How can you tell the quality of the recording?

When you listen to music with CDs, how can you tell the quality of the recording? In other words to find out the quality of the recording what do you have to focus on? When I listen to CDs, I often notice that the recordings are not good.


The very first thing to focus on is the bass...
I listen to the highs. Bad recordings are harsh and brittle and make me want to turn down the volumne.
Just keep focusing until you hear something bad. It's gotta be there. After all, they are CDs. Sometimes I find it difficult to ignore all that music when I'm focusing. Happy Listening
Soundstage does not extend beyond the speakers like a well recorded disc does, bass is missing, imaging is off. The overall sound is thin. All you need to do is buy an original recorded (not remastered CD) from the 80s or 90s and you will know what sounds like crap.
Uh, I guess I just listen to if it sounds good or not.
I think I didn't understand the question...
As in all cases its the mastering job of the recording, there are good recordings from the 80's and 90's not many but good examples are Donald Fagen's the Night Fly and Dire Straits Money for Nothing, One more thing to consider as cd has reached a maturity level of playback the better sources now available has brought my collection back to life in new way's as some recordings I use to think were unlistenable before now have a little more of my respect. Not sure why this is so but since adding the Oppo 95 with those lovely Ess sabre dac's may have something to do with it!
Does it sound natural.
Uh, it either sounds good and you like it or not maybe?

Most newer CDs on the last 10 -20 years are off good quality I would say.

That doesn't mean you will like the sound nor that most do not have flaws on the grand scale of things. It depends mostly on what you are listening for and what it takes to float your boat. It's a very personal thing. Like most things really....

That's why we have variety in the world. Chocolate vanilla, tutti frutti, all can be good quality but different.

I think I would get bored fast maybe if everything all sounded uniformly perfect. But that's just me....

Audiophiles by nature can be a hard to please bunch, always put off, always looking for flaws, always seeking better, etc.

Quality is a hard thing to quantify as we all learned reading "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and it's pursuit might even have some negative effects on one's psyche if not careful....
Wow, so much to respond to: I've been an audiophile since 19...I'm 52. My degree is in Broadcast Journalism, I was mixing in clubs @ 21, later when I calmed down, I was doing some church stuff, later yet was able to to some band recordings, handling the mix. Today I write and produce the television and radio for the company that I work for as well as still do occasional live recordings and work in churches, usually 4 to 10 pc bands, plus 4 people to full choirs... All of that is to say no more than I've experience and I've learned. Its never one thing... Mics matter, mic placement matters, If using more than 2 mics, you'll be mixing through a board. The quality of that equipment matters, just like an amp or cables to us. Where do you use an eq an how much matters. Mastering straight to 24 or 32 bit digital matters.
When I listen today, I listen very differntly than I did when I was 20 or even 30. Today, its top to bottom. Tight, clean bass, vocals accurate, no eq on vocals, mixed properly with the instuments, smooth, detailed high end. I've found that you can take what should be a great recording and just put the wrong person behind the board and you've got a mess.
So its great musicians, great vocals, great microphones, a great recording engineer, done on great equipment makes a great recording. Thats the condensed version.
Sorry, but I need to add and you can tell its a great recording because it sounds good....
Clean, detailed, tight, accurate.
Mapman, I've got to disagree with you on the quality of CD's over the past 30 years. Most CD's sold are Pop recordings. 30 years ago, many of the original pop CD's were rushed to market on early generation equipment by engineers still learning how maximize the new medium. The recent gain riding, dynamics squashing pop recordings have been just plain terrible. Overall I think only a paltry percentage of recordings sold are up to their full potential.
Does all this mean, you can like a bad recording and not like a great recording? If so, I don't get the question either. Beethoven's 9th-furtwangler - 1942, comes to mind.

I said 10-20 years, not 30. I agree more early CD recordings were of relatively poor quality. But I think they have improved over time as a whole. There there will always be some % that are inferior to others. That's usually the way things work.

Of course, that's by my assessment of quality. Other's assessments will differ, and few will be the same. Unless there is some objective way of measuring overall quality, good luck determining any absolute truth. Dynamics is just one aspect of a good recording. Others may have an inverse relationship with dynamics, but a tradeoff does not necessarily reduce overall quality.
Sorry about the timeline error.
It's inexcusable, there is no need for a trade off. The medium is fully capable of delivering the balance of what's there without having to sacrifice the dynamics. Classical CD's are the proof.
Unsound, you are absolutely right, that if the master tapes are dynamic, there should be no loss going to cd.
Bluesky, you answered your own question, you just listen to them. Get a few cds that are generally considered to be well recorded and mastered and then compare others to those.

If you tell us what kind of music you like we can make some recommendations. I'd guess that the new Dark Side of the Moon remaster would be an example of good sound.

Some people train their ear to do "critical listening" as opposed to listening solely for pleasure. They do this so they can note various distortions or small differences in recordings and gear. I don't think that's necessary unless you are willing to put in the effort and money to get up into the higher reaches of this hobby.

If you can get to an audio show (CES, RMAF) you can hear examples of really good sound and not so good sound. Then see how your tastes match up with others. Enjoy your listening, that's the whole point of all this.
IMO, a great recording captures the spirit of the performance, whether recorded live or an assemblage of overdubs that has been compiled to create the illusion of a performance. For me, an inspired performance can transcend the limitations of the recording medium and associated playback equipment-hence the reason for listening to something performed in the 40's as opposed to last years plain vanilla but technically state of the art re-hash of Beethzart Brahmkovsky's 3rd Trombone Sonate. In many cases, recordings are deliberately compromised as part of an aesthetic decision by an artist that wants things to sound a certain way that the listener may not be privy to. If Tom Waits decides that he wants the third song on his cd to sound like he's singing in his own outhouse, and the 4th song to sound likes he's been living in a damp airplane hangar for three weeks, few producers or engineers are going to dissuade him from doing so. These kind of decisions that may or may not translate to your listening room are indeed quite different to the "volume-wars" of recent decades, where decisions involving compression or limiting are made at the mastering level. In short, there are lots of ways to make what we might call a bad recording and I think that it's not for lack of talented engineers, but perhaps an aesthetic that differs from the way we would like to hear them reproduced when we sit to listen intensively. For most people, music is an accompaniment to whatever else they may be doing at the time. For us, it is an end unto itself.
i'm with ths.

i've spent most of the eve listening to my music server radio station. have not heard a bad recording yet, though i surely like some better than others.

if you go in with a preconception of what you think a recording should sound like you will probably be dissapointed. the guys who made the recording probably had a different idea. if your system can convey that, you have scored.
Every system will have a group of recordings that simply jive better with that system. What sounds good on one system may not sound good on another and vice versa.
Let me interject a little logic here. IF, your system HAS EVER played a recordings that met all the positive things you are seeking in reproduced sound, even JUST ONCE, that means that the system is capable of playing at the highest levels. So if the next recording does not sound up to expectations, IT HAS to be the recording. Unless your system has a grudge against Jazz, or classical or tom waits etc....... then it's personal.
My system doesn't like country music. It always sounds bad when someone makes me play it.
the hair on my neck does a pretty good job of figuring out how good a recording is. amount of teeth grinding comes in a close second.
The biggest flaw is treble harshness. Other problems can include boominess, especially in the bass, and timbral distortion that makes the instruments or voices come across as fundamentally different from live sound.

Problems with soundstaging are very secondary.
I disagree with Rok2id. I'm sure there are systems out there that only sound really good with just one recording. That does not mean the problem is with the other recordings.
'I disagree with Rok2id'

How dare you! :)
Thank you all for your replies.