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Records for listening tests
not only the audiophile ones work well...
Editor's choice [Italian version]
If you ever attended some HiFi Show or visited an audiophile-oriented dealer you may have noticed that, for evaluation purposes, some strange recordings are very popular there. Audiophile recordings, that's the name of the game: records (CDs or LPs) containing excellently recorded musical tracks (Music, not noise) that can be succefully used to test and evaluate HiFi components and systems.
Since some of these records are very popular among audiophiles, they allow quick on the fly tests, since everyone knows the tracks...in other words, you can minimize the number of unknowns (unknown variables, that is) when listening to a component since, at least, the record is the same.
Now, these audiophile recordings are sometimes musically boring, normally very expensive and HARD to find (the best way to find them is visiting HiFi Shows). Hence here comes your faithful TNT-Audio with a list of cheap, easy to find, musically involving, commercial recordings which can be used for HiFi evaluation purposes as well.
No need to search for exotic/esoteric records, just visit any records store in your town and buy 'em. Many of the following records are dirt cheap too (mid price, nice price etc.).
Anyway, before the long list of commercial titles, here's a short list of audiophile recordings you may need to know:
Some audiophile recording Just few titles, mainly used by me when evaluating HiFi gear. Yeah, I know there are many other (maybe better) audiophile recordings out there...but this is not meant to be an exaustive and complete list. Actually I have maybe 100 audiophile test records.
- Cantate Domino - Proprius records. A mid '70s analogue recording (available even on CD) of sacred music: a large choir, a pipe organ and few trumpets inside a good-sounding cathedral. Sometimes a bit harsh in the highs, this recording is excellent to evaluate male and female voices (both soloists and choir) and the size of an extremely wide 3D soundstage. The height of the 3D image is simply stunning (with proper gear) and can virtually extend above your ceiling. Pipe organ pedals should shake your floor. If not, you need new 'speakers :-)
- Sinfonia Fantastica - H. Berlioz - Reference Recordings. In my humble opinion one of the best classical Music (symphonic) recording ever made. Earth shaking dynamics can embarass more than one set-up. Percussions and bass range are simply stunning.
Musically this Sinfonia Fantastica is even enjoyable, the orchestra and the conductor seem know their job.
- Sheffield Track & Drum Record - Sheffield records. Another 20 years old analogue recording (also available on CD) which is still a reference for electric pop/rock Music. Dynamics and sheer energy at their best. The drums solos are a severe test for any HiFi system if played - as they should always be - extremely loud (a live drum kit sounds very loud...). A realistic 3D image is included too. Musically, you have to love the Toto-style kind of Music.
- Reference Jazz - Reference Recordings. A good sampler with many good jazz recordings. Very good with respect to dynamics, soundstaging and tonal clarity. Musically enjoyable, as a sampler can be :-)
- Sara K. Closer than they appear and others - Chesky Records. A jazz artist entirely recorded direct to disc: impressive realism and energy. A good test to evaluate real instruments and a very nice female voice. Sara K. records are very popular at HiFi SHows.
- Telarc Super Test CD - Telarc recordings. Another good sampler with tracks ranging from jazz to classical music. It contains some excellent tracks devoted to single instruments (organ and double-bass, for example). Impressive dynamics. Musically not so interesting (there's even a jet-fighter squadron in a battle...).
- Ludus Danielis. Fone' records. Ancient Music aficionados may find this Italian recording a MUST. Excellent 3D image, transparency and detail.
The commercial, cheap, easy-to-find test records! This is just a small list of commercial recordings that can be successfully used to evaluate HiFi gear. Of course the list is largely incomplete but I hope it can give a small help to audiophiles who hate spending money on test records and prefer to buy real Music instead.
Do not send e-mails asking to add your favourite test records as this could easily become a plain nightmare.
I've not included classical recordings because there is a so vast choice that it is impossible to me to name few titles. As a matter of fact, many old recordings (Decca, Living Stereo etc) sound better than many modern ones.
Final comments. The records above have been listed with the aim to give a short list of well recorded commercial albums that can be used for HiFi evaluation purposes.
- Police. They recorded few discs but each one of these is of very high quality, especially the last ones: Ghost in the machine and Syncronicity. A very good and deep bass range, impact and dynamics is what you get. Sting's voice is sometimes hidden and shut-in.
- Joe Jackson. Joe Jackson (as reported in the phrase that opens TNT-Audio) is an artist who has always paid a great attention to the quality of his recordings. His audiophile masterpiece is Body and Soul but almost every record by JJ is carefully engineered. Great pop/jazz artist, certainly one of the most creative songwriters of the last decades.
- The Blue Nile. A strange pop group from Scotland. Their albums are recorded by Linn Records so you can be pretty sure the quality is top-notch.
Ultra low distortion, excellent dynamics and realistic voices. Audiophiles and simple Music-lovers should know (and then love) them.
