Records 2 Live 4 2024

As I was preparing our annual Records to Die For feature for 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it occurred to me that at such a moment, "Records to Die For" didn't evoke the same feelings it once did. That name—for what has become Stereophile's most popular feature—had started out light-hearted, derived from a 1980s pop-culture idiom, which eventually found expression in several book and movie titles as well as at least one Death-Metal band. In late 1990, as the 1991 feature was being prepared, it didn't seem so light-hearted at a time of so much death and suffering. At such times, music is a salve, a source of encouragement, perhaps even a means for survival. Records to Die For officially became Records to Live For.

Today—knock on wood—the worst of COVID well behind us, the new designation seems exactly right. This feature is all about music that inspires, that makes life rich—that gives us a reason to live, in times troubled and joyous. These are records that, if you knew you didn't have that much time left, you'd be eager to hear one last time. At least.

Once each year, since 1991, we've asked all our writers, music writers and hi-fi writers, to name two of their favorite albums of all time—albums that have special meaning. The records may be old or new. There is no requirement that they have particular musical or sonic merit, although many of them do. What matters is that they have special meaning—particular emotional resonance—for the writer. We used to require that they still be in print or at least reasonably easy to find, but we eliminated that rule a while back: A record to live for (or, before that, a record worth dying for) is worth incurring some expense or putting in some work to track down. Today, the only rule is that each writer must not have chosen the same album for previous versions of this feature; it's fine if it was previously chosen by a different writer.

It is common for Records to Live For to include works by musicians who have recently left us. This year, two of us chose music by Jimmy Buffett, who died last September. Other trends: Two writers chose the very recent collection of Shostakovich symphonies from Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, our Recording of the Month for January 2024. Also, two writers chose music hosted at YouTube, reflecting, I'd say, the increasing importance, in the streaming age, of video in hi-fi. Whatever it means, I'm pretty sure this is a first.

Without further ado, here it is: Records to Live For, 2024.—Jim Austin

jimtavegia's picture

I had put off long enough so an upgrade to my vinyl experience to a Technics SL-100C happened on Sunday, 1-21. After your Atmos story it was time to make my LP physical media sound its best. I changed out the AT-VM95C stylus that came with the table to the ML I just bought. So now between Tidal HD I can sort through all your recommendations and then buy the format I really want.

I still don't understand the reason for the lower rez Atmos deal. Most of us started our hi-fi journey with vinyl and now there is no reason to dismiss it now.

My youngest son now owns my Dual 501 table with a REGA RB250 arm and a AT-VM95E cart to start his vinyl journey.

Sal1950's picture

"I still don't understand the reason for the lower rez Atmos deal. Most of us started our hi-fi journey with vinyl and now there is no reason to dismiss it now."

Please, your way to intelligent to not "understand" Apples choice here. The file sizes of lossless Atmos files are huge and extremely demanding of expensive bandwidth, so made a compromise choice for financial reasons. But I do know you understand that perfectly.
Why do you not bash Spotify in any way for continuing to stream 2ch in a compressed form while most others have moved on?
Modern lossless high resolution multich from 5.1 to Atmos and Auro far exceeds the sound quality and enjoyment capability of 2ch.
I also started off my HiFi journey way back in the late 1950s and am so very excited and pleased with the progress we've made in the last 60+ years.
It's unfortunate your stuck on such primitive sources.

Sal1950's picture

"Lindberg has been at the forefront of producing immersive recordings—see above for the surround-sound formats in which this album is available—but since surviving the quadraphonic wars in the 1970s, I exclusively enjoy my recorded music in stereo. J.A."

John, Don't you think a 50 year grudge do to the weakness in 1970s technology is a bit long? Maybe you should get this "forefront" quality Atmos recording on BluRay, and a few more, then visit the new Atmos listening room Kal Rubinson has built. I'd say 50 years is long enough not to experience the progress the SOTA in home music reproduction has made. You might be enlightened.

lowtechphile's picture

Thanks for the tip on En Attendant Ana. I had not heard of this band. Lovely album.

barfle's picture

I teresting that there’s no Rick Wakeman on anyone’s list, or Beach Boys, or Holst’s “The Planets” or “1812 Overture.” There’s a lot of music there that helps make MY life worth living.

Trevor_Bartram's picture

I enjoyed: En Attendant Ana, Principia with echoes of Stereolab circa Margerine Eclipse. Stravinsky, Petrushka an MLP sonic marvel on par with the Howard Hanson recordings. I look forward to the Kristy MacColl & June Tabor recordings. Thanks!

Lars Bo's picture

Thanks, Jim.

The 1991 Records To Die For, you mention, has another special significance to me - it gave the final push to buy my first CD player:

While visiting family in the U.S., who happened to have a recent SP-issue with R2D4 91, I read Gordon Emerson's recommendation of David Diamond Symphonies 2 & 4*. None of us knew much about the works of Diamond, but the description intrigued me, so I bought the CD. We ended up playing it a lot, and not to be able to play this music (especially the 2nd sym.) once back home in Denmark was a bleak outlook. Vinyl was also starting to get scarce, so at this point I simply decided to buy an inexpensive CD player, to get going.

My new player didn't really sound very good or convey play of music very well. Or stay for very long in my setup at the time. But, while not furthering high intensity experience, it did most importantly provide a gateway to more worlds of Music Magic.