Poor recordings that are now great.

This could be a useful thread. It obviously speaks to the quality of the gear. Since I've gotten my Acoustat TNT 200's and 120 back from rebuild/upgrade, I'm blown away by the fidelity of recordings I've considered to be at the bottom of the barrel; all early recordings.

Dylan,(some beyond help)
Leonard Cohen,
Louis Armstrong,
Simon, Garfunkel,
Procol Harem,
Johnny Rivers,
Chris Kristofferson,
Loretta Lynn,

That typical transient saturation is either gone or drastically reduced with the revelation of information lost otherwise, with a corresponding increase in imaging and sound stage. I remember a few salesmen back in the 70's suggesting poor recordings be used as the yard stick when auditioning gear but I never heard the kind of improvement I'm talking about. Interestingly, the difference in otherwise good recordings is not as apparent.

None of this may be new, but it seems to me that no matter how much gear swapping or modifying you've done to a system, you still may yet do something that ends up more than superficially changing your own subjective 'evaluation' of a given recording's worth. It seems to happen to beginners (after their systems reach a certain quality level, at least) and even to veteran hifi'ers of all descriptions. Even Gordon Holt commented in the last couple years or so on being stumped by this same phenomenon with substitutions in his own rig...and he's been in the business a helluva long time.

The balance, in this regard, of systems is often upset in the course of system building - and whenever it is, it can sometimes go so far as to force us to effectively re-evaluate our own 'interpretation' of the hierarchy of the perceived recording quality of many of the discs in our collection. But, that's just what it is, really. Just our interpretation of a given recording's merit - or even a whole set of recordings...based on how the system is presenting them. Change how the system fundamentally presents them and we may get something of a shift, not only in the sound quality in general, but even in our perceived opinion (or interpretation) of which recordings we may feel to be inherently good and which not.

IME, over the years of system building, I've sort of learned to take it all in stride when it comes to my own take on a given recording's particular merit. It could be that I'm only one equipment substitution away from altering (or even reversing) my opinion of it, anyway. There are systems that are more ruthlessly revealing and those that are more forgiving. There are systems with more forward perspectives and those that are more laid back. Those with deeper soundstages and those that are wider. I expect factors (and there are potentially tons of them) like these can reveal either the strengths OR the weaknesses of potentially almost any recording.

Likewise when it comes to using 'poor' recordings to test gear, that to me may have just as good a chance of telling you something useful about a system's behavior as using a 'good' recording. The only potential problem though: if our preconceptions of what constitutes a good recording are based on what our systems are showing us about them, and there are differences in that regard between how systems are revealing a given recording's quality, then how can we be sure if we can reliably tell the difference between a good recording and a bad one to begin with? Actually I don't think the situation is really THAT bad. Certain recordings seem to garner praise quite readily among Agoners, like Cassandra Wilson's New Moon Daughter, for example. I bet you would be hard pressed to find anyone who thought that recording sucked...and even if you did, your next question would likely be on what kind of set-up they were listening to it on. There are plenty of other recordings that many folks would agree on as being of sufficiently high quality...as well as some that aren't. But, I do think system synergy (or the lack of it) definitely can play a role. But, anymore I try to use a range of good, bad and middle-of-the-road recordings to evaluate gear for just that reason.

BTW, one other factor I can think of that IME can play a role is effective power conditioning (or electronic noise reduction). It can affect things like sibilance problems, lack of presence, soundstaging, system brightness, dimensionality, bandwidth problems, power-supply interactions and a host of other things that, once addressed, can help systems become a bit less sensitive to the kinds of changes I've mentioned above and yet drastically improve response and overall synergy. Before I found such a solution I used to consider the number of bad recordings in my possession to be about 35%. Now, it's less than 1%.

Regards. John
But It seems there's an objective similarity among these early recordings that reveal corresponding similarities among the gear in that the gear does not eliminate the aparrent limitations of the recording ime, until now. Your final conclusion of using good, bad and middle of the road recordings to evaluate gear lends credence to my initial assertion, does it not? In any case, top notch gear has not had much of an influence in moving past that 'barrier' until now. I'm using two bridged TNT200 amps, Meridian 501 pre, and Oppo BDP95 as source. Speakers are not nearly as relevant imo, but just to be completely forthcoming, I have a pair of JBL L5's on the burner with a pair of Velodyne DPS 12 subs.
Is it possible that the improved sound quality you are talking about is because your TNT200's were rebuilt? Maybe the recordings are not as bad as you think.
"Your final conclusion of using good, bad and middle of the road recordings to evaluate gear lends credence to my initial assertion, does it not? In any case, top notch gear has not had much of an influence in moving past that 'barrier' until now".

