This sounds like something you read on Reddit twice and embraced it like a fact.The gold standard for golden-era trance is the Tiesto Silence/Suburban Train/Goldenscan remix/Tears of the Moon sound.
Don't hear the influence honestly. You have a collab with Airwave on 76, and this isn't it.No matter how much I tried to like it, I couldn't get into 76 other than Precious, and that is largely because it's essentially an Airwave track.
Which is all a perfectly valid reason to prefer something, and knowing you also like pop, it makes sense for you to like these two albums more (believe me, I love them too). Of course they sounded technically more proficient, I mean that's what 5-7 years of producing constantly does.Imagine and Mirage (the album tracks) are some of the most technically complex tracks Armin ever made. They sound like they took Armin weeks to create and arrange, and the production in them is top-notch. There's so much attention to detail and ambiance that you just don't hear in his earlier productions.
I can accept taste, but I just believe Armin' s best and most special work came much earlier. And even though he had some tracks that might sound 'dated' to you, I think you still need to give his (older) discography a chance.