Paul's Picks

December 13, 2014
 by Paul McGowan

I have written many times about some of the musical selections I rely upon to evaluate speakers, electronics and cables. I am often asked for a partial list of Paul's picks.

Here's a list with some pertinent notes.

  • Holly Cole, Temptation, Train Song. My friend Arnie turned me on to this old chestnut. Great for tonality and imaging. Bass instrument mistakes a lot of the fret work and it's easy to hear. Whistles and sound effects seem tough for DACS to get right.
  • Nils Lofgren, Acoustic, Keith Don't Go. Ok, everyone's sick of this album and this track. I do this for a living and the over-played tracks are over-played for good reason. This is amazing for any number of qualities. The richness of the guitar plucks and harmonic content can be very revealing.
  • Boz Scaggs, The Essential Boz Scags, Thanks to You. Great bass track, most systems won't reproduce the lowest synth note on the end of the first riff. This is where using a proper subwoofer is very revealing. Good vocals.
  • Cantate Domino, Proprius Koreansk folkmelodi.  Another old chestnut. Terri's favorite track, brings tears to people's eyes if reproduced well. Can be screechy if not.
  • Buddy Holly, From the Original Master Tapes, True Love's Ways.  Part of the New York recording sessions around 1958. Stunning recording for vocal timbers and depth of image.
  • Mahler 2nd, and Mahler 5th San Francisco Blue Coast. The entire Mahler series is stunning and available as DSD or PCM high rez downloads. Some of the best classical around.
  • George Frideric Handel, Arias for Durastanti, Qual Leon.  Great arrangement and tonality, spaciousness is good. Hard to reproduce, can sound quite analytical and CD-like if not on a good DAC.
  • Diana Krall, Stepping Out, Body and Soul. This piece is a good commercial recording with restricted dynamics and compressed sounding until you hear it on a proper DAC and discover its other qualities that lie hidden.
  • Brian Bromberg, Wood, Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers. Perfect for hearing the quick pluck of the standup bass and making sure the instrument sounds as if it were in the room with you.
  • Shelby Lynne, Just a little Lovin', Just a little lovin', analog tape recording in studio, proper transfer to digital. The cymbals and rim shots are excellent and few DACS and power amps can do proper justice to them. I first discovered this when DirectStream came on the scene. With any other DAC the cymbal sounds 'normal' and expected. On DS you can hear the metal of the cymbal. Almost eerie. Pre-echo tape bleed on her voice is quite apparent if everything's setup correctly.
  • Red Norvo, The Forward Look, How's your mother-in-law? One of Keith Johnson's earliest works. Recording at distance from the group and the sensation you are there, in the audience, is extraordinary if everything's working right. This is one of those gems that can easily flatten out if you haven't gotten your system setup properly. Should be 100% divorced from and behind the loudspeakers.
  • David Roth, Pearl Diver, Stockfisch Records, Vincent. I found this on a giveaway CD at the Hong Kong Audio show and find it an enjoyable cover of this classic with wonderful tonal balance and vocal accuracy.
  • Mari Kodama, Pentatone, Appassionata. This classic Beethoven piano piece helps me with determining complex passages and how electronic pieces fare when pressed with intricate harmonics and overtones.
  • Daft Punk, Random Access Memories, Within. Stunning recording showing off what's possible on 44.1kHz CDs when you are able to pull all that is there on the track with something like DirectStream. This is one of those tracks that until you hear what's there, you can never know what's missing.
  • George Frideric Handel, Apollo e Dafne, Come Rosa. Recorded in a very live room the hall ambience is terribly revealing of minor details and is difficult for electronics of all kinds to get it right.
  • John Rutter, Rutter Requiem, Requiem Aeternam. Like Big? Pipe organs? This amazing piece has a chorus that seems in the room, filling the soundstage wall to wall and just when you thought it couldn't sound more real the pipe organ kicks the lower pedals and your jaw drops. Few systems can handle this piece appropriately.
  • Keith Greeninger & Dayan Kai, Looking for a Home, Bluecoast. Great recording by Cookie. The performers are in the room. What always gets me about this recording is the desire to turn the level up, so good is the performance and when you reach lifelike volume levels, they get over loud on you and it takes quite an amplification chain to handle those surprise dynamics. Anything less than the best power amplifiers 'squeal' in protest.
  • Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here, Welcome to the machine.  Ok, you've gotten everything right and you just want to blow your socks off on the IRSV then this'll do it.

