Component Auditions at Your Dealer: What Recordings to Use and How to Use Them

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Yesterday, I got the newest issue of The Absolute Sound, issue 204, August 2010. In this issue Harry Pearson updates his "Super CD List" for the first time in a few years. Comparing this list with his prior ones, it struck me how stable his set of reference CDs has been over the years. It also struck me that my own set of references has not changed much in recent years. Not only that, but I again noted that HP and I admire a number of the same CDs (e.g., all the recordings HP mentions in the "Additions to CD Sonic Spectaculars" section).

Not that HP and I have nearly identical tastes in recording quality. We don't. For example, in terms of all aspects of the spatial reproduction of music, I believe I have a much higher opinion than HP does of recordings made with Blumlein or other coincident or quasi-coincident (e.g., M-S, X-Y, ORTF) recording techniques, while HP more strongly favors recordings made with widely spaced omnidirectional microphones as his stereophonic references.

Elsewhere on this Forum, I've already given some capsule reviews of some of the few recordings in my collection made with coincident/quasi-coincident techniques. But during dealer auditions it is frequently difficult to get the speakers or listening seat arranged so as to give you the 90-degree subtended angle between the speakers necessary to make such recordings spatially shine. In addition, the percentage of commercial recordings made with such techniques is infinitesimally small. Thus, I think it's wise to be more inclusive in picking music to audition components by. Therefore, here, I'll concentrate primarily on other types of recordings, but keep in mind that I regard recordings made with the coincident/quasi-coincident techniques the real references for stereo space.

I also don't want to give the impression that there are no new fine recordings under the sun. As HP mentions, and as I and other audio writers have noted, recent years since the advent of DVD-A, SACD, and other high-resolution digital formats have actually seen the average quality of classical music CD recordings increase, whereas in other musical areas, with the exception of some nice reissues of old stuff, I'd say that recording quality has been decreasing because of greater compression and brightness and a continued interest in overly close miking. In the classical music arena, sales are so low that the major labels have almost abandoned the field. And that is a good thing for recording quality. Specialty labels seem interested in doing a better job of recording classical music and even the private labels started by major orchestras are doing a better job recording their own talent than the majors used to do. HP's new picks reflect this trend.

But in the interest of long-term familiarity, I've tended to keep using older recordings to audition unfamiliar equipment. This practice gives me a better point of reference, I think, for new listening experiences. Since I've heard these recordings countless times on a wide variety of systems in many different rooms over many years, I think by now I have a pretty good handle on how they can and should sound when all is well or better.

My "travel pack" therefore stays fairly stable over time with recordings that I believe to both be of high quality and which are of enough musical interest to me to avoid my becoming distracted by musical boredom when "testing."

Recordings I Use as References

Here are items which are usually or at least occasionally in my "travel pack" for any given audition session. I make no apology for the fact that some of the recordings mentioned are no longer easily available; if you look hard enough and are willing to pay collector's prices, you can still find most of them. If not otherwise indicated, what I look for in reproduction is overall naturalness of reproduction in terms of tonality and transients, dynamics, and space.

The First Three

King David had 30 "mighty men" as chief among his warriors. But even within these 30, there were "the first three" as well as a couple of other standouts, which I'll call my "second three." Here are my "first three."

Requiem, by John Rutter, from Requiem (Reference Recordings RR-57CD [HDCD])—five stars with a rosette and a bullet—THE best single recording I have for evaluating a very wide range of sonic desiderata, and the music is so gorgeous I never tire of listening to it; I have performed this work as part of a large chorus and have heard it performed by others live and unamplified. I usually start an audition with this one, or at least play a little of it sometime during any audition, most frequently bands 8 and 9. With this and other HDCD recordings in this list, the ability of the playback machine to decode HDCD helps, but is not vital since I'm familiar enough with the sound either way from many, many auditions.

Live at the Village Gate, Clark Terry, especially “Brushes and Brass” and “Hey Mr. Mumbles” (Chesky JD 49)--another wide ranging test using far different music, and this one is even recorded with a coincident stereo miking technique.

