The Audiophiliac's top LPs for testing speakers

The grooviest remastered LPs for analog connoisseurs.

I covered the best-sounding new digital recordings last Sunday ; this time it's the choicest new vinyl.

'The White Stripes'
Most tracks are stripped down to the basics, just Jack White on vocals and guitar, and Meg White's minimalist drum kit. An amazing debut record, not exactly an audiophile classic, but it wins points for emotional honesty. It feels right, and White's analog loving roots are on full display.

The Pastels, 'Slow Summits'
A beautiful new record from an old band. These pretty, melodic, but definitely not pop tunes unfold one after another before your ears. The thing that makes this record special is the variety of moods and shades to the tunes, they're jazzy, edgy, jangly guitars, but always interesting. Sonically dense and layered, still it's not really the sort of record you'd play to dazzle your audiophile pals.

The Allman Brothers Band
Talk about classic rock, the 1969 "Allman Brothers Band" LP is a pure expression of that platonic ideal. It rocks with a vengeance, yet the ballads go down nice and easy. The Mobile Fidelity remaster from the original analog tapes preserves the raunchy guitars and Greg Allman's raspy vocals are intact, the drums drive the band, and there's a big soundstage. All the stuff that's all too rare on most 2013 recordings, like the National's massively compressed and processed "Trouble Will Find Me" album.

'Keb' Mo''
First thing, this LP is dead quiet, no clicks, pops, or groove noise. The music is so darn natural and real, it doesn't sound "produced," it's just there. That's especially true for the sound of this remastered LP. It's a pleasure to connect directly with a man playing this well, and his contemporary blues tunes dig deep.

The Bar-Kays, 'Soul Finger'
If Keb 'Mo is too smooth for you, this 1967 funk/R&B classic will light your fire. It's their first record; the Bar-Kays were all young kids, and they were out to make a name for themselves. Unfortunately, most of the band members died in a plane crash, with Otis Redding, not long after this record came out. This 180-gram remaster delivers every bit of the fun, a great party record.

Von Freeman, 'The Great Divide'
This 2004 recording was originally done in high-resolution digital, but it sounds like an all-analog record to me. Freeman's quartet swings effortlessly, thanks in large part to drummer Jimmy Cobb, and Von on sax plays his heart out. The sound is perfectly clear and pure.

Rickie Lee Jones
Her first album, loaded with killer tunes, is jazzy rock at its best. She's made a surprising number of great albums over the years, and her "Pop Pop" is a masterpiece. This one swings more, has a vivid sound mix, and Jones still sounds like a true original.

The Rolling Stones, 'Beggars Banquet,' Let It Bleed and 'Hot Rocks 1964-1971'
Two bona-fide milestone albums, and one greatest hits collection on clear vinyl looks extra cool, but analog purists will grumble when they learn the vinyl was cut from the 2003 digital masters. The sound is nothing special; I'd recommend searching for older, but decent condition, all-analog LPs.

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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