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Records for listening tests

not only the audiophile ones work well...

Harvey Kader's choice

[Italian version]

During audio tests, reviewers often use a standard set of recorded material on vinyl records and CDs. The advantage of this is to standardize the testing procedure when reviewing different pieces of audio equipment. This methodology goes hand in hand with having available a reference audio system with which to compare reviewed equipment.

Here is a list of the standard records which I use for equipment reviews. The "records" are mostly vinyl LPs since my listening material is largely vinyl records, although I do use some CDs also. I won't get into which sounds better - vinyl or CDs. That could be the basis for another article.

Reviewers also usually have a reference stereo system which is used to compare audio equipment.
My reference system consists of a Dynaco PAS 3 preamplifier which is fed into either a Dynaco ST-70 amplifier, or a Dynaco ST-70 Sereies II amp. Of importance, is that the PAS 3 which I have, uses four Telefunken 12AX7 tubes.
The Telefunken tubes produce great sound, especially in the midrange, and are unrivaled by any other tube manufacturer for sound and musicality for the 12AX7 types.
The only other tube manufacturer which even comes close in sound is Mullard. These I use as an alternative on occasion. Speakers are a pair of Paradigm 11se Mk II. I use a Sherwood S-3000 V tuner, and a Parasound C/DX-88 CD player.
The phonograph is a Dual CS 505-3 Audiophile Concept belt drive turntable, with an Ortofon OMB 20 cartridge and needle.
My reference audio system is 100% vacuum tube. Not one transistor is present in the audio circuitry! This audio system is used every day, and I know its sound and musicality very well. This is akin to a musician knowing his musical instrument and sound that it produces very well. In the same way, that I know my Yamaha piano very well.

I have twelve vinyl records and three CDs which comprise the standard record set.

  1. LP. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Ennio Morricone. United Artists. UAS 5172.
    This is the original motion picture soundtrack from the movie which starred Clint Eastwood (the Good), and co-starred Lee Van Cleef (the Bad), and Eli Wallach (the Ugly). Ever since I was a child and discovered the music of Ennio Morricone, I have been fascinated by this one particular record. Genius is an understatement when describing the sound of this piece of music.
    The main title - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Il Buono, Il Cattivo, Il Brutto) is a fascinating piece. So is The Death of a Soldier (Morte Di Un Soldato), and The Ecstasy of Gold (L'Estasi Dell'oro). These three tracks are compelling, moving, and emotional (especially, The Ecstasy of Gold). On a vacuum tube system, the music just blows you away!
    You could break windows with this record! Recently re-released on CD, the LP sounds better in a side by side A-B comparison, although the CD is very good.

  2. LP. Diesel and Dust. Midnight Oil. Columbia. CBS Records Canada Ltd. BFC 40967.
    The sound of this record is uplifting. The first track - Beds are Burning - just lights everything on fire! Super sound and great volume. Better have strong and well built speakers when playing this LP, because the sound could literally blow your speakers apart. Also available now on CD.

  3. LP. Gold. Neil Diamond. MCA Records Inc. MCA-37209.
    Recorded live at the Troubadour, this LP will move you. It is Neil Diamond at his finest. Sweet Caroline, and Kentucky Woman are two examples of great tracks on this album. You can feel the electric energy of Neil Diamond. And you can be guaranteed that, unlike these days when a few artists are being accused of lip synching at live concerts, this is really Neil Diamond singing!

  4. LP. 16 of Their Greatest Hits. The Mamas & The Papas. MCA Records Inc. MCA-37145.
    This is classic The Mamas & The Papas. California Dreamin', For The Love Of Ivy, and Go Where You Wanna Go are just three of the 16 tracks on this album. Fantastic midrange (voice). The vocals really shine with those Telefunken 12AX7 tubes in the PAS 3 pre-amp.

  5. LP. La Bamba. Los Lobos. WB Records. Columbia House. CBS Records Canada Ltd. W1-25605.
    This record is the original motion picture soundtrack. Los Lobos does a great rendition of the original La Bamba by Ritchie Valens. He also does a super Donna (Ritchie Valens) and Charlena (Ritchie Valens). Vocals on this record really shine. The Telefunkens strut their stuff with this music.

  6. LP. All The Time, All The Time, All The Time. The Box. Alert Records. BD-1003.
    The Box is a Montreal (where I lived for three decades) group. Outside of Canada, they may not be that well known, but their music is heavenly. The hit My Dreams of You is marvelous. When played using vacuum tube technology, the sound is live! The album also has several other great hits by this group.

  7. LP. Buddy Holly's Greatest Hits. MCA Records Inc. MCA-561.
    Originally on the Corral label, this album has been re-released many, many times. It is even on CD now. Originally recorded in mono, this version is enhanced for stereo. This album is Buddy Holly at his finest. Songs like Peggy Sue, That'll Be The Day, and Early In The Morning show how Buddy Holly shines. A happy album, the music is uplifting.

