Are our 'test' records adequate?


Most of us have some favourite records with which to check the health of our systems, or to assess a new component within our systems.
These records are often carried with us whenever we wish to assess a completely foreign system in a different environment. I have my favourite ‘test’ records, some of which I continue to use even after 30 years. I know them (or parts of them), so intimately that I feel confident in my ability to assess a component or complete system after just one listen.
I know other audiophiles who have specialised their ‘test’ records to such an extent that they have different discs to evaluate for Voice, Bass, Large Orchestral, Chamber, Piano, Strings, Drums, Jazz, Rock.
Almost invariably, these vinyl discs are superbly recorded and sound stunning, not just on very fine systems, but also on average systems.
Of course, because each of us knows his own discs so intimately, it is possible to assess the 'omissions'in a foreign system by memory, often to the puzzlement of those to whom the discs are not so well known and to whom the sound had been thoroughly satisfying and impressive?
But I have begun to wonder recently, if this is in fact the most reliable method of evaluating components and systems?
I am sure most of us have heard records on our systems which are almost unlistenable or certainly unpleasant and we have simply placed these discs in the 'never to played' shelf of our storage unit?
But perhaps some of these records might be more revealing than our fabulously recorded 'test' material?
For some time I have been disturbed by two records in my collection, which despite their fame, have sounded poorly (in various parts) despite improvements to my turntable, speakers, amplifiers and cartridges.

Harvest by Neil Young on Reprise (7599-27239-1) has some nicely recorded tracks (Out On The Weekend, Harvest, Heart Of Gold) as well as 2 tracks (Alabama, Words), which have confounded me with their leaness, lack of real bass, vocal distortion and complete lack of depth. The album was recorded at four different venues with three different Producers and those two tracks share the same Producers and venues.
After mounting a Continuum Copperhead arm as well as a DaVinci 12" Grandezza on my Raven AC-3 and carefully setting arm/cartridge geometries with the supplied Wally Tractor and Feikert disc protractor, I was actually able to listen to these tracks without flinching, and could now clearly ascertain the 'out-of-key' harmonies of Stephen Stills together with the clearly over-dubbed lead guitar boosted above the general sound level on the right channel and the completely flat soundstage.

Respighi Pines of Rome (Reiner on the Classic Records re-issue of the RCA LSC-2436) had always brought my wife storming down the hallway at the 'screeching' Finale whilst I scrambled for the volume control to save my bleeding ears.
Again with the two stellar arms and strict geometry, the 117 musicians could not hide the shrill, thin and overloaded recording levels of the horns (particularly the trumpets).
But the wife stayed away and my volume level remained unchanged.

My wonderfully recorded 'test' records had sounded just fine with my previous Hadcock arm but it's only now, when two 'horror' discs can be appreciated, that I truly believe my system 'sings'.
Perhaps we could re-listen to some 'horror' discs in our collection and, with some adjustments to our set-up, make them, if not enjoyable, at least listenable?
Convert?fit=crop&h=128&rotate=exif&w=128halcro
...to have the "reference" records is the main pain in this hobby as you have found....It happened to me several times, that I had to pull the "seconds" out to be sure!But all is for fun!Enjoy it!
"am sure most of us have heard records on our systems which are almost unlistenable or certainly unpleasant and we have simply placed these discs in the 'never to played' shelf of our storage unit?"

One of my goals in upgrading is to minimize disks that fall into this category. If a system makes the lesser recordings sound presentable, then there is a good chance the recordings that already sound good will sound even better.

I've found this strategy works better in that these kinds of improvements are less subjective...you know them when you hear them whereas tweaking using the current best sounding recording (to you on your current system) can often become a more subjective exercise in which inherently really good sound happens to appeal to you.

Assuming a recording itself is not damaged or defective, I've discovered that when a recording actually sounds "bad" or fatiguing, as opposed to enjoyable to listen to, it is often due to shortcoming in the playback system. There are few if any cases I can think of currently where even a lesser recording is not enjoyable to listen to assuming an enjoyable performance to start with.

