Reference discs for auditioning

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Fergus
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Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Fergus » Tue Nov 16, 2010 6:07 pm

We all have reference discs when auditioning new equipment components or cabling which enable us to hopefully evaluate objectively what we are hearing in our new or prospective purchase. I have been using my reference CDs a little more than usual in the last few months. They are not necessarily (read definitely) the best recordings available for each of my chosen pieces but they certainly would be among my favourite performances. In this case familiarity breeds familiarity; as I would have listened to these pieces many, many times over the years this then puts me in a position that when I am auditioning a new purchase I can critically evaluate what I am hearing because I am not focusing on the music but what effect, if any, that the new purchase is having on the music.

I thought that I would post my reference pieces and what specifically I look for when doing an A/B comparison test....

Bach: Cantata BWV 54, 1st movement sung by Marga Hoffgen

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There are two reasons for choosing this one namely the quality of Hoffgen’s voice and (even though this is a re-mastered CD) the opening introduction has quite a muddied bass line. That bass line can be tightened up and the bass boom can be considerably reduced.


Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, 1st movement played by the Linde Consort....

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An early purchase for me and not a top quality recording but I still like the performances very much. The recorders can sound bright and harsh in the higher registers and these can be made to sound smoother with a more round sound.


Strauss: Four Last Songs, No. 3 Beim Schlafengehen sung by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf....

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This is a divine performance for me and it is used just to see how any new product will handle her voice. It is wonderful to hear her voice projected right into the room.


Beethoven: Archduke Trio, 1st movement played by Stern, Rose and Istomin....

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This one is used to assess the sound of the piano in the higher registers as well as the sound of the ‘cello and particularly the impact as it enters after those first few moments.


Beethoven: Symphony No.6, 4th movement played by the BPO/von Karajan....

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Not a particularly brilliant recording but the storm is very well captured here and as it develops this is my test for overall dynamics as well as the active bass lines that can be agitated. The roll over into the final movement when the storm subsides and the sun breaks from behind the black storm clouds can also be quite revealing.



What are your test/reference pieces and why?

7flat5
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by 7flat5 » Tue Nov 16, 2010 6:39 pm

I'll just throw out three of mine.

First, Jochum's Bruckner 4 on DG. The opening of I is a test of dynamics, but I also listen closely to how the system handles the exposed basses. It's a warm but accurate recording, and says a lot about orchestral bass balance.

Second, Ashkenazy's Decca/London recording of Sibelius' Karelia suite. First movement, Intermezzo, there are two things I listen for. The french horns and trumpets in the opening indicate a lot about image depth, and accuracy. The trumpets, especially, should be firmly placed and sound about a mile away, in the right rear. Also, the high note in the french horns is at a frequency that is not at all flattering to a lot of speakers. If there is a resonance there, you will get a horrible glare on the horns. After that, still in the first movement, the climax of the march has the basses, tuba, and tympani playing in unison--well, the same rhythm, anyway. On an especially clear system, you can hear each instrument's notes and timbre distinctly. It's just a general ommp ommp going on on most systems.

Finally, for brass dynamics and general warmth and transparency of sound, the Telarc Cincinnati-Lopez Cobos recording of Church Windows. It's just gorgeous.

I also always take along a good choral recording. And an old ECM for the cymbals...

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Nov 17, 2010 2:59 am

Ivan Moravec - Beethoven Piano Sonatas
Philip Glass - Koyaanisqatsi
Paul Simon - Graceland
Tallis Scholars - John Sheppard - Media Vita
Zinman/Upshaw - Gorecki - Symphony No.3
Karl Bohm - Bruckner No.4
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of The Moon
Simon and Garfunkel - Bookends
Zubin Mehta - Holst - The Planets
Claudio Abbado - Mahler 5+6
Quartetto Italiano - Beethoven - Razumovsky String Quartets
Clifford Curzon - Brahm's 1st Piano Concerto
Britten/Rostropovich - Schubert - Britten - Debussy - Cello Sonatas etc
Maria Callas - Lyric and Coloratura Arias - Puccini Arias

Plus a bundle of Shostakovich and Bach, numerous recordings especially SACD'S
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val
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by val » Wed Nov 17, 2010 5:20 am

The disc with Bach Cantatas was the first I ever had. I was a kid and my parents gave me that LP, with Kurt Thomas conducting the Cantatas BWV 4, 54 & 59. It made a very strong impression to me. It is one of those moments we never forget, like my first concert (Kubelik conducting Mahler's First Symphony) and my first opera (Don Giovanni with Tito Gobbi).

