Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Unseemly Audiophile Demo Discs

Given the lack of Heavy Metal of Seattle Grunge audiophile recordings, can adventurous audiophiles still enjoy “unseemly music software” being played on their systems?

By: Vanessa Uy

When the high-end hi-fi market became established during the 1970s, believe it or not, stadium rock from the same era used to hold audiophile demo disc status. Not-so-old-timers (or is that anoraks?) used to remember the time when both rock bands Boston and Heart as the preferred audiophile demo disc. Unlike today where the de rigeur audiophile demo discs are The Ultimate Demonstration Disc: Chesky Records’ Guide to Critical Listening (UD95) or the Stereo Review Chesky Records Gold Stereo and Surround Sound Set-Up Disc (CHE151). But as we enter into the second decade of the 21st Century – hopefully not kicking and screaming – how many of us hardened audiophiles still get enjoyment from playing “mainstream” recordings in our well-sorted audiophile approved audio set-ups?

Believe it or not, veteran audiophiles could easily get bored with their de rigeur audiophile demonstration and test discs. Despite of using them to impress their non-audiophile (civilian?) neighbors and audiobuddies to show how their latest hi-fi tweaks managed to make the recorded sound of the snare and cymbals played on their system sound more real. But how often does he takes out yet again that Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab pressing of Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York when the mood strikes? So hang on to your audiophile demonstration and test discs cause here’s a list of my personal favorite Top 5 Unseemly Audiophile Demo Discs:

1. Gov’t. Mule – Dose; If David Chesky ever wants to release an audiophile quality American Classic Rock album, he should collaborate with these guys and their recording engineer. A very good example of how electric guitar recordings recorded in a recording studio should sound.
2. The Gathering – How To Measure a Planet?; Quite a contrast to the Gov’t Mule’s guitar-based rock because this particular The Gathering album shows how a Gibson Les Paul and Marshall amplifier sounds when played in a Classical Music concert hall as opposed to an acoustically-treated recording studio. Check out the song Travel to know what I’m talking about. Postscript, the band’s recording engineer could have used an excellent sounding digital reverb but his or her efforts should be commended for producing an inexplicably good result.
3. Veruca Salt – Eight Arms to Hold You; An excellent album – especially the American pressing of the CD - for testing your audio system’s slew rate and transient intermodulation distortion capabilities. In short, your audio systems capabilities of differentiating between Nina Gordon and Louise Post (transient intermodulation distortion) and if you can play this album without giving you a headache at garage-band sound pressure levels (slew rate capabilities). Probably the best album to show off the capabilities of a Michell Argo HR pre-amp to those Veruca Salt fans fortunate enough to afford one.
4. Just Say Noël - Christmas Album; a collaborative effort of Christmas tunes from Sonic Youth and company for the benefit of Peter Gabriel’s Witness. The CD sounds as if it is HDCD encoded even though it is not (it is that good sounding!). A good balance between songcraft and audio production values makes this CD unfatiguing over long listening sessions. Probably the most eclectic – in terms of musical genre – Christmas album ever. Not to mention the “least tacky” – aesthetic wise - contemporary Christmas album ever.
5. Lunachicks – Pretty Ugly; Even though their Jerk of All Trades is the better album in terms of sound quality. As an audiophile demo disc, Lunachicks’ Pretty Ugly is a good CD to check your system’s subwoofer’s bass capabilities. Believe it or not, the song What’s Left managed to misalign / destroy a Velodyne subwoofers accelerometer when one of my older audiobuddies used this particular track in testing subs back in 1998.

So there you have it, there probably is no accounting for taste but these five CD’s represent my current often used unseemly demo discs in evaluating hi-fi systems. I could go into detail about my current often used unseemly vinyl audiophile demo discs. Like the Japanese 45-RPM vinyl pressing of Avril Lavigne’s Basketcase – which is by the way a remake of Greenday’s - sadly only available in neon / day-glow fuchsia pink-colored vinyl. Or my Minty Fresh vinyl pressing of Veruca Salt’s American Thighs, but that’s for another day.