BTW, I agree also that "Pines of Rome" well recorded is an extremely challenging piece for systems to make listenable I have found over the years, hence a good "test" piece. Its a piece that has a lot of complex things going on in the high end that it seems lesser systems can not sort out well, with strident sounding results.
It was just one record, Chopin's second piano concerto by Charles Rosen, that has gotten me to upgrade a fair amount to get it to where it was listenable. The opening orchestra was just awful until a number of changes were made. Is it a test record? No, but it is one I really enjoy and have worked to make it listenable.
Dear Halcro: That depend, " adequate " to what? what are you trying to test? how deep is your music ( live event ) know-how/experiences? and your priorities? do you know the limits of the audio system? do you already heard other home audio systems that are better aand lot better than yours? which are your references? do you have an estrategy/method to make the testing work?. IMHO I think that these and many other questions are important to have our each one answer.

Of course that when you are a real expert about it is extremely easy ( almost automatic ) to make the right tests to achieve conclusions about.

I choose my test LP tracks for normal or audiophile recordings where my ears and music/sound experiences tell me that the sound is near the " real " sound of that instrument or notes/harmonics in live event but recorded through a micro.
Each one of us have a different estrategy. I choose some of those LP tracks to fix ( first ) the frequency extremes, normally ( not always ) when those frequency extremes are on target ( special de bass range ) the tonal balance is on target with a " real " midrange response.

I'm very sensitive to those frequency extremes and I always look for it. A great midrange with a low frequency extremes performance don't makes any sense to me, the music is not only midrange but alot lot more than that.

What to look for?, well first that an ( example ) alto sax sounds like an alto sax or that a cello souns like a cello and not like a doublebass, so timbre accuracy is critical. Second, transients all over the frequency range but very special on the hig frequency instrument response. Third, definition/precision here too specially at both frequency extremes: that the bas-low bass sounds are defined/tight and with no overhang where I can discern between bass notes and on highs ( cimbals or the like ) that I can hear with almost there clarity how/where the sticks hit and the harmonics decay. All these steps normally take me to achieve a neutral tonal balance that IMHO is a must to have in almost any home audio system.

There are other steps during my evaluations in my home system but maybe I need a book to write about, things are not so easy like I write here, many of these steps have an intimate relationship between them but what I posted could help to understand how I make my quality performance evaluations in any audio system.

Obviously the set-up is in " pristine " condition ( no doubt about ): nothing less nothing more.
When my conlcusions are that everythig is " dancing " in the right way I can enjoy every single LP I heard/hear including those " dificult " ones.

Halcro, you start to enjoying when you put those great tonearms and when you was sure that the set-up was right on target, with that job you asure ( at least ) that the whole analog rig distortions goes lower so now the LPs ( everyone ) sounds with less distortions, more clarity, more transparency, more neutral and with a new " life ".

That " dificult " LPs that now you are enjoying are telling you that your " job " was first rate: congratulations!!!

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Dear Halcro: I forgot: Yes, IMHO mines are " adequate ".

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
" tweaking using the current best sounding recording (to you on your current system) can often become a more subjective exercise in which inherently really good sound happens to appeal to you."
An excellent point Mapman. The danger here is that one could 'tune' one's system to emphasise those aspects which appeal on favourite records.....and this, as you correctly observe, becomes a subjective exercise whereas 'tuning' one's system to reduce the distortion levels on poor sounding discs (as Raul points out), is an exercise allowing more objectivity?
"that the whole analog rig distortions goes lower so now the LPs ( everyone ) sounds with less distortions, more clarity, more transparency, more neutral and with a new " life ".
Spot-on dear Raul!
In fact, I believe as you apparently do, that it is the reduction in 'distortions' throughout the chain....cartridge, arm, turntable, phono- preamp, preamp, amps, speakers, crossovers, cables which ultimately render the poorly recorded records 'listenable'.

Regards....and I am enjoying the music.
our memories of what it sounded like a half an hour ago are indeed 'imagined'.
Jaybo is dead on here.

"Sonic memory" is indeed very short-lived.
Dear Jaybo: With all respect IMHO that's a " legendary myth " ( nothing more ) like many other ones that exist in audio.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Agree with Raul. The "audio memory is short" truism has been posted a million times, but I've never found it so. My experience is that as we listen to more music and as our systems evolve our audio memory improves, as do most brain functions when exercised.

Simple example: I last heard a live cello several months ago. Nevertheless, if I heard one live today I'd have no trouble identifying it. If I heard a recorded cello I'd have no trouble identifying that, and also no trouble describing ways in which the recorded sound differed from the real thing. How could I do this without retaining the memory of the sound of a live cello?

