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Test CD 3
Reference Recordings CDs for subjective and analytical comparisons.
Part three of a series.

Review By A. Colin Flood
Click here to e-mail reviewer

  "What are you," the acerbic salesman teased at my apparently annoying request, "some kind of _ _ _ king audiophile?"

When this incident happened some years ago, I had to pause, nod my head and admit it. Yes, I was some kind of tweaking audiophile. I enjoy live music, but I enjoy getting the most realism out of my home music and movie reproduction system just as much.

If you are an audiophile who enjoys tweaking the last little bit of sonic truth out of your system, there are two essential tools for objectively gauging its audio width and depth. One is the ubiquitous sound pressure level (SPL) meter. The other is the Test CD. Never visit another sound system home without them. They not only tell you what you are hearing, but illuminate why you are hearing it. You cannot see what your ears are hearing without them.

Like everything else in the world of high audio fidelity, these tools are changing too. More and more home music and movie reproduction systems now include something like the Behringer digital equalizer to smooth out room modes automatically. Even optical discs will eventually go the way of 12-inch black vinyl discs as digital music servers become the primary recorded music source. In fact, Reference Recordings now offer their original 24-bit/176.4kHz recordings on WAV files.

There are two basic kinds of home audio Test CDs. This series covers them both. So far, I reviewed the three enduring Stereophile magazine Test CDs and three high-quality Digital Music Products (DMP) music samplers. The first kind of Test CD is dryly clinical. It has test tones and measurements for analytical comparisons. These include some form of test signal tracks, along with instrument solos or real world sounds. Clinical tests are especially useful at finding nulls in frequency response of the listening room, which suck out bass, imaging and details.

The second kind of Test CD is emotionally involving, but just as useful. This is the reference quality music CD: an audiophile recording. The disc squeezes the very last drop of realism, accuracy and musicality out of the performance, venue, equipment and engineers.

Ideally, these types of reference discs include a variety of instruments and vocals; preferably solos. Pure test tones familiarize the listener with specific frequencies. Instruments playing specific notes are even better. They reveal the sonic range and signature of the actual sound.

 

Reference Recording's From the Age of Swing is the second kind of CD.

Dick Hyman's From the Age of Swing
Reference offers audiophile-quality classical, jazz, vocal and test recordings from San Francisco, CA. This 1994 HDCD is one of Reference Recording's all-time bestsellers and for good reason. Audiophiles should seriously audition this one bopping disc. The quality and upbeat tempo of this disc is enjoyable, even if you are not an outright fan of the music.

It has 14 songs from some of the great jazzmen who lived and played through The Age of Swing: Phil Bodner, Urbie Green, Milt Hinton, Butch Miles, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joe Temperly, Frank Wess and Joe Wilder. The disc has alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, trombone and trumpets, string bass and some nice piano samplings, but no vocals. (RR-59 $16.98)

Overall, some very good sonic performances in an average price CD.

 

 

XLO / Reference Recordings Test & Burn-In CD
At thirty bucks, Reference Recording's gold 1995 disc is twice the price of Stereophile magazine's best offering, yet remains popular. The disc includes a mix of both objective and subjective reference material. The XLO has speaker setup tracks that are useful in finding the best spots for speakers in a room.

XLO has tracks for balance, wiring and polarity, sound-staging, imaging and depth, absolute phase, demagnetization and burn-in, plus a selection of jazz and classical. It includes Eileen Farrell's wonderful vocalization of the torchy jazz favorite "Stormy Weather," a deep pipe organ and two dozen violins. (RX-1000 - 24K GOLD CD, $29.98)

The XLO Test & Burn-In CD is expensive, with less objective tests and audiophile-quality music selections than found in other discs.

 

 

TUTTI! An Orchestral Sampler
Tutti is Italian for 'all together now,' as in the sound of a full orchestra playing in perfect ensemble." Their ten-dollar 24-bit HDCD disc from 1997 is a sampler of Reference Recording's classical orchestral releases.

Sixteen musical selections include compositions from the legendary Rimsky-Korsakov, Igor Stravinsky, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Vivaldi, Richard Strauss and Mussorgsky-Ravel.

Tutti includes the Minnesota, Philharmonia Baroque, Czech State Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony and Dallas Wind Symphony Orchestras, along with the Turtle Creek Chorale. As such, it does not have analytical test tones and measurements. Though it does not have a lot of solo instrument movements, the compilation does have violins, horns, piano, wind instruments, deep tympani rumblings. Choral tracks in the critical 1kHz to 6kHz mid-range can be especially useful for evaluating a system. Natural instruments reveal the true capabilities of a sonic system.

So many CD releases of classical music, I have found in my admittedly limited experience, are poor rehashes of ancient recordings. Whether you are a classical music lover or not, it is handy to have a truly well-recorded, full symphony orchestra, uncompressed recording to judge the quality of audio systems.

Case in point is the Vincent Christian E6C system. Such was the remarkable, wrap-around sound, wide soundstage and instrument separation, even with full symphony orchestras, that my initially reticent opinion of this sophisticated system raised immeasurably. The "Tutti" sampler helped me enjoy classical music on the E6C system. It will help you enjoy your own home music and movie reproduction system too. (RR-906 HDCD $9.98)

Overall, a very good subjective and wide selection of classical music at a reasonable price.

 

Garden Of Dreams
It would be nice to take advantage of newer recording techniques, assuming that such efforts make a better quality CD, with which to audition systems. One of the recordings from Reference enjoying positive audiophile reviews is Garden Of Dreams (2006). It is contemporary music for winds, brass, percussion and pipe organ by David Maslanka. Performed by the Dallas Wind Symphony, Jerry Junkin conducting, the disc has strong tonal contrasts, wide dynamic range, with sensuous and eclectic sounds from bass, tubas, bassoons, bass drum and timpani, and organ. Dreams explores sonorities and textures with an impressive range of musical color. (RR-108 HDCD $16.98)

A new, very clean sounding disc with a good selection of acoustic instruments.

 

Company Information

Reference Recordings
P.O. Box 77225
San Francisco, CA 94107

Voice: (800) 336-8866
Fax: (650) 355-1949
Website: www.ReferenceRecordings.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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