The Composer and His Orchestra, “Merry Mount Suite” plus narrative about that piece (especially the full brass section part), Howard Hanson composer and conductor of Eastman Rochester Orchestra (Mercury Living Presence 434 370-2) It’s not TOO bright if the system is right. HP has written much about this recording over the years and I won't add much more. This is one of the least bright of the Mercury Living Presence CD recordings. I have them all. I honestly believe that there was a period when many high-end designers used this recording and a few other Mercury Living Presence and RCA Living Stereo recordings HP has commended continually over the years to voice their products in terms of tonal balance. Whether HP ever meant to commend this recording (or any other Mercury or RCA recording) for its tonal balance is debatable; I will again refer you to the horse's mouth in TAS over the years. What I CAN say is that this one is tonally balanced on a knife's edge. As I've mentioned before, I regard the M40 as being on the "accuracy" edge of the line between musicality and accuracy, while I regard the M40.1 as being on the "musical" edge of that line. This is an ideal recording for distinguishing the balance of the Harbeth Monitor 40 from the 40.1. The M40 will make this one sound bright enough that, while you can appreciate the excellences of this recording, you will probably wish for some high frequency equalization to tame it. The M40.1 will let you hear that the recording is indeed brighter than life, but will allow you to listen with pleasure without EQ.

The "Second Three"

88 Basie Street, Count Basie & His Orchestra (JVCXR-0021-2 [XRCD]) This may be the best recording quality of a Basie band and in the top tier of all big band recordings, I think, as well as being musically quite fine--dealers unfamiliar with this one usually write down the recording information.

The Waverly Consort: An American Journey--Bound for the Promised Land. This is a simply miked recording of a fine small vocal ensemble in a natural concert hall acoustic with a few traditional acoustical instruments. I've heard this group do this sort of material live and unamplified in concert in a familiar hall from a close-up seat.

The King James Version, Coming From a Good Place, and Still Harry After All These Years (the Harry James direct disc recordings for Sheffield Lab, remastered to CD). I've had these recordings since the direct-to-disk days of the 1970s. Alan Shaw of Harbeth greatly respects these recordings and I greatly respect his speakers. The primary mike pickup was coincident stereo; a couple of spot mikes are subtly added. Big band jazz is one of my "things" and I hear such music live and unamplified quite frequently. On the right system, these can sound remarkably real, if you account for the dry studio acoustic and less than stygian bass extension.

The Rest of the Mighty Men

Here are some more I occasionally (or more often) include in my pack for "testing." Again, these are selected so as not to be too musically boring to me. Yes, all the Mercurys are on the bright side. The ones I mention are less so than most, so if they are really irritatingly bright, the system is doing something nasty up top. Many of these are not purist minimally miked recordings, and some contain non-acoustic instruments, but part of testing components/systems is determining how limited your enjoyment will be of even way-above-average commercial recordings of a variety of musical genres. I exclude most SACDs because I often don't know whether the dealer will be able to play them back properly.

Credo, Penderecki (Hanssler). Along with the Rutter Requiem, this is one of the best combinations I've found of very high quality sonics with a wide range of classical vocal and instrumental demonstrations, all on a single disc. For a fairly modern classical work, the music is quite accessible as well.

Modern Cool, Patricia Barber, especially “Postmodern Blues” (Premonition Records PREM-741-2) If the bass end on this just sounds just properly weighty, the system is bass-weak since the bass on this is really juiced up; can the system properly reproduce the loudest acoustic bass plucks in “Postmodern Blues” at naturally high volume for the rest of the music without bottoming the woofers? The SACD version is better in terms of integrating the very powerful bass as well as in other ways that count.

