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pablolie's picture
Last seen: 6 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Oct 24 2013 - 11:58am
reference recordings... daft punk... really?

i see "random access memory" keeps popping up in reviews as a reference recording...

i like the music and it is catchy and all... but *reference*...? REALLY?

it is so *ELECTRONIC*... vocoder voices galore. the instruments mixed together in a sterile vacuum. it sounds extremely clean alright. but it is such an artifical mix - staging is utterly artificial.

i will admit it tests the dynamics of a system, it is clean. but i would NEVER EVER use it as a reference recording to go to a store an audition a piece of equipment. there is so much bettter stuff out there.

and please don't say miles davis "kind of blue"... brilliant as it is artistically, the hdtracks hd version has the piano so statically frozen on the right that you have to truly focus on the performance and snap out of trying to distill details, because they are underwhelming when it comes to many things.

it kinda annoys me these two recordings have become such clichees in stereophile reviews, because neither of them are really memorable audio engineering examples.

so i ask fellow readers... what do you take to auditions?

i love Kevin Mahogany recordings, they are truly awesome. i take "Pride and Joy" every time i want to audition a system. *great* recording, everything is there - a pristinely recorded and amazing human voice, a fantastic a capella choir, and acoustic instruments galore. listen to the percussion and everything in "never can say goodbye"... now THAT is a reference recording. another reference i have is an old Karl Munchinger recording of Pachelbel's omnipresent "canon"... it is flawed but staging and dynamics and the performance are amazing, and the slight analog hiss in this case adds to it. and because i love and worship the music, i will always use the Coltrane and Hartman album as a reference, it is as natural as it gets. as is Bill Evans "waltz for debby" which i think is my fav live recording.

while i LOVE keith jarrett, i find in many recordings the piano dominates, it's covered by so many microphones it doesn't seem to be cleanly placed anywhere in the room. again, great sound often - indistinct spatial resolution.

curious about what fellow members think? daft punk a reference, really, other than for sheer dynamics (which you can prolly test out with almost any decently recorded 256-VBR MP3?

gainphile's picture
Last seen: 3 years 7 months ago
Joined: Feb 4 2014 - 3:03am
The album is really dynamic

The album is really dynamic and sounding great. Yes I think they deserve to be used as reference recording.

John Atkinson
John Atkinson's picture
Last seen: 17 min 24 sec ago
Joined: Nov 7 2010 - 3:31pm
Re: Daft Punk's Random Access Memories

pablolie wrote:

i see "random access memory" keeps popping up in reviews as a reference recording...

i like the music and it is catchy and all... but *reference*...? REALLY?

You should read the article on the making of this album in the July 2013 issue of Sound on Sound magazine - . Everyone involved in the making of the album took extraordinary care over the sound quality, and there is no heavyhanded compression used.

I included Random Access Memories in a presentation I gave at the October 2013 AES Convention as an example of how dynamic range doesn't have to be sacrificed to produce a commercially successful recording. (Sitting next to me at the presentation was Bob Ludwig, who mastered this album for the LP release and who agreed about the intrinsic sound quality.)

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

pablolie's picture
Last seen: 6 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Oct 24 2013 - 11:58am
thanks for the replies - i do

thanks for the replies - i do not disagree, the dynamics are awesome.

my only issue is the staging is so arbitrary as to be non-existent. the instruments sound clean, but the mix is a bit sterile.

any album with a vocoder gives away a *huge* audiophile weapon - the ability to truly hear a human voice.

i am not saying i hate the album or that it is not full of pristine dynamics. but if i have to pick a reference recording i will always pick a true stage and stay away from electronic screening.

which reminds me, 2cellos, "in2ition" is a great recording too.

in case a sounded too negative - strereophile throws in real gems in there. Gavriel Lipkind...!? what can you say. thank you!

my only point is i personally would not take daft punk to listen to a piece of equipment in my fav store, it is mixed and engineered great but it "cheats" because of all the embelishment. it is a tad too canned for my taste. i prefer real acoustics - real instruments, voices and a real room, that is my preference for my own reference material.

sorry if i came across as know-it-all-ish. i love stereophile and shall remain a subscriber for life. i learn from every issue.


