Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Best Demo Music

CNET's "Audiophiliac" Steve Guttenberg has laid out his top albums for demoing speakers and headphones. (Here's his list.) As I don't own most of the albums on his list, I can't confirm or object, but of the two albums I do own (Holly Cole's Temptation and Rosanne Cash's Ten Song Demo), I'd say they're good choices.

A while back I put together an "audiophile playlist" that contains the tracks I use to show off my own system. Here's what's on the playlist, in no certain order:

  • "The Look of Love," Dusty Springfield, Casino Royale. This soundtrack to the 1960s movie, with music by Burt Bacharach, has long been an audiophile's delight. Dusty's vocals on this track are just so close and breathy, you really get the feeling she's sitting right beside.
  • "Don't Know Why," Norah Jones, Come Away with Me. More tight breathy vocals. Doesn't get much better than this. 
  • "I Don't Like Mondays" and "Time," Tori Amos, Strange Little Girls. Very upfront vocals, great presence.
  • "Written on the Back of His Hand" and "Song for Molly," Lucy Kaplansky, Every Single Day
  • "Priscilla," Suzanne Vega, Songs in Red and Gray. Chest-thumping bass drum.
  • "Stockings," Suzanne Vega, Nine Objects of Desire. 
  • "Brothers in Arms" and "Why Worry," Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms. Terrific (and terrifically recorded) guitar work from the legendary Mark Knopfler.
  • "You're a Big Girl Now" and "Simple Twist of Fate," Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks. Some of the best recorded acoustic guitar work ever.
  • "Round Here," Counting Crows, August and Everything After. Really. Just listen to it.
  • "Love Turns 40," Vienna Teng, Dreaming Through the Noise.
  • "Walk Away Renee," Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy, Adieu False Heart
  • "New Favorite" and "Let Me Touch You For Awhile," Alison Krauss & Union Station, New Favorite. It's like they're playing in your living room.
  • "Jericho," Joni Mitchell, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter. Bass by the late great Jaco Pastorius. 
  • "The First Five Chapters," Dianne Reeves, In the Moment: Live in Concert.
  • "The Music That Makes Me Dance," Shirley Horn, You Won't Forget Me.
  • "Peel Me a Grape," Nancy Wilson and Ramsey Lewis, Meant to Be.
  • "Twentysomething," Jamie Cullum, Twentysomething.
  • "Spring is Here," Charlie Haden and Kenny Barron, Night and the City. Intimate jazz, terrific acoustic bass.
  • "Fascinating Rhythm," Dave Grusin, The Gershwin Collection.
  • "Some Other Time," Gary Burton and Ralph Towner, Matchbook. Vibes and acoustic guitar. Wow.
  • "Electronic Performers," Air, 10,000Hz Legend. Powerful electronics. 
  • Carmen Fantasie, op. 25, Ruggerio Ricci and the London Symphony Orchestra, Carmen Fantasie/Havanaise
  • V: Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age (Adagio), Zubin Mehta and Los Angeles Philharmonic, Holst: The Planets

I also put Steely Dan's Aja and Al Stewart's Year of the Cat up there on my demo list, although they're not quite the audiophile quality as the rest of the list. (Aja comes very, very close, however.) Any of these tracks will give you immense sonic pleasure; they're all beautifully and lovingly recorded, without a lot of excess splash and woohoo. Just great music, recorded well.

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