Winds of War and Peace, “Liberty Fanfare,” Lowell Graham conducting National Symphonic Winds (Wilson Audiophile WCD-8823, digitally remastered Gold Zeonex version) This is not really a very natural recording of a wind band. It is bigger than life in terms of dynamics. One of the microphones was way too close to the bass drum on this cut for the band as a whole to sound audience-perspective natural. To capture the full dynamic range of this cut, most of it is presented at quite a low level. But, consequently, this is a great test of low frequency crest factor: if your amp/speakers can reproduce the bass drum hits starting after 1’ 10” without gross distortion while playing the rest of this at anything other than very moderate volumes, you have a super system; dealers who know about this one—few do—are usually embarrassed and sometimes concerned about the post-test physical integrity of the system. A test record to show that you are a real macho-man audiofool, with a sensitive side when followed by the next one.

The Weavers Reunion at Carnegie Hall 1963, (Analogue Productions APFCD 005 Gold Limited Edition) This should demonstrate spine-tingling emotion and realism; does the Pete Seeger/Ronnie Gilbert duet in “Guantanamera” make the short hairs on the back of your neck stand up?

Mancini’s Greatest Hits, Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Henri Mancini Chorus, especially “The Pink Panther,” “Arctic Whale Hunt,” “Drummer’s Delight,” and “Theme from Peter Gunn” (Telarc CD 80183) The fun factor which can be present here often acts as the “clincher” in any judgment call.

Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, “Matilda” and others, Harry Belafonte (Classic LSOCD 6006) I know, I know; some think Belafonte's voice is tonally "colored" here. Yeah, sure. Most of what you may think is Harry overloading the microphones isn’t—it’s actually just that most speakers or other parts of a less-than-well-set-up system can’t handle Harry’s midrange vocal dynamics.

Hanson Conducts Hanson, “Song of Democracy” Howard Hanson composer and conductor of Eastman Rochester Orchestra and Eastman School of Music Chorus (Mercury Living Presence 432 008-2) How is the chorus deployed with respect to the orchestra and can you understand the words without reading the liner notes?

Big Band Basie, Clark Terry, Frank Weiss (Reference Recordings RR-63CD [HDCD]); or Clark Terry Express on the same label, also HDCD. Two VERY fine sounding big band recordings with system-challenging dynamic range and the expanded stage depth you'd hear from the first couple of rows in a good hall.

Buena Vista Social Club, Ry Cooder et al. (World Circuit/Nonesuch 79478-2) Justly famous for its music, this recording should be equally famous for its honest, clean recording quality.

A Meeting by the River, Ry Cooder, V. M. Bhatt (Water Lily Acoustics WLA-CS-29-CD) (Blumlein; relatively accessible Indian ragas) You should hear a lot of bass and that bass should be quite differentiated in terms of its "sliding" bass tone. Blumlein space.

Eileen Farrell Sings Harold Arlen (Reference Recordings RR-30CD) The best sounding of the RR recordings with Farrell, I think. How much do Farrell's intonation problems (she was 70+ when these were made) get in the way of the enthusiastic and very fine sounding music making here?

Pure Gershwin, Michael Feinstein (Elektra 9 60742-2) Well reproduced, this is close to what Feinstein's voice actually sounds like tonally and dynamically from a good seat up close in concert and on a few cuts the band is well recorded as well.

Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie, Ella Fitzgerald (Classic VSCD-4053). Vocals as only Ella can do them; yes, her voice should be a bit on the sibilant bright side.

You Won’t Forget Me, Shirley Horn (Verve Digital 847 482-2) A widely varying jazz program. This has very intimate vocal miking, great trumpet sound, and extraordinarily filligreed cymbal shimmer.

Outside: From the Redwoods, Kenny Loggins (Columbia CK 57391) A guilty pleasure recording for me. This is one of the most realistic sounding live rock/pop recordings I've ever heard. It's recorded outdoors and you should be able to hear that lack of hall acoustics and wide-open, extremely clean sound. Yes, it's on the bright side, but on a good system my reaction is "so what?" and the musical enthusiasm of the players here should carry everything before it. You can't believe it when Loggins says at the conclusion of one breath-taking tune that "we're just getting started," but it's true. The version of "Footloose" here puts the one in the movie totally in the shade, even without the spectacular dance video footage of the movie accompanying it.