Of course I have dozens more but these give you an idea of the different tracks, genres and breath of music I use to make sure one of our products lives up to expectations.

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137 comments on “Paul's Picks”

  1. Great post Paul, nice Christmas gift to all your readers too, and all the links. I have only two so my shopping list just grew a bunch, thanks. I got the Rutter Requiem after you recommended it earlier this year, a wonderful work with sonics just as you describe.

    Roger

      1. Paul :

        Thank you for your list, I do have many on this list, I appreciate the inclusion of several classical pieces as I have been trying to learn more about orchestral masterpieces by the great composers. Kudos for producing products that are more substance, than hype.

        Thank you for your assistance / consideration / encouragement / guidance / support / thoughtfulness / time.

        Michael Walker

      2. Paul :

        Thank you for your list, I do have many on this list, I appreciate the inclusion of several classical pieces as I have been trying to learn more about orchestral masterpieces by the great composers. Kudos for producing products that are more substance, than hype.

        Thank you for your assistance / consideration / encouragement / guidance / support / thoughtfulness / time.

        Michael Walker

      3. Paul :

        Thank you for your list, I do have many on this list, I appreciate the inclusion of several classical pieces as I have been trying to learn more about orchestral masterpieces by the great composers. Kudos for producing products that are more substance, than hype.

        Thank you for your assistance / consideration / encouragement / guidance / support / thoughtfulness / time.

        Michael Walker

    1. Great post good for the audiophile to have on hand.
      Here is one for some to try and listen.
      Elton john tumbleweed connection track two come down in time.
      Although the album is great the araingement is exptremly close up. Anytical
      Also one of the best vocals of him detail wise.
      Al

  2. OH so that's where I made my mistake, I didn't use the "official" audiophile tracks to design and calibrate my sound system. 🙂

    Different strokes for different folks. Most of it is not my cup of tea. Sorry I couldn't find a clip of Mari Kodama's performance of the Beethoven Appassionata to see how it compares with my favorite, Vladimir Ashkenazy's. You'd really have to go some to beat that one.

    I actually have one, maybe two of these recordings. I've got a copy of Cantate Domino someone left for me. Not among my favorites though. I may also have a vinyl of the Buddy Holly record on vinyl that came in among my 110+ vinyls for $10 (about 9 cents each) I bought at that garage sale about 3 years ago. One of these days I'll get around to hearing at least a little of some of them. That Linda Ronstadt recording you heard at my house was among them. Okay for 9 cents but I'd never pay real money for it. Someone in my house wants to use those vinyls as cake plates when she gives away her baking efforts as gifts. I said nothing doing. Get your own cake plates honey. They may not be my cup of tea but they are my and only my cake plates. 🙂

  3. Thanks, I have several of the Beethoven Kodama downloads including the one mentioned. These are exceptional recordings! The Michael Tilson Thomas Mahlers are OK but certainly not my go-to set. I have the whole set (I think) on SACD and a few of the Blue Coast downloads. Wayne Garcia of TAS thought the LPs sounded better than the SACDs but I never sprung for the expensive set. They are a steal now at Elusive Disc for just $599.99.

    1. Wayne is a good soul, if you ever find yourself in San Francisco stop in at his wine shop ‘Dig’ located in the Dogpatch neighborhood just east of the 280 at 22nd street @ Minnesota.

      And if you’ve come this far, check out his wife Sher’s restaurant next door, ‘Piccino’ it's a real gem.

      Wayne is a passionate expert in all things related to art, music, high fidelity, food & wine.

  4. Great list, have more than a couple of 'em myself and play them on many occasions.
    But Holy Cow Paul why leave the typos?
    The first 3 artists are misspelled.
    Please, show some respect for these guys and gals, and at least spell their names right!
    That's really the least you can do.
    For the rest did I already say this is a great list?
    Cheers
    Marcel

  5. Would I rather have a good recording of a great performance or a great recording of a just plain good performance (or worse a mediocre performance or music I'm not interested in?) The answer is a great performance especially of music I enjoy most.

