Surprised by quality?

I've been listening to my music on crappy speakers for years now. Finally, I bought a decent pair of speakers, and have been listening to all of my music over again, searching for the quality of reproduction and tone, and all that good stuff. There have been a few recordings, though, that have surprised me with their quality. One of these is Seven Mary Three-- American Standard. The cymbals sound like cymbals, the drums sound like drums, and the guitar has exactly that crunch which I liked to pretend it did with my old system. Also, there are the Glenn Miller recordings from the 30's and 40's. I expected digitally remastered music from that long ago to lack something. I've discovered that they do not in any way. What recordings have you listened to that surprised you with their high(or low) quality?
My favorite of the old analog masters dubbed to digital media are any jazz masters engineered by Rudy Van Gelder or Ted Macero and the Szell era Cleveland Orchestra recordings.
Wed. Morning at 3AM by Simon and Garfunkle was a revelation for me. Playing that record on a quality rig awakened me to the possibilities and rekindled my interest in the hobby about 15 year ago.
About four years ago, I came across several recordings by Louis Armstrong that were just so engaging and melodic, that it almost instantaneously changed the types of music that I listened to.

These recordings were:
- Louis plays Fats Waller
- Louis plays W.C. Handy
- Louis and Duke Ellington (the Summit)
- Ella (Fitzgerald) and Louis Again

The sonics on these recordings range from good to excellent ... in fact the two "Louis plays" recordings benefit from the SACD treatment as it removes some of the harshness from the brass. An anecedote ... the best sound from an equipment demo that I have ever heard (in 30 years) was at the Home Entertainment show (of all places) in NYC a few years back. In the Music Hall room was a Creek 5350 amplifier driving a pair of EPOS M15 floorstanders with a Music Hall MM7 turntable playing "The Summit" by Armstrong and Ellington (a mid fi lover's dream system). The sound of Duke's piano playing along with Louis' singing on the song "Duke's Place" was nothing short of stunning (from both a music lover and audiophile perspective).

Of recent recordings, Mark O Connor's, "In Full Swing" (2003) is a sonic and performance marvel. The music is a combination of swing and classical and sounds absolutely arresting in either redbook or SACD forms.

I am value driven and tend to favor mid fi systems (my systems are a testament to this) ... one of the biggest thrills is to come upon either the recording or piece of equipment (i.e. NAD 320BEE amp) that reveals details that I never heard before.

Regards, Rich
To some extent the best sounding recordings were made in the late 50s thru early 60s. It was the time of the classic tube recording equipment and by necessity engineers had to keep the recording process simple. They had at most 4 channels to work with and very limited EQ and compressor/limiter options. The current technology can easily match the sound quality from that era, but for a variety of reasons, it's rarely done.
The opposite is also true. Once you get decent components you will be very disappointed in the quality of many CDs. The same recordings remastered on differant labelsis quite the eye-opener!

For instance there is a box set released by Motown of all of their hits that I really liked and then a fellow audiophile gave me a box set of many of the same recordings released on Rhino. The differance is quality is such that the Motown release is relegated to my car's CD player and I doubt i will ever again play it on my main system only because of what it could be but is not.

Oh, I was just given the box set of Martin Scorsese presents 'The Blues' which is all of the music from the recent PBS documentary. The quality, especially on the last three disks, is truly outstanding!

That box set of "The Blues" was on my Christmas list, but alas, Santa must have missed it. It it worth picking up? I would think so from your comments and from what I saw on PBS. I managed to tape all but one night of their 7 night special. Truly, some amazing stuff. As is "Standing in the Shadows of Motown", which I may also have to pick up on DVD.


I, too, was very impressed by the digital remasters of Glenn Miller. Great stuff. Another disk that I recall having a greater appreciation for after a system upgrade was Pearl Jam's "Ten." Specifically, the harmonic overtones on the 12-string bass part to "Jeremy." I doubt that most people who listen to that disk have heard 90% of the sonic nuances on that one. Dishwalla's first disk, "Pet Your Friends," is the best mix of any rock band that I know of. Somehow, each instrument is very present and rich, but none get drowned out. Good tunes, too. One last "surprise" disk to mention is Jars of Clay (I think it's a self titled disk - it has their one big hit on it). The acoustic guitars are really excellent, and the drums and vocals are also outstanding.

A disk that did not surprise me (because the first time I heard it was in a high end audio store through a large pair of Martin Logan's) was Dean Peer's "Ucross." This is the best imaging of any disk I own by a long shot. Absolutely fantastic recordings. Even though Dean is a solo bass player, his recordings make extensive use of harmonics, nylon stringed experiments, and a variety of techniques. The result, is a full-frequency ranged instrumental journey. Great stuff!

Go ahead and treat yourself to "The Blues'. I really am a bit too picky when it comes to quality CDs. Not that i don't really mind the average quality CDs; it is just that I can really appreciate the good ones.

One of the greatest things about being an adult, even around Christmas: If you are not given what you want, you can still have it.

Just go get it.
Well, since you said so... ;^)

It is good to be an adult, sometimes.

Re. quality of recorded music on CD or vinyl: I went to the Underground Atlanta, which is 3-level shopping plaza right in the middle of Atlanta. Was walking around & came upon a 2-man band playing some old Jazz numbers. One fellow was playing the saxophone (sounded like tenor) & his buddy the drums. I was standing atleast 20 feet away & that saxophone had some bite (& then some)! There was a clear harshness to its sound & the 2 were playing completely unmicrophoned. The music was excellent to listen to so I stood there a long time.

This made me realise that a real, live saxophone has bite. Any recording (or SACD treatment) that removes this bite is creating distortion! If the music is correctly recorded then any music system softening this saxophone bite is, again, creating distortion! If you don't like the harshness of brass instruments, don't listen to brass instruments (better than murdering the recording to remove the harshness!).

What is the point of getting an accurate recording when you are going to play it on an inaccurate (or distortion producing) system???? Money totally wasted, I say!! IMHO.

I may have given you the incorrect impression about the SACD versions of the "Louis Plays" recordings. If you own/have listened to the redbook versions of these recordings, in a few places, the recording of the brass is so harsh as to be painful. My guess is that this was a fault of how the performance was captured on tape, as opposed to the musician's playing technique. Armstrong's bands were known for little turnover among band members and for being well rehearsed with little deviation from their play book.

Live brass has more than just bite to its sound ... it has incredible volume to its sound and the recording equipment probably maxed out in this case. The SACD version softens this maxing out a touch. To my ears, reducing the harshness made sense, as the recording is more listenable, while retaining its original character. You may want to seek out these recordings and judge for yourself ... I would be curious as to your comments.

Regards, Rich

Thanks for the clarification.

I indeed have one of the recordings you cited - "Satchmo Plays Fats" on Columbia 6-eyes vinyl. It's a mono recording. I might have another from your list "Ella & Louis" (& not "Ella & Louis Again").

I've listened to "Satchmo PLays Fats" many times & nothing really jumped out at me. I have to admit that I was not looking for anything in particular & ended up simply enjoying the music. However, I'll listen to it again with more concentration this time & let you know. It's very likely that the vinyl is much diff. from the redbook CDs so my impressions could be very diff. All-the-same, I'll listen again.