One Size Fits All, The Nylons (Open Aire Records OD-0301) How uncorked and dynamic is the acappella energy here?

After Hours, Andre Previn, Joe Pass, Ray Brown (Telarc CD-83302) Surprisingly difficult-to-reproduce piano, bass, guitar trio. The bass should be very legato (not impactful) but tonally clearly "walking," the guitar clean and quite focused, and the piano should be spatially large and should not sound compressed or distorted when it gets loud--Previn really pounds it at times.

Real Hot Jazz, Hubbard, Menza, Sheldon, Dentz (Realtime RT-2002) Okay, the mikes M&K used have a reputation as being colored, but, if so, they are colored in an agreeable, musical way which suits hard-driving jazz like this.

For Duke, Bill Berry & His Ellington All-Stars (M&K RealTime RT-5001) Another M&K musically colored masterwork, a true classic I've owned in one form or another since the 1970s direct-to-disk LP version.

The Sony CD Sampler, Volume One: Jazz, (Sony) This is a very early and now rare not-for-retail-sale demonstration CD. This came with my Sony 701ES, the second Sony CD machine, circa 1983, and still reveals new small sonic details with every system change. Some heavy hitters from the traditional jazz world are here, recorded live in club settings with a lot of "small" audience and environmental sonic minutiae. An acoustic guitar duet and a big-band version of Birdland are my favorite test tunes here.

Stereophile Test CD 1, “Why Hi-Fi Experts Disagree,” (Stereophile STPH 002-2) J. Gordon Holt reads his own essay while recorded by various professional mikes—how clearly are the differences in his voice as recorded by different microphones revealed by the system?

Uncommon Ritual, Meyer, Fleck, Marshall (Sony Classical SK 62891) See HP's comments in the TAS article I cited at the beginning.

Blue Wheat, The Dale Warland Singers (American Choral Catalog ACC 122) Medium-sized choral ensemble I've occasionally heard live and unamplified in a familiar hall. Beautifully blended choral sound should be evident here, with a minimum of digital artifacts and unnatural sibilance.

Hanson Conducts Grainger, Persichetti, & Others, Frederick Fennell conducting Eastman Wind Ensemble (Mercury Living Presence 432 754-2). The musically best symphonic band recording, according to some; I won't disagree. Some critics are even more laudatory. Lots of hiss, but the right system opens the door to this classic recording in a way that allows you to totally disregard any recording shortcomings and enjoy the consummate artistry. And some of the cuts, especially the last, Japanese Dances, are true sonic spectaculars.

The Notables (Cello Acoustic Recordings CAR 008) This is a recording made by Mark Levinson the man of musically amateur teen boys who exhibit great a cappella vocal enthusiasm. I primarily use "Under the Boardwalk/Up on the Roof" as a test. On a tonally natural system, I can listen past the amateur vocals and appreciate a tonal honesty unmatched elsewhere, Water Lilys not excluded! You can substitute any other Cello Acoustic Recordings CD to taste; recordings of piano, brass ensemble, guitar, organ, and drumkit are among the others I have. All these recordings were made with a pair of the best B&K instrumentation mikes in a quasi-ORTF setup. The Red Rose SACD sampler is about equally fine, as is the Music Masters CD "Came So Far" of Guitar Gabriel, and other blues masters (this is the recording Jonathan Valin talks about testing systems with--the Rainy Night in Georgia cut). Most any available recording Mark Levinson the man has been associated with is truly top-of-the-heap in terms of musical naturalness.

Pictures at an Exhibition, Mussorgsky, performed by Jean Guillou, organist (Dorian DOR-90117) The bass here is truly stygian in depth, remarkable in detail, and scary in weight with the right set up.

Carmina Burana, Carl Orff, Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony & Chorus (Telarc CD-80056) (or the later SACD transfer from the SoundStream digital original) Remarkable choral sound, as with a number of other Telarc Robert Shaw/Atlanta recordings. I've sung this piece in performance.

Postcards, The Turtle Creek Chorale (Reference Recordings RR-61CD [HDCD]) Male choral and instrumental spectacular.

