Top 10 must-have CDs, part 1

The best-sounding CDs will make your hi-fi sound better. Here's the top 10 of great demo discs.

What follows is a list of my favorite sounding CDs of late, in no particular order. My preference is for realistic-sounding recordings, recordings that allow the band to sound "live." And sure, I like lots of recordings that are heavily processed, but I wouldn't by any stretch use them to "test" the naturalness of a speaker.

Here's the first half of the top 10 CDs; the second half will appear in the next Audiophiliac .

The best Costello album in years

Elvis Costello, "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane"

I love Costello, especially his first five albums, and this new one, produced by T-Bone Burnett, is a winner. Acoustic and country influences predominate, and Costello's voice is in great shape. The sound is free of digital grit and glare, so instruments and voices sound like themselves. The tunes are all good; there's not a weak one in the bunch.

Goosebump raising sonics!

Mark Olson & Gary Louris, "Ready For The Flood"

Mark Olson & Gary Louris of Jayhawks fame joined forces to make this gorgeous sounding album. The two voices' harmonies are something to hear, and maybe it's just me, but there's echoes of the Everly Brothers and maybe Simon & Garfunkel in there. "Doves And Stones" is the standout track, but the album's pretty good from start to finish.

Auerbach's solo record is a winner

Dan Auerbach, "Keep It Hid"

Have you heard Auerbach's band, The Black Keys? Anyway, his solo CD presents more varied music than the Keys' hard-core blues-based blasts. Check out the deep bass pounding through "Heartbroken, In Disrepair." Granted, Keep It Hid isn't exactly an audiophile disc, but it sounds great cranked to "11."

Mellencamp digs deep

John Mellencamp, "Life Death Love And Freedom"

Another T-Bone Burnette production, with Mellencamp in a stripped-down, contemporary blues mode. Tunes alternate between sweet unplugged and rough-hewn electric grit. But it's a very vivid sound, so Mellencamp and company sound like there right there in your room.

Chapin's take on Stevie is a wonder

Jen Chapin, ReVisions: Songs of Stevie Wonder

Jen Chapin's 12 covers of these wondrous songs will light up your hi-fi. Backed by just acoustic bass and saxophone Chapin reimagines these familiar tunes and makes them new again. The sound is thrillingly vivid and pure. This audiophile recording is from Chesky Records, a label I have worked with from time to time. See my disclosure statement.

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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