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.


Sisto said...

Sonically, I still prefer Veruca Salt's American Thighs album. Especially the MINTY FRESH LP version.
Speaking of audiophile recordings, didnt Stereophile founder J. Gordon Holt who once said that "audiophile records do sound good but I never want to hear them again because the content is so uninspired." Thus explaining the point you are probably trying to get across.

Girlie May said...

Didn't uninspired well-recorded songs - i.e. first-generation audiophile recordings - died an ignoble death during the late 1970s? I read a similar article by Stereophile contributor Michael Fremer about "uninspired" audiophile recordings about 10 years ago. Given their current rarity, would these "uninspired" recordings probably go up in value just for the sheer kitsch / camp appeal?
Speaking of Veruca Salt's American Thighs album - especially the Minty Fresh LP version. I think this is probably the best-recorded "Rock" album of the 20th Century. And given Nina Gordon and Louise Posts' songwriting skills and delivery, is "audiophile" recording is as far away from an "uninspired" music composition as you can get.
P.S. I think someone should give Taylor Swift a Gibson Les Paul and a Marshall Amplifier Stack for the benefit of us who missed Veruca Salt the first time around.

Letiche said...

It does seem ironic that Veruca Salt's American Thighs album - especially the Minty Fresh LP pressing - had become one of the audiophile classics of the 20th Century. Even Stereophile's Michael Fremer loved it back in 1995. Given that an overwhelming majority of mainstream Rock Music recordings are often found wanting in sound quality terms. A Gold-selling Alternative Rock album like Veruca Salt's American Thighs can be a breath of fresh air.
What's this about Taylor Swift endorsing Gibson Les Paul and Marshall Amplifiers? I think it has been done before, does it? Remember when music critics suggested that Julie London should pick up a Gibson Les Paul and play it through a Marshall Amplifier in anger, it did inspire a generation of musicians to do the same. Like the "unique" sound of Kim Gordon and the rest of Sonic Youth. Plus the proliferation of similar bands during the first half of the 1990s like Veruca Salt, That Dog, and Elysian Fields.
Isn't it true that Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt had recently been collaborating with Chen Ming-Chiang by releasing an audiophile record? I hope that this will inspire interest in the "Supergroup" concept which seem to be MIA for almost 20 years or so. Like that of the excellent collaborative effort between the avant garde Japanese flute player Kitaro and Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman back in 1992 titled Scenes.
P.S. Is it true that Taylor Swift's biological father is one of the members of Mötorhead?

Venus said...

Veruca Salt's American Thighs album -especially the Minty Fresh vinyl LP pressing - best audiophile rock recording ever. Just ask Stereophile's Michael Fremer.
Speaking of Taylor Swift playing a Gibson Les Paul through a Marshall Amplifier in anger, maybe she should try it. But is there a danger that she will sound like Veruca Salt?
Motorhead had been collaborating with young women in the past, remember Lemmy Kilmister singing with New Wave of British Heavy Metal-era teen girl band Girschool?
Speaking of that Kitaro and Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman collaboration back in 1992, is the album still available on e-Bay given its rarity.

Sherry Rashad said...

Veruca Salt and Lunachichs as audiophile demonstration discs are one of my "don't-get-me-started-I'll-be-talking-for-eight-hours-straight" topics of interest.
Speaking of that Kitaro and Marty Friedman collaboration back in 1992, I think nobody had done a similar stunt ever since. Imagine a Heavy Metal band guitarist - of Megadeth no less - playing together with a New Age musician specializing in Far Eastern modalism.
On the Girlschool and Motorhead collaboration, I only heard it on my Girschool Emergency double CD album during the 1990s, even though it actually happened a lifetime ago. Though this Girlschool and Motorhead musical collaboration on Please Don't Touch sounds more like a Girlschool and Lemmy Kilmister collaboration.
Speaking of Taylor Swift playing a Gibson Les Paul thru a Marshall Amplifier could make her end up sounding like Veruca Salt. Ultimately, Motorhead collaborating with very young girl musicians are a bit "icky" for my taste. Given that "motorhead" is lang for a crystal meth user and crystal meth is the drug of choice of child molesters / paedophiles.

Geraldine said...

