Limitations of music recordings (Version of 13.03.2003)

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If you do a subjective evaluation of loudspeakers (or complete systems) there's one difficulty you cannot overcome in general - you don't know how a certain recording must be reproduced correctly because you don't know how the recording was done and whether it has some limitations etc.. This not a question of AAD or DDD (for CD's) but a problem on principle because before the laser reads a CD a lot of production steps have left their acoustic fingerprints:

During the long production process of a recording there are a lot of influences on the final product which are in general unknown for the listener.
A recording that is well-known for it's badly manipulated sound is e.g. Tina Turner's 'Private Dancer' which is even more painful because of the - according to my mind - great musical quality.
The only way to overcome this is to listen to a (general accepted) technically well-made recording on many (general accepted) good reproduction systems in order to get an idea of the specific character of a recording.
As this cannot be achieved by everybody in general you have to trust specialists. A pretty good example of a collection of technically well- made recordings with hints for reproduction characteristics are e.g. the STEREO listening test CDs.
More detailed assistance to this point is given in the book of Dipl. Ing. Reinhard Fink / Mehr hören: 70 CDs im Akustik-Test (in German only), that is distributed by VISATON.
I also have tried to give some hints on my Music tips page.

Currently I use the following pieces of music to judge the quality of a reproduction system:

No Artist Title CD Year What to take care of
1 Bobby McFerrin Blackbird The Voice 1984 Plausible voice and noises (e.g. breathing, claps)
2 Jefferey Smith Eleanor Rigby A Little Sweeter 1997 Very rich voice, muffled piano in background
3 The King's Singers Back In The U.S.S.R. The Beatles Collection 1986 Vocal bass not too dominant, discrete contributions easy to localize
4 Vocaleros Superstition Vocaleros 1997 Really funky, it must be easy to localize each contribution
5 Brent Lewis Mumbo Jumbo Pulse . . . Where The Rhythm Begins 1995 Very wide spatial reproduction, easy to localize
6 Talking Horns Johann, der Tango kommt Fisch im Wasser * Recorded with 2 micros only
7 The Oscar Peterson Trio You Look Good To Me We Get Requests 1965 Rich walking bass
8 Oscar Peterson Dream Of You Reunion Blues 1972 Bass left and behind speaker base, sober percussions, VERY wide vibraphone (single tones must be followed easily, even across center), muffled piano may not sound muddy
9 Melissa Walker I'm A Fool To Want You May I Feel 1997 Very spatial without much "pseudo" reverberation
10 Jennifer Warnes Somewhere, Somebody The Hunter 1992 Very wide virtual stage, both singers in center (follow their spatial interaction)
11 Keb' Mo' Just Like You Just Like You 1996 Very earthy, is must be able to separate the (co-)singers
12 Holly Cole Jersey Girl Temptation 1995 Very fat bass, all instruments very proper, warm voice, slightly purred/grumbled
13 Mighty Sam McClain Too Proud Give It Up For Love 1993 Very crisp cymbals, even at loud sections not annoying (singer should not be mixed up)
14 Marla Glen Personal This Is Marla Glen 1993 Throaty, dark voice, shiny trumpets, sounds addictive
15 Hugh Massekela Stimela Hope * Loud sequences must have puch, realisitc voice
16 Yello Tied Up Flag 1988 The masterpiece of the Swiss sound puzzlers. Must blow your brains!