Psalms, The Turtle Creek Chorale (Reference Recording RR-86CD [HDCD]) This should be on the bright side if the system is properly balanced, even with HDCD decoding. But the music appeals to me and if the system is right, I get into the words and music despite the brightness.

Live at Blues Alley, Eva Cassidy (Bix Street G2-10046) One of the better club-sound recordings of amplified rock/pop/folk music, I think, and Eva's voice should show tremendous flexibility, singing around the tonal center of notes, together with constantly changing dynamics. She had an incredibly lithe vocalism. Lesser systems will not let you appreciate her vocal art or allow the bass support to be tonally defined or strong enough.

The Forward Look, Red Norvo Quintet (Reference Recordings RR-8CD) This December 31, 1957, live jazz club recording is STILL as fine-sounding a live recording of acoustic jazz as you will find. It sounds incredibly like such a combo would sound from close up and is musically quite fine, very unlike the sonic competition in this genre, Jazz at the Pawnshop.

Fiesta, Dallas Wind Symphony/Dunn (Reference Recordings RR-38CD) Bass drum impact and realistic tonal balance are the things here. This is one of the few non-HDCD Reference Recordings discs of orchestral music. Or, you can substitute the Arnold Overtures RR-48 one for this one, knowing that there is a bit less bass weight but more high-frequency brilliance to that later recording.

Mahler Symphony #5, Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Temirkanov (Water Lily Hybrid SACD) I play the two-channel SACD layer if the dealer has a suitable player, CD layer if not. This recording is the ne plus ultra for tonal realism from symphonic forces, and is Blumlein to boot. It does not make my top bunches because the stereo layout, while I'm sure it is accurate from seeing pictures of the stage with the musicians on it, annoys me a bit because the brass is bunched up in the right front.

Marsha Foxgrover: "Barber's Adagio--A Concert of Organ Classics." No label or number. The CD was prepared through College Church of Wheaton, Illinois. It is not a commercial recording, and probably is not so useful to others, but it was made with high quality equipment with the mikes at a known location in the church. It features the 1992 Schantz Organ in the sanctuary of College Church. This is the church where I am a member and sing in the choir. I hear this organ from the choir loft and congregation most every week. Marsha Foxgrover, the organist, is one whom I worked with and recorded at another local church for some ten years and I have heard her play the College Church organ live several times. The playing is magnificent. The live sound of this organ in this room (the organ and room were designed around each other with great care when the sanctuary was built) is a rare balance of clarity, brilliance (without brightness or edge), bass power, and just enough reverb to make the organ truly resonate in the space. The reverb time of the room is a tad long for other types of music, but just long enough to serve the organ well. Well reproduced, it sounds quite a bit like hearing the organ live, down to the height illusion of the pipe sound coming from above since they are above even where the mikes were.

How to Use Your Reference Recordings at a Dealer

I usually load up a soft carrying case "travel pack" with about 20 CDs. I may even keep this pack in the car for days at a time during periods when I am occasionally going to dealers for auditions. I never play even parts of all 20, obviously, in any given audition, just a few.

1. Unless the dealer is one who will allow you to schedule a special audition outside normal store hours, or someone working on an appointments-only basis, I think about an hour of actual listening time is all you can reasonably expect in a store demo.

2. Bring a travel case of 10+ CDs of widely ranging repertoire of recordings you are very familiar with. Keep your travel pack fairly stable over time so that you get a better idea of how each of these disks sound on a variety of systems. A classical fan like me might have representative disks for large orchestra, chamber music, male vocal, female vocal, opera, instrumental solo (e.g., piano or violin concerto), and pipe organ. Each genre of music will have its more or less obvious subdivisions.

4. For each demo, plan ahead what you want to listen to first. Over time, you will develop a preference for which disk you should play first based on how helpful it turns out to be in various demos.

5. If you neglect step 4, or even if you haven't and want an opportunity to establish better rapport with the dealer/salesman, before you play your first selection, ask the dealer to play something for you which he thinks will demonstrate the product to best advantage.

