Its pretty simple. Bring what you are familiar with, that are well recorded, with music you like, and won't mind playing a lot, letting other people handle, etc. One will do, initially. Then if you narrow it down to one or two and its close (unlikely, but you never know) bring a few more, representative of what you like to play the most. You are after all buying something to play to please yourself. Keep that in mind and don't go trying to impress anyone with your audiophool cred.
50 responses Add your response
Perhaps not quite that simple. Start with a good solo (or small ensemble) piano recording and listen for excellent pitch stability. Listen carefully to the decay of notes or chords at the end of musical phrases. Do you hear any pitch waver as the note decays? If you do, move on. Be careful, however, and make sure that the pitch waver is not in the recording itself. Keith Jarrett recordings on ECM are pretty much guaranteed to not have this problem. Narrow your choices this way then move on to other sound considerations and be mindful of the inevitable effect of different arm/cartridge combinations. Pitch stability impacts just about every other aspect of LP sound and is the one aspect that is almost entirely dependent on the turntable regardless of arm and/or cartridge. Good luck.
One LP that brings many stereos to their collective knees very quickly is Paranoid by Black Sabbath. You'll need the original Vertigo English or German white label (not a promo) pressing in good condition. Most stereos simply can't play it at volume- there is a lot of bass energy in the first track.
Verdi Requiem, side one track two, Soria Series on RCA (dowel spine box set). Vast dynamic range!
Before you will play any music it's important to check the system with TEST RECORDS if you want to make sure about channel balance, polarity, phase and proper cartridge setup. You can even measure tonearm + cartridge resonance with Hi Fi test LP (free protractor included). Another great LP is Cardas with its unique feature to ultrasonically clean the stylus. What you can do with these 2 LPs you can't do with the music.
You should focus more on the cartridge and phono pre-amp than the turntable. The latter two components actually generate the sound that your hear the turntable just spins the record as long as it does so consistently, not necessarily accurately, you will realize more return by evaluating various combinations of phono cartridges and or phono amps since small subtle factors like frequency response and RIAA accuracy can add audible effects regardless of which turntable you choose. With regards.
Apart from speed constancy, which you addressed @frogman, it is hard to isolate what the turntable is doing in a system, leaving aside variables in arms and cartridges (a subject that was recently addressed in another thread about how people can ’hear’ a turntable in a ’drive by’ listening session without also taking those other variables, including the system, into account).
My go to, to start, is Janis Ian’s Between the Lines, standard issue Columbia pressing- it has female voice, real horns and strings, plus electric instruments and a range of styles, to give me a sense of sound. But, I would also use other records to compare- and none of them audiophile spectacular type albums- i'm more interested in what the front end brings out in a ’nothing special’ pressing- though some of those mentioned, like the early Vertigos of Sabbath per @atmasphere are impressive on a good system.
I completely agree that “audiophile spectacular type albums” are not always the best choice, @whart. I too often use records that might be considered average in the ear candy department, but that are great musical performances. I find that in an unfamiliar system the spectacular aspect of “sonic spectaculars” can actually be a distraction. But, I think that the impact of “speed constancy”, or lack thereof, is seriously underestimated by many. Way before the issue is perceived as obviously poor speed constancy the rhythmic feel of the performance is being impacted in a negative way.
I was auditioning cartridges yesterday and I used the the first minute or so of "Time" from Dark Side of the Moon. You can learn a lot from all those ringing clock chimes. If I want to test a systems low end I use about the first four minutes of "Reflection" by Tool or "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo" by Bela Fleck.
Obviously, your personal familiarity with an LP is key.
I've found these indispensable for setting a deck up. I'm not sure how relevant the resonance test is for overall presentation. The one time I shopped for a turntable none of the tone arms managed the resonance test very well yet a majority seemed to sound fine. Good luck with your search.
Shure TTR-101 "An Audio Obstacle Course" side 1 track 4 Blank Band anti skate adjustment. Adjustment on the fly.
Clearaudio "Azimuth optimizer Test Record" in conjunction with a Fozgometer. Adjustment on the fly.
Shure TTR-115 "An Audio Obstacle Course - Era IV" Side two BAND Five Tone Arm Resonance Test. (My Well Tempered arm sails through the entire track)
Telarc 1812 followed by Dean Martin "Dream With Dean" to subjectively dial in the VTA to my taste. Adjustment on the fly.
Thanks Roberjerman. Rock n' Roll Animal is a good one. Many of the suggestions coming forward I do not have on vinyl. So need to connect with what I own. Do you think that it matters when the LP was originally recorded analog, or digital. For example, I would imagine all Weather Report LPs are produced from digital masters. BTW - They were one of my early concert attendances. Jaco was phenomenal to this kid in high school.
I use a couple of 60s Columbia LPs that I am very familiar with:
Stravinsky conducts Rite of Spring, Columbia Symphony (really the New York Phil, but contractual limitations...)
- a truck drives by the hotel where they recorded, at a quiet moment on the first side. Prince Igor also stomps his foot during the Game of Rape (I think). It still makes me think someone is kicking my porch...
Bernstein conducts Bartok Music For Strings, Percussion and Celesta, New York Philharmonic, Columbia
- in the stereophonically-written second movement, Lenny quietly mutters "one, two, three!" under his breath, desperately trying to keep his two string orchestras together in one of the more treacherous multi-meter passages. I listen to see how much resolution the turntable/cartridge is capable of...
The Sheffield Labs Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet, that someone above recommended, is indeed an amazing disc, but I think it would sound decent on an average table. But it is a dry recording, so it would be interesting to use to see if the dryness is attractive or not.
