The following are my Top Ten reference CDs I use in the course of reviews, and why. The word reference is used a lot by audiophiles. Reference points, gear, LPs, CDs, criteria. Of course, it’s a good and healthy set of ears in balance with a tasteful aesthetic and a fair approach that are the important tenets of any Audiophilia review.
If you peruse Audiophilia’s The A List, you’ll get an idea of the many CDs that have played an important role in all of our writers’ source music over the years. The good news is that the list is added to constantly. Even with the dawn of the iTunes DRM-free monolith, new audiophile CDs are being released with wonderful regularity in addition to the ingenious way record companies keep repackaging (and remastering) the famous CDs from their libraries. I’m not complaining.
So, with the idea that these CDs work for me and are used only as musical source comfort food, use the list as a starting point to begin a solid review collection, as good, musical CDs, or discard as more reviewer noise. The choice is yours. Of course, you’ll have your own. I’d love to read what you use in the comments section.
In no particular order of importance.
1. Burmester CD 3 Sampler — Deiter has great ears. It shows in his choices. Every track is a gem and will test your equipment in ways you never dreamed.
2. Stereophile Test CD 3 — used in conjuction with a Radio Shack meter to test balance, driver extension, etc.
3. American Beauty — Track 1. The greatest audiophile Track 1. Played once, and never forgotten. A perfect balance of synthesized and acoustic instruments. My Desert Island reviewer disc.
4. The English Songbook — voice. And a gorgeous one. Balance between piano and voice, chest tone, head tone, emotion, piano touch, instrument placement. A great, musical disc.
5. Power of Three — natural clapping (sounds odd, but very important) , back to front recording, stunning Wayne Shorter, Jim Hall and Michel Petruccianni.
6. The Reiner Sound — orchestral playing at its pinnacle. Can the equipment undo Rachmaninov’s murky 5/8 bass line?
7. Swingphonic — I’m on it. I know my playing. Pretty good reference for me.
8. Waltz for Debby — smoky atmosphere, talking guests, clinking glasses, Paul Motion’s brush work, and then there’s the incredible genius of Bill Evans.
9. You Can’t Take my Blues — subtlety of inner guitar lines. Touch and speed as played by the amazing Doug MacLeod.
10. The Yellow Shark — Live. Can your ‘hear’ excitement? Frank Zappa’s huge musical personality eludes the limitation of electrons.