The Audiophiliac's Top 13 music Blu-ray discs

The Audiophiliac has the Blus -- a list of the best-sounding music Blu-ray discs, that is.

I wrote a Top 10 music Blu-ray list late last year, so it's time for an update.

Patricia Barber, "Modern Cool"

Patricia Barber's "Modern Cool" Koch Records
Sultry jazz singer Patricia Barber's "Modern Cool" album was a hit with the audiophile crowd soon after its release in 1998, so I was surprised to see it come out on Blu-ray with a new 5.1-channel DTS Master Audio mix. Even more surprised that the surround mix totally works. You're in the middle of the band, which I usually don't care for, but it clicks here. Barber wrote a lot of the tunes, but her cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire" is a standout track.

Peter Gabriel, "Secret World: Live"
These 1993 concerts from Modena, Italy, are really amazing. Gabriel is in constant motion, and the band never lets up. The video looks good, but the sound mixes are never less than excellent. Surround audio fills out the soundstage with rare grace. It's a Blu-ray that'll truly give your system a full workout.

The Raconteurs, "Live at Montreux 2008"
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.

Peter Gabriel, "New Blood: Live in London"
Shot in March 2011, this concert with a full orchestra looks and sounds amazing. The song list mixes Gabriel's hits and music from his recent and thoroughly excellent "Scratch My Back" album. The presentation is utterly natural; the orchestra's strings and the soft-to-loud dynamic range sound the way they would if you were in the theater. The massive production never gets in the way and totally supports Gabriel's commanding performance. If you want to hear how good your home theater can sound with music, this is the one to buy. "New Blood" is also available as a 3D Blu-ray.

Peter Gabriel's "Secret World: Live" Eagle Rock Entertainment

Steven Wilson, "Grace For Drowning"
Steven Wilson, of Porcupine Tree, has always been a strong advocate for surround music, and this 2011 Blu-ray fully exploits the potential of 5.1-channel music. The "Grace For Drowning" album is an audio-only experience, but the bonus selections have video. If you're a progressive rock fan, the music and sound are the best reasons to get this disc; for audiophiles, Wilson's spacious, deep immersion mixes will make the actual locations of your speakers disappear. The acoustic and electric instruments sound exquisitely detailed, and the percussion instruments' transient attacks are perfect. "Grace for Drowning" is one of the best-sounding rock recordings I've heard in a long time.

Ernest Ranglin, "Order of Distinction"
Some say Ernest Ranglin "invented" ska, an infectious shuffling rhythm that presaged rock-steady and reggae. This new recording has Ranglin laying down some funky grooves with a stellar band. The sound is clear and pure, and no dynamic range compression, equalization, or processing were employed. There are two surround mixes, one in the middle of the band, which didn't work for me, and another mix from the audience perspective.

The Rolling Stones, "Some Girls: Live in Texas '78"
This just released Blu-ray of a decades-old Stones show captures the band at a peak. They were still young, in their thirties, but the emerging late-'70s punk and new-wave scenes were threatening to put most '60s bands out to pasture. Maybe that's why this show forgos fancy stage sets and big video displays; the band charges through the tunes as if their lives depended on it. Mick Jagger's vocals are the best I've ever heard, and the Blu-ray's sound is excellent. The surround mix is subtle but effective. Video quality is grainy and the color (from stage lighting) is odd, but the band's performances are phenomenal. This is the best-sounding '70s-era Stones you can buy on disc.

Lindsey Buckingham, "Songs From the Small Machine -- Live in L.A."
This show, from earlier this year, looks and sounds great, definitely the sort of thing you'll want to play to wow your audiophile or home theater pals. The opening tunes feature just Buckingham alone on stage, singing and playing guitar, and you really hear his sound filling the old theater. When the rest of the band joins Buckingham, the recording's hard-hitting dynamic range struts its stuff. The set list includes his solo and Fleetwood Mac tunes. The theater's ambience and the appreciative crowd's cheers sound utterly natural coming from the surround channels.

Cream, "Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2005"
The original band -- Eric Clapton, guitar; Jack Bruce, bass; and Ginger Baker, drums -- reunite after breaking up in 1968, and some of their old fire ignites on a London stage in 2005. The old guys were more seasoned, better players in 2005 but lacked the fire of their younger selves. Ah, but the Blu-ray's sound is truly awesome, and if your subwoofer's up to snuff, Baker's drum kit and Bruce's bass will just about knock you over. Clapton's guitar flash comes through with real gusto.

The Pretenders, "Loose in L.A."
This live show shot at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles in 2003 finds the band in fine form. Chrissie Hynde and her original drummer, Martin Chambers, are especially good, and the music will definitely kick-start your heart. The mix sounds punchy and big; and from the audience's perspective, the surround mix is excellent.

Stevie Wonder, "Live at Last"
This show, filmed in 2008 at the O2 Arena in London, should thrill any Stevie Wonder fan, and the set list features his most-loved tunes, as well as a selection of covers. The sound mix is passable, but there were times where I couldn't hear some of the instruments, and the dynamic range was somewhat compressed.

Yes, "Symphonic Live"
This one is from 2001, but it's just been released on Blu-ray, and the band-orchestra mix balances are very good. That said, the recording is more dynamically compressed than I'd like, soundstage depth is lacking, and the sound balances are thin. I'm being picky; that's my job, but I'd still recommend this one to Yes fans.

Muddy Waters and The Rolling Stones Live At The Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981 Eagle Rock Entertainment

Ola Gjeilo, "Piano Improvisations"
This is a rousing solo piano recording, with a lot of power and energy. Some improvisations were recorded in a single take. The Blu-ray does not include video, but the set also includes a SACD of the same music.

Muddy Waters and The Rolling Stones, "Muddy Waters and The Rolling Stones Live At The Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981" DVD/CD
OK, this isn't a Blu-ray, and it doesn't have the complete Rolling Stones band, just Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood, but the performances are strong. The meeting of generations works well, and I loved seeing Mick, Keith, and Ronnie sharing the stage in a small club with one of their idols, Muddy Waters. Blues legends Buddy Guy and Junior Wells also appear. Picture and sound quality are very good for a 1981 recording. The music is more about Muddy and Buddy than the three 'Stones, but you can feel the energy of the night coming through your speakers.

Looking for more? Check out David Carnoy's list of 25 concert Blu-rays from last year. Tell us about your favorite music Blu-rays in 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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