I don't like to play for immediate impact. That is cheap and tawdry and right off the bat encourages people in all the basest aspects of listening. Of course this is what everyone does in demo's. Then they wonder why there are no women audiophiles, why so many constantly churn components (looking for the next immediate impact), why so few audiophiles have any real listening skills.
What I like to do instead is play something very simple and quiet like Springsteen Highway 29, just his familiar voice and guitar, or Doug MacLeod, or Linda Ronstadt (anything from her 3 albums with Nelson Riddle) the kind of thing that draws the listener in. Try it some time.
But does it impress? Oh yeah. One guy, his wife came up to me with this look of incredulity on her face, obviously emotionally moved, and what did she say? "I feel like I could listen to this all night!" Because instead of being barraged, aurally assaulted, she was actually drawn in and enjoying the music. She never even knew that was possible.
It is. Rare. Not easy. But definitely possible.
For me there are many songs that have immediate impact, a lot of them are well recorded (eg. Dire Strait Songs, Pink Floyd,) so they will sound good on a very expensive system and equally sound good on an under £1000 system, so I purposefully do not use such songs to test the system. However there are other pieces of music (Classical, Rock and other genre of music) which have immediate impact which are not so straight forward in recordings, or are slightly more complicated eg voices in a choir, ensemble where individuals sing different words overlapping each over. Such recordings for me tells me a little more how the sytem in question copes with the recording. However there are to immediate impact songs I play to test system which are Dick Dale - Misirlou and Rolling Stones - Painted It Black.
I don’t like to play for immediate impact. That is cheap and tawdry and right off the bat encourages people in all the basest aspects of listening. Of course this is what everyone does in demo’s. Then they wonder why there are no women audiophiles, why so many constantly churn components (looking for the next immediate impact), why so few audiophiles have any real listening skills.
Quoted because I couldn’t possibly agree more.
When I have guests with no previous experience with or interest in HiFi, I put on whatever music I think they might like. Generally they’ll never have heard a halfway decent system in their life, so pretty much anything will make an impact.
If I want to show off what the system can actually do and have guest who’ll know what they’re hearing, I put on "In darknesse let mee dwell " from " A Candle in the Dark " by the Newberry Consort, "Church Windows" by Respighi, "The Great Gate of Kiev" by Mussorgsky, a couple of songs from "Early Hours" by Eleanor McEvoy, something from Lisa Gerrard’s solo album or maybe Holly Cole’s album "Temptation". Depends what music they’re into.
I usually start with David Manley’s "Toolbox" (VTL 008). First track side 1 "The Loft". It has everything that I find difficult for a system to reproduce well: Piano, kick-drum, Tenor sax and flute. Within the first minute, I can tell approx. where a system is relative to what I like. This CD does not have female vocals so I go elsewhere for that.
The CD is very well-recorded (all tube chain, Manley enhanced 1/2 tape, Manley preamps etc.., 20-bit A to D converter, Precision Mastering digital master) Has a depth to the soundstage that is missing from most CD’s I listen to.
For my unwashed guests, I have them sit in my parlor, break out the candles and put on a 180 gram Living Stereo copy of Elvis is Back...most say they thought he was in the room...
Man, I agree with you 100%. About 20 years before my dad died, He came in to see me a couple times when I was separated from my wife for a couple years. I went out and bought a barber shop quartet album because my dad used to sing in one long ago and I thought he would love it. He was beginning to have hearing problems at that point,
but he sat there and sang along with the tunes and got this look in his eye of love, the remembering the times look, and the outward appreciation he showed me was way more important than how great the recording was. I then played a Virgil Fox Direct to Disc organ record. He went nuts as He felt and heard the big pipe organ just like he was in his church and the pipe organ started to play. This recording IS great, but the music itself was WAY more important than the recording quality.
I have a good friend that can play most anything with his Spotify and Roon but he usually chooses stuff that he knows I like to play at his house. I need to return to the guy who also does that most of the time.
@tostadosunidos, Damn great list! Robert Gordon’s first album knocked me out when it was released in ’77; great songs, great band, great sound. It was produced by Richard Gottehrer, who also did Blondie’s first couple. "The Way I Walk" is a song written and first recorded by Jack Scott, one of the best of the 50’s Rockabillies. Also on the album is one by a favorite of mine, "Lonesome Train (On A Lonesome Track)" by The Rock and Roll Trio (Johnny Burnette).