Too easy, you say? Here's another: my mom has absolute pitch recall. She hasn't had a piano in her home in 15 years, but if someone plays an "F" she can still tell you it's an "F", every time (assuming modern tuning). If the "F" is sharp or flat, she'll tell you that too. Ask her to sing an "F" and she will, perfectly. At some point, many decades ago, she learned that a certain frequency and its multiples are all named "F". She stored the memory of that frequency and can recall it at will. There's nothing "short" about her audio memory.

Raul's audio memory is different from Paul's. I know this because each of them identified sonic inaccuracies in the other one's preamp in a matter of minutes, inaccuracies neither owner had ever noticed. When listening to the other's preamp, each of them remembered things their own preamp did better. This is is evidence of long-term audio memory, for different things in different individuals.

We can state with confidence that audio memory varies from one person to another and for one sonic artifact to another. Any blanket statement that sonic memory is "short" (or long, or indivisible) is an oversimplification without basis in observed reality.
I agree with Raul and Doug.
I can still distinctly remember the tonality and three dimensionality of Rita Coolidge's voice when I first heard it reproduced on the original Martin Logan CLS loudspeakers 20 years ago.
That memory is so palpable it feels like I heard it yesterday.
PS
Did I miss something? Why did Jaybo bring up 'sonic memory' in this thread?
Dear Halcro: I think that only Jaybo can/could give you the precise answer about.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Dear Doug: Btw, no hi-jack here it is only that Doug point out something important about.

+++++ " is that as we listen to more music and as our systems evolve our audio memory improves, as do most brain functions when exercised. " +++++

our memory is extraordinary if we make " excercise " with it, Doug is totally right on it or at least I gree with.

There are many audio myths that are only that: audio myths ( false assumptions ) and the " very-short audio memory " is IMHO one of them.

Thanks to that " VSM " ( that really is a long-term memory and improving it ) we can grow up on the up-date system set-up/tunning and taht's how we make system or audio item comparisons, IMHO there is no other way.

What is true is that that VSM/LTM is different on each person due mostly to its self audio/music experiences ( audio/music exercise ), so exist persons with " poor " VSM on audio/music as exist people with great/accurate audio/music VSM and people on the middle of these extremes.

Other IMHO very important subject that Doug point out was: +++++ " inaccuracies in the other one's preamp in a matter of minutes, inaccuracies neither owner had ever noticed. " +++++

this almost always happen, our ears are " equalized " by what we are hearing and sometimes we can't identified little problems that exist in our systems, that's why I really like to make the exercise that other people comes and hear my system and in the same way I try to hear as much I can other home systems and obviously attend as much I can to live events.

Btw, Doug IMHO: Paul and I have ( not the same ) similar audio memory and that's why both detect the other each product " inaccuracies ".

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Halcro--I'm so glad (relieved) to hear your response to the shrillness at the end of Reiner's Pines!!. I thought it was my system. To calm my suspicions, I listen to the Maazel Pines on London/Decca..not a problem at all.

The big question for me is: at what point to do quit upgrading and respect the limitations of certain records? Do you have the famous Jeux/Nocturnes with Haitink? I find the last pages to be a tad harsh and congested. Yet then I put on the Arnold "Peterloo Overture" (EMI w/his Symphony #5) which is at the end of the lp and as complex as one could ever imagine, yet my cart combo sails right through it and it sounds as though it was located at the beginning of the record.

How in the world does one know how to assess a system accurately?
Here is a list of pretty popular, famous Classical Lps that my humble system handles, but not very flatteringly. I would love to know how your $25-$50k+ systems handle them:

The last pages of the Reiner Pines, as mentioned above.
The last pages of the Janis Prokofiev 3rd
Pavorati's High C at the end of side one of the Karajan/Puccini La Boheme
The final brass chorale during the last Cornish dance of Arnold's Dances on Lyrita

