Thursday, May 14, 2020

Great Sounding Recordings

I don't really think of myself as an audiophile, but by some definition I must be one. I think of myself these days as a guy that loves music and has a much better than average stereo system. But how I got that system was by being an audiophile. Maybe I should define what I mean by an audiophile. To me, an audiophile is someone who is expressly interested in the sound that an audio system produces, and who more than likely wants that system to achieve something important to them. Using that definition, I was an audiophile back some twenty years ago when I started to put the system together that I now own. The system I have now was assembled between 2002 and 2009 for the most part, with vinyl playback gear upgraded in 2015 (although what I had in 2009 played vinyl just fine, but not as just fine as now). You can check out the kit at this post and you can read all of my equipment-related posts by using the Stereo Equipment label.

When I went shopping for speakers, which I contend is the most important buying choice when it comes to your stereo system, I recorded (on my Marantz CD recorder- which I miss dearly, but it died) a disc of songs that I felt would help me evaluate speaker systems. Naturally, I choose material I was familiar with, but also material that I thought would help me evaluate a speaker system by challenging that system to make the songs sound great. An exceptional recording was usually involved, but not really all the time. Some of the material challenged systems to provide what the late great Art Dudley would call rhythm and pacing. This is a highly underrated quality, and it is nebulous to some degree, but there are systems that can make big loud beautiful sound and yet they do not swing or rock.

I recorded the Instrumental Introduction To Don't Look Down, a track from Lindsey Buckingham's Out Of The Cradle at eight different dB levels so that I could be assured of listening to the music at similar volumes. This is important, because louder music will inevitably sound more impressive than less loud presentations. These tracks allowed me to get the overall volume of the system similar from audition to audition of speakers. Other than that technical issue, the tracks on my original "Audition Disc" included the following, with the reason for their being included:

Boats To Build by Guy Clark from Boats To Build- beautiful acoustic guitar, open space in the presentation, excellent vocals with a chesty vocal presentation that some speakers will overemphasize.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters by Eva Cassidy from Live At Blues Alley - amazing female vocals, great bass with definition, very dynamic recording that goes from soft to quite forceful.

Rock My Soul by Elvin Bishop, recorded from Rock My Soul vinyl - this songs rocks and swings, and not every system can make it happen. There's great bass, and there's an organ trill late in the song that can reveal irritating treble in some systems.

The Song Remembers When by Trisha Yearwood from The Song Remembers When - more female vocals (audiophiles love female vocals), and again, a dynamic presentation that swells in the crescendos. Delicate instruments in the early part of the song, and emotional content that can be "too sterile" with some systems.

Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey by the Beatles from The Beatles - I'm not sure if this was a great choice, but the cowbell and the drive of this song revealed some systems as too dry. If the system couldn't do rhythm, it showed on this track.

Song Of The Wind by Santana, recorded from Caravanserai vinyl - maybe the most important track on the disc. The searing guitar showed some speakers as strident, or harsh, in the treble. The percussion and organ trills in the early part of the track showed just how much inner detail could be revealed by a speaker system. And it rocks.

I Don't Want To Lose You Yet by Steve Earle from Transcendental Blues - not a great choice for the audition. Too much compression in the recording. Great song though.

I Got You (I Feel Good) by James Brown from Star Time - Rhythm and pacing. If you can't do this song, you got no soul, no swing.

Don't Look Down by Lindsey Buckingham from Out Of The Cradle - nicely recorded acoustic guitar, good overall sonics.

Corner Pocket and Lara's Theme from The Harry James Big Band King James Version direct-to-disc vinyl recording - hot, dynamic, horns in your face presentation. Any speaker worth owning should make this sound alive and super-hot. An amazing recording.

Hayden Quartet in G major, first movement, by The Emerson String Quartet from Hayden String Quartets - breathtaking quartet reveals any flaws with perfect acoustic instrumental recording.

Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G minor, fourth movement, by James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (not sure of the source, maybe a Stereophile test CD?) - just a pristine classical recording, you should feel like your in the hall.

And that is the music I listened to when I decided to buy the Reference 3A MM deCapo-i speakers that I enjoy to this day.

I have amassed a long list since then of other worthy contenders that I might use to evaluate systems if I were back in the market. I listened to a revised Audition Disc when I visited Paragon back in 2014 and heard over $200,000 worth of stereo system.

Here's more exceptionally recorded music that will sound great on a good system and will test the abilities of any music reproduction. And they are also great performances.
Comes Love by The John Cocuzzi Quintet from Swingin' And Burnin'.
Paz by Tom Harrel from Wise Children.
Besame Mucho by The Frank And Joe Show featuring Jane Monheit from 331/3.
For Joy by The Sons Of Champlin from Hip Li'l Dreams.
First We Take Manhattan by Jennifer Warnes (with Stevie Ray Vaughn) from Famous Blue Raincoat - This may be the single best track to hear if you want to evaluate a system. Audiophiles have praised it forever, and for good reason. The rest of the first side is equally perfect, and Warnes' The Well from 2001 is also a magnificent recording. The Nightingale and the title track are perfect. You should get to know Jennifer Warnes' work if you haven't already.
Under The Boardwalk by Rickie Lee Jones from Girl At Her Volcano. I have the original 10-inch vinyl, and the dynamics and the vocals on this track are awe-inspiring.
Gloria's Step by Bill Evans from Sunday At The Village Vangard. The perfect piano trio.
Statesboro Blues by The Allman Brothers from At Fillmore East.
This Will Be Our Year by Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis from Our Year.
I wanted to include some of that "Eighties sheen", because some of it was good, but also, it presents a big sound from an in-your-face perspective.
Swallowed By The Cracks by David + David from Boomtown.
Every Time You Go Away by Paul Young from Secrets Of Association.

I rarely listen critically any more. I'd rather listen to music than pay attention to the recording or how well the system sounds. But I still catch myself when the music is so wonderfully recorded and presented.

No comments:

Post a Comment