Most Challenging CD

What is the CD that most puts your system to task in your collection?

My best is, Tchaikovsky "The Nutcracker," by the Kirov Orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev. This CD has it all, huge bass passages, giant crescendos, sharp horns and interwoven dynamics.

Yes, I know, there are lots of CDs that show all these attributes. There is one thing on this CD that I have never heard on any other, a real loud gun shot.

Sure, some 1812 Overture discs have real cannon fire. They just aren't as powerful as the gun shot on this Nutcracker disc. This report is a CRACKPOW!!!!!!!!

Ok, what do you have that tests your system like no other? I am not really interested in test discs. I have those and they aren't as good, besides being boring.
'power' is not a challenge, the softest sheen on a voice is way more of a challenge.
((as an aside: I remember in some 'sword' movie where the Crusader cuts a thick metal rod with his sword to 'impress' the Ottoman. Then the Ottoman pulls out his sword and floats a fine silk scarf up into the air and as the scarf floats done, it cuts ITSELF in two on the unmoving blade of the Ottoman's curved sword. two different ideas of what a sword should do!))
Same way with a stereo, brute force or subtleties?
I am far more concerned with the subtleties than the brute force.
Try Sinead' O'Conner singing "Nothing compares to U', or 'I do not want what i haven't got' or 'bewitched Bothered and Bewildered' and listen to the sheen surrounding her voice. Spectacular! When it is right, that is a good sign. Especially from a CD player!!
I guess I am just not interested in gut massage.
“Music is the space between the notes” – Claude Debussy
Bantock: Fifine at the Fair - Handley/RPO on Hyperion. Huge dynamic range.
Hmmm, interesting contrast Elizabeth brings up. Made me bring up Sinead on the system and enjoy some of her stuff I haven't listened to in a while. I get it. But I don't discount the qualities that I think Muralman is talking about. I don't think it's so much pure brute force, or a gut massage, though those things might occur to one in listening to passages like that. But I think he's talking about the ability of a system to clearly separate and define fairly complex and diverse audio events occurring simultaneously, all of which does indeed require some power, but not just power. It may deliver a crescendo without clipping, but if you loose the sense of the orchestra, and the crescendo becomes a huge wall of sound with no depth, texture or tonal complexity, then some potential of the recording is lost. In my experience that has been more challenging for various systems over the years than the aspects of subtlety and nuance that are also very important, that I'm taking from Elizabeth's post (and are actually more important to me as well since music I listen to most seems to highlight more simple and stark arrangements). In other words there have been systems in my experience that can attain what Elizabeth outlines that have failed miserably at the challenge Muralman proposes, but I have not experienced the opposite myself (not to say it's not possible, but usually if a system can do what I'm gleaning from Muralman's post it can achieve what Elizabeth proposes). I'll give you a cut that has both, albeit certainly not as stupendously dramatic as Muralman's example. Very challenging to a system nonetheless, and also challenging in the opening half which emphasizes beautiful, stark vocals that I think are exemplary of what Elizabeth describes: Mine would be Antony and the Johnson's - Hope There's Someone. The first half is just simple, stark beautiful vocals by Hegarty, accompanied by his piano. There is a startling sense of presence and immediacy. Somewhere around the middle it builds to him almost pounding away at the bass notes while his voice wails out in layers of broken harmony. If a system can separate out those layers and not turn it into a muddled two dimensional mess, it passes my test.
Elizabeth: I saw that movie noth nore than Hollywood piffle. Your system should be able to convey emotion and bring enjoyment. Has far as a cd that would test a system? What ever brings you to tears.
I am noting all of your CD favorites for this system torture test. Certainly, as has been noted, soft kissy passages sung by a sultry siren have to be kissable. Also, the ability of a system to play loud passages while simultaneously tinkling a triangle is also just as necessary.

Jax2 mentions the necessity of keeping the orchestra intact during loud crescendos. Come to think of it, the finality of Bolero is a good test. On most systems it sounds like a raging wounded bull. I know. I have had plenty of those systems.