6. Use your reactions to the first item played to guide your selection of further test tracks. If the reproduction quality meets your expectations, mentally check off that aspect of expected performance and move on to others. Concentrate on picking further selections which will demonstrate the full range of different types or aspects of the kind of music you like. For example, don't play multiple disks by the same artist, or even multiple disks featuring female jazz singers.

7. If/when you hear something you really don't like (as in, annoying) about the reproduction, then and only then try another disk of the same type of music, but hopefully by a different artist or the same artist on a different label to determine whether the problem you are hearing is an aspect of a particular recording technique, or inherent in the dealer's system.

8. If the problem persists, unless you have very good reason to believe that the problem you are hearing originates in a part of the system other than the part you are interested in buying, politely end the demo. The problem will not get less noticeable with familiarity; it will only get worse. If you hear it after a few minutes of familiar demonstration material in an unfamiliar room with at least some parts of the audio system being unfamiliar, you will more than likely hear it even more clearly at home. Do not urge the dealer to change this or that part of the system in order to try to correct the problem. Trust that the dealer has chosen equipment which will put the component you are there to audition in a good light.

9. Whatever you listen to, don't insist on listening to a whole disk or even a whole track. Once you have a "fix" on what you are hearing, move on. This is evaluation time, not music appreciation time. Of course, if you find yourself enthralled and unable to bear the thought of moving on, that's a very good sign that this system is eliciting a strong emotional response from you and that should be a hint that something is very right about the reproduction. Remember the reviews where the reviewer forgets to take notes and gets lost in the music. Still, fight this urge and try to move on. As a simple example, a system may enthrall with chamber music, but be incapable of playing Mahler at soul-satisfying levels.

10. At the end, if you are favorably impressed with what you've heard, ask the dealer, if he is willing, to play something which he thinks will point up any shortcomings in the component under audition.

11. As an alternative to 10., ask the dealer to substitute a more expensive component he believes is better than the one you are interested in. You may have better success with the second request since it is clearly in the dealer's economic interest to "upsell" you. Warning: Some potential buyers may not want to risk the potential financial risk involved in this auditioning technique; they may feel they are better off not knowing what performance can be had for more cash. But if you're willing to take the risk, you can then get a handle on whether any demonstrated shortcomings are important to you. You will have to make a judgment as to the amount of improvement versus the price increment. Here again, remember that any shortcoming you hear in a short audition will likely only get more noticeable with familiarity.

12. Never commit to buy the component you are auditioning at the time of the audition. Give yourself a "cooling off" period. Go home and listen to your own system again or, better yet, some live unamplified music. If, after a few days or more, you still can't get the apparent excellence of the demo out of your mind, then and only then should you begin to seriously contemplate a purchase.

Beyond the Dealer Audition

Perhaps this goes without saying here, but I think it is better to mention it, just in case. If you do like something you hear at a store and want to make further, more relaxed evaluations, you should ask for a home trial. Use the store demonstration as a screening device for home trials. Out of courtesy to your dealer, and just to avoid wasting everyone's time, I don't think you should ask for a home trial as a first audition.

Many if not most dealers of high-end audio equipment in the U.S. allow home trials, at least for local customers. Most are even closed on Mondays to allow a Saturday to Tuesday trial of even items which are the dealer's only demonstration unit. If you establish rapport with a particular dealer (as in, you're a good repeat customer), you can often arrange a longer trial. Obviously, a home trial is superior in terms of one's ability to judge the performance of any component in your system and room.
The more mass-market oriented a dealer is, the less likely you will be able to arrange a home trial. Also, the more mass-market oriented a dealer is, the shorter the in-store audition you will be able to undertake without the dealer appearing obviously annoyed. Maybe those statements are an obvious reflection of different competitive strategies--competing on service v. competing on price.
 
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Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
Terrific read Tom

I have about half of the albums to which you referred.

I read with great interest your recommendations of how to audition these at a dealer's store

Nicely done
 

Gregadd

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Excellent. I try to take as many solo cuts as I can. Acapella cuts are also good. Go early in the morning on a week day.
 
