Both The Absolute Sound and Stereophile magazines contain reviews of music and rate them on performance and sonics. I must admit, though, that they don't always review music that I would listen to. But, the range of music is pretty broad, classical to rock/pop; they lean heavily toward classical and jazz. Usually, I mark what sounds interesting and listen to clips at www.amazon.com. If I like what I hear I buy it. There are some web-sites that rate music but I can't recall the addresses.
As much as audiophile always trash equalizers they can be effective tools for helping with good music that is poorly recorded. Try an inexpensive Audio Control for the music you like that is too bright. Used with a light touch it may help you enjoy your music a lot more, and isn't this what this hobby is all about. Make sure to insert it in a tape loop and not between your amp and preamp. You also might try a tube preamp. It might make your system a little more musical. Finally, make sure to use the current taps on the Sunfire as they will soften it up ever so slightly and impart a little of that "tube magic" on your speakers. These taps work best on dipole speakers like the Logans.
It is true case of "tail wagging the dog" if you only buy CDs because they sound good on your system, personally I don't care for most of the Cds mentioned by others here. Over half my CD collection is rock/alt which are not audiophile recordings, and to make them sound good you need a good DAC that removes distortion and has high quality filter, and also nuetral cables/interconnects that do not over emphasize upper mids and treble, among other things. I think many make the mistake of tuning their system to sound great with a handful of audiophile recordings, and sound terrible with average recordings, this is the opposite of my approach.
There is no easy answer to your question. I, too, have been increasingly frustrated by the number of mediocre quality CD's on the market. The better your audio system, the greater the extent that you notice poor recordings. You don't indicate your tastes in music, but I have had good luck with these labels: ECM; Chesky; Ma (small label with some interesting, eclectic music); Dorian; Mapleshade, and their subsidiary, Wildchild; the JVC XRCD re-issues (mostly jazz from the 1950's and 60's); Verve; the Mosaic re-issues; RCA's "Living Stereo" re-issues; Mercury's "Living Presence" re-issues; Alligator (blues); Water Lily (very eclectic world music, so you may not care for it); Premonition (the label that issues Patricia Barber's recordings); Reference Recordings; and Telarc. Beyond these suggestions, it's mostly trial and error.
I do not have a high resolution resolution system but I do alternate IC's. I prefer the Harmonic Technolgy Truthlink IC's for poor recordings as they seem to smooth out the HF's. It takes less than a minute to switch as I leave them hanging from spare inputs on the back of my preamp and just switch them on the CD [player. Otherwise I use silver IC's. Though more costly I think that Sam has the real ticket here. The reviews of his Bel Canto DAC are very good indeed and all mention its smooth/liquid but detailed sound quality. I am game for the Bel Canto after I resolve a few basic system issues (speakers, amps and how to shield $500.00 wooden speaker stands from five evil cats, LOL).
Megasam's post is right on. My CD collection is probably 90% non-audiophile approved, but I've got a system capable of great "resolution". To some extent, I've actually "de-tuned" it to sound good with average rock/pop recordings. You can do this with with such things as tube pre-amps, or amps, which I have, power cords, ICs, and speaker cables. Your SL-3s can be very revealing even to the point excess brightness depending on the rest of your system and room acoustics. My system is now slightly to the warm side of neutral and I like it a lot-- I have somewhat warm, forgiving Vand. 3Asig. speakers. Don't let the tail wag the dog. Cheers. Craig.
wsmatau: how old are the 300 cd's you have? most cd's released in the past couple of years are a good deal better sounding than those from the beginnings of the medium. to be sure, there are wide variations in sound quality among discs but few are now being produced that are simply non-listenable. my cd collection numbers some 2000+. of these, there are maybe 100 that i listen to frequently. few of the remaining 1900 or so are painful to my ears; they're just not among my faves. i would guess that your system if thus far incomplete. once you find the right combo of cables/interconnects, etc., i bet you'll find you still want to listen to most of the 290 discs in your collection that you now beleive have been degraded by a "revealing" system. put another way, don't confuse distortion with resolution.
I have a different opinion about this. I beleive that if your system is well balanced, with matched components that are not in and of themselves harsh, bright or aggressive, most cds will sound good to very good. I am not speaking of only very expensive systems either. Also, a better system does not make poor cds sound worse. It will reveal whats there, but can still be very enjoyable. I can't comment on your components, but I suspect your system is not well matched, and also has other setup problems that are affecting the sound. I cannot emphasize how important system matching is, and I don't think many dealers, in their haste to make a sale, care or even KNOW what works and what doesn't. Unfortunately, no one tells this to uninformed buyers until it is too late. I am speaking here from my own experience and frustration. I have spent a great deal of time and energy putting together my system, trying to get it right, while friends and family shook their heads and said "there he goes again". I think this is why many audiophyles become obsessed, while others think their systems sound great. You can put on reference cds to impress, but when you are there, by yourself, going through your collection, you know the truth. I have demoed high end components in my home that were just terrible together. I did this based on reviews and others advice. I don't doubt that many were good pieces. They just did not work together, in my room. I have heard so may people rip the Krell sound, and I am convinced it is because they have not heard it set up right. In the wrong system, it can chase you from the room. I am not speaking here about taste. Of course it is not for everyone. It is not even my preference. So anyway don't give up. And don't buy anything else unless you can hear it in your system, and spend time listening to those poorly recorded cds.