    Right now here is my reference recording and I can't get it out of my head. I've heard many performances and recordings of this piece over the years and always liked them but none in my experience can begin to compare. I'll bet I've heard this recording a few dozen times in the last 6 weeks and I'm listening to it right now on my computer monitor speakers. Will I ever tire of it????

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOOfoW5_2iE

    Don't cry to me that's it's no good because it's only an MP4 or the listening room is no good. Find a way to make it work. That's an engineer's job. Build enough into your system to get the most that can be gotten out of this and all my other favorite recordings. That is one of a high quality sound system's primary jobs IMO to make recordings I like sound great. No excuses. Diana Krall, eat your heart out. You couldn't play like this if your life depended on it.

    1. Although performance ranks first in any recording, compressed sonics and missing information, as often found in CD's, destroys my enjoyment of the piece regardless of who is performing. I found that classical music in general imposes the severest test on a system. So when I want to audition any new equipment, I bring some select SACD's. The problem usually arises that the shop hasn't the equipment to play them ! I then have to listen to their hi-rez downloads which typically sound inferior.
      My selection for Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #3 is Matsuev playing with the Marinsky Orchestra recorded on SACD-DSD.

    2. What an idiotic thing to say. Diana Krall has never pretended to be a classical concert pianist, and who knows if Martha Argerich can improvise a jazz selection? Surely we can appreciate one great artist without denigrating another!

  6. I appreciate the list and have looked up several of your links (even Soundmind's). The comments help expand my understanding and perspective of music (and hardware)- always a good thing to broaden one's perspective in my opinion. So, I understand experience, familiarity, consistency as a hallmark of any endeavor, but how do you add, change, update your list? Do you set aside time to listen to the new, recommended, pieces I assume are tossed your way; do you seek new pieces on your own? How do you find gems in all the selections available?

    1. I do listen to new stuff when given an opportunity. Not all are to my liking and it takes time and energy to curate a good list. Several of these were from a CDR a Sumiko rep carried around with him and they were just wonderful. I had to research the tracks to find what they were.

  7. Sound minded you are funny man. I very much agree with Paul on this.
    It's not just being a good performance it's about being a great representation of audio reproduction man. I have so much music I never would have grown to like if it were not for trying to find just what these recordings are. I do not know classical or jazz names or most of the music I think is great. It has become an aquared Taste like good scotch.
    I honesty would not know a good tune from a bad one. But I do know cookie,s stuff and others like her stuff that just puts me right there.
    Al

  8. I always find it fascinating to read 'desert island' lists that we all have. It tells a lot about us and how really diverse we are in our listening AND quite often, I find myself thinking "I should check this out"! In my never ending attempt to get younger people to realize that recorded music can sound pretty amazing, I have them over and play them records from the way back to the present (this is what pure analogue sounds like and this is a digital master on a record).

    So here are a few of the albums that blew them away: From the wayback machine: any one of the 9 albums from the Hendrix @ Winterland box set, Mamas 'n Papas "If You Can believe Your Eyes and Ears", Art Blakey - "Drum Suite", Patsy Cline's Greatest hits.

    From the digital wonderland: Black Keys "El Camino", Janelle Monae "Archandroid", St. Vincent, Tony and Lady Gaga, and, just because it is sooo much fun Pussnboots "No Fools No Fun"!

    I was glad to see Cookie receive her well deserved nod! In my now almost 68 years on the planet, I think that this is the best time ever to be a music lover!

  9. I get Welcome To The Machine as a choice, but if you really want to drop a synthesized "bomb", try the album Zero Time by Tonto's Expanding Headband. I don't know how good any CD transfers might be, but the original Atlantic vinyl has blown people away at demo nights. BOOM!
    I have also had fun with Tarkus by ELP, a very "open" recording with astonishingly percussive keyboards. Cheers and Happy New Year!
    ChrisW

    1. This is just my guess but, I think that the reason why these offerings are here is because, regardless of genre, they each display a wide dynamic range. To my ears, much rock seems to operate within a narrower dynamic ranges, thus (beyond volume levels) not stretching the capabilities of audio systems. Just my guess.

  10. I agree with MarkTro...while the above examples are great music, and good for eval, they're not necessarily everyone's cup o' tea. Some examples of different genres would be helpful for those that listen to more rock (or pop or country, etc....). Thanks for the list though!