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Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
I liked Tom's suggestion of getting the store demo from Sat eve till Tues AM when they re open
 

microstrip

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Fantastic choice and very helpful posting.
However almost all the recordings are of "audiophile" quality and as I spend most of my time listening to performances I can only find in labels such as DG, EMI, Sony, Decca and Philips, I always manage to carry a few "normal" CDs I know very well.
I have listened to many high end systems that sound perfect with the excellent audiophile CDs but can not reproduce decently average CDs. Most of the time the owner or the demonstrator will smilingly stop the player saying - "Oh, it is a Deutsche Grammopon, let us play a decent CD" . But I know that in a well balanced system the Adagio Religioso of Bela Bartok Concert for Piano and Orchestra no3 played by Geza Anda and conducted by Ferenc Fricsay (DG447 399-2) sounds excellent!
 

Gregadd

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If I may be permitted:
1. Geroge Winston-Plains WIndham Hill piano cuts 3&4
2. Michael Jackson This is It vocal Acapella Disc II Cut #3
3. Boyz II Men-Boyz II Men Yesterday vocal Acapella last cut
4. Manhattan Transfer 'tonin- God only knows cut 12 vocal Acapella last cut
5. Chico Freeman- Spirit Sensitive Analogue Productions Autumn in New York Cut 1. Sax and Bass
6. Stanley Clarke, Stanley Clarke Cut 4. Spanish Suites for Strings and Bass, Cut 1.Vulcan princess
7. Sarah Vaughn and Clifford Brown trumpet cut 2&5
8. Hugh Masekela The Americanization of Ooga Booga cut 1

And lastly if I can get my hands on it. Steves copy of Boz Scags on air recording. This recording may cause digital haters to re-evaluate their position.

Of course all albums may be enjoyed in thier entirety.
 

Gregadd

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No apology necessary it was I who forgot to send you my address .
 

kach22i

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Nice list, but I don't see any Pop/Rock or Progressive Rock where a fast demanding pace and rhythm can unsettle and confuse some speakers and equipment.

It seems that many of the recordings focus on Tone, and if true then why CD's in lieu of vinyl records which get tone right?

I see a variety in scale and acoustics in the chosen recordings, good to see this as it is an important factor.

Question: is there value to a poor recording which is highly compressed and can only come alive under certain conditions such as when a strict and demanding criteria is met?

Should a few turds be thrown in just for flavor?
 

Gregadd

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Vinyl demos are difficult to obtain. Even if they have a vinyl rig it is usually a silent demo.
 

tmallin

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Fantastic choice and very helpful posting.
However almost all the recordings are of "audiophile" quality and as I spend most of my time listening to performances I can only find in labels such as DG, EMI, Sony, Decca and Philips, I always manage to carry a few "normal" CDs I know very well.
I have listened to many high end systems that sound perfect with the excellent audiophile CDs but can not reproduce decently average CDs. Most of the time the owner or the demonstrator will smilingly stop the player saying - "Oh, it is a Deutsche Grammopon, let us play a decent CD" . But I know that in a well balanced system the Adagio Religioso of Bela Bartok Concert for Piano and Orchestra no3 played by Geza Anda and conducted by Ferenc Fricsay (DG447 399-2) sounds excellent!

I do see that most of these are "audiophile" recordings, and that it is light on solo vocal and piano music. I left out one I also usually take for both decent average commercial piano sound and good solo vocal sound:

Kathleen Battle & James Levine--Salzburg Recital, primarily the cut "O Had I Jubal's Lyre." DGG 415 361-2. Battle is definitely in front of the piano, as she normally would be in recital and the piano is relatively well focused and tonally okay behind her. Vocal soloists usually stand in the piano's curve and the lid is usually on short stick. I have heard Battle do this material live in concert in a familiar hall sitting front row center. The unnatural part of this recording is the way the miking captures her head movements while she is singing. Sure, singers turn and move and the vocal projection turns and moves in response. But on this recording the movement is both blurry and jumpy. How much of that problem the system captures gives you a handle on the system's imaging exactitude. The recording also captures fairly well the delicate smallness of her voice, which makes the dynamics of her high notes all the more surprising and thrilling. The recording captures her dynamic high notes very, very well. If you hear any strain or stress at all, it is a system problem, not the recording. The high soprano notes in this should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, just like it does when she sings this sort of thing live. Battle has a reputation of being a difficult artist to work with, but, boy, does she have a fine vocal instrument!
 