The final loud section of Haitink's Jeux on Philips
"How in the world does one know how to assess a system accurately?"
That is precisely the intention of my initial post Jdaniel.
At what point do we say......."This recording is poor, sounds awful on my system and I never want to play it again?"
That 'point' can only be, when we are self-confident enough in our own system's ability to eliminate distortions throughout the chain.
I was physically unable to sit and listen to the finale of the Reiner 'Pines' even with my Raven AC-3, Copperhead/DV1s, DaVinci 12" Grandezza/ZYX Universe until I had eliminated the micro distortions created by tiny errors of cartridge/arm geometry.
If you are able to physically listen to that finale on your system at high listening levels, I'd say your system was doing well.
As for the question on assessing a system accurately?.... playing those 'difficult' records will objectively tell you if something is wrong whilst listening to the 'great-sounding' discs may not?
"As for the question on assessing a system accurately?.... playing those 'difficult' records will objectively tell you if something is wrong whilst listening to the 'great-sounding' discs may not?"

The cosmic issue is how to determine at what point "difficult" might mean flawed to begin with; moreover, "great-sounding" doesn't always mean that the grooves aren't demanding. It makes it really hard to judge a system's performance, though I admit reviews and reports from people like yourself certainly give a me some excellent and much-desired perspective.

I have one anecdote: I picked up a beautiful copy of Munch's Berlioz Requiem on Shaded Dog Lp's which (seemingly) gave my system (scoutmaster/dyna 20xl) fits during some Soprano lines in the first track. I futzed with the alignment for days with no luck. I stumbled upon a Reel to Reel machine, picked up the same Requiem on R2R and was shocked to hear the exact same distortion on the tape in the exact same places. All that work and worry, and the grooves (and my cart) were simply relaying a flaw in the recording!

(For those who like Bruno Walter's stereo Indian Summer on Columbia, but cringe over the Lp sound on occasion, I can sadly report that the R2R counterparts sound exactly the same.)

For those with high-end systems, I would love some of you to compile lists of Lp's that you've never gotten to sound "right." It would save us "mortals" a lot of time wondering if it's the record or our systems.
That's a great idea Jdaniel!
I too would like to compare records which have challenged other systems.
I feel many audiophiles though, may be reticent to share these for fear of admitting (or exposing) a weakness in their systems?
I hope I'm wrong, for like you, I believe there are many discs out there produced from Master Tapes which have recording faults buried in them.
It would be nice to be forewarned?
i'll try to clarify...you go from store to store with neil young's harvest lp as a method of auditioning. at each location you find different qualities that strike you as positive or negative. without access to an 'immediate' a/b comparison, its impossible to hold the 'sound of each' product in your head, or compare it to what you have at home. the physical appearance of each speaker, and your 'built in' beliefs(your 'code')so to speak, play the largest role in your decision making, rendering your test or reference records helpless. its not a coincidence that the friendliest companies at trade shows get the highest marks for 'sound' at consumer or tradeshows either.
Impossible for who?
I beg to disagree Jaybo.
When I hear a 'foreign' system playing my 'known' test records, I'm not comparing the contributions of each component in that unknown system.
I'm listening for the ambient clues and nuances inherent in individual tracks or movements which I know by heart.
If there is a failure to transmit these aural 'signatures' with the beauty with which I am familiar, then I know something is 'missing' in the assembled system but I don't know exactly what or where?
However the failure in the assembled system may not directly be due to any distortions present, but may well be lack of synergy within the components?
If one were to travel from store to store with Neil Young's Harvest lp and heard the distortions in the 2 tracks I mentioned, it would most likely be caused by arm/cartridge misalignment first and foremost thus rendering further listening of dubious value?
Does that make sense?
was physically unable to sit and listen to the finale of the Reiner 'Pines' even with my Raven AC-3, Copperhead/DV1s, DaVinci 12" Grandezza/ZYX Universe until I had eliminated the micro distortions created by tiny errors of cartridge/arm geometry.
If you are able to physically listen to that finale on your system at high listening levels, I'd say your system was doing well