  8. LP. Magical Mystery Tour. The Beatles. EMI Records Ltd. PCTC 255.
    A classic Beatles album, this LP includes such hits as Magical Mystery Tour, The Fool on the Hill, I Am the Walrus, Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, Baby You're a Rich Man, and All You Need Is Love. It is very hard to find another Beatles album with so many excellent hits packed onto one LP.
    The album also includes a 24-page full color picture book. This book includes original scenes from the color television film "Magical Mystery Tour". The songs on this album are happy ones - songs in which you can get lost in, even on bad days. Makes those vacuum tubes really sing!

  9. LP. Blue Hawaii. Elvis Presley. Living Stereo. RCA Black Label. RCA Victor Company Ltd. LSP-2426.
    Soundtrack from the motion picture Blue Hawaii, produced by Hal Wallis, starring Elvis Presley. This is Elvis on location in Hawaii. Cool Hawaiian music - Blue Hawaii, Aloha, and Ku-u-i-po. Melodic music - very relaxing sounds. This album was later reissued by RCA International (no Living Stereo label). The Living Stereo version has thicker vinyl.

  10. LP. Tchaikovsky 1812 Festival Overture, Op. 49. Antal Dorati conductor. Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Mercury Living Presence. Quality Records Ltd. SR90054.
    This LP is one of my favorite. The sound is live, emotional, and real. Real cannons are used in the soundtrack (not electronic cannons as in some of the CD versions of Tchaikovsky 1812 by some manufacturers). The cannon is a bronze one from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, NY. The bells are also real - from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon, The Riverside Church.
    This album is so classic, but is also so real. This LP is a real sound test of any audio system because the dynamic range is large (from near silence to ear splitting cannon blasts).

  11. LP. Pomp and Circumstance. Marches Nos. 1 to 5. Sir Edward Elgar. Suite - "Things to Come", and Welcome to the Queen. Sir Arthur Bliss. Living Stereo. RCA Red Label. RCA Victor Company Ltd. LSC-2257.
    Almost every college and university graduation uses Pomp and Circumstance as the music of the convocation. It is classical music at its finest. This LP really tests an audio systems ability to produce very musical sound. Nice to come home to after a long day at work, and simply unwind to.

  12. LP. Pictures at an Exhibition. Moussorgsky/Ravel. Fritz Reiner conductor. Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Living Stereo. RCA Red Label. RCA Victor Company Ltd. LSC-2201.
    This LP is my very favorite classic piece. Sheer genius is a accurate description of the music on this LP. The artwork on the front cover is absolutely beautiful. The history of this Moussorgsky piece is amazing in itself. Modest Moussorgsky visited the memorial exhibition of the late Victor Hartmann. About 400 works of this architect were shown in various rooms of the St. Petersburg Society of Architects, in Russia.
    Moussorgsky then wrote Pictures at an Exhibition based on what he saw there. This was 1874. Only in 1922 did interest in this musical piece get reborn when Maurice Ravel orchestrated it. This piece is beautiful to listen to. On a vacuum tube system the music is so sweet, that you can not stop listening to it. If pretty was a word to describe music, then that word perfectly describes Pictures at an Exhibition.

  13. CD. Cracked Rear View. Hootie & the Blowfish. Atlantic Recording Corporation. CD 82613.
    This CD includes the hit Let Her Cry. A very moving piece of music, the vocals are stunning! This song is almost all voice as opposed to voice with music. Since vacuum tubes are great with midrange frequencies, this CD really shines on a vacuum tube system. The Telefunkens get a real workout. You can just hear them singing!

  14. CD. Let Your Dim Light Shine. Soul Asylum. Sony Music Entertainment Inc. CK 57616.
    Modern rock and roll doesn't get any more raunchy than with this CD by Soul Asylum. If you like rock and roll, especially 90's sound, this CD is it. The opening track, Misery, is very musical, and powerful in its delivery. Your speakers are tested to their limits with Misery. Loud doesn't even do justice to this track. Great to listen to, you can't help but like this piece of music.

  15. CD. Come On Over. Shania Twain. Mercury Records. 314-536 003-2.
    Shania Twainis my favorite female Canadian music artist. Originally from Timmins, Ontario, this small town girl is anything but small when it comes to her music.
    A strong voice, and a beautiful tone, together produce a singer with lots of talent. The hit You're Still The One is on this CD. This song is Shania at her best. Loving and joyful, this piece is a pleasure to listen to - more than once! Also on the CD are the hits Man! I Feel Like A woman!, and That Don't Impress Me Much.
    Canada has produced so many talented vocal artists, especially female, that Shania is a shining example of Canadian musicians. A success story remade over and over again! A real treat for a good hi-fi system.

As can be seen from my selection of standard test records, there is a mixture of rock and roll, classical, easy listening, and western music.
The best way to evaluate a hi-fi system is to play a mixture of music types. This way, the strengths and weaknesses of the system will become apparent. No hi-fi system excels at all types of music, so this balanced approach permits the system to show its true colors.

In the final analysis, what counts is whether an audio system produces the kind of music and sound which is pleasant to you. That is the reason that listening tests are VERY important.
Each hi-fi component has its own characteristic sound - just like each pair of ears has their own musical taste. The million dollar question is in finding the RIGHT MATCH!

Also browse the list of records used by:

Copyright © 1999 Harvey A. Kader - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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