Look for cd's that have been mastered by Bob Ludwig. Depending on your music "taste" any cd Bob Ludwig has been involved with can usually show you what is possible even with the cd standard.
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if you want generalities: some of the best-produced cd's (and lp's) are c&w and blues. almost anything by willie nelson sounds great; the remastered redheaded stanger will knock your socks off. for blues, try anything on analogue productions (acoustics sounds) or telarc/blues. one of the greatest pair of producers is daniel lanois and brian eno (u2, dylan, etc.). for gorgeous cajun/rock try lanois' own album, arcadie. oh yeah, some gospel stuff is also first-rate in sound/production. buy the 1st fairfield four cd, if you don't already own it (standing in the safety zone).
I second the Dan's 2AN, it is an awesome "non-audiophile" recording. I also second the Bob Ludwig mastered disks, his stuff is almost always excellent. For a little different type of sound try Allison Krause's excellent disk "Forget About It", she'll sound like she is singing right in front of you. Good post!
Produced by Patsy Cline's producer, Owen Bradley, and recorded with all tube equipment, "Shadowland" is probably k.d. lang's best sounding CD. There's nary a dud on this great collection, which features Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn and Brenda Lee on the last song, "Honky Tonk Angels." Highly recommended.
re: post by kleiman421. "art for the ear" is actually a tag line used by burmester to describe its products. the cd to which you are likely referring is vorfurings-cd II (there's an umlaut over the u). there is also a "volume" 3 that is likewise stunning. (never seen vol.1) i have access to a very limited supply of both discs, tho they're expensive, just like the beautiful burmester products for which they were produced. if you are interested, email me and i'll give you the prices.
You might want to try "Songs of a Circling Spirit" by Tom Cochrane. He was the lead singer from Red Rider, the group that did the Neruda LP back in the 80's. He does some of Neruda and some newer stuff on this CD. He and three or four other musicians went into a concert hall and recorded this as an acoustic session (no audience), so you get to hear quite a bit that would normally be "filtered out" of a studio recording (read that as sterile) or obscured if an audience was present.
I've got to second Trelja's recommendation for Lucinda Williams "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road"-- on trks #7 and #12, the soundstage is wide and deep with percussion and other instruments exploding all over the place. It should be noted that this is an HDCD recording. Cowboy Junkies "Trinity Sessions" is also excellent. I also like all of the Enigma CDs for bass excitment. Cheers. Craig.
Here's another vote for "Songs of a Circling Spirit". Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark" sounds fantastic, and is regarded by recording engineers as an examplar of the art, or so I'm told. Every re-mastered release I've heard is very good, on the other hand. All of the remastered Steely Dan works are quite enjoyable. If you remember Cat Stevens the first time around, the recently released disk of remastered hits will melt your soul. Or try the remastered releases of the first half-dozen or so of Elton John. I agree with a previous poster who commented that jazz and blues are often well-recorded (thanks to care taken by engineers and producers who know and love music). Here's a rule of thumb: if it's aimed at the popular mass market and in current release, it's probably not very good.The reason: excessive use of compression to make it sound good on a boombox or car radio. Go play "Supernatural" on your computer's CD-ROM drive and with crappy little plastic box speakers, and then go play it on a high-end system, and see if it doesn't sound better on the computer. On a high end system, the "wall of sound" of near-constant amplitude lacks dynamics and is relentlessly in your face.
For stringed acoustic, David Grisman, mandolinist, does a careful job on his Acoustic Disc label. "I'm Beginning To See The Light" by Martin Taylor (guitar) - David Grisman Acoustic Jazz Quartet would be a good example. Great playing, and swings... overall a little too tasteful and mainstream to be favorite music for me, but still a great listen, and in terms of showing off your system, the relaxed nature of the music makes it easy to listen for the many nuances of the playing and the sound. ..... How about piano? What do people like as a test of fidelity to the piano's sound, whether solo or not, classical or not?