Want to hear how good your headphones can sound? Play great sounding music!
Editors Note: When I invited CNET's Audiophiliac Steve Guttenberg to write an article for InnerFidelity, he thought for a bit and made this suggestion: since InnerFidelity is about getting right down to the nitty-gritty truth about how a piece of personal audio gear sounds, why not make some recommendations for reference quality sounds to start with. Great idea! I think I'm going to have to write a similar article with my reference tracks one of these days --- not surprisingly, his list and mine contain some of the same albums.
Click on the album images to go to the source page. Rightio Steve, we're listening!
Why Reference Tracks?
What does good sound sound like? Most of the time that's a very subjective, very personal call. We like what we like. Most, probably 99%, of all recordings are EQ-ed to sound "good," or cool, or to somebody's estimation of what good sound sounds like. Today's studios are designed not to have a sound per-se, they sound dead, that way it's easier to control the reverberation and "space" added in the mix. There's no real there there.
Dynamic range (soft-to-loud) compression has been around for decades, it's just that the vast majority of recordings released over the past ten years have been compressed to sound "loud" all the time. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of this, if it serves the music. That's fine, just as long as you understand most recordings don't sound natural, transparent, or have any semblance of actual depth. If you're trying to discern what a headphone, headphone amp or DAC really sounds like, you can get there a lot quicker listening to recordings that aren't compressed, EQ-ed or processed in any way.
The producers' goals for the recordings gathered here were to have them sound as realistic as possible; I worked for Chesky Records as a Producer for more than 10 years, so I have firsthand knowledge of their sound. As for the music, it's all good, but I can't guarantee every track will be to your taste. The sound transcends mere hi-fi, and when you listen to these tracks over the best gear you will feel the music.