The problem of citing voice is that discussion can dissolve into how many angels on the head of a pin. How many times have you heard someone saying, that's not what she sounds like on my system. There's no arguing that.

There are clues as to whether you are getting a good rendition of the singer. How human they sound is one. Can you hear them breathing in?
"Kev at the George Community Hall" TRL sampler disc. Exceptional dynamics, low level information and ultra high resolution.
I have to agree that test CDs are boring. I had one with a track of an army tank, now that was some fabulous listening. And, I knew my system was accurate because last time I stood next to a moving tank it sounded just like that. 8^)
Then there is the: 32hz, etc, etc...............tone pitches. Again, what a blast.
Rja, I cracked up on that one. Tanks...are you serious?

I Love music. We had the pleasure of having best seats in several music venues during the Holidays.

Some folks I have known like to tote around their system check discs. We all had heard the same discs ad infitinum. It didn't matter.... Here we go again.

One only has to know what live music sounds like to ascertain an educated opinion on music CDs.
Speaking of "loud gun shot", on Danny Gatton's (live) album...more Blazing Telecasters, he does a slow (he rarely did anything slow) version of "back door blues". When the lyrics get to "cuz' I thought I heard a shot", Danny does a high-tech guitar effect of manipulating his guitar cable OUT/IN for the "shot"! First time I heard it, I thought my system malfunctioned!!
But yes..I agree, a friend who's done a couple of paid reviews, uses Stravinsky "The Rite Of Spring" Korev Orchestra w/Valery Gergiev as a reference. He refers to it as being blood thirsty!

Thanks for your comment, one of the best I have ever read anywhere. It is so true. It seems that when people have these sort of low definition systems and miss all the nuances they just look for more bass. Those with good systems, hi resolution, appreciate much more then just the bass slam. Sad but true.

Jim, you are assuming too much. Jax2 in his summation of what I am hearing is
spot on. Elizabeth brings up a salient point, but I don't think she assumes a
system can do a realistic pistol firing while carrying a voice to full fruition.

Bass has little to do with the pistol report. It is the excited treble and mid ribbons
that react so.
Elizabeth, let's go your way. I like any Julie London CD for breathy singing. It is a good challenging CD. Another singer that challenges is Katie Malua. One person I know told me he hates her singing. "Sounds like she is singing from the bottom of a toilet." If one can get her full warm voice up front, she will amaze.
Try Charly Antolini Countdown or Dire Straits Brothers In Arms
Hey, Shadorne, I just got finished playing Dire Straits, "Brother in Arms." This is one of the best produced CDs ever.
Hey, Shadorne, I just got finished playing Dire Straits, "Brother in Arms." This is one of the best produced CDs ever.

Mark Knopfler is a stickler for sound quality - so is his sound engineer, Chuck Ainlay.

Mark built the famous British Grove Studios
01-10-11: Muralman1 writes:
I just got finished playing Dire Straits, "Brother in Arms." This is one of the best produced CDs ever.

Which version? There are quite a few different masterings of this album. Some sound better than others. I prefer Vertigo (Phonogram) 824 499-2 from West Germany.

Portishead "P." Levels too high, overdrives everything.
Oh yeah, there are those discs that are produced in an insanely high level. I don't count those, because their dynamic headroom is restricted.
Dafos, Mickey Hart et al

Mickey Hart, Airto*, Flora Purim - Däfos
Jazz, Latin

Dry Sands Of The Desert 5:05
Saudacão Popolar 5:12
Ice Of The North 1:20
Reunion 5:10
Subterranean Caves Of Kronos 2:12
The Caves Of Däfos 3:55
Passage 10:55

