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Records for listening tests

not only the audiophile ones work well...

Stefano Monteferri's choice

[Italian version]

Short introduction: Even though I usually mention a large number of recordings in my review articles, there is, in fact, a "hard core" that I never fail to use during a listening session.
These are recordings that I actually know very well, and therefore allow me a first coarse-grained evaluation of any new piece of equipment, when placed in my usual system. Before drawing any conclusions, I nonetheless spend a generous amount of time listening also to other recordings, which are not mentioned below. I often come back to these anyway, since they are particularly useful to evaluate the quality of the reviewed material. I will therefore list them for you and try to make their use clear.

Ellis Marsalis Trio - Blue Note

A remarkable CD from the father of the musically prolific Marsalis family, playing the piano with class and measure. I find this CD particularly useful to test focus and spatial resolution.
It is in fact possible to follow the hitting of the performer on the keyboard, both in depth and width, and retrieve the correct location of the percussion, all in well defined spatial planes.

As this is not a "special effects" recording, if a system is not perfectly set up, the sound can be excessively localised, with piano and drums coming directly from the loudspeakers.
In some tracks the openness of any system is put under scrutiny by the cymbals, which should not appear to come straight from the tweeters but freely resonate in all the listening room.
This allows a serious evaluation of detail retrieval ability and reproduction of the top-end of the audio spectrum.
The piano permits a careful check dynamics, and the double-bass is an excellent test for extension, depth, speed and control of lower and upper bass.

Aldo Romano (Intervista, Palatino)

A couple of good recordings, characterised by an excellent dynamics and an unusual care for the musical details. Enjoyable CDs and, furthermore, useful to test bass, airiness, detail and dynamics. Very good ambience, which leads to a particularly involving listening experience.

Cantate Domino - Proprius

Unmissable recording in any audiophile's collection, really excellent for ambience and reproduction of the different acoustic layers. In tracks 9 and 12 the soprano's voice excellent for testing tonal ability in the midband, upper midband and the focus of the reviewed system.
If something is wrong, it is impossible to locate the singer on the stage. When everything is properly set up, though, you get the impression to be able to follow her head's movements.
In very revealing systems it is even possible to sense the effort in singing, which, in some modulations of the voice, gives a slightly rough sound.
The ability to disentangle busy musical passages is fully tested by the choir, with male voices placed higher and further away that the female ones. Listen to the organ, magnificently placed on the soundstage and very well extended towards the low frequencies. The dynamic range is also superb.

Peter Gabriel (Secret World Live)

Very interesting live recording, with powerful and well extended low end and good imaging.
Gabriel's voice is fascinating, as is Paola Cole's, accompanying him in "Don't give up!". This is a track I regularly use for listening sessions.

Jazz & World Music Celebration - Chesky Records

This CD's assortment is a useful test bench for the reviewed equipment. The overall quality is remarkable and lets you concentrate on many aspects of the musical reproduction, particularly stereo imaging and focus.

Berlioz (Sinfonie phantastique) - Reference Recording

A standard, which I specially use to test the bass extension of any reviewed loudspeaker. In track 4 and 5 the low end has impressive energy and many loudspeakers find it difficult to cope with it, some simply "give up". Dynamic excursion is remarkable too.
As previously attested, this is a reference recording, equally good for tonal reproduction and stereo imaging.

Enya (Watermark)

An unusual example of studio-engineered recording, which effectively simulates a sonic perspective.
The resulting soundstage is impressive, wide and deep and there is a surprising, if slightly too controlled, bass extension. Enya's voice is very attractive and the substained tone in tracks 3,5 and 8 can put many products under strain.

Loreena Mc Kennit (The Book of Secrets)

A fine recording, with powerful and extended low end and a good, but not artificially enhanced soundstage. I generally start from track 3, where the singer's voice stands right in the centre of the stage (after some initial "imperfection", promptly corrected).
As a reviewing aid this CD has one unforgivable fault: I consider it so beautiful that I easily sink in it and forget about the test, sending low end, tonal accuracy, imaging, etc to hell.

Angelo Branduardi (Il Ladro)

Reproducing Angelo Branduardi's voice is not an easy task, and any unbalance in the lower treble becomes rather annoying and is promptly revealed. A technically good recording, this is a critical test bench for dynamic range, focus and detail retrieval.

Fabrizio De Andrè (Anime Salve)

A valid but not impeccable recording (quality varies with the tracks). De Andre' voice is a remarkable test, especially for the equipment's upper bass ability.
Considering the sheer beauty of this recording, the reviewing procedure becomes a pure joy.

I Racconti di Fine Millennio - Sicut Sol

Included in a recent issue of FdS (I can't remember which one), this CD has some well-recorded musical tracks, each followed by an unusual and funny spoken one.
Interestingly instruments play one at a time in each track, so that you can focus your attention on its reproduction. This is the only CD when I make use of the programming facility of my CD player. I skip all but one (to check human voice reproduction) of the spoken tracks and start my listening session.

Carl Orff (Carmina Burana) - Cascavelle

One of the Orff's masterpieces, this is made unusual by the presence of only percussion and two pianos. This characteristic makes listening very enjoyable.
Certainly worthwhile for soundstage and dynamics.

Serge Prokifiev (Peter and the Wolf - Classic Symphony) - Deutsche Grammophon

Well, this is the only way I found to involve my little daughters in my listening sessions ( an "educational" CD ;-) ). The score, directed by Claudio Abbado, is not bad at, with some interesting highlights, while the narrator, Roberto Benigni, makes all very entertaining.

Johann Sebastian Bach (Schubler Chorales - Passacaglia & Fugue) - Deutsche Grammophon

Simon Preston masters the Sauer organ of St. Peter, Waltrop, and the scene is filled by this fascinating instrument,(fortunately) unmissable in any serious reviewing session.

Other technically interesting CDs, from which I often pick some tracks (herein listed without further comment) are:

As I mentioned previously, these are not the only recordings I use for reviewing (and the catalogue is in continuos expansion).
Nonetheless, these are the ones I start from as they allow me to have a clearer understanding of characteristics of the equipment I am testing. As for the fact that some of them are also among my favourites. It's a case of good luck :-).

Copyright © 2000 Stefano Monteferri - http://www.tnt-audio.com
Traslation: Antonio Filippi - Supervisor: Geoff Husband

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