I also have an old 1969 pressing of Arthur by the Kinks. It is fairly worn, so I use it to see how fine a stylus is, if it can retrieve grooves under the scratches. Benz MC carts win here. But you are testing tables, not carts...
Bring your best sounding uncompressed ones that you have listened to & know
I would bring:
Wilson Audio or MFSL pressings
Pink Floyd DSOM & The Wall
The Damned - Black Album, Anything
Clannad - in concert
Red Nichols - Marineland
Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul
Verdi - Requiem
Taj Mahal - Recycling the Blues
I would also bring my Portuguese pressing of Joy Division Still...
1. STRAVINSKY: "Petrouchka" ~ Oscar Danon at Royal Philharmonic Orchestra ~ Chesky Records ~ UK ~ CR 42.
2. STRAVINSKY: "The Firebird" ~ Antal Dorati ~ Mercury Living Presence/Classic Records ~ 180g ~ SR-90226.
3. BEETHOVEN No. 6 ~ "Pastorale" ~ Bruno Walter ~ Columbia Masterworks ~ US ~ MS-6012.
4. BEETHOVEN No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 ~ Sir Georg Solti & Chorus ~ Decca/Speakers Corner ~ Germany ~ 6BB 121/2.
5. HOWELLS ~ "Hymnus Paradisi" ~ David Willcock ~ EMI ~ UK ~ ASD-2600.
6. CASSANDRA WILSON ~ "New Moon Daughter" ~ Blue Note ~ UK ~ 7-24384E 11.
7. CORINNE BAILEY RAE ~ "Corinne Bailey Rae" ~ EMI ~ UK ~ 009463 54117 1 3.
8. KEITH JARRETT ~ "Facing You" ~ ecm ~ W. Germany [Old Album!] ~ 1022.
9. LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS [Real Name: Sam Hopkins] ~ "Boot Hoot 'LIVE'" ~ DCC ~ US ~ LPZ-2007.
10. GENE HARRIS ~ "The Gene Harris Trio, Plus One" ~ [Stanley Turrentine/Ray Brown & Mickey Roker] ~ 45rpm ~ Groove Note Records ~ US ~ GRV-1019-1.
11. JOE HENDERSON ~ "Double Rainbow: The Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim" ~ Verve ~ US ~ 534.
12. MICHAEL BRECKER plus Claus Ogerman ~ "Cityscape" ~ Quiex II Limited Ed. ~ Warner Bros. Records ~ US ~ 23698-1.
13. SAINT JOHN WILLIAM COLTRANE ~ "Blue Trane" ~ 45rpm/4 set ~ Blue Note ~ Classic Records/Clarity SV-P II ~ US ~ 1577-45.
14. PINK FLOYD ~ "Dark Side of the Moon" [Pro-Use Series] ~ Japan ~ EMLF-97002.
15. STING [Real Name: Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner] ~ "The Dream of the Blue Turtles" ~ MFSL ~ Japan ~ MFSL 1-185.... and...
16. THE VENTURES ~ "Ventures In Space" ~ Dolton Records ~ US ~ BLP-2077.... I'M KIDDING!!!!
Sorry. Reading through the responses was slightly depressing: most (though not all) of the recommended LPs are really SO unimaginative, so expected and all the usual suspects are there -- ZZZzzzzz. Yeah, yeah, "it's to test the gear not the music" blah blah. But come on guys, let's get creative here! Something "left field" that the HiFi salesperson hasn't considered or demoed before.
A good general rule is: Anything played at a HiFi show is best avoided imo (D.Krall, V. Fernandez etc ... gawd.help.me). I'd prefer to listen to The Shaggs than anything by Ms. Krall.
I'll give you 3 vinyl goodies that will stretch any deck that you won't hear at any show or be found in any HiFi shop collection:
You have to listen to some of your favorites critically. Songs you love; but break them down for what it is that you love. Listen to cymbals, vocals, piano, violin & Cello, kick drums or tympani, soundstage, and the totality of fun and beauty. Some albums will emerge as beacons.
If you have any of these, give 'em a try:
Broken English, Marrianne Faithful
Hasten Down The Wind, Linda Ronstadt
The Other Side Of Desire. Rickie Lee Jones
Pirates, Rickie Lee Jones
Takin' My Time - Bonnie Raitt
Living and Dying in 3.4 Time, Jimmy Buffett
So, Peter Gabriel
Whites off Earth or anything by Cowboy Junkies
Another good test is to compare tracks with complex background vocals or lead overdubs and see if you can pick out the different vocalists.
If you're not in your own house listening to your own system, then you are "testing" not just a turntable in isolation but also everything else in the chain, including the room. If you are not already familiar with these ancillaries, then it would be very hard indeed to judge the turntable. But as to LPs, I would cast my vote with LPs that you already know very well and like on your own system, plus a few that are "iffy" in your own system. I find that true upgrades to my phono system often make recordings that I had previously thought to be mediocre sound much better and sometimes great.
I'll come back with specific LPs, once I can get to LP collection to write down titles. Right now, I can only remember artists and labels.
Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. They are really helpful. I am having to get over a hurdle. Some turntables that I "listen" to I hear the motor. I listen without music playing, just for the turntable itself. I listened to the McIntosh MC5 this weekend, and the motor was really noticeable. I turned it up to 78 rpms and it was really loud, IMO. Then I listened to the McIntoch MC10, and no sound at all. I'm trying to find someone around town who has ClearAudio turntables on display so I can "listen" to them. The quest continues.