Regadude's picture
Last seen: 3 years 6 months ago
Joined: Oct 17 2012 - 12:08pm
Who cares about!

Who gives a flying fluck about sound quality when the MUSIC SUCKS?!?!?!?! Geez, audiophiles wack it to good recordings. What about the darn music????

Daft punk is a 5 cent gimmick. 2 gay looking robots. Big effin deal! 3 years from now, no one will remember this album. It will go in the trash bin with Milli Vanilli and that "Streak" song from 1974. 

Catch22's picture
Last seen: 2 weeks 16 hours ago
Joined: Nov 21 2010 - 1:58pm
Pretty much anything that I'm familiar with works for me

I've come to the conclusion that just about any recording that you are intimately familiar with can be useful as a reference. And, electric and synthesized tunes are mandatory for me in evaluating a component or system. I always run Robert Palmer's, "You are in my System" through a gear change at some point. Those synthesizers can sound quite different through different gear.

geoffkait's picture
Last seen: 1 week 6 days ago
Joined: Apr 29 2008 - 5:10am
Reference recording

I used the steam locomotive recording, Steel Rails and Thundering Skies, as a reference recording for a number of years.  Was that wrong?


geoff kait

machina dynamica

commsysman's picture
Last seen: 1 day 26 min ago
Joined: Apr 4 2006 - 11:33am

One of the best "test" recordings I have run across is the "Engineer's Choice" on Delos. The dynamics are huge and the fidelity is amazing.

This is a sampler of recordings by noted Delos engineer John Eargle. Ther are actually two CDs, I and II.

Another recording I like to use is the "JAZZ" album by Ry Cooder. It has a wide range of instruments and vocals that will test the limits of a system very well.

For some really well-engineered acoustic recordings, it is hard to beat any of the excellent recordings on the OPUS 3 label. The stereo imaging is superb. I use their Test CDs 1, 2, and 5 a lot. May Audio is their US distributor.

The Reference Recordings label also has many excellent CDs.

As far as Miles Davis is concerned, the SACD (or CD) of "Sketches of Spain" is far better as a system test. The unusual sonorities are hard to reproduce well.

brianhillenbrand's picture
Last seen: 2 years 7 months ago
Joined: Feb 19 2015 - 6:03pm
How do we define reference?

Something to remember with Random Access Memories is that all the "electronic" sounding bits are often sampled from a very high quality source. "oh but samplers aren't reference", okay so that means we have to discount a lot of Dark side of the Moon, as they sampled a lot of sounds and stringed them together in tape.

Also all the synthesizers used in RAM aren't some freeware GarageBand plug-in, they are very very nice analogue machines, with fantastic circuitry. "oh but this isn't 'real music'". Okay, so what is? Electric guitars running through signal warping electronics? There is nothing natural about the sound of an electric guitar, yet plenty of 'reference" tracks have a thorough amount of it.

But even then, Random Access Memories has plenty of "real" sounds, such as the drums on the tracks "Give Life Back to Music" or "Fragments of Time". There are real voices in "Giorgio by Moroder", "Lose Yourself to Dance", "Get Lucky", "Fragments of Time", and "Doin' it Right". Random Access Memories is a very real album, meticulously put together, meshing the two world of analogue and digital recording methods.