Me too, I was torn between Lunachicks and Veruca Salt, even though I loved both bands. As an audiophile demo disc, Veruca Salt's American Thighs - even the CD version - is vinyl-like in it's sound. It is one of those well-recorded CDs that sold well too. Though the Minty Fresh vinyl pressing of American Thighs has more pace, rhythm, and timing compared to the CD version.
Speaking of Taylor Swift picking up a Gibson Les Paul and playing it thru a Marshall Amplifier in anger, I think it would be more apt if she collaborated with Veruca Salt. This will be pornography for my ears.

Kaitlyn said...

Speaking of Stereophile regular Michael Fremer endorsing the Minty Fresh vinyl pressing of American Thighs by Verua Salt, I think he would have loved the Minty Fresh vinyl pressing of Veruca Salt's Eight Arms To Hold You just to prove the point to us "Heavy Metal-leaning Audiophiles" that records of similar sound quality - i.e. mostly recorded via Shure SM57 Beta-type dynamic microphones will end up sounding awful on plain-vanilla CD. To prove my theory, compare your late 1970s era Ted Nugent vinyl with their CD reissues, especially those that are not mastered using Pacific Microsonic's HDCD or Sony's Super Bit Mapping system.
Speaking of power amps that would bring out the beauty of Veruca Salt or Lunachicks, check out those produced by the Michell stable. Preferrably partnered with the iconic Michell Argo HR preamp.
P.S. Maybe Taylor Swift should seek endorsement from Gibson or Marshall. Remember L7's Donita Sparks playing a battered gibson Flying V which she Christened as the "Flying Vagina"?

Je M'Apelle Ja'Nelle said...

Speaking of pornography for the ears, I was (still?) torn between Lunachicks and Veruca Salt on which is the ultimate hard rock audiophile demo music for my high-end set-up. Especially when Veruca Salt's American Thighs album is as good on CD as well as it's Minty Fresh vinyl incarnation.
I think it was on a Guitar World July 1992 magazine that L7 guitarist Donita Sparks told us that she named her battered Gibson Flying V as the Flying Vagina. If ever Taylor Swift picks up a Gibson Les Paul, Taylor should name hers Semi-Virginal.

Yvette said...

21st Century Supergroup Concept: Soft Core Child Pornography star Miley Cyrus + Taylor Swift + Gibson Les Paul + Marshall Amplifier = 21st Century Veruca Salt.

Kathryn said...

During the 1990s, it was a close race between Veruca Salt's American Thighs album and Lunachicks Jerk of All Trades album as "rocking" audiophile demo discs. Given that Veruca Salt's American Thighs is available in its Minty Fresh vinyl incarnation, it might have an edge.
What is this about Taylor Swift and crystal meth? This is just the premise of the CSI: Crime Schene Investigation episode I just saw yesterday where Taylor Swift was the special guest star. They should have included Motorhead in that episode.

VaneSSa said...

Given everyone who commented on this blog and their obsession with the Gibson Les Paul and Marshall Amplifier combo, I'm now beginning to wonder if electric guitar players are "audiophile / hi-fi enthusiasts" by nature. By the way, Veruca Salt's American Thighs - especially the Minty Fresh vinyl pressing has been facing stiff competition as of late as an unseemly audiophile demo disc. Like Green Day's 180 gram vinyl pressing of their American Idiot album.

Geraldine said...

I think great guitarists are natural born audiophiles. Check out Guitar Techniques magazine, especially their accompanying educational CDs. It's both fun to listen to, especially if you own a good hi-fi system. and educational enough to improve your guitar playing skills. Especially those pieces with unusual tunings - i.e. Dropped-D tuning, open tunings, Rory Gallagher's DADGAD tuning, etc.

hiltopuk said...

Has anyone heard of the Realistic Audiophile series LP's that where around in the 1970's. The had an American narration with test tones and dynamic sweep etc and other mad items. I would love to hear one again.

VaneSSa said...

Dear Hiltopuk,
I'm quite familiar with the Realistic brand and their series of turntables since these often turn up in garage sales and swap meets. Though I'm still unfamiliar with the Realistic series of test LPs or audiophile recordings.
Back in the 1970s - even though I was way too young to witness it given I'm born a few months after the Shoemaker-Levy Nine cometary disaster of 1996 - even budget equipment manufacturers give test records / cassette tape test music as freebies. I have a shelf full of cassette tape test recording freebies of Sony and Sanyo versions of the Walkman. From my neck of the woods, Realistic turntables are tend to be shunned by my elitist audio-buddies due to its "budget" nature. They prefer Pioneer's PL12 turntable as the cheapest minimum turntable to have. Janitors from my audio club even managed to own an EMT 927 broadcast turntable courtesy of their "honest" hedge fund manager.