thank you for this reminder, I didn't listen to this records for years, very critical recording and I had similar experience. After reading your post, I tried it again, but now with my FR-66s (and proper alignment) and I am listening now the 3. time without a stop both sides (without a distortion, limitation, ticks or a pop ...).
What a super record it is
May I add?
Mean - really mean - is another LSC: 2225 Witches' Brew.
I know a lot of test record users, those record is not listenable on their Systems.
When done right, the listener is a few yards above the orchestra (as a microphone) and the performance is below in a endless deep soundstage. The deep Bass is brutal, really shaking the room and all other instruments are in sharp focus. Here you can hear the quality from your Tonearm, most won't do it.
This is a tour de force for the whole reproduction System.
Congratulations on your system set-up Syntax and a nice tip about Witches Brew.
I agree with you that tonearms are critical in the ability to handle 'difficult' records......regardless of the cartridge.
You know, another TAS-lister that makes me scratch my head is the Mercury Rodrigo Guitar Concerto. I have the RFR1 pressing, non-vendor and the massed strings in the climax of the slow mov't are pretty edgy!
After your advice Jdaniel, I pulled out Witches Brew and listened to side 1 starting with Arnold's "Tam O'Shanter".
This is as demanding as The Pines of Rome and I suddenly realised that I had almost exclusively in the past, only listened to side 2 because of the pain.
This extended high frquency emphasis seems to be typical of these early LSC RCAs and I believe that their audio fame had a lot to do with reviewers listening through early tube electronics and sprung turntables like Linn which 'tamed' the prevalent 'highs' and gave the illusion of superb dynamics and detail to otherwise rolled-off amplifiers.
It would be interesting to know how many audiophiles are able to appreciate these early LSC-RCAs through totally solid state electronics being fed by turntables like Rockport, Raven, Walker, Caliburn?
Halcro

Could it be that these early recordings were mastered with nice tube electronics and sound as intended and therefore sound great with excellent tube gear?.

Being feed by SS amps will sound brighter and leaner in these mentioned upper frequencies as that is the overall tonal quality of SS amp's compared to great tube amps :-)
Hi Shane,
Fair point :)
I personally love tubes.........and sometimes I don't?
It just happens that there are a great many speakers that simply can't be driven adequately by tubes and whilst I hate that, it's a fact of life.
With the new generation of SS electronics recently developed....Halcro, Soulution (see Jon Valin's review http://www.avguide.com/forums/soulution-710 Krell Evo, MBL....as well as the advance in turntables, arms and cartridges, I believe we are hearing more accurately the actual sound of the Mater Tapes and whilst you may not agree with me, I think that the mastering of these early RCAs could have emphasised the treble output of the horns and strings to 'compensate' for 'rolled-off' reproduction equipment at the time.
Listen to the Mercury re-issues of the Stravinsky Ballets to see that good SS amplification can sound sweet and pure when the original source is mastered faithfully?
Hi Henry, got that davinci arm singing now?

I totally agree that SS amps are getting a lot better. I had an extended listen at home very recently to the Gryphon Colosseum and Antileon. The Colosseum especially was a great sounding amplifier. Tube amps have also got better over that time as well.
But, with my own musical bias's I still preferred the overall sound of my tube amps.

I think one of the overall sound quality advances have been with phono stages over years gone by.

That is the great thing about hifi, everyone has different tastes - otherwise the seemingly 1000's of brands would not exist globally.

I half agree with you re the front end. I personally don't think that turntables have improved as much as tonearms and cartridges have. Look at the end of the analog era in the early 80's and the great DD tables from Japan. Why do tables/motors from EMT, Garrad etc have so much of a following - they must be good.

cheers
Yes Shane....the DaVinci sings as well as the Copperhead.
Agree with you re tonearms and cartridges.
Hate to say though, that I've listened a lot to Gryphon pre-amps and amps and find them the least 'tube-like' of any SS I've heard.
Long live Elvis :)
Here's another one for you Jdaniel.
Tchaikovsky Romeo $ Juliet with Strauss Till Eulenspiegel on LSC RCA re-issue.
Very demanding (especially the Strauss) but very rewarding if everything is 'singing'?
Thanks Halcro, re: Munch's R & J and Till, this one I have on a Shaded Dog, and don't recall any problems! (It's interesting that Munch is more fiery than Bernstein in the same material.) Great silky strings in the big theme of Romeo. Also, if you don't have Maazel's Pines on Decca/London, please give it a try if you want eye-crossing, enveloping sound that expands with no perceivable distortion during the march towards the end. (That organ pedal!)The easiest way to dismiss the possibly intractable problems with Reiner's Pines is to simply discover that there are better, more musical performances! : )

I don't have Witch's Brew, how lucky that you have it! Considering Tamoshanter is at the outer part of the record, that would suggest to me that it's the master tape.

