How to make your speakers sound better than ever

Play great-sounding music Blu-rays, DVDs, and CDs like these.

Since most people listen to music on free earbuds, plastic computer speakers, or car audio systems, it's easy to understand why great-sounding new recordings are rare. Even so, exceptional ones sneak through from time to time, and when I have a stack of candidates, I cover the best new releases here.

"The Raconteurs: Live in Montreux 2008" (Blu-ray)
The Raconteurs were formed in 2005 by Jack White of the White Stripes, but this show from 2008 has just been released. The band's ferocious performances sound great here in DTS Master Audio. I like the two Raconteurs studio albums, but the band really takes everything up a notch or two on this disc. The video looks just as clear as the sound, so if you're a White Stripes, Jack White, or Raconteurs fan, rush out and buy this disc. Play it cranked up loud to get the full effect.

Paul Simon, "Graceland 25th Anniversary Edition Box" (2 DVDs/2 CDs)
There's a number of different versions of the "25th Anniversary Graceland" box, but the one I have here is a two-CD/two-DVD set. I can't say the newly remastered CD sounds better than the older editions, but it's more compressed and punchier. There's a smattering of bonuses on the set, but for me it's the 1987 "Graceland: African Concert" DVD, filmed in Zimbabwe, that knocked me out. The songs feel fresh, the arrangements are looser, there's a bit more jamming, and the big rhythm section's grooves outdo the original album's. The sound, in stereo only, is also better than the CD's. There's also a wonderful new documentary, "Under African Skies," about the making of "Graceland," and it has music sections here and there.

"The Richard Thompson Band: Live at Celtic Connections" (Blu-ray)
Filmed in January 2011 at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow as part of the annual Celtic Connections festival, this Blu-ray looks fine and sounds like you're there. The DTS Master Audio soundtrack is rich and warm, and Taras Prodaniuk's bass goes subwoofer deep. Thompson may not have enjoyed the fame of an Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page, but he's a bona fide British guitar hero.

"S.M.V. Thunder" (CD)
"Thunder" is a coming together of three legendary jazz bassists -- Stanley Clark, Marcus Miller, and Victor Wooten -- back in 2008. Their funky bass runs reach so low they may threaten to excite your bowels' resonance. This is fusion jazz at its best, and each plucked note is distinct and visceral, or they should be. If not, consider buying better speakers or a great subwoofer.

"Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues" (CD)
Funny thing is, I've never been a fan of Wynton Marsalis, and nothing in Clapton's last 40 or so years has done a lot for me. The CD is a game changer. These recordings were captured live at Lincoln Center, and they sound it. That's a compliment, and the feel is energized and comfortable at the same time, everybody's having a blast. Make no mistake; despite the blues referred to in the title, this is jazz, and Clapton's a sideman in Marsalis' band. Even so, he's in top form here; I've only heard the CD, but there's also a DVD of the same 2011 concert.

Ash Black Bufflo, "Andasol" (CD)

This is a tough record to describe, but "Andasol" is mostly instrumental, acoustic/electronic, tuneful sound collage and hypnotic ambient music. Sound quality is exceptionally present and realistic (at times). It's a great background or foreground soundtrack. If you like "out there" music, check it out. Ash Black Bufflo is based in Portland.

"The Old City String Quartet, Mozart Clarinet Quintet" (Blu-ray)
AIX Records makes audiophile-quality, Dolby TrueHD surround recordings, and this one is in 3D video (but also viewable in 2D). The sound is exceptionally realistic and pure, and the video quality is quite nice, but it just shows the Old City String Quartet playing with different soloists. The all-Mozart program includes "Clarinet Quintet K. 581," "Horn Quintet K. 407," and "String Quartet K. 169."

"Zammuto" (CD)
"Zammuto" is not the sort of disc I'd usually cite for great sound, but here the creative sampling and beats totally work. The stereo imaging tricks and spacey sound are a delight.

Want more? Check out my Top 10 music Blu-ray list , and if you'd like to share your favorite great-sounding music discs, please add them to the Comments section.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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