- Diane Schuur. An amazing jazz singer on GRP records. A female voice so sweet and warm that will make you fall in love in a second. The sound engineers at GRP know how to record this amazing voice and the acoustic instruments surrounding her.
- Pink Floyd. A classic for every audiophile. Each Pink Floyd album is a work of art, both musically and technically. It is impossible to name some title (or track!), you simply can't go wrong. If you're lucky enough you can still find good LPs from the 70s that are a must-have. Great sound effects, dynamics and depth of the bass range.
- Dire Straits. See above. Technically faultless, the Dire Straits albums are often used as reference recordings for pop/rock thanks to the impressive dynamics and clarity. In particular the guitars are simply outstanding: you should get the feeling the players are just into your listening room. Beware of Mark Knopfler's voice though: in order to give him more "presence" an artificial electronic colouration has been added during recording sessions: once you get used to it you consider it quite normal.
Excellent LPs, too.
- Sade. Few records, each one being a masterpiece. The bass range, particularly the sound of the electric bass, is one of the best ones ever heard on a commercial pop recording. Clean, tight and powerful as the electric bass should always be. Dynamics and detail at extremely high standards. Same comment as above for Sade's voice: a slight colouration in the highs makes it sound a bit "electronic".
- Mina. Well, you should know this Italian singer, probably one of the best white female voices of the last 30 years. Her last records (after 1990) are outstanding for tests. You MUST listen to her voice, period.
A bit on the electronic side with respect to the sound of the instruments, the recordings are impressive for dynamics and realism of Mina's voice.
- Andrea Boccelli. You know him for sure. He is the best way to evaluate a tenor's voice without having to listen to opera :-)
Though he is not Pavarotti or Gigli, his voice is good enough to put any HiFi component under a severe test. Thanks God his albums are pretty well recorded, though sometimes his voice is too rich on effects.
- Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers, Prodigy. Pretty easy this one. Take any album from these bands and you'll experience the most devastating and earth-shaking amount of dynamics and bass you've ever heard. Since it is pure electronic Music, they can put a 30 Hz pure tone on their records without fear. Great records for breakin' in any HiFi system, be careful with that volume knob or your woofers will take off...
- AC/DC. Well, if you're a hard-rock fan, you should know there are few good recordings out there. One of the most popular (plus easy to find and mid-priced) are those by AC/DC where the bass and the drums are normally very well recorded. A good test to evaluate the ability of a HiFi system (or component) to "follow the pace" and to deliver some brutal impact.
- Metallica. And now something for you heavy metal nuts! Post-90 Metallica recordings are very good even by an audiophile point of view. Earth-shaking impact, great dynamics and clarity, in other words, a must.
- Kraftwerk. Do you love 70s electronic Music? Here are the Kraftwerk, a band from Germany that has built the history of this music and inspired today "electronic" bands (and hip hop bands, too). Great recordings, clean, dynamic and with a deep bass range.
- David Sylvian. David Sylvian has always made good sounding albums, though a bit on the "cold" side. Certainly Brilliant trees is a disc which has been used by generations of young HiFi critics :-)
- Al Jarreau. Looking for a well recorded and thrilling black voice? Look no further, Al Jarreau, besides being one of best black voices ever heard, has been lucky enough to have good sound engineers at his side.
In particular Al Jarreau in London is a must. Musically involving, this recording, by Bill Schnee and Doug Sax (from Sheffield Labs!!!) is simply "just like live".
- Steely Dan. Could I forget the famous duo Becker & Fagen? Nothing to say about their records: simply technically perfect. If you want to start from somewhere, search for Aja and Gaucho, you can't go wrong.
Musically, these two guys are, imho, two of the best pop songwriters of the last two (or 3?) decades.
- Donald Fagen. I'm pretty sure you all know The Nightfly, the first solo album by Donald Fagen (ex-Steely Dan). This record has earned a very good reputation among audiophiles because it is one of the most bearable digital recordings of the Eighties. A bit "cold" and artificial, The Nightfly is outstanding for its clean and crystal clear sound. The LP sounds way better than the CD.
- Scritti Politti. Though other albums from this pop band are pretty well recorded there's one that is simply excellent: it is Cupid and Psyche 85: deep bass, an earth-shaking and tight electric bass and impressive dynamics. If your HiFi system is OK you shouldn't be able to stop your feet from stomping and your body from dancing. This album is GROOOOOVY. The LP (USA pressing) is of audiophile quality.
These records can put in evidence both pros and cons of HiFi components, better than standard commercial recordings. It is useless to test HiFi stuff with badly recorded discs: you just listen to the faults of the recordings instead of those of the HiFi component. Please remember that a HiFi system should be able to play ANY kind of Music.
Warning for non-audiophiles. DO NOT judge audiophiles by the records they use to test HiFi with. Those discs serve only as a quick reference comparison test, nothing else. Audiophiles love Music and listen to Music, independently of the way it has been recorded.
He who swears to love Music should try to listen to it in the best way is possible.
© Copyright 1999-2012 Lucio Cadeddu - http://www.tnt-audio.com
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