So you’ve done your research, you’ve spent your money and you’ve built yourself the hi-fi system of your wildest dreams… well, as close as you can get at the present time! There’s only one way to find out if you’ve got it fined tuned to perfection though, and that’s to test it. Now, there is a very good chance you’ve attended a hi-fi demonstration of some sort before, either at a show or a personal one with a retailer. And the best way to test the equipment is by playing something with it. Something well recorded and well produced, with a rainbow of layers and textures, with plenty of deep, rich bass.
If you’ve attended a demonstration, it’s likely you’d have heard something by Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon, I’d wager – which is, of course , a marvelous album which shows off a hif-fi system’s abilities beautifully. But after hearing The Great Gig in the Sky on about fifty systems, sometimes it’s nice to try something new that will still push your system to its limits. Hey, if you’ve invested all of that time, effort and money in making it perfect, you want it to show you what it’s made of!
So, what does a good hi-fi stretching tune need? It needs a lot of sound – and a lot of different sounds, and not just typically musical ones either! Voices, clocks, footsteps, crowds, ray guns… whatever you can think of. If the system can make those sounds ‘true’, alongside the music itself, then you know it’s a good system. Here are five Music On Vinyl albums that have everything you need to get your system’s motor running, and then some.
Dynamic, powerful and utterly bonkers, Joe Satriani has been wowing audiences with his guitar-acrobatics for decades, and Surfing with the Alien is considered to be one of his finest albums. Released in 1987, the quality of the recording means it hasn’t aged. But aside from the glorious riffs, hooks and melodies that ebb, flow and twist through the air, what makes this a particularly formidable analogue release is the smörgåsbord of sound effects. From ray guns to air crafts, there is a running theme of epic effects that wouldn’t sound out of place in a film. There’s a good mix of chaotic and complex and melodic ballads, and the depth and range of sound is apparent throughout. This album is one of the most commercially successful instrumental-rock albums of all time, and when you hear it through your system you will understand.
We don’t need to sit here and sell you on how much of an influential artist Michael Jackson is, or how commercially and critically successful he was. Chances are, you’ve heard of him. Dangerous was a particularly big hit of MJ, selling over 32 million copies worldwide in the space of seventeen years, and multi-platinum status within the first few years. We know it’s good, but what makes it such a good system tester? It’s an album that stretches across multiple genres, which features sounds from the far reaching corners of rock, jazz, hip-hop, r’n’b and pop. What’s more, it’s an album that tells a story, quite literally! There are several ‘real life; sound clips within, including the introduction of Black and White, in which a little kid with a boombox argues with his father about his right to play it loud and proud. Hearing a scratchy sounding boombox (with a father and son argue over it) through a hi-fi system and not be put off the incoming track is quite a feat. If your system enables this, you’re onto a winner.
What do you get when you cross an acclaimed artist and hip-hop/electronica producer and the lead vocalist and guitarist of an Indie Rock band? Well, you get Broken Bells – but it doesn’t sound quite how you’d expect it to. This genre-bending and captivating duo was formed by the producer Brian Burton, best known as Danger Mouse, and the front man of The Shins James Mercer. The result of their coming together is a strange blend of indie rock, space rock and new age prog, filled with tempo and key changes and a host of strange twists and turns. And a host of unusual vocal and sound effects that really make them stand out. Progressive genres are always a good way of testing out your system, and this is a very unusual – yet excellent – way of doing just that.
With their more recent chart-dominating endeavors, it’s quite easy to forget what Kings of Leon used to sound like before their sound-revamp and the release of Only By The Night and the mega Sex Is On Fire. Long before that, their catchy and anthemic sound was quite different. It was hard, it was scratchy and it was laden with a distantly bluesy rock’n’roll twang. The lyrics were gruff and mumbled and the guitars squealed and purred. It was a truly unique sound, probably best captured by the beautifully recorded Youth and Young Manhood, which is as layered, as textured and varied as they come. And if the distinctly lax vocal style can be brought out in high fidelity, you know your system is doing its job properly.
Strange and varied seems to be the theme, so we’re ending on that note. The Crash Test Dummies were a strange emergence from Canada, who were propelled to international fame following the release of this album. It’s weird concoction of baritone lead vocals, almost gospel style harmonies and ethereal instrumentals… and quite bizarre, often random, but frequently touching lyrics. It’s a strange yet infectious sound that, with the right system behind it, sounds divine. CTD are a band which have always divided opinion, but if you hear this wonderfully mastered album in high fidelity, you will understand why they are the way they are. The singer has one of the deepest (listenable) voices there is, and hearing its depths as they’re supposed to be heard is quite remarkable.