You probably know, but for those who don't, these (Witch's Brew, etc.) are Kenneth Wilkinson recordings by Decca and recorded in England's wonderful Kingsway Hall and Wathamstow (sp) Hall, outsourced by RCA. I have Agoult's "Clair de Lune" (wonderful) and Fistoulari's "Music from the Ballet" on RCA. These were also re-done on 45 rpm. I would love to hear them but can't complain about the originals, except for some raspy trombone slides in the Mussorgsky on the Fitoulari. Anyone have the 45?

I felt that the Reiner Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition could sound a little raspy at points in the Great Gate in the original. I have have the 45 Rpm and can report stunning improvement but it could be because the higher speed is taking the responsibility away from my cart.

Oh! Another torture track--which my system actually handles--is the 3rd mov't from Prokofieff's PIano Concerto #2, a worthy TAS-lister with Frager and Paris Conservatory Orchestra. If anyone doesn't know this Piano Concerto...it's fantastical. The third mov't--at the end of side one--finishes up with high clanking piano, shrieking piccolo, and sawing, high strings in harmonics. Another Wilkinson recording on RCA. I was unable to find an undamaged original but I don't mind the Alto reissue at all, and I usually find the 33rpm reissues to have "blacker backgrounds," but a loss of "boogie" as well.

A Reiner that I don't find garrish at all, is his very early Ein Heldenleben from '54, only originally available much later as a Plum label RCA Victrola. I found it surprising in two ways: I think that it was better recorded (more transparent) than either the much more famous '54 Munch Daphnis and Reiner Also Sprach. ( I have the Munch Daphnis on 45rpm--wonderfully silky but still a slight amount of congestion in the climax of the sunrise scene, fwiw) The second surprise is how sensitive and sunny Reiner is regarding the lyrical aspects in Heldenleben compared to his ridiculously mythical '54 Also Sprach, which to me is relentless and fatiguing. The strings are beautiful and a good test is the final heartbreakingly lyrical string passages which well up about 5 mins. before the end of the piece--they never lose their silk. (The critically acclaimed Haitink on Philips gets a little grainy here. Reiner's Ein Heldenleben should have been more famous, IMHO.
Sorry Syntax.
It was your advice about Witches Brew. Thanks.
good topic, invite here to read this interesting piece written some time ago. it is called:

Are you on the road to audio hell?

The proposed system: comparison by contrast.

When audiotioning only two playback systes using the usual method (comparison by reference) we will have at least 50% chance of choosing the one which is the more accurate. However, evaluations of single components willy-nilly test the entire playback chain; therefore efforts to choose the more accurate component are compounded by the likelihood that we will be equally uncertain as to the accuracy of each of the system’s associated components if for no other reason than that they were chosen by a method which only guarantees prejudice. How can we have any confidence that having chosen one component by such a method that its presence in the system won’t mislead us when evaluating other components in the playback chain, present or future.

The way to sort out which system or component is more accurate is to invert the test. Instead of comparing a handful of recordings -presumed to be definitive- on two different systems to determine which one coincides with our present feeling about the way that music ought to sound, play a larger number of recordings of vastly different styles and recording technique on two different systems to hear which system reveals more differences between the recordings. This is a procedure which anyone with ears can make use of, but requires letting go of some of our favoured practices and prejudices.

In more detail, it would go something like this: Line up about two dozen or so recordings of different kind of music – pop vocal, orchestral, jazz, chamber music, folk, rock, opera, piano – music you like, but recordings of which you are unfamiliar. ( It is very important to avoid your favourite ‘test’ recordings presuming that they will tell you what you need to know about some performance parameter or another, because doing so will likely only serve to confirm or deny an expectation based on prior ‘performances’you have heard on other systems or components. More later ) First with one system and then the other, play through complete numbers from all these in one sitting. ( The other systems may be entirely different or have only one variable such as cables, amplifier or speakers.)

The more accurate system is the one which reproduces more differences – more contrast between the various program sources.