AntonioA
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by AntonioA » Wed Nov 17, 2010 9:58 am

Mahler: Symphony Nr 5/Rückert Lieder/Baker, NPO, Barbirolli, HMV SLS 785 (2 lp:s).
AntonioA

maestrob
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by maestrob » Wed Nov 17, 2010 11:40 am

Good topic!

When my Bozak speakers bit the dust some years back, I debated having the drivers replaced or buying new speakers, especially since the Bozak's had been bought in 1969 and were made to flatter LPs. I auditioned lots of high-end and other less expensive sets, and made a clearly informed decision to stick with replacing the drivers in my Bozaks: best audio investment I've ever made!

However, should my system fail, I always keep in mind a list of audition CDs that I would use to evaluate a new system.

Strauss songs: Soile Isokoski
Shostakovich IV: Gergiev
Respighi: Church Windows: Ormandy/Phila.
Shostakovich: Preludes & Fugues: Scherbakov (Track 14, Disc One)
Rachmaninov: Howard Shelley (Various tracks)
Saint-Saens/Poulenc: Organ Symphonies: Eschenbach/Phila.
Elgar: String Quintet: Naxos
Suk: String Serenade: Pesek/Czech Philh.
Shostakovich VIII: Kondrashin
Donizetti: Al dolce guidami: Caballe
A disc of favorite singers from my competition

This last item would be most important, since I worked with these young people live and the recordings were very well done in a Manhattan studio & Town Hall.

Choosing which CDs to take with me to an audio store would be a trial! :D

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Nov 17, 2010 2:58 pm

maestrob wrote:Choosing which CDs to take with me to an audio store would be a trial! :D
I always buy audio gear from companies that allow you to try the item out for 30 days, I never go to stores...
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Seán
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Seán » Wed Nov 17, 2010 4:05 pm

Chalkperson wrote:
maestrob wrote:Choosing which CDs to take with me to an audio store would be a trial! :D
I always buy audio gear from companies that allow you to try the item out for 30 days, I never go to stores...
There is only one Hi-Fi shop in Ireland, Cloney Audio and (perhaps you've heard of it Chalkie?) they (under Noel's management) have been in business since 1966. We can borrow equipment from them but I would imagine that one would have to have established a relationship with them first.
You are right in that you do have to listen to the kit at home before buying, however, you can exclude equipment in the showroom as well and that's where your auditioning discs are so important.
Seán

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Seán » Wed Nov 17, 2010 4:18 pm

LPs and/or CDs Fergus?

LPs:
Keith Jarrett;
Pat Metheny;
Gary Burton &
Thad Jones & Mel Lewis ORchestra

CDs:
Bill Evans;
Stan Getz &
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

Chailly/RCO - Mahler 3;
Guilini/CSO - Mahler 9;
Kitajenko/Gürzenich-Orchester Köln - Shostakovich 5
Brendel - Beethoven Sonatas
Seán

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Fergus
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Fergus » Wed Nov 17, 2010 4:42 pm

A very good response so far my friends and some interesting choices there too. Auditioning and making the final choice is so subjective it is interesting to see what helps people to make that decision.

Fergus
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Fergus » Wed Nov 17, 2010 4:44 pm

Seán wrote:LPs and/or CDs Fergus?
Just for clarification....any medium and/or any genre whatsoever....I am interested to see what people use as a reference and why :D

mikealdren
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by mikealdren » Sun Nov 21, 2010 1:57 pm

Fergus,
use the store to narrow down your choice but it always sounds different at home so arrange a trial! For the test in store, I would recommend choosing good recordings rather than your favourite performances, get a mix of piano, orchestra, chamber and voice. I'm always amazed that shops don't always have a selection of good recordings to show off their equipment. An easy solution, in the UK at least, used to be the Gramophone monthly CD, a good mix of recent recordings. Sadly they apparently no longer produce it, I gave up the magazine a few years ago, like many others I found it a shadow of its former self.

When you get the gear home, listen to everything you can. It's surprising how much equipment can vary and there isn't always a right answer.

Hope you have fun.

Mike

Fergus
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Fergus » Sun Nov 21, 2010 4:13 pm

Very good advice indeed Mike and thank you for that contribution :D

Holden Fourth
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Holden Fourth » Mon Nov 22, 2010 4:59 am

So what are you going to hear? The gamut most probably - voice, instrument, small ensemble, large ensemble, etc. CDs will vary in SQ.

So this is what I take along to any audition or listen at home and for the following reasons.

Mozart PS K545 - Uchida. Somehow Philips stuffed this up and on inferior systems this recording can sound glassy and hard. How a new component handles this is important. Solo piano is the hardest sound to capture authentically on a HiFi system. a system that can make the piano on a CD match the sound of the one in my living room is what I want.

