Demo Discs and Auditioning Tips
Every system has its strengths and weaknesses. My small room system generally favours music on a smaller scale, be it female vocals with minimalist accompaniment, or a small chamber orchestra. Due to my small room, I sit 6'6" from the speakers, which is pretty close. I suppose its almost nearfield listening. (like in recording studios, where the studio monitors are usually pretty close to the mixing engineer) This of course makes it easier for a system to image well, as you're so close that the room matters less.
In this apparently pointless exercise, I will talk about some of my favourite demo discs I would use to demonstrate (ummm, show off?) the relative merits of my setup to say, a hypothetical average listener. To make it even simpler, I'll put the CDs under different hopefully self-explanatory headings. Theres a lot of overlap, but if its a fact that if you're going to live with your equipment for a long time, you should spend quite a lot of time testing it. Before buying my speakers, I went to audition the speakers on 2 previous occasions.
If you bring 1 CD that covers each heading (some CDs may have tracks that cover everything :)) when auditioning your equipment, you'll probably have left no stone unturned.
Lots of High
frequency transients; crashing cymbals etc.
Lean sounding, slightly
Mary Black, Shine
You should try and choose a recently recorded CD of decent quality for this. Just because a CD is on the bright side does not make it a bad recording, but of course there are bad recordings which are bright. In the earlier years of CD, there were lots of CDs that were unacceptably 'thin' and 'hashy' sounding, and the prominence of high frequency energy (not being counterbalanced by appropriate fullness in the midrange), may make the CD sound 'bright'. One example would be Sting's first 2 solo albums, Dream of Blue Turtles and Nothing Like the Sun, which suffer from a certain amount of hashiness (even the Mo-Fi remaster of Blue Turtles). Significantly, this hashiness disappeared from Soul Cages onwards. Slightly off point, this kind of hashiness is very similar to the sort you encounter when you make CD-R copies using a computer CD-R drive.
Depth and Width of Soundstage
Lori Liebermann, A Thousand Dreams
Of course, for depth and width on a larger scale, turn to the a classical recording from Telarc. This one is recorded using Neuman and Schoeps tubed microphones. More importantly, it is an extremely small choir - 21, so you can use this disc to see how well the vocals are seperated. Telarc is probably the only label that credits cable companies; in this case Monster and MIT :)
Handel's Messiah (Martin Pearlman, Telarc 1992 [not the Shaw version from the '80s])
Of course, the size of the listening room is extremely relevant. So far, the largest showroom I've visited is the monster listening room at KH marketing for the Joseph Audio/VTL monster monoblocks. Playing some discs there, I noticed even though the speakers are way apart, the sound is squished in the centre.
Beethoven's 6th Symphony ('Pastoral'), the 4th ('Storm') movement [I have Harnoncourt/Teldec and Karajan/DG but there're lots of versions]
Emotion -- or the Single-ended Syndrome :)
I do like listening to female vocals. If the equipment I audition doesn't do female vocals well, the fact that it does everything fantastically doesn't mean much to me. (to another, it would be a fantastic buy). I thinking of the superb Joseph Audio 25si. Its a really fantastic speaker, but it is only average in reproducing female vocals. Whereas, the Tannoy Westminsters really seduced. The CD which I was listening to is of course the ubiquitous:
Diana Krall, Love Scenes - 1. My Love is and 2. Garden in the rain, preferring it as a test disc to the ever popular:
Rebecca Pidgeon, The Raven - 1. Spanish Harlem. I like Pidgeon better, but Krall is a better test disc Pidgeon seems to sound fantastic no matter what system its played on :)
Some equipment may add colourations to the midrange in order to emphasise vocals. An example was my Quad 77 amplifier. Mary-Chapin Carpenter's 'Come On Come On' (also a desert island disc from Anthony Lim of AVfiles) has a full-bodied vocal with a light touch of reverb and on the slightly forward side. The Quad 77 thrust the vocals all the way forward into the listener's face. I think it also tries to trick you into thinking it has a larger soundstage by emphasising the reverb. After listening to it on my McCormack and on other high end systems, I realised how fantastic the recording actually was. So my choice for detecting this kind of colouration is:
Thats it for the moment, more to come soon