  11. I bet "Wish You Were Here" is fantastic. But you couldn't go wrong with just about anything from Dark Side of the Moon. Speaking of vocals from that album how about "Great Gig in the Sky". Now THAT I'd like to hear on the IRSV. Or "Us and Them". With the sax. 🙂

  12. Does it have what I want?
    Currently, in the room (size) & with the proximity of the neighbours & considering the other financial priorities in my life?
    I would have to say yes; my current audio set-up does me very well...I have spent correctly!

    (Thank you Mr Trump for knocking the Australian bush fire disaster from top billing on our TV nightly news-hour. It's so good to have a change)

    *Off Topic*
    A whole bunch of American firefighters arrived at Sydney airport yesterday & a bunch of exhausted Canadian firefighters went home today.
    Thank you to our friends & allies in North America & Canada 🙂

  13. "Do is have what I want?" should be a straightforward matter for the consumer.
    Larger manufacturers like Denon and Onkyo do not have a problem setting a list of design objectives and a target retail price. The innovation is getting more for less.
    It seems more difficult for smaller manufacturers to evaluate what customers want, given the much smaller target customer base. Some seem to design what they want, not necessarily what the market wants. Most replicate. Few innovate.

  14. Does it have what I want?
    Currently, in the room (size) & with the proximity of the neighbours & considering the other financial priorities in my life?
    I would have to say yes; my current audio set-up does me very well...I have spent correctly!

    (Thank you Mr Trump for knocking the Australian bush fire disaster from top billing on our TV nightly news-hour. It's so good to have a change)

    *Off Topic*
    A whole bunch of American firefighters arrived at Sydney airport yesterday & a bunch of exhausted Canadian firefighters went home today.
    Thank you to our friends & allies in North America & Canada 🙂

  15. "Do is have what I want?" should be a straightforward matter for the consumer.
    Larger manufacturers like Denon and Onkyo do not have a problem setting a list of design objectives and a target retail price. The innovation is getting more for less.
    It seems more difficult for smaller manufacturers to evaluate what customers want, given the much smaller target customer base. Some seem to design what they want, not necessarily what the market wants. Most replicate. Few innovate.

  16. Does it have what I want?
    Currently, in the room (size) & with the proximity of the neighbours & considering the other financial priorities in my life?
    I would have to say yes; my current audio set-up does me very well...I have spent correctly!

    (Thank you Mr Trump for knocking the Australian bush fire disaster from top billing on our TV nightly news-hour. It's so good to have a change)

    *Off Topic*
    A whole bunch of American firefighters arrived at Sydney airport yesterday & a bunch of exhausted Canadian firefighters went home today.
    Thank you to our friends & allies in North America & Canada 🙂

  17. "Do is have what I want?" should be a straightforward matter for the consumer.
    Larger manufacturers like Denon and Onkyo do not have a problem setting a list of design objectives and a target retail price. The innovation is getting more for less.
    It seems more difficult for smaller manufacturers to evaluate what customers want, given the much smaller target customer base. Some seem to design what they want, not necessarily what the market wants. Most replicate. Few innovate.

  18. Nice picks ... is good to find such a lists with descriptions what to hear for. Sure, everybody interpret it different but still better than nothing.
    Missing some chesky records recording thought 🙂 ... and also some world music perhaps with folk instruments that plays naturally without amplification

  19. 500W more than the M700’s into 4 ohms. If they sound better being more powerful then the 700’s then that is fine. Having the built in opportunity (OPTION) to tube roll is a plus. Being able to Change the character without changing a whole piece puts another check in the interested column.

    As far as the products offered by PSA and their speed to market that’s all under PSA’s control and discretion. Because a few (some) of us want a new DMP, or a mid priced DAC, or anything else, that desire alone is not enough reason to produce one. If all 56k ‘followers’ stomped their feet and raised their voices in demand of some product, then PSA management may change their product introduction schedule.

    PSA is a business, that means they have to make hard decisions and best guesses on where they put their resources and focus if they want to continue to be successful.