Sherry Rashad said...

Manufacturers of cheerfully cheap entry-level hi-fi equipment often get too much hasty blotter from both the hi-fi press and hi-fi enthusiasts if they can't produce a "budget wonder" within 6 months of opening shop. Remember Pioneer producing their budget turntable wonder of the 1970s - the PL12D and the budget super-amp of the 1990s the Pioneer A400 power amp. As I've been only into serious "budget high-end" hi-fi equipment in 1995, the last place I saw Realistic turntables and tape decks is from my husband's old stack of hi-fi mags I often read to brush up on the more exotic aspects of hi-fi. The J&R Music World catalog from 1979 did list a Realistic turntable priced around 120 US dollars. Whether this includes a test LP, the catalog didn't tell.
Test LPs are extremely difficult - if not impossible - to come by these days. The two that I currently own - a JVC TRS-1007 and a Denon XL-707-9 - have Japanese instructions written in Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji letters. Hopefully, my high-school level Japanese reading and writing elective course became very handy. Plus Japan's compliance with the world standard engineering protocols of printing important engineering aspects in Roman-lettered English and Western numerals - i.e. VTA, 45 degrees, etc. - only helped matters.
I've got my only two test LP records from a second hand LP dealer in Singapore back in 1996. They were priced at 100 US dollars each even though both LPs looked liked they were rescued from the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. After 90 minutes of small talk, I've managed to haggle the shopkeeper to sell both of those LPs to me for 150 US dollars. I've been in e-mail contact with the shopkeeper till this day and he swears that he haven't encountered any test LPs other than the one he sold to me 13 years ago!
To tell you the truth I won't be parting with my JVC TRS-1007 test LP and my Denon XL-707-9 test LP for less than 5,000 US dollars.

VaneSSa said...

The CBS STR-100 test LP was probably the most widely sold test record during the 1970s. My grandfather managed to purchase one in Cebu City (hi-fi backwater of a place) back in 1972. Though as you say he can no longer do it in 2009 - even if he has US$5,000 to spare.

Kent said...

How To Measure A Planet? by The Gathering - probably the most unique and best recorded Heavy Metal audiophile record. Don't you agree?

Maribelle said...

Heads up guys, The Gathering's How To Measure A Planet? double CD album was also released on vinyl. I just recently found out on this, check out ebay postings on second hand vinyl of this wonderful album.
I've been always fascinated by this particular The Gathering album, especially the 28 minute 34 second-long title track found at the end of CD number two titled How To Measure A Planet?. This is not only an inspirational album, but an artistically inspired one.
The Classical Music-like acoustics you get from playing the How To Measure A Planet? CD is very prevalent - or is that endemic? - on HDCD-equipped Sony-sourced CD transports.

Michelle said...

Is vinyl on a big time comeback? How To Measure A Planet? by The Gathering was released in vinyl format by the way, probably as far back as 1998. Will Lunachicks be releasing vinyl versions of their albums anytime soon?
Veruca Salt's American Thighs - the Minty Fresh vinyl version - is probably a valuable collectible nowadays. And I also just found out that Metallica's Kill 'em All album is released in 200-gram audiophile vinyl.

Kim said...

Lunachicks is probably the only hi-fi sounding Punk Rock band in existence. Vinyl LPs of their various albums can be found offered for sale across the Net. Though the most common are Babysitters on Acid and Jerk of All Trades. If pretty Ugly has a vinyl version, it probably has a very gorgeous bass.
Lunachicks fans should also check out NY-based bands Circus of Power and Blitspeer who had played with them in the past.
P.S. Have and of you checked out Motörhead's very busy European tour in November and December 2009?

Venus said...

I've seen Motörhead's very busy Fall 2009 European Tour schedule and I wonder if they can play all dates. Given that they are road veterans, success is very much guaranteed.
Before they were "famous", Lunachicks was often mentioned by Blitzspeer fans and even opened for Blitzspeer and White Zombie.
Have any of you already seen The Gathering's DVD collection of concert footage and music video collection. The video for Liberty Bell seems to me to be a promo of space tourism by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

Ady said...

Lunachicks' Pretty Ugly Redbook spec CD is HDCD encoded folks.

Nadine said...

Weird fact: Lunachicks' Pretty Ugly CD GKCD24 makes the HDCD indicator light up even if the CD liner notes doesn't say that it is HDCD encoded.