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AudioRevolution.comís Best Music Demos EVER! Print E-mail
Thursday, 13 December 2007

manufacturer:’s Best Music Demos EVER!
category: Feature Article
reviewed by: Jerry Del Colliano’s Best Music Demos EVER!

There is no denying the fact that, as music and audio-video enthusiasts, we constantly search for the best-sounding music to play back on our systems. Here is a list of 24 of my favorite recordings that provide everything from bombastic bass lines to crystal clear imaging to spacey trips to audio outer space. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Rickie Lee Jones -- "Dat Dere" from Pop Pop, Geffen

My mentors, Mark Levinson and Christopher Hansen, agree this cut is a killer. The recording is so sweet, even on CD, you’d swear you had a recording one generation off from the master. The effect of the kid running all around the soundstage makes you wonder if you are listening to surround even when you only own two loudspeakers.

Pink Floyd -- "Welcome To The Machine" Wish You Were Here, Columbia 1975

This track holds a special place in my heart. When I was a 14-year-old music addict and audio freak it was "Welcome To The Machine" that enabled me to blow up my first (but far from my last) speakers – Dalhquist DQ10s. When properly powered on a modern music system, "Welcome To The Machine" can not only exercise the low end of your music system but can transport you to another planet. It is a rare cut, let alone record, that can suspend a listener’s disbelief. This is one of those rare ones.

Jimi Hendrix -- "Castles Made of Sand" Axis Bold As Love 1998 remaster on MCA

A whacked out upside-down late 1960s Fender Strat wired up with the thickest strings you can buy run through a sickeningly sweet vintage Marshall amp – never sounded so good. Add in the fact that Jimi Hendrix is, to this day, the most innovative guitarist ever to strap on six-string and you have a true test for any audio system. You want to listen for the resonances and little musical nuances caused by the sliding positions in Castele’s intro. A less-than-resolute system will blur the twangy ring of the strings. Dialed-in Martin-Logan’s with a juicy tube amp will direct dial Hendrix in heaven for you.

Stevie Wonder – "Superstition" Talking Book, Motown

Make note: this is no audiophile CD. You’ll want to crank the volume to the last notch for "Superstition" in that this Stevie Wonder slams so hard when given its needed energy. Listen for Stevie’s voice to be warm, smooth and dynamic while the bass line is ripping out some serious funk. Add in the guitar riffs and the horns, and you have a real demo that could blow the Bic pen right out of the pocket protector of your neighborhood audiophile. You and your friends with funk deep down in their souls may find how great the music of Stevie Wonder sounds today.

The Orb – "Little Fluffy Clouds" U.F Off – The Best of the Orb, Island

Escapism is one of the best reasons to own a high- performance music system. To be able to take off to another musical planet with nothing more than a twist of the volume knob and a dimming of the lights is of tremendous value after a stressful day at work. The Orb is about as spacey, trippy and out there as you can get. With a Rickie Lee Jones sample depicting the night sky in Arizona as she remembers it from childhood and the most out-there textural techno orchestrations, "Little Fluffy Clouds" is a nouveau audio standard.

Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim "Baubles Bangles and Beads" 1967, Capitol

Mr. Sinatra’s style is undeniable. Taking on the bossanova grooves and sultry guitar strummings of Antonio Carlos Jobim "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" is one of the smoothest tracks you can demo. The instrumentation is not as grand as you’d hear on a full blown Sinatra record however its martini inspiring guitar chops and velvety crooning make for an oh-so-groovy jam. Just because you spent major bucks on your stereo doesn’t mean you don’t have style.

Pink Floyd – the entire record of The WALL – Pink Floyd Box Set remaster – Sony Music

While there were pop singles from The Wall like "Comfortably Numb," the record as a dark look into the dysfunctional world of both the childhood and adult life of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters is perhaps the best start-to-finish demo of all time. The highlights include the quote "Are All These Your Guitars?" from "One Of My Turns," which feature a one-night stand house guest marveling at the grandeur of Pink’s apartment. Her voice panning from left to right and side to side sounds as if it was in 5.1 surround, even with two speakers. Reportedly the live show of The Wall was performed in 4.1 quadraphonic sound. Other killers on The Wall include the helicopter transition into "Another Brick In The Wall Part 1" and such adventures in grandeur as "Waiting For The Worms." There are a number of recordings of The Wall, including a traditional CD release from Columbia, which is very good. However, the entire Pink Floyd boxed set features excellent remasters of the highest quality. Mobile Fidelity once reissued a version of The Wall that I owned (until it was stolen from me). It too was something special, but it has been out of print for years. The last time I saw it at SoundEx, a high-end audio video boutique in Philadelphia, they wanted $400 for it. The entire Pink Floyd catalog boxed set is a much better, far more accessible option at $129.