tmallin

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68
Chicagoland
Nice list, but I don't see any Pop/Rock or Progressive Rock where a fast demanding pace and rhythm can unsettle and confuse some speakers and equipment.

It seems that many of the recordings focus on Tone, and if true then why CD's in lieu of vinyl records which get tone right?

I see a variety in scale and acoustics in the chosen recordings, good to see this as it is an important factor.

Question: is there value to a poor recording which is highly compressed and can only come alive under certain conditions such as when a strict and demanding criteria is met?

Should a few turds be thrown in just for flavor?

In my point 2. in the "How to Use . . ." section, I mentioned "A classical fan like me might have representative disks for large orchestra, chamber music, male vocal, female vocal, opera, instrumental solo (e.g., piano or violin concerto), and pipe organ. Each genre of music will have its more or less obvious subdivisions."

Music which is Pop/Rock or Progressive Rock with a fast demanding pace is not really my cup of tea. I did include a few pop/rock recordings, but they probably don't fit the fast or demanding pace category. Feel free to add or substitute others of your choosing that meet your personal criteria. The idea was to show you my personal list, not a list which would be ideal for everyone.

I suggest, however, that all this prat, pace, rhythm--whatever--can be met in any system with sufficient bass extension (it doesn't have to go into the bottom octave much), fairly low bass distortion at the SPLs you prefer, and, above all, fairly flat bass response. Problems with these melt away when these criteria are met. In some rooms all you need to do is move the speakers around a bit, but in others you will need electronic equalization in the bass.

I recommend against using ANY highly compressed recordings to judge components, but if this is the type of recording which is your favorite and steady diet, be my guest. You want your home system to sound its best with the type of music YOU like.


 

Johnny Vinyl

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
May 16, 2010
8,571
33
38
Calgary, AB
In my point 2. in the "How to Use . . ." section, I mentioned "A classical fan like me might have representative disks for large orchestra, chamber music, male vocal, female vocal, opera, instrumental solo (e.g., piano or violin concerto), and pipe organ. Each genre of music will have its more or less obvious subdivisions."

Music which is Pop/Rock or Progressive Rock with a fast demanding pace is not really my cup of tea. I did include a few pop/rock recordings, but they probably don't fit the fast or demanding pace category. Feel free to add or substitute others of your choosing that meet your personal criteria. The idea was to show you my personal list, not a list which would be ideal for everyone.

I suggest, however, that all this prat, pace, rhythm--whatever--can be met in any system with sufficient bass extension (it doesn't have to go into the bottom octave much), fairly low bass distortion at the SPLs you prefer, and, above all, fairly flat bass response. Problems with these melt away when these criteria are met. In some rooms all you need to do is move the speakers around a bit, but in others you will need electronic equalization in the bass.

I recommend against using ANY highly compressed recordings to judge components, but if this is the type of recording which is your favorite and steady diet, be my guest. You want your home system to sound its best with the type of music YOU like.



Glad you ended your post with the sentence I bolded.

I , for one, could not even entertain the idea of going into a dealer and auditioning components with a stack of Classical Recordings under my arm. I really like classical music, but I'm not familiar enough with it to use one as a reference.

I think one should bring along a media selection that consists of some high-quality recordings and also some recordings that are played at home on a regular basis...regardless of quality. You want to hear how YOUR media sounds through what you might be considering. Listening to reference recordings exclusively for evaluation only provides Ear-Candy. As such, I'll never be able to duplicate that in my own home as I don't just own reference recordings.

Great thread however and very informative Tom. Thanks!

John
 

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