To suggest a simplified example, imgagine a 1949’s wind-up phonograph playing recordings of Al Jolson singing ‘Swanee’ and the Philadelphia Orchestra playing Beethoven. The playback from these recordings will be more alike than LP versions of these very recordings played back through a reasonably good modern audio system. Correct? What we are after is a playback system which maximises those differences. Some orchestral recordings for example, will present stages beyond the confines of the speaker borders, others tend to to gather between the speakers, some will seem to articulate instruments in space; others present them in a mass as if perceived from a balcony; some will present the winds recessed deep into the orchestra; others up front; some will indulge the bass drum with tremendous power; others barely distinguish between the character of tympany and bass drum. It is absolutely no consequence that these differences may have resulted from performing style or recording methodology and manufacture, or that they may have completely misrepresented the actual live event. Therefore when comparing speaker systems, it would be a mistake to assume that one which always presents a gigantic stage well beyond the confines of the speakers, for example, is more accurate. You might like –or even prefer- what that system does to staging, but the other speaker, because it is realising differences between recordings, is very likely more accurate; and in respect of the other variables from recording to recording, will turn out to be more revealing of the performance.

Some pop vocal recordings present us with resonant voices, others dry; some as part of the instrument texture, others envelope us leaving the accompanying instruments and vocals well in the background; some are nasal, some gravely, some metallic; others warm. The old method –Comparison by Reference- would have us respond positively to that playback system, which together with the associated ‘reference’ recording, achieves a pre-conceived notion of how vocal is presented and how it sounds in relation to the instruments in regard to such parameters as relative size, shape, level, weight, definition, etc. Over time we find ourselves preferring a particular presentation of pop vocal (or orchestral balance, or rock thwack, or jazz intimacy, or piano percussiveness- you name it) and infer a correctness when approximated by certain recordings. We then compound our mistake by raising these recordings to reference status (pace prof. Johnson), and seek this ‘correct’ presentation from every system we later evaluate; and if it isn’t there, we are likely to dismiss that system as incorrect. The problem is that since neither recording nor playback system was accurate to begin with, the expectation that later systems should comply is dangerous. In fact, if their presentations are consistently similar, then they must be inaccurate by definition simply because either by default or intention no two recordings are exactly similar, and while there are other important criteria which any satisfactory audio component or system must satisfy –absence of fatigue being one of the most essential- very little is not subsumed by the new method of comparison offered here.

Peter Quortrup AUDIOPHILE UK edition February 1994
Tuboo,

Good stuff.

I agree with the process outlined as an effective way to really differentiate and select a good playback system
We then compound our mistake by raising these recordings to reference status (pace prof. Johnson), and seek this ‘correct’ presentation from every system we later evaluate; and if it isn’t there, we are likely to dismiss that system as incorrect.
Some very perceptive reflections Tuboo.
Thanks
thanks for reply.
it intrigued me in 1994 the moment i read this piece and it still inspires me in 2009.
the more you read this piece the more it dawns on you.
Mr Quortrup is quite a special figure.
i'm a great advocate of this protocol but there is no single 'law' to apply for enjoying the music.
nevertheless this single quote was like an audiophile bomb to me when i first read it:

The more accurate system is the one which reproduces more differences – more contrast between the various program sources.

and it still is, i can't escape to it.
Very interesting, Turboo. Thank you for posting that.

The more widely used method, listening to a few reference recordings and comparing the sound to a retained memory of what something should sound like, can be useful for *analyzing* a system's or component's ability to reproduce a specific trait. For instance, at last year's RMAF we were interested in the capabilities of two particular components. Based on their designs, we had predicted that both might have difficulty reproducing fast, complex yet delicate harmonics. We therefore brought along one LP which contains a lot of such material.

One of the components performed as we expected, failing miserably. The other surprised us, happily, and might be a candidate for our system in the future.

Having passed that test, the next logical step would be to extensively A/B the second component in our system using Quortrup's protocol.

We recently had a visit from another A'goner. After playing several of his favorite/reference LP's we subjected him to a variety of music that he'd ever listened to before. I didn't let him take my LP's, but he did make some notes. :-) Perhaps he'll find similar or identical recordings and compare the degree of differences in his system vs. ours.

