Good recordings are necessary for good demoes. A disc I use to open listening sessions is called "Sounds of the North Country," (Nanook Records 002") a compilation of windsong and animal noises recorded in an igloo near the Artic circle. The disc is basically 42 minutes of tranquility interrupted on occasion by nerve-shattering roars. I like the recording because it re-orients the listener from his mundane workaday world into my milieu of aural dread. Each cycle of stillness and terror lasts several minutes, and causes dry throat. When the listener gulps in panic, I suggest he concentrate on the igloos interior ambience: "See if you can you hear water trickling." Melting water is hard to discern when an obvious polar bear is about to slaughter another sled dog. After twenty minutes of "Sounds of the North Country" ones hearing acuity is sky high. Then, I ask if the frozen cricket is audible. A nodding head shows the customer is ready to move on to a more challenging recording.
Next up is "The Ides of Texas" (Cut n Shoot .45), Early Music (pre-Palestrina) as performed by George Straits former back-up group, The Tumbleweeds. If you like chant, and you like country-western, what could be better than combining the two? Sonically, as well as olfactorily, the disc is a blockbuster. One member of the group stands way over there, and intones "Remember the Alamo" in Latin, while the rest of the Weeds project so far forward, one can smell their after-shave (et tu Brute?) . When the system is really in sync, one can hear, at 2:47 of cut three, a rude noise followed by a whiff of swamp gas. This brings oohs and ahs from the cognoscenti. As Marco, my Early Music mentor, points out, "That, gentlemen, is transparency."
An ultimate test of frequency response is "The Life of Whales," not be be confused with "Still-life in Wales", a collection of muted soccer songs. "Whales" (JAWS XVI) was recorded posthumously by Jacques Crusteau and captures the 40kHz mating whistle of the sperm whale followed by 16Hz grunts of satisfaction. If the listeners system cannot capture either extreme, I tell him he needs new loudspeakers. If he resists, I tell him to buy new cables. If he still resists, I give him a set of Black Diamond Racing cones, and tell him he can thank me for them later.
The astute reader will notice that my top three "test" cds focus on special effects more than music. This is because recorded music is a deterrent to the sale of audio hardware. When the components are really good, as ours are, most recordings sound awful, those of the big labels, DG in particular, being the worst.
Recently, I ruined a loudspeaker demo by giving in to demands of the customer who wanted to hear a disc he had brought with him, Maurizio Pollini playing Chopin on DG415 346-2. The piano had no highs, no lows, and honked like a goose in the midrange. "But your excellency," I pleaded, "the recording is lousy." "Maybe so," he replied, "but if I cant listen to my favorite recording on these speakers, why should I buy them?" Theres the rub. The better the equipment, the fewer listening choices one has.
Scouring the magazines, including this one, for mention of sonically acceptable music, I have found a few cds that pass muster musically. I would like to publicise such discs in the hope that my name will grace print ads for them, such as "Jim Saxon of SoundStage! calls Pyrrhic Victory a bloody miracle." I mean, its nice to be quoted as an authority on something besides loafing or drinking beer.
So, while making phrases in the process, may I present a list of compact discs which contain stereo-friendly music.
There you have it, Saxons quotable list of demo discs and fine recordings with which to impress your friends. Remember, its not how good the system is, but how little music you can play on it that counts.