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Christmas Gift Guide
Audio

Music that'll tickle your ears (reviews)

The Audiophiliac's last roundup of great music for this year.

I regularly hear from readers requesting lists of great-sounding music, so when I find noteworthy efforts I'm happy to share the news. Granted, personal taste plays a role in defining music and sound quality, but I'm sure there are a few gems here that will click with you. What follows is a roundup of the best-sounding albums I've played in recent months, and one real stinker to avoid. If I've missed some great ones, feel free to share your finds in the Comments section.

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The Beatles, "1+" (CD, Blu-ray)

The Beatles produced 27 No. 1 singles between 1962 and 1970. Apple Corps. released the original "1" CD and LP sets back in 2000, and "1" was the best-selling album of the first decade of the twenty-first century. For 2015 Apple rolled out newly remastered "1," and "1+" DVD or Blu-ray sets brimming with 27 restored and new videos. The Blu-ray's DTS MA lossless high-resolution sound quality advances over the 2000 era CD are very significant; the videos' quality varies from one song to the next, but they never looked better. For Beatles fans, the Deluxe "1+," one CD/two Blu-ray set is highly recommended!

The Rolling Stones, "Marquee Club, Live in 1971" (Blu-ray/CD)

Yes, the Stones were once, a long time ago, young and scrappy rockers that played small clubs. True, by '71 they were already holding court in arenas, but for this BBC TV special the band returned to its roots to play tunes from their not-yet-released "Sticky Fingers " album. The band is in peak form, and sound and video quality are awfully good, considering the age of the recording. "Marquee Club, Live in 1971" is easily one of the best live Stones shows you can buy.

Yo-Yo Ma & Kathryn Stott, "Songs From The Arc of Life" (CD)

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma & pianist Kathryn Stott have been playing recitals together for more than 40 years, and that becomes immediately apparent as you listen to this program of selected pieces from Brahms, Sibelius, Elgar, Gershwin, Messiaen and others. The entire affair was recorded at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts earlier this year. The sound is vibrant and natural -- no wonder it's my most played classical album of the year; it's that good.

The Flaming Lips, "The Dark Side of the Moon" (CD)

In this 2009 album, the Flaming Lips scramble, bend, twist and totally mutilate Pink Floyd's entire signature album, with help from Henry Rollins and others. The sublime raw power of screaming guitars and jagged rhythms rework and revitalize this tired classic to the point where Floyd fans will probably hate it, but I prefer the Lips' version -- your mileage may differ. The mix's sprawling soundstage and hard-hitting dynamics are best enjoyed over big speakers; play this one loud!

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Miles Davis, "Kind Of Blue" (SACD)

This newly remastered Mobile Fidelity SACD of Miles Davis' iconic album is a gem. Recorded in 1959, this music still sounds better (more life-like) than most contemporary jazz albums, and this SACD is significantly better than the 1997 remastered Sony CD. If you have a SACD player, and love "Blue," this new version should not be missed.

Van Morrison, "Astral Weeks" (CD)

This 2015 remaster sounds warmer and fuller than the original CD, and so does Morrison's remastered "His Band & Street Choir." I never thought the old CDs were all that bad, but I prefer the new versions.

Billy Gibbons, "Perfectamundo" (CD)

The ZZ Top front man steps out for a surprisingly fresh solo effort. Heck, he even Auto Tunes his vocals on "You're What's Happenin', Baby," and it didn't turn me off! The songs are tasty, and his rhythm section really kicks butt. It's a fun record for Top fans ready to hear a new twist from a man with a really long beard.

Wand, "1,000 Days" (CD)

If you're into 1960s "Nuggets"-style psychedelic rock, Wand's "1,000 Days" might be right up your alley. It's Wand's third full-length album, and the dreamy vocals, swirly keyboards and loads of thrashing guitars make for a heady mix. The tunes fit together like a concept album from long ago, but "1,000 Days" was recorded in 2015. You might hear Queens of the Stone Age's influences thrashing about, but "1,000 Days" absolutely stands on its own.

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One to Avoid: Adele "25" (CD)

I have no doubt millions of Adele fans will love "25," and that's great. My quibble is the sound -- the music is so heavily processed and compressed it makes my high-end speakers sound like a crappy $100 Bluetooth speaker, which is to say atrocious. I've heard the "25" LP sounds a little better, but not better enough to tempt me.

Want more? Check out my previous music review blog, "Awesome sounding music: A feast for your ears" from May of this year.