Dave Brubeck Quartet "Blue Rondo ala Turk" Take 5 – Columbia Remaster or Classic records

One of Mark Levinson’s biggest pitches about the Cello system is its ability to reproduce, at realistically high volumes, not only the dynamics but also the accurate decay times of cymbals. "Blue Rondo ala Turk" is the most groovy, best-recorded and mastered example of what Mr. Levinson preaches. The riding on the cymbals can sound dull and not very exciting on underpowered systems or those lacking resolution. On a great system, the depth on this track jumps into three dimensions. The standard CD is pretty good, but the Columbia Super Bit Mapped reissue is worth hunting down. Chad at Acoustic Sounds or 1-800-everyCD are good places to start your search. The extra money is worth it. The rest of the album is musically phenomenal and historically significant in that this was the first popular jazz record to explore alternatives to 4/4 time signatures.

John Coltrane – "My Favorite Things" My Favorite Things, Atlantic 1960

It isn’t recording quality that makes a great demo: it is melodic content. There are better-sounding modern jazz records that use the latest 24-bit 96-kHz digital techniques and $10,000 mikes. However, they lack the sultry and familiar melody of "My Favorite Things." One of the biggest advantages of this track is that you can play it for a non-audio enthusiast and the person will still immediately identify with the music. You can’t say that about most audiophile recordings. Enjoy, specifically, the rapid-fire runs and their simplicity amidst the barrage of notes. Also listen for the absolute detail with Coltrane’s fingering in many of his solos on this record.

Mozart’s 29th Symphony Pope Music

Gene Pope doesn’t make records any more, which is truly a shame. His recordings reflected both the most cutting- edge digital 24-bit recording techniques of his day, as well as the most beautifully simple miking and mastering work. Gene predominately used a Cello recording and mastering system, complete with Cello Encore Mic Preamps, multiple Nagra 24-bit record decks and a Cello Reference system. The result, unlike most audiophile recordings, is stunning both emotionally and in terms of the 16-bit CD. Part of the beauty of the familiarity of the Mozart is the light, airy and very un-digital sound Gene got on a CD. Many man hours went into making this CD something special and, while I only own 100 classical CDs, this one is far and away the best in my ears.

Stravinski Le Scare Du Primptemps – Dance of the Firebird – Various Labels and Performances

Igor Stravinsky is my favorite composer of the 20th Century. While some of his music is tough to listen to because of his experimental use of huge jumps in melody and complex rhythms (the exact opposite of what make "My Favorite Things" excellent), Le Sacre Du Primptemps is perhaps the most bombastic, politically unsettling classical recording ever. At the first performance of Le Scare Du Primptemps (The Rite of Spring) in Paris, the audience broke into a riot. Stravinski could be considered the AC-DC of the 1920s. Musically, "The Dance Of The Firebird" is explosive orchestral music that features at least a minute of build-up to thundering tympani crashes and edgy horn blasts. You need lots of power and a big system to reproduce this piece with the type of emotion that will cause a riot. It is not impossible, however. As with many classical pieces, you’ll need to shop for the performance that best suits your tastes. At Cello, we had a DAT of a performance that Mark Levinson mastered in 1974 that was very exciting and dynamic -- as if Mark would have it any other way. Other versions I have heard are wimpier. I like the Philips recording of the Berlin Philharmonic rendition. It isn’t quite as dynamic as Mark’s recording, but you can’t exactly go out and buy Mark’s DAT either.

The Chemical Brothers "Block Rockin’ Beats" Dig Your Own Hole, 1997 Astralwerks

At a trade show in London, Tim Duffy, at the time the Director of International Sales for EggelstonWorks loudspeakers, made "Block Rockin’ Beats" a reference track of legendary status all in one weekend. The Chemical Brothers use everything and the kitchen sink to create a peel-the-paint-from-the-ceiling soundscape in this song. It isn’t the most flowery mid-range. It isn’t the most resolute treble: in fact, it is kind of shrill. What you get is the most balls-to-the-wall, modern production of techno-rock that packs big bass and an even bigger soundstage into four minutes and 32 seconds of audio nirvana.

