The Audiophiliac's top digital music tracks for testing speakers

If you want to hear your speakers or headphones sound better than ever, listen to some of the Audiophiliac's best-sounding CDs and SACDs.

Great-sounding albums are becoming increasingly rare, so when I find noteworthy efforts I'm happy to share the news. The goal is highlighting new stuff -- or at least newly recorded/remastered music, and this time I'm going to make separate digital and analog lists. This one covers digital standouts on CD and SACD; next weekend I'll cover LPs.

The list is based on music that I played at home, so I'm sure I've missed some great albums. Share your finds in the comments section.

Doug MacLeod, "There's a Time" (CD)

Bluesman MacLeod shouts, moans, and plays a sneaky guitar. I had to check, but the tunes are all penned by the man, and sound like they've been lived in for a while. This recording's naturally wide dynamics are best appreciated with the volume turned up a bit, 'cause when you do that the band sounds like the real thing.

Jonny Greenwood, "The Master" (CD)

This is an orchestral score, composed by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, for the Paul Thomas Anderson film "The Master." Greenwood brings out all manner of dreamy, wistful, and downright weird sounds from the string section; it's a rather adventurous score. The sound isn't what I would call natural or realistic -- it's very much a studio recording -- but this is one I keep playing over and over again.

Miles Davis, "In a Silent Way" (SACD)

Davis lays out two long jazz-fusion tracks, and the thick grooves and textures supplied by Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland, and Joe Zawinul are mesmerizing. This Mobile Fidelity remaster for SACD adds more body and dimensionality to the sound than any of the CD and LP versions I've heard to date. One caution: there's a lot of analog tape noise on this recording, but it adds atmosphere to the sound.

Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, "Love Has Come for You" (CD)

This one came as a big surprise, but Martin's banjo playing is extraordinary, and Brickell's spirited vocals kept me interested all the way through every one of these newly penned tunes. The sound is crystalline and pure; the CD is highly recommended.

Rickie Lee Jones, "The Devil You Know" (CD)

Jones' all-covers album ("Sympathy for the Devil," "St. James Infirmary," "Play With Fire," and so on), and all of the tunes are taken at a super slow tempo. Instrumentation is sparse, and Jones' vocals are way out front. The sound is beautiful, natural, and uncompressed. A treat for your ears.

Bob Dylan, "Blood on the Tracks" (SACD)

"Blood on the Tracks" is frequently cited as Dylan's best 1970s album, and I agree. It's also one of his better-sounding albums, and it came out on SACD back in 2003, but this brand-new Mobile Fidelity SACD is better in every way. The sound is less thin, and more natural. On some tunes, like "Meet Me in the Morning," you feel like you're in the room with the band and Dylan.

Omar Sosa, "Eggun: The Afri-Lectric Experience" (CD)

Pianist/composer Omar Sosa set out to reinvent Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album, but Eggun is more than that. You hear the influence, but there's more African and Latin rhythm stirrings than Davis ever used. The sound is deep and sensuous, with near subterranean, rolling bass lines.

Terri Lyne Carrington, "Money Jungle - Provocative in Blue" (CD)

Drummer, composer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington reimagines Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach's "Money Jungle" album. It's edgy, tuneful jazz, with funk and blues inflections. The sound is crisp and clear; this is another one that stayed in heavy rotation for weeks in my player.

Joel Frederiksen, "Requiem for a Pink Moon" (CD)

Another tribute album, this one recasts folk legend Nick Drake's music in a time-warped, Elizabethan chamber music setting, with Frederiksen's operatic vocals. It could have been a disaster, but it really works, and the sound is vivid and remarkably pure.

Little Feat, "Waiting for Columbus" (two-CD set)

Recorded in August 1977, "Waiting for Columbus" is one of the best-sounding live albums ever; some say it's Lowell George and Little Feat's magnum opus. I'm not a big Little Feat fan, but the music rocks like crazy, and the sound is as good as 1970s live recordings ever get, which is to say, it's better than almost any newly recorded live rock album. Remastered for gold CD by Mobile Fidelity engineers, this new version is a real gem.

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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