badly clipped.

Surprisingly, Astley also reduced the amount of bass when reequalising the album, which weakened the impact of the album's wall of sound production.

When the remasters were reissued in 2001, Astley added more noise reduction processing and altered the equalisation again, restoring some of the loss bass, resulting in a marginal improvement in sound quality. Medley was also no longer overcompressed.

In 2005, the album was revisited again as part of the Complete Recordings Boxset. Henrik Jonsson of Masters of Audio, Stockholm, did the remastering this time, using a similar tape to the 1988 Polar

Jonsson produced a remaster that was louder than the Astley remasters but didn't seem to compromise the dynamic range. He also didn't use any noise reduction.

The overall result was a louder, slightly harsher version of the sound showcased on the 1988 Polar. As with most of the CSR remasters, its not perfect but its the best sounding readily available on CD.

A note on selected compilations:
The Abba tracks featured on the boxset Thank You For The Music (1994) were remastered by Michael B Tretow, whose work tended to be too bright.
Greatest Hits (Atlantic 1984) also features some Abba tracks in unremastered form. Neither compilation sounds as good as the 1988 Polar

The verdict:
Best sounding: 1988 Polar [one of the best Abba CD's ever made]
2nd: 2005 CSR [too loud but quite good]
3rd: 1987 Polydor [a distant third]

Track by track:
The 1988 Polar features the best version of all the tracks.

This text was written by Ken Griffin from Dublin, Ireland as part of a series of audiophile posts to mailing list ABBAMAIL and is reprinted here with kind permission by Ken.


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