"So" - Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer. I don't know who the guy playing bass on this was but he goes so low it's awesome - if you can hear the notes. A good system will let you hear all the bass notes.

Hummel - Piano Trios BAT This will give me a good idea of how the instruments are located spatially. If they sound too close together where I start to have problems separating them into definite spots in space then something is wrong.

Schubert Lieder Vol 3 - Hyperion. If the human voice sounds dodgy then the system can't be good.

Verdi Requiem or Fricsay LvB 9 IV - choral excellence

Rossini Overtures - Reiner/CSO - orchestral excellence

Jackson Brown - "Lives in the Balance" for clarity of part work.

7flat5
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by 7flat5 » Tue Nov 23, 2010 12:03 am

Holden Fourth wrote: "So" - Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer. I don't know who the guy playing bass on this was but he goes so low it's awesome - if you can hear the notes. A good system will let you hear all the bass notes.
That's Tony Levin. Grad of the Eastman School, in orchestral bass. http://www.papabear.com/miscpages/speech.htm

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Chalkperson » Tue Nov 23, 2010 2:46 am

7flat5 wrote:
Holden Fourth wrote: "So" - Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer. I don't know who the guy playing bass on this was but he goes so low it's awesome - if you can hear the notes. A good system will let you hear all the bass notes.
That's Tony Levin. Grad of the Eastman School, in orchestral bass. http://www.papabear.com/miscpages/speech.htm
Come to my house, the bass will rumble your stomach and vibrate the floor on that track...Bi Amped Macinosh Speakers with Double Sub Woofers... :D
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Fergus
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Fergus » Tue Nov 23, 2010 2:29 pm

Chalkperson wrote: Come to my house, the bass will rumble your stomach and vibrate the floor on that track...Bi Amped Macinosh Speakers with Double Sub Woofers... :D
The earth obviously moves when you play certain types of music Chalkie....you obviously have very agreeable neighbours or none at all :lol:

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by gperkins151 » Tue Nov 23, 2010 10:53 pm

Natan Brand - Schumann/Chopin Studio CD on BNL - The best a piano has ever sounded on CD, IMO. Full, rich sound. Unfortunately OOP, though.

Anita Baker - Rapture - mastered by the great Barry Diament, this one sounds breathtaking

Phil Collins - Face Value - also mastered by Diament, this album sounds superb. I love the moment when the drums kick in on In the Air Tonight.

The Eagles - Hotel California - DCC - Mastered by Steve Hoffman - Incredible!

Joni Mitchell - Blue - DCC - Incredibly realistic vocals
George

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by gperkins151 » Tue Nov 23, 2010 10:55 pm

Fergus wrote:
Chalkperson wrote: Come to my house, the bass will rumble your stomach and vibrate the floor on that track...Bi Amped Macinosh Speakers with Double Sub Woofers... :D
The earth obviously moves when you play certain types of music Chalkie....you obviously have very agreeable neighbours or none at all :lol:
LOL!!! :lol: :lol:
George

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Nov 24, 2010 1:44 am

Fergus wrote:
Chalkperson wrote: Come to my house, the bass will rumble your stomach and vibrate the floor on that track...Bi Amped Macinosh Speakers with Double Sub Woofers... :D
The earth obviously moves when you play certain types of music Chalkie....you obviously have very agreeable neighbours or none at all :lol:
I have a loft in what was once a Manufacturing Building down by Wall Street, it has 18 inch thick concrete floors, triple sheetrock walls and 12 foot ceilings...the neighbors can't hear me, or me them...and because it's the Financial District that means no traffic at night or weekends, bliss... :D
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Fergus
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Fergus » Wed Nov 24, 2010 1:48 pm

Chalkperson wrote:
Fergus wrote:
Chalkperson wrote: Come to my house, the bass will rumble your stomach and vibrate the floor on that track...Bi Amped Macinosh Speakers with Double Sub Woofers... :D
The earth obviously moves when you play certain types of music Chalkie....you obviously have very agreeable neighbours or none at all :lol:
I have a loft in what was once a Manufacturing Building down by Wall Street, it has 18 inch thick concrete floors, triple sheetrock walls and 12 foot ceilings...the neighbors can't hear me, or me them...and because it's the Financial District that means no traffic at night or weekends, bliss... :D
That would explain a lot all right 8)

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Guitarist » Wed Nov 24, 2010 2:40 pm

I'd suggest Espen Aspaas' piano recital on the 2L label (Beethoven, Webern, Berg, Schoenberg). The piano has tremendous presence and power. In fact, almost any recording on that label is amazing.