Robert isn’t as good a singer as the 50’s guys, but that’s all right. I like the albums he did with English guitarist Chris Spedding taking Link Wray’s place even more. On his third album (the first with Spedding) he does another Johnny Burnette song, the fantastic "Rockabilly Boogie", as well as a cool version of "Black Slacks" (Joe Bennett and The Sparkletones). Great guitar playing by Spedding.
Just for fun, I use "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder. Great clavichord and drum sound, the drums actually played by Stevie himself. Good album (Talking Book).
In ’73 was in the second high end store to open in the South Bay (San Jose, Cupertino, Palo Alto, etc.) on the day Bill Johnson just happened to be delivering and setting up a complete ARC system. His new dealer (Walter Davies, now of Last record products renown) put on "Me and Bobby McGee" by Gordon Lightfoot (on his If You Could Read My Mind album). Bill remarked on how good the song sounded, and Walter gave him the LP to take home. Lots of low-level information to be revealed by a high-resolution system. Great acoustic guitar and vocal recording. The same is true of many albums on Rounder Records, including those of Tony Rice.
David Lindley’s first two albums, when cranked up to live SPL, sound great (if you get the chance, see him live). But even they pale in comparison with any of the great direct-to-disk LPs from the 1970’s, which are absolutely startling "alive". Insane immediacy, presence, transparency, and dynamics. The closest to live I’ve ever heard music reproduced. Most contain little of musical interest; I think of them as test records.
I sold a ton of Magnepan and Audio Research products back in the day with both "Money" (Pink Floyd) and "Midnight at the Oasis" (Maria Muldaur).
Linda Ronstadt was also a hit--as she should be, of course, as was the Lincoln Mayorga series of direct-to-disc recordings. I would actually suggest them (Mayorga) for ANYONE listening critically to a system before purchase. GIGO and buyer beware!
Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5” is an extraordinary recording when played on a decent Hi-Fi, and it was recorded 60 years ago! The song is effectively a drum solo and that drum solo on the left speaker and the sax straight down the middle at the start and end of the song will give you so much info on the capabilities of the system.
Elvis’ “Fever” from the Living Stereo RCA master is an amazing vocal recording. It should be warm and present in the room.
John Martyn’s “Easy Blues” from the Solid Air album has a brilliant into piece of acoustic guitar - all dynamics and heavy plucking.
I had a lot of fun listening to the first half of this list last night! In particular the 17-minute Dave Holland track melted my face into a puddle on the couch. Weather Report surprised me by holding my attention for 7+ minutes of fairly "out" sounds. And I'd never even heard of Malcolm Arnold (classical isn't my wheelhouse) but the Keith Johnson recording was typically sublime.
When I'm demonstrating the system to someone uninitiated, I explain that we'll progess like a wine or beer tasting -- simpler fare to start, palate-wreckers at the end. So I'll lead off with Getz/Gilberto "Girl from Ipanema." They all know the song; it soothes the ears and the mind. A couple of minutes into the track, when Stan starts to blow, they're usually hooked.
After that I might toss out mid-tawdry chestnuts like
Paul Simon -- Rhythm of the Saints -- "Can't Run But"
Muddy Waters -- Folk Singer -- "Country Boy"
Sonny Rollins -- Way out West -- "I'm an Old Cowhand"
Steely Dan -- Gaucho -- "Babylon Sisters"
Once I've connected on any of these, I'll just hand them the iPad and let them drive to their heart's content. They'll eventually play their favorite Black Keys track, then look at me with sad eyes to ask why it sounds so bad. We'll talk for a minute about dynamic range compression.
We might eventually bring the house down with something like
Sara Bareilles -- Brave Enough -- "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"
Yes -- Fragile -- "Heart of the Sunrise" or
The Bad Plus -- Give -- "1979 Semi-Finalist."
Don't need immediate impact, just want something detailed, clear that allows me to really experience the sonic properties of what I'm testing. My favs include:
Almost anything by SADE
New York Serenade by Bruce Springsteen
Summer Madness by Kool and the Gang
Symphony No. 2 Op. 27 III. Adagio: Adagio - Rachmaninov (quiet but engrossing)
Samba Da Bencao by Bebel Gilberto
Andreas Vollenweider, La Strega & The Grand Ball of the Duljas opening tracks from the Book of Roses LP. If you have a good system, this will blow you away. Be sure to crank it up! (it isn't that great on YT, stream it)