I just wanted to add that it is a complete waste to buy cds based solely on the label. That will not give you long term enjoyment. Buy the music that you like.
I have found that some classical CD's that were sounding below average, were far more enjoyable when I improved my system (the good ones sound way better off course) by improving I mean setup and tweaks. I haven't changed any electronics and still the sound I'm getting keeps improving. The latest addition was a Camelot Sir Bors PC to the amp excellent results
Buy a Basis turntable / Graham tonearm / Benz Micro cartidge / Coda phono preamplifier analog system, and start collecting records. Problem solved. The best way to reproduce analog sound is to use an analog source. You could spend $30,000 on a top-notch digital front end, and my $7,500 turntable would exceed in every facet of the game.
Unfortunately there is no easy answer to your question. If you are a music lover first, the audio system is only a means to an end, and you are always going to be stuck with bad sounding software whether it is in the digital or analog format. The problem is, and always has been, the recording industry. To suggest that switching to records and a good turntable as a solution to your problem is silly given the fact that many analog recordings are not so good either. Overall, I too prefer the sound of my turntable (Well-Tempered Labs Reference with low output Grado Reference cartridge) over my digital system (Audio Logic DAC with CEC transport), but I do own some CD's that sound great and the Audio Logic comes as close to the sound of analog as you will find. And I would agree with Cornfedboy that the quality of CD's have certainly improved in recent years. If you have a recording you particularily enjoy you might look to see if it has been remastered in the last couple of years. But even then it really depends on how good of a recording it was in the first place and how good the engineers who are mastering it are. If it's the music you really love (rather than just the audio equipment) you will have to take the good with the bad. That said there are many different options available to you in the equipment realm that will help you to achieve sound that you prefer. Perhaps you might prefer a speaker that is a bit less revealing than the ML. You did not mention what you are using for a CD player and that may be a big problem. You might like to consider a Sunfire preamp to go along with your amp. It has very good tone controls which can be removed from the circuit when you don't need them. I could go on and on with suggestions, but as I said there is no easy answer. This is a great hobby, but it takes time and experience to find what you like and what works well together. There is no one system that works for everyone and spending lots of money is not the answer. Hopefully you will have access to a dealer or two that will let you try many differnt things in your home. Hope this helps.
BLbloom, I think you probably addressed the problem most accurately. I think my amp and speakers mate well together (the Sunfire was recommended when I contacted Martin Logan). But I have another thread that sought suggestions for a matching tube pre-amp. My adcom-gfp 565 is used in bypass to avoid degradation, but after all I've read on tubes that will be my next purchase. The second weak link is using a Sony 7700 for a Cd player. I'm new at this and working on a budget, so the sony offered the best of both worlds at the time (Quality and Affordability). My room is also very limiting , but I cannot change that. And I am not willing to change interconnects when I change genres of CDs (That seems excessive, to me.) Most of my CDs are more than 5 years old, and mostly rock. But lately I have been listening mostly to acoustics (James Taylor and Eric Clapton.) Hopefully the tube pre-amp will work the magic that everyone seems to say it will, and as for a dedicated CD player, I'm saving my pennies. Thanks for your inputs!
Are you saying, if I upgrade my system to get higher resolution I might not be happy because of the type of music I listen to, rock & elec blues being processed so much? Do these types of music really lend themselves to high resolution? I have also been wondering if this same situation would pertain to tube vs ss, tube lending it's soundstage to classical and ss lending it's soundstage to rock?
Wsmatau- Pre-amp should help dramatically, but would also second the thought that CDs mastering/re-mastering has improved dramatically. Especially with older rock titles. You might want to consider a monthly replacement program as you find re-masters. And then you can probably get $5 each used, so it shouldn't be a major $ drain.
I use the Mcintosh C42 preamp with my Martin Logan Ascents. I also alternate a MC 352 amp and a EAR tube amp for different presentations and fun. The eq adjustments on the 42 are a godsend for different recordings and room variations. Check it out. It is really versatile and extremely quiet .
kubuli...I'm afraid that is true to a degree. It sounds like we listen to the same types of music. I fell in love with the Martin Logans and didn't heed a lot of warnings about their difficulty in placement and inability to rock and roll. I think that is largely overblown. What they are is incredibly transparent, and a lot of mainstream music isn't recorded as well as classical and jazz recordings. If you are looking to upgrade I might shy away from the ESLs if you listen primarily to rock and blues, unless you have the time and money to invest in all of your components.