Well, let me put it this way: some gear designs have traditionally concentrated mainly on making good or excellent recordings sound sensationally good - even if at the expense of rendering less-than-stellar recordings to sounding like crap. And likewise, some gear seems as if it were designed in the opposite way and they do relatively well with good and almost-good recordings, but at the expense of not distinguishing so well the differences between good recordings and great ones. This is really the old "ruthlessly revealing" vs "forgiving" nature thing. My assumption is that there can be such a thing as gear that can accomplish both goals, but that technically this is evidently rather difficult to pull off in the real world (or at least rather expensive). Having your gear modified in the way it was may have done something toward straddling the best of both worlds - taking your 'revealing' TNT200's and, while keeping their revealingness intact, also extended their performance to include being able to better handle the 'less-than-excellent' recordings as well, i.e., adding more forgivingness. I sometimes think designers tend to focus on one end or the other of the 'revealingness/forgiveness' spectrum, apart from cost and technical reasons, simply because they feel that's what their customers expect from them - and that, with revealingness in particular, many makers may perceive buyers as being obsessed with the 'absolute best' in everything. The 'absolute best' sounding gear for the money and the 'absolute best' sounding recordings to play on them and that most of those buyers will, when confronted with the bulk of the recordings that don't seem to measure up on their high-end systems, will not attribute the fault to their gear (which I think it may sometimes be...even expensive gear), but mistakenly blame instead the recording as being substandard. At least that's my take on it.
That could very well be. But I'm comparing my experience to the past 30+ years with various gear. I suppose you're right and I've finally come across an amp to successfully challenge those recordings. I guess a better question might have been to ask what your opinions are on the quality of those on my list. However, my intent is to identify the gear. In this case, the TNT200 FWIW. I've used plenty of recognizably great amps but they've always seemed to be challenged by those early recordings in the same way.
I see. IME amps have always been the trickiest to get right in a system. Maybe that's made worse by that fact that there seems to be such slim pickings for them these days. It seems easier by far to get revved up about some really good preamp candidates...or DACs, TTs or speakers...but, somehow, not amps. At least for anything I've seen under $5k. Ask different people about amps and you get a different answer from every person. Not too long ago, I asked Ric Schultz of EVS as to what in the heck I could possibly get from him as a recommendation for an amp under $3k and he just couldn't come up with an answer at the time...and he got his start modifying amps. All my possible suspects that I posed to him he wound up shooting down. Others whose opinion I trust have had the same sort of problem making an amp recommendation to me. My current amps are Monarchy SM-70 Pro's (balanced mono's). They are a probably a bit too much on the forgiving side of things for me to outright recommend them to most people, but, for lack of anything on the horizon to replace them with, I'm actually doing quite well with that limitation...plus they happened to be spectacularly cheap at only $588 each. But, by far my best solution to this issue (and many others) was to have heavily invested into electronic noise reduction ala Alan Maher Designs. This has been crazy good for the performance of my system...but I had to drop a pretty penny for it all...about $9k. It did help these amps do much better with excellent recordings, but all that may really be a whole nother kettle of fish, really. I haven't heard the TNT200's, but it is good to know about them in this light. I wish I could be of more help than that. I've only hear the Oppo on your list and believe it to be good, but I'm not familiar with Meridian pre's. I do agree with you that speakers in this case don't seem to be as big an issue.
My last response was to Zd542. John, I have to disagree on your rational. I have not experienced the polar sonic differences you ascribe to specific amp designs. A better(imo)amp has always performed significantly better sonically in every way. There's always been a smaller, albeit significant improvement with the best recordings. Hence the logic in using the poor ones to measure sonic performance. Almarg has a very good and valid position in shooting this methodology down, but I have gotten used to knowing just what to listen for over the years. I suppose I could just as easily use his logic. However,'the better the poor ones sound, the better the overall performance will be', has rung true. The TNT200's have done just that. They ring like a bell. These are vintage IC-less amps. Cost for each including the work done is about $1,400.00. I have three with fully balanced and mono capability, and one TNT120 with only stereo/balanced operation. I'm in the process of building a fully active altered JBL 4345 system. It took a while to acquire them as they are relatively rare in the used market.
I recognize a lot of those and no doubt many are CD recordings (some remastered and released on CD within the last 20 years or so perhaps?) that can sound fantastic when things are going right, and not so interesting otherwise. The devil is all in the details. Lots of older and newer versions/releases/re-masterings of most of these over the years, some quite good, some not so much. It all depends on which version/release specifically and how well things are going on the playback end. Newer versions of most of these on CD I have heard have a lot of good things going on. They are not perfect recordings nor bad ones, somewhere more in the middle, which works usually for me.
I have them all on vinyl and cd. Not one on cd sounds better than the vinyl, remastered or not, with the exception of America's greatest hits. Don't know what it is, but that one is fabulous.

Anyway, I thought it would be a good thread in identifying the good performers in terms of the gear regardless of price. I'm a vintage lover and I know there are some serious gems out there, the Acoustats being one of them. So let's hear about some other serious contenders.