AC-DC "Girl’s Got Rhythm, Highway To Hell remastered, Atlantic

"The girl’s got rhythm -- the back seat rhythm." When the late Bon Scott sings it, it has profound meaning. AC-DC resides in the elite group of rock acts that transcend era and gender (Areosmith, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones) to appeal to generation after generation of music fans. The musical test here is to close your eyes and imagine Angus Young dressed in a velvet schoolboy outfit soloing like a fish out of water on stage. Got it? Good. Actually, my favorite way to dig this cut is to harness my Fender Stratocaster, power up my Marshall combo and crank up my trusty old WATT Puppies. Talk about getting into your music. Talk about making an ass of yourself. Forget that: no one is home anyway. Just have fun and rock out.

Duke Ellington "Mood Indigos" Ellington Indigos Sony

Featuring Johnny Hartman on vocalsl, this Ellington orchestration of a classic tune also features squeaky- clean violin sound that captures the essence of the French verses of the song. Dim the lights, pour two glasses of vino and proclaim yourself "Jean-Pierre, the master lover" on your next date. You never know what can happen, all thanks to your hi-fi and the right CD. If it works, don’t forget to share your stories with your favorite AV e-zine!

Michael Jackson "Jam" Dangerous, Epic 1992

Q-Sound came and went about as fast as New Coke, but the technology made its way onto some well-crafted, great-sounding, big-budget pop records. The absolute best way to trick your friends (or yourself) into imagining you can hear surround sound from your two speakers is to dial in this cut. Q-Sound manipulates the phase of the record, which results in the effect of certain musical effects jumping way out of the soundstage. On "Dangerous," the effect is breaking glass and you’d swear somebody just broke a big old sheet right over your head. Beware not to crank this one up too loud the first time because you could scare yourself and or blow a tweeter across the room. Also keep the CD remote handy, because you’ll want to hear this effect over and over again. If you find that this cut becomes one of your faves, buy Madonna’s Immaculate Collection and tune in "Vogue." The bass is colon-loosening and the Q-sound effects are also righteous.

Barry White "Practice What You Preach" The Icon is Love A&M 1994

Talk about a comeback. Hollywood is good that way: Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra (twice), John Travolta and now Barry White have all made amazing resurrections. The comeback record for Barry White, The Icon Is Love, is possibly the best test of low-end performance for your music system. Everyone knows Barry booms the deep notes better than anyone, but the use of slinky bass lines and bass enhancing processors make for a bottom-end reference disc. Add in the simply hilarious sexual double entendres and you have an overall killer in The Icon Is Love.

Marcus Miller "Funny (All She Needs is Love) The Sun Don’t Lie

One of my favorite high-end audio clients is Reverend Noel Jones. Noel is an enthusiastic preacher in South Central Los Angeles and is also brother to androgynous rocker Grace Jones. Reverend Jones has a taste for the best and demands a bass sound that is both tight and deep, as well as crystal-clear high-frequency resolution. His demo track of choice is "Funny (All She Needs Is Love)" from Marcus Miller’s The Sun Don’t Lie, which hits some of the absolute lowest, eviction notice-inspiring notes I have ever heard. About one minute into the cut, the song breaks down into a dramatically quiet passage where you can discern the subtleties of the decay times of the cymbals only on the best systems. Reverend Jones owns Wilson WATT Puppies, Wilson CUBs with Sunfire Woofers and Cello Stradivari Grand Masters, primarily because of this CD.

Teddy Pendergrass "Love TKO" TP Right Stuff 1979

Having grown up in Philadelphia with a radio program director for a father, it is natural that I’d love the genre known as Phillysound: The O’Jays, The Delphonics, The Spinners, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, to name only a few of the best performers. Teddy Pendergrass, another popular icon of the genre, pumps out some of the sexiest jams of the 1970s on his album TP. "Love TKO" is of special note because of its round bass line, drawn-out melody and soulful vocal performance. I use it as a reference cut precisely because it is not a good recording. I love the song and if I hear the vocals rich and the bass line tight on a system I am evaluating, I know it is a great system. The point of a cost-no-object system is to be able to play back any music you want to hear, no matter what the recording, so that it comes out better than you expected it would sound.