    They’re gambling on the AN series of speakers, and a bunch of other products with a focus on direct sales. That’s all a pretty tall order. There are things on my wish list, but I’m one person and not naive enough to believe someone should produce a product just for me. A DMP with a transport is nice, but in reality there are other ways to play music that resides on a disc. That option alone should cover most for the short term. (IMHO)

  20. At 75, I am back into music after several decades of raising a family, earning a living, etc. To me, music went away in the days of yellow submarines, sitars, and disco. Along the way I damaged my hearing and developed tinnitus so my listening skills deteriorated significantly. Then I became interested in the technology of audio and installed a basic 5.1 system and began to listen to movies and music differently, ie stereo and surround sound. Now my quest is to improve movie dialog so that I don't need to use subtitles as much and I'm beginning to listen better. I appreciate your tips on audio, they have made the journey more enjoyable and interesting.

  21. Nice picks ... is good to find such a lists with descriptions what to hear for. Sure, everybody interpret it different but still better than nothing.
    Missing some chesky records recording thought 🙂 ... and also some world music perhaps with folk instruments that plays naturally without amplification

  22. 500W more than the M700’s into 4 ohms. If they sound better being more powerful then the 700’s then that is fine. Having the built in opportunity (OPTION) to tube roll is a plus. Being able to Change the character without changing a whole piece puts another check in the interested column.

    As far as the products offered by PSA and their speed to market that’s all under PSA’s control and discretion. Because a few (some) of us want a new DMP, or a mid priced DAC, or anything else, that desire alone is not enough reason to produce one. If all 56k ‘followers’ stomped their feet and raised their voices in demand of some product, then PSA management may change their product introduction schedule.

    PSA is a business, that means they have to make hard decisions and best guesses on where they put their resources and focus if they want to continue to be successful.

    They’re gambling on the AN series of speakers, and a bunch of other products with a focus on direct sales. That’s all a pretty tall order. There are things on my wish list, but I’m one person and not naive enough to believe someone should produce a product just for me. A DMP with a transport is nice, but in reality there are other ways to play music that resides on a disc. That option alone should cover most for the short term. (IMHO)

  23. At 75, I am back into music after several decades of raising a family, earning a living, etc. To me, music went away in the days of yellow submarines, sitars, and disco. Along the way I damaged my hearing and developed tinnitus so my listening skills deteriorated significantly. Then I became interested in the technology of audio and installed a basic 5.1 system and began to listen to movies and music differently, ie stereo and surround sound. Now my quest is to improve movie dialog so that I don't need to use subtitles as much and I'm beginning to listen better. I appreciate your tips on audio, they have made the journey more enjoyable and interesting.

  24. Nice picks ... is good to find such a lists with descriptions what to hear for. Sure, everybody interpret it different but still better than nothing.
    Missing some chesky records recording thought 🙂 ... and also some world music perhaps with folk instruments that plays naturally without amplification

  25. 500W more than the M700’s into 4 ohms. If they sound better being more powerful then the 700’s then that is fine. Having the built in opportunity (OPTION) to tube roll is a plus. Being able to Change the character without changing a whole piece puts another check in the interested column.

    As far as the products offered by PSA and their speed to market that’s all under PSA’s control and discretion. Because a few (some) of us want a new DMP, or a mid priced DAC, or anything else, that desire alone is not enough reason to produce one. If all 56k ‘followers’ stomped their feet and raised their voices in demand of some product, then PSA management may change their product introduction schedule.

    PSA is a business, that means they have to make hard decisions and best guesses on where they put their resources and focus if they want to continue to be successful.

    They’re gambling on the AN series of speakers, and a bunch of other products with a focus on direct sales. That’s all a pretty tall order. There are things on my wish list, but I’m one person and not naive enough to believe someone should produce a product just for me. A DMP with a transport is nice, but in reality there are other ways to play music that resides on a disc. That option alone should cover most for the short term. (IMHO)

  26. At 75, I am back into music after several decades of raising a family, earning a living, etc. To me, music went away in the days of yellow submarines, sitars, and disco. Along the way I damaged my hearing and developed tinnitus so my listening skills deteriorated significantly. Then I became interested in the technology of audio and installed a basic 5.1 system and began to listen to movies and music differently, ie stereo and surround sound. Now my quest is to improve movie dialog so that I don't need to use subtitles as much and I'm beginning to listen better. I appreciate your tips on audio, they have made the journey more enjoyable and interesting.

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