Good stuff...
I could not agree more!
If "Raw Power" doesn't hurt my ears, I know there is something wrong.
And it goes on. We invest large amounts of
money, time, effort into our favorite pass time.
Our human nature keeps telling us that our system
Can be better. Its proven to us when we introduce
Components, tools and information. I believe we
As humans can't stand still to progress but I've
Learned to sit back and enjoy my lps and I mean
All of them when I please. Yes some absolutely
Sound better than others but its the music I love
Not my system. My system is the machine behind
The music. There is way to many variables in the
Vinyl playback area not to mention all else. I don't
Know if i finely figured it out that achieving
Perfection is not going to happen, getting into my late 50s. But
I do know this I'm enjoying the music more now than ever on a
Daily basis.
Mike
Just read at some show review website:

"Beautiful Music without no electronic signature. Music! Bravo!"

does all recorded music have "no electronic signature" ?
ofcourse not.
even live music CAN have a very electronic signature. that is music too.

some want cream on their cake anytime.
The more accurate system is the one which reproduces more differences – more contrast between the various program sources.
Having swapped in a Garrott P77 MM cartridge for my ZYX Universe a few days ago, I find a diminution of the differences between various records. The extra detail and information of the Universe I sorely miss however.........there is a 'relaxation' and 'softening' provided by the P77 which makes some poorly recorded material more listenable (enjoyable?).
I'm mulling this over at the moment as there are some disturbing thoughts related to this?
Dear Halcro: I know very well that P-77 in several tonearms but not in any of the ones you own so I can't say for sure if the P-77/tonearm combination that you are using is a good one to show the real P-77 quality performance but I assume is ok .
I know very well too your electronics/cables/Raven(one motor) specially the DM-10 that I heard several times and at least three times in my system. Btw, your phono stage invert polarity so it is worth to try the DM-10 polarity control to find the best quality performance.

Well, I assume you are running the P-77 at 60K impedance position ( I work with at 100K ) and at the lower capacitance setting, well you have to try on capacitance to achieve the desired quality performance.

You say " I sorely miss detail and information " and this statement is very common when we switch from MC to MM cartridges but IMHO if we give time to the MM alternative you will take in count that all the recording information is there but with a little different presentation and with lower distortions due that ( between other things ) the MM cartridge signal goes/pass to less gain stages, the MM signal " suffer " less electronic manipulation. You are hearing this.

+++ " The more accurate system is the one which reproduces more differences – more contrast between the various program sources. " +++

well, I say: the one that reproduce the recording with less/lower distortions ( any kind ). This system will make: " some poorly recorded material more listenable .. " +++ because it add lesser/lower distortions in that poorly recordings.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Dear Raul,
I have the 3 motor Raven and I reverse the phase on the preamp.
I tried the cartridge loading and it sounded best at 47K just as the Garrott Bros recommend but I didn't hear much difference at 60K although below 40K all the 'highs' became dull. 60K is the maximum resistance possible on the DM10.
I could hear very little differences in capacitance loading from 70p to 430p but will try your lower value.
As this is slightly off-topic, I might comment on your blog related to MMs and MCs for I'm sure this will be of interest to you?
Thanks for your input.
Dear halcro: I respect your opinion ( maybe I'm wrong ) but IMHO this is on topic, don't you think?:

++++ " You say " I sorely miss detail and information " and this statement is very common when we switch from MC to MM cartridges but IMHO if we give time to the MM alternative you will take in count that all the recording information is there but with a little different presentation and with lower distortions due that ( between other things ) the MM cartridge signal goes/pass to less gain stages, the MM signal " suffer " less electronic manipulation. You are hearing this.

+++ " The more accurate system is the one which reproduces more differences – more contrast between the various program sources. " +++

well, I say: the one that reproduce the recording with less/lower distortions ( any kind ). This system will make: " some poorly recorded material more listenable .. " +++ because it add lesser/lower distortions in that poorly recordings. +++++

Less/lower distortions are a " form " of accuracy.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Dear Raul,
I spoke too early. Because I had played the Garrott P77s (I have 2) in my system 15 years ago, I forgot that it needed hours of run-in time just as a new cartridge does?
My post was lodged after only 3 hours of listening.
The sound has now changed enormously and I believe that it is serious competition to the great LOMCs like Dyna DV1s and ZYX Universe but without a rising top-end.
Once again Raul, your advice about re-trying MM cartridges in our high-end systems is a wise and timely one.
Thank you.
Another severe test for any system is the Mercury re-issue of Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges Suite (SR-90006) 45RPM.
Like most Mercury Recordings of the 'Golden Age', the highs are 'hot'.......very 'hot'.
If your system can make this enjoyable (or even listenable), your table/arm/cartridge combination is working well.