The Beatles "Michelle" Rubber Soul, Capitol 1965

This record precedes many modern pop music production techniques. However, the simplicity of not only the melody and accompaniment but the beauty of the message transcends the best music systems. You’ll note the hard-panned musical presentation, which creates a hole in the soundstage, but it is easy to forget when considering the lushness of the sound (especially the remastered version). This song harkens back to a simpler time, when rock and roll was an emerging art form. This track makes the cut some 34 years after its recording.

David Byrne "Independence Day" Rei Momo, Warner Brothers 1989

David Byrne gained popular notoriety for his role as the front man of the 1980s pop act Talking Heads. Byrne and other ‘80s icons, such as Peter Gabriel and Sting, now look to more international musical influences to inspire their solo work. "Independence Day" is just the most poppy cut on a very well done, Brazilian-influenced record. The recording is stunning, especially considering its depth and warmth. Byrne’s choice of exotic instruments helps create a festive feel that lasts the whole record through. This is a great album to have on your music playback system during a party, as it is fun and easy to dance to. Even at very low levels, this superior-sounding record demonstrates how amazing music can sound from a CD.

Harry Connick Jr. "Love Is Here To Stay" When Harry Met Sally Soundtrack, Sony Music

Okay, you have a date over or you are trying to justify to your wife why you invested $10,000 in a pair of loudspeakers. Play the Pope Music Mozart cut first -- no more than one minute with a soft fadeout, with you at the volume control. Don’t forget to light the candles and dim the lights. The next track you’ll want to play is "Love Is Here To Stay" From this Harry Connick Jr. record. You may be referring to how in love you are with your speakers, but she’ll never know the difference. Then hit the Barry White’s "Practice What You Preach" and it is game on! The Harry Connick Jr. cut is absolutely great for reproducing a big piano tone and a modern representation of a vintage vocal crooner sound. On the best systems I have played, you can hear on this cut the sliding fingers on the thickly wound stand-up bass strings.

Janet Jackson "Go Deep" The Velvet Rope Virgin 1997

I could make a strong argument for this being the best- sounding commercial pop record ever. "Go Deep" lives up to its billing with a floorboard-splitting low end, coupled with lots of percussive elements neatly organized across the soundstage. The test here is to crank up the volume and see if the bass stays rock hard while the imaging continues to be coherent. You know you need to upgrade your amp when the cut sounds collapsed or starts to sound fatiguing.

Lyle Lovett "Church" Joshua Judges Ruth, MCA 1992

Joshua Judges Ruth is the best-sounding CD of all time. Okay, I said it. Argue with me if you like. I don’t care. I don’t even like country music. However, the Joshua Judges Ruth CD is so good in terms of performance and recording that I can ignore its genre. "Church" is a long tune featuring Lyle on vocals and an ever-growing ensemble of performers and singers. The drawback to the cut is that it takes a good 3:30 to get to the best parts of the song, but it is worth the wait. The piano tone is super lush. Lyle’s vocals are rich but still twangy. The gospel choir is out of control, seemingly having an out- of-body experience, which is exactly what listening to Joshua Judges Ruth is like. There is also a new 5.1, 20- bit version of this CD, but the two-channel version is the best of its kind.

Boyz II Men "Thank You" II DTS Entertainment, 1998

While you need a 5.1 surround system complete with a DTS decoder to enjoy the benefits of this special CD, it makes a good argument for buying new gear. First off, the CD is recorded with 20-bit sound, as opposed to 16-bit, which makes it WAY more dynamic and rich-sounding than even the best traditional 16-bit CDs. Second, the 5.1 mix explores in digital terms what the best mixing engineers have been trying to accomplish in two channels since the invention of stereo. "Thank You" is a somewhat cheesy track when it breaks into the rapping section, but before that, the four-part vocal section of the song uses every speaker in your system to make the statement that stereo could be dead very soon. The cover of the Beatles tune "Yesterday" is a better song overall, but it lacks non-vocal bass. It does really layer and move the vocal harmonies around the fully discrete 360-degree soundstage. The upside is that this is the pinnacle of what the music industry can squeeze onto a CD. The downside is that there are only 130 DTS CDs on the market to date. Not to worry. With the proliferation of DVD players capable of both AC3 and DTS playback for both CDs, DVD-V (the ones that now play movies and can also play 20- to 24-bit audio) as well as DVD-A (high- performance two and 5.1-channel audio), there are increasing reasons why consumers will upgrade to 5.1 audio capabilities for both DVD movies and music. As this trend accelerates, you’ll see record companies jumping on the 5.1 bandwagon. This is NOT a fad - this is the future.

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