Oh also the definition of reference is something to measure against. So technically anything can be reference music, but the less well recorded, the more inaccurate of a subjective measurement we can make. So considering the outstanding recording quality of RAM, I think it's probably a pretty decent measuring stick. If you don't think it is, that probably has something to do with preconceived notions of pop-sounding music usually being terribly recorded. Either that or you don't like the music.

geoffkait's picture
Last seen: 1 week 6 days ago
Joined: Apr 29 2008 - 5:10am
Telarc and Direct to Disc

There were a number of early digtial recordings that were absolutely spectacular in terms of dynamic range but suffered in that they lacked the organic analog type quality we all admire. Some examples of these recordings with wide dynamic range include the early Telarcs like Pictures at an Exhibition, Ry Cooper Bop til You Drop, Dire Straights Brothers in Arms, Tracy Chapman's first record, Tracy Chapman. There were also the Direct to Disc recordings from Sheffield Lab, M&K and others, spectacularly dynamic AND organic sounding by and large. I'm talking about vinyl here, although many of these recordings are available on CD. I won't even get into the famous Mercury and Proprius LPs (among others) that have tremendous dynamic range and everything else but were obviously recorded using tape machines.

Pop quiz: Can something have great dynamic range and still sound blah?

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

pablolie's picture
Last seen: 6 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Oct 24 2013 - 11:58am
Telarc indeed! Garry Mulligan

Telarc indeed! Garry Mulligan "Dream a Little Dream", Telarc 1994. Love the performance, and the recording sounds great to me, and the fact they painstakingly include (a full page!) the exact equipment used indicates they took genuine pride in the recording project.

shp's picture
Last seen: 6 months 1 week ago
Joined: Nov 18 2007 - 4:57pm
Great question.

Great question.

* Jazz at the Pawnshop. I've actually been to "The Pawnshop" in Sweden and the place is great. It is very well recorded but a little bright for me. So I use it for tonality, sound-staging, etc., but also to test if I will find a system fatiguing.

* Kind of Blue. On Blue in Green, drummer Jimmy Cobb is circling the brush. On my current system you can barely hear it - I happen to have a suck-out in that frequency range. If I'm going to spend money on new gear, I want to make sure I'm getting that range back.

* Nirvana Unplugged in NY. It's actually very well recorded. The music is great.

* Led Zeppelin How the West Was Won. Mostly for Going to California. But there are so many other tracks (Since I've Been Loving You) on that 3 CD-set to sample dynamics, vocals, etc. I listened to this on Chord Amplification with KEF Reference 201/2's and Meridian! Sadly, that system was out of my price range.

* Canto, by Los Super Seven. I swear I learned about this record through Stereophile but can't find the review. Here it is on Amazon, but I'll note they are now "burning to order" and so I can't vouch for the quality of this ~15 year old album. You can realize use any track on here. It's great music, wonderfully recorded.

* Duke Ellington's Far East Suite. The album has tracks with big band weight and more intimate arrangements, so you can test for different things. For me, one track in particular helps me test corrections to that frequency suck-out.

* Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata. It's a piano and a cello. A speaker can either deliver or it can't.

* Pollini's Beethoven Sonatas,

* Foo Fighters. Usually In Your Honor's electric CD. Frankly, it's just to test how "bad" some of my favorite stuff will sound on the system. I could just as easily take Van Halen, etc. (Oh, Dave Grohl, you're the biggest rock act of a generation...why can't you record in uncompressed super high fidelity?)

* Pearl Jam, Backspacer. Just Breathe and The End. Eddie Vedder and a guitar. Not the greatest SQ but good enough.

* Paul Simon either Concert in the Park (which I was lucky enough to attend) or Rhythm of the Saints. Lots of tracks to test undistorted electric and natural instruments.

* Very Tall Band, Live at the Blue Note. Just all around great jazz recording.

* My friend's opera album,

* Any number of orchestral pieces I might bring along. I rarely get to sit down and less to a full orchestra work, so this is more a "can it do it" test than a "has to to do it test."

* I might sneak in Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come, "Lonely Woman" I'll argue it's the greatest jazz work of all time. But I realize for some it's a love it or hate it piece, so playing it is dependent on the shopkeeper.

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