Title Format Label Cat# Country Year
Däfos (12", Album) Reference Recordings RR-12 US 1983
Däfos (CD, Album) The World, Rykodisc, 360° Records RCD 10108 US 1989
Däfos (CD, Album, 20 ) The World, Rykodisc, 360° Records RCD 80108 USA & Canada 1989
Geoffkait, did you know one of those Dafos recordings are selling for $125 on Amazon?
Dafos is a wonderful recording, but I don't really find it's particularly "challenging". It is very well recorded. I was listening while cooking this evening on my Squeezebox Boom and it sounded great even on that relatively mediocre component. It has great dynamic range, is stark, organic and beautiful...but all those things are fairly easy to do justice to on a well-assembled and set-up system. It's actually a great recording to show off a system with. If you don't mind that the disk is not gold, you can get a copy for around $22 also on Amazon.
Dafos IMHO has its most lasting quality in the cut with the crashing bass drum. When your system replicates the sound in one of the cuts on side two, I forget which, clearly for what it is, not just a big unmusical sound, you're well on your way to having, at a minimum, a system with excellent bass response.
Portishead "P." Levels too high, overdrives everything.

AFAIK, Portishead has not put out an album called "P" (I believe they've only released four full-length albums so far). There are no singles titled "P" either. Did you mean their latest album, "Third"?
Dafos IMHO has its most lasting quality in the cut with the crashing bass drum. When your system replicates the sound in one of the cuts on side two, I forget which, clearly for what it is, not just a big unmusical sound, you're well on your way to having, at a minimum, a system with excellent bass response.

I really don't listen to this recording that much, even though it is a superb recording the content is not exactly something I want to hear on a regular basis. Your comment got me listening to it on my main system again and I'm hearing it a different way - there are a few cuts that get pretty busy and dramatic and do test the system in a way that is more than just bass. Still, it's easy to be very impressed by this album on even a simple system. I think it has to do with the stark isolation of the sounds in many of the cuts, even those dramatic percussion cuts you reference. If the OP just wants albums to test bass abilities there are quite a few others as well, but that's only one measure of a system's abilities. Plenty of threads on that too. I guess in relation to the OP's impressions of the 1812 and Nutcracker the suggestion is a very good one as the impact of percussion cuts on Dafos have a very similar effect. Still, I think there's far more to a good system than being knocked back in your seat by convincing bass reproduction (though I must admit, I do enjoy that quality as well).
Eric Kunzel's Roundup on Telarc has twelve real gunshots in succession. Enjoy.
Beethoven's 'Wellington's Victor' has plenty of gunshots...mass musket fire and also a bunch of 12 pounders firing various charge levels.

The initial cannon shot at the start of the battle is brutal.

This is also a Telarc Disk.

I have plenty of disks which, however, are MORE challenging for what they DO NOT have rather than what they DO.
"Ein Straussfest" on Telarc has the most challenging dynamics I can think of in my collection.

Extreme dynamics and transients are the thing that will do in most recording and playback systems the easiest, I believe.

These characterize the recorded gunshots and explosives in that recording.

I think several early Telarc recordings have these kinds of extreme dynamics which was a novelty aspect of some the early CD recordings offered, especially on Telarc.

I think as time went on, record producers realized that these extreme dynamics and transients were too much for most peoples playback gear to handle and tended to sound distorted and bad in most cases, including quiet passages that could not be heard by most, especially in cars, so they backed off a bit from attempting to capture these extreme dynamics in most recordings as things progressed and the novelty wore off.

Also, many people's record players could not track the heavily modulated grooves in the vinyl versions of a lot of the early commercial telarc digitally recorded records taht came out in teh very late 1970's, so that did not work well for the masses either other than as a novelty.
"the softest sheen on a voice"

This is somewhat about transient response as well.

Transients are present in many flavors and to various degrees at many frequencies throughout all recordings, to some extent.

A lot of modern high end systems do a decent job handling transients, although some better than others.

I 've found a lot of teh classic 7 Moody Blues remaster albums to be perhaps the most challenging in this regard for me. Perhaps because these recordings have a lot of murky, low frequency dynamics occurring that are very challenging for a system to resolve fully. When it does though, as is possible with some of teh newer CD remasters more so than the originals, a lot of transient detail and sharpness emerges on the recordings overall though that is otherwise usually obscured.

