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Major CD Editions: Polydor 1982 (800 011-2)*, Polydor 1997 (533 978-2)**, Polar 2001 (549 957-2/965-2), Polar 2005 (Part of CSR boxset)

* Polar 1983 (POLCD 342) and Atlantic 1984 (19332) are clones of this disc. Other local (eg Japanese) pre-1997 editions should also be clones. ** 1999 US Polydor is a clone of this disc [minus bonus tracks]

The Visitors was the first Abba CD ever produced. Indeed, it was the arguably first Pop CD ever produced. At the time it was produced in 1982, CDs were so new that Polar Music didn't even have its own CD player or the facilities to master CDs.

So the task fell to PolyGram, which produced the CD version of The Visitors from a copy of the album which was sent to it by Polar in 1981. It was then presented, with its artwork modified by PolyGram, as a fait accompli to Bjorn, Benny and Stig Anderson by PolyGram boss Jan Timmer in October 1982.

They were so impressed with the results that PolyGram were contracted to produce the official Polar CD versions of all Abba's albums from Arrival to The Singles: The First Ten Years, seemingly with little intervention from Sweden.

The original CD version of The Visitors bears all the hallmarks of the work of a company desperate to (i) showcase the new CD format and (ii) secure what it hoped would be a lucrative Abba CD pressing contract.

PolyGram chose The Visitors because it felt that, being digitally recorded for the most part, it had the best sound quality of any Abba album.

The resulting transfer ranks as one of the best Abba CDs ever issued. A straight copy of the contents of PolyGram's digital master, the mastering reveals the unusually wide dynamic range of recordings produced using the 3M digital recording system.

The results sound slightly quieter in general than other Abba CDs but that's because the full dynamic range is being used. The loud sections are actually rendered as loud as they can be without using compression or distorting them. But unlike many subsequent CDs, the quieter sections were not boosted using compression to make them louder.

As it was taken from a digital master, there is no noise, even on the three tracks recorded using analogue technology. When All Is Said And Done does suffer from some high-end screeching towards the end of its intro but this has appeared on every mastering since its release.

Despite now well-documented difficulties in getting 3M tapes to play without random dropouts, there are none on the 1982 mastering. Tape generation issues are largely irrelevant with digital recordings as each copy should be a clone of the original, unless deliberately altered.

Fifteen years later, the album was remastered 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.

Despite its status as a digital recording, he applied heavy noise reduction to all tracks. This is most noticable on the snares during Soldiers, which sound dead on the 1997 remasters compared with other releases.

Early copies of the 1997 remasters also featured a notorious error where the volume of I Let The Music Speak suddenly increased mid-song. This was later fixed. The equalisation of all tracks was also altered.

When the remasters were reissued in 2001, Astley added more noise reduction and altered the equalisation again.

In 2005, the album was revisited again as part of the Complete Recordings Boxset by Henrik Jonsson of Masters of Audio, Stockholm.

Jonsson's remaster was louder than previous editions but didn't compromise the dynamic range as much as Astley's two remasters. He didn't use any noise reduction or alter the equalisation.

The overall result is good for casual listening but does not fare well in close comparison with the original stunningly clear CD version, particularly if you are prepared to crank up the volume on your player for the 1982 mastering.

A note on selected compilations:
Various tracks from the Visitors have appeared on many compilations over the years. Most sound practically indentical to the 1982 mastering, which is hardly surprising given the digital source material involved.

In the early 1990s, Michael B Tretow remastered some tracks on the album for Abba Gold (1992), More Abba Gold (1993) and Thank You For The Music (1994). These tracks do not suffer from the excessive treble of some of his remastering work but the overall results are slightly inferior to the 1982 mastering.

Incidentally, however, More Abba Gold in its original 1993 edition, featured a rare promotional edit of The Visitors, which has not appeared on any other CD.

The verdict:
Best sounding: 1982 Polydor
2nd: 2005 CSR
3rd: 2001 Polar [a very distant third]

Track by track:
The 1982 Polydor features the best versions of all 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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