Edit: A few additions:

E. Power Biggs' "Bach Four Great Toccatas and Fugues" (SACD).
Mozart Symphonies by Levine and the BSO--a live SACD recording on BSO's label.
"Virtuoso Guitar Transcriptions" played by Hubert Kappel on the GSP label
"Britten's Orchestra" on the Reference Recording label (SACD)
Mendelssohn String Quintets on BIS (SACD)
Bach Goldberg Variations on the Alba label (SACD)
Vivaldi Op.3 on the Arts label (SACD)
Last edited by Guitarist on Fri Nov 26, 2010 4:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Barry » Wed Nov 24, 2010 2:45 pm

Symphonic synthesis from Acts II and III of Tristan by Stokowski/Philadelphia; recorded during one of Stoki's return visits to Philly in the early 60s. I have it on EMI as part of the Stokowski "Great Conductors of the Century" set.

This recording defines orchestral beauty for me.
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by maestrob » Thu Nov 25, 2010 10:51 am

Barry wrote:Symphonic synthesis from Acts II and III of Tristan by Stokowski/Philadelphia; recorded during one of Stoki's return visits to Philly in the early 60s. I have it on EMI as part of the Stokowski "Great Conductors of the Century" set.

This recording defines orchestral beauty for me.
Barry:

I'm with you on this choice. Those were the glory days in Philadelphia, and it's an outstanding recording. Stoki works magic with those strings.....

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by RebLem » Fri Nov 26, 2010 4:06 pm

Here are some of mine:

Shostakovich 5--Barshai.
Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor--Marie Claire Alain, Erato.
Mussorgsky: Pictures--Giulini, CSO, DGG.
Douglas Moore: The Ballad of Baby Doe--Beverly Sills, et al--those whip cracks near the beginning are a real test.

And then, somewhere around here, I have a Richard Beaser CD of dulcimer music. Its very quiet music, and that's important, too. Loud music can disguise hum and noise coming from the equipment. This one can't.

Oh, and before I get any wisecracks about the neighbors--both my northern and southern neighbor have their garages and kitchens closet to my property. Bedrooms in both cases are on the far sides of their houses. They don't hear my music, I am confident.
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Fergus
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Fergus » Fri Nov 26, 2010 5:34 pm

RebLem wrote:
And then, somewhere around here, I have a Richard Beaser CD of dulcimer music. Its very quiet music, and that's important, too. Loud music can disguise hum and noise coming from the equipment. This one can't.
That is a very valid point and one well made.

I once owned and played a dulcimer many years ago and have not done so for a very long time....would you possibly have a link for that CD that you mention above or any other similiar ones that you might recommend?

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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by RebLem » Sun Dec 05, 2010 4:25 pm

Fergus wrote:
RebLem wrote: And then, somewhere around here, I have a Richard Beaser CD of dulcimer music. Its very quiet music, and that's important, too. Loud music can disguise hum and noise coming from the equipment. This one can't.
That is a very valid point and one well made.

I once owned and played a dulcimer many years ago and have not done so for a very long time....would you possibly have a link for that CD that you mention above or any other similiar ones that you might recommend?
I'm afeerd not, Fergus. I can tell you it wasn't Richard Beaser, but Robert Beaser, whose Mountain songs, originally composed for guitar and flute, are available in several recordings in that configuration. This dulcimer CD involves a transcription. I am afraid it is packed away in a cardboard box in my garage, and I am unpacking the classical CDs first. It will be a while before I start unpacking the boxes (I'm not sure which one) which contain this CD. Sorry.

But I did find another little bit that I think is a good test record of not very wide ranging music, but of a bit of business that has more to do with accurately portrying timbre than volume changes.

Near the end of Act 2 of the Britten recording of his own opera Albert Herring, is a little scene in which a coin falls on a table or the floor or some hard surface, and spins around before it settles down. It was so realistic on my stereo that I thought at first that it was actually happening in my living room amd began looking around for a fallen, spinning coin!
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Re: Reference discs for auditioning

Post by Fergus » Sun Dec 05, 2010 4:59 pm

RebLem wrote: I'm afeerd not, Fergus. I can tell you it wasn't Richard Beaser, but Robert Beaser, whose Mountain songs, originally composed for guitar and flute, are available in several recordings in that configuration. This dulcimer CD involves a transcription. I am afraid it is packed away in a cardboard box in my garage, and I am unpacking the classical CDs first. It will be a while before I start unpacking the boxes (I'm not sure which one) which contain this CD. Sorry.
That is no problem at all....priorities, I know.
That is very interesting about the coin....a touch of realism 8)

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