Part of this for me is that I love these recordings in particular so getting the most out of them has been an ongoing challenge that really matters for me over the years since I first started picking them up on vinyl over 35 years ago.

I suppose getting the most possible out of most any decent recording one really cares about is perhaps always the most challenging case in practice that matters for most audiophiles in that here is where we tend to seek the highest standards that matter to us most.
Magfan, that sounds like the winner for realism attack. If the shot has a ear piercing snap and shock to it's delivery, it should make you jump.
I bought the Wellington's Victory disk because the original piece of music had been composed for a music playing machine....a really....really big music box, as it were. The music survives, the machine was never successful.
I put the disk on a buddies stereo...with then common 12" 3-way ported speakers from RSL, a Southern California company which made it own line of pretty good speakers. JBL copies.....
We were out front playing Frisbee when the first shot hit. My buddy went pale and bolted for the house to turn it down. It was so loud I thought the woofer cone would have been launched across the room, connected back the the speaker with a little curly-cue of wire.
I felt bad for a second, until I remembered some of the nasty stuff he had done to MY stereo over the years!
Without a doubt "Michael Bolton Sings Celine Dion's Greatest Hits".

Now that's challenging.
Master of Chinese Percussion -Yim Hok Man K2HD Lim
The drums rattle my windows and ducts using 8 watts
Great demo disc

How about the tune "Oh Yeah" by Yello? I forget the CD name.

Lurch from the Adams Family doing his best Macho Man Randy Savage imitation.
Montejay, getting all those percussion instruments right would be a good trick for a system.

I have another along similar vein, Kodo Heartbeat Drummers of Japan - Sheffield Lab. This one begins with with player calling to each other. The disc makes use of the full dynamic range given by CDs. The voices are faint compared to what follows. In fact, at Amazon, if you look at comments, lots of people complain about the 4 minutes of silence before drumming starts. This CD separates boy toys from real music makers. Bringing the voices in clearly requires a comparatively high setting of the volume knob.

When the drumming starts, it pushes all big drivers full go. Also, the tweeter and midrange will get a good workout creating the pitch, strike, and reverb. A later time in the CD the drums are silent. Somewhere way back there a whisper of a clatter. It steadily comes closer until it becomes a din of crashing drum sticks.
With All Due Respect, the thread is about challenging for your stereo to play back not a challenge to LISTEN to! Good answer, though!

I had a lunatic neighbor a LONG time ago who would stay up late talking to himself and listening to recordings of TRAINS. I moved ASAP and didn't look back.
>>02-17-11: Magfan
With All Due Respect, the thread is about challenging for your stereo to play back not a challenge to LISTEN to..<<


Damn, how could I have missed that?
Without a doubt "Michael Bolton Sings Celine Dion's Greatest Hits".

Now that's challenging.

Hey Bill - isn't that the one Yanni plays on but isn't listed in the credits?
Yes Marco, that's correct.

Both Yanni and Kenny G are uncredited.
No need to use language like THAT, above.

I just had breakfast and my stomach knotted up. 'bout lost it.
The usual Spam Omelet with Wonder Bread toast.
Yes Marco, that's correct.

Both Yanni and Kenny G are uncredited.

I'm waiting on the Mobile Fidelity Gold remaster mono box set version with the bonus CD, that has a previously unreleased cut where John Tesh pays a surprise visit to the studio and accompanies that power trio on a rousing cover of Michael Franks', Popsicle Toes! There's a rumor about vinyl and an eventual 192/24 download, but you didn't hear it from me.
Death magnetic by metallica

If you can crank this cd, and enjoy it much less even survive for 10
minutes or more, your rig is in very good shape.
Dynamic Experience Volume 2, STS Digital, Netherlands. Contains a couple of tracks which will press your system to the limits and if you are not cautious with the volume control break your system. Music is good too. Particularly enjoy Yello ft. Shirley Bassey - Rhythm Divine; Kraftwerk - Aeró Dynamik and Rammstein - Los. The system killer is Track 14 James Blake - Limit to your love. The wobble bassline in this dubstep cover has the potential to damage woofers.