Sonically complex, well recorded 2ch music please.
August 18, 2007 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Sonically complex well recorded music in 2 channels to test my new hi-fi stereo system. So far, I've listened to...

I spent a too much money on a really good pair of speakers, and most everything I listen to sounds imperfect because the speakers are quite good at exposing recording flaws. Of course I am listening to lossless music, but I need some albums that are complex, dynamic, and pristine. I am finding that most recordings before 1970 do not sound that great, with some exceptions, so I'm thinking the more recent, the better. But feel free to chip in whatever you feel fits the bill. I'm not terribly picky about genre.

So far:
Radiohead, Ok Computer - Pretty complex, but a little bright in places
Radiohead, The Bends - Not as complex as OK computer
Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon - Not really impressed
The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers - Well recorded, some complexity
Coldplay, A Rush of blood - Surprisingly well recorded, dynamic
Arcade Fire, The Funeral - Not as well recorded as I thought it might be.
Wilco, YHF - Pretty complex and well recorded.
Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie - Complex and well recorded but causes listening fatigue. Very bright.
Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy - Pretty good considering its age, but a bit lacking.
Broken Social Scene, Self Titled - Probably the best, most complex and most well recorded album I've heard so far.

What else?
posted by |n$eCur3 to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sgt. Pepper. Beatles playing around with stereo. Loads of fun.
posted by filmgeek at 5:31 PM on August 18, 2007

Anything by BT, but This Binary Universe is a pretty amazing piece of electronica
posted by MCTDavid at 5:32 PM on August 18, 2007

Esquivel, Space Age Bachelor Pad Music.
posted by ldenneau at 5:35 PM on August 18, 2007

i always use windowlicker for putting audio systems through its paces, cos its just all over the spectrum. if you can find a lossless version of it, give it a shot.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 5:36 PM on August 18, 2007

John Vanderslice - Pixel Revolt is always my go-to album for this purpose. All-analog recording, extremely detailed and varied sonic palette, expertly produced.

And I feel the need to point out that with some of the newer albums (e.g. Funeral), particularly if you're listening to it on CD, it's not the recording (engineering) that's bad, but the mastering.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:41 PM on August 18, 2007

I'm surprised you used OK Computer & The Bends but not Kid A. It has incredible depth, the music is the most ridiculously good that has been released in probably 10 years, and I don't believe there are any recording errors (although you probably have better speakers than I ever have had).
posted by synaesthetichaze at 5:41 PM on August 18, 2007

Stereolab's Margarine Eclipse. Everyone's overemphasizing the "2 channel" part of your request, and, well, it's possibly the newest album mixed (mostly) in discrete stereo. Because of that, it pretty much only sounds good on decent gear -- MP3s of it are painful.
posted by eschatfische at 6:01 PM on August 18, 2007

From what you've listed, I'm going to guess that the electronic recommendations aren't what you're after. Here's what I suggest:

Apostle of Hustle's "Folkloric Feel" if you liked the BSS but want something a little dirtier. It's not hifi-by-the-books; they're playing with hi-fi/lo-fi practices to get the effects they want. One of my favorite albums as a recording geek.

I'd give a Final Fantasy album or Joanna Newsom's "Ys" a spin to get a feel for how your system plays classical-esque music. This kind of stuff is easy to over-look, but classical recording techniques are mostly standardized because they sound great.

My strongest recommendations go to Grizzly Bear's "Yellow House".
posted by tylermoody at 6:08 PM on August 18, 2007

Grizzly Bear is an excellent recommendation. Also, consider the band Woven Hand, which is a sort of apocalyptic folk outfit.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 6:14 PM on August 18, 2007

Oh hell, now you've got me going.

Hit some of the other Arts-Crafts artists, Stars are pretty strict about hifi practices and mix in electronics, see also Broken Social Scene's "You Forgot It in People".

Pavement is NOT EVER pristinely recorded, but the middle third of "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" has some of the tastiest guitars. Get the rerelease on vinyl for a real treat.

"Superwolf" by Bonny "Prince" Billy and Matt Sweeney also has great guitars.

TV on the Radio are recording geeks. "Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes" for their electronic side, "Return to Cookie Mountain" for rock.

Lofi music can be surprisingly rewarding if you're a recording geek, and have a good enough system to hear how they're making that racket. Try "It was Hot We Stayed in the Water" by The Microphones if you feel like experimenting. Phil Elverum is what turned me onto lofi.
posted by tylermoody at 6:19 PM on August 18, 2007

several of your comments ("too bright" etc, but also "exposing flaws") sound to me like you are hearing too much treble. have you experimented with speaker position and room contents (soft furnishings, wall hangings etc)? good speakers should really make things sound better, not worse.

(i'm assuming you don't have tone controls or an equalizer, but if you're using those, then avoid cranking up the treble - it sounds very impressive at first because you can "hear lots of detail", but it gets tiring quickly. sorry if this is obvious.)
posted by andrew cooke at 6:20 PM on August 18, 2007

Yeah, Yellow House is really nice-sounding.

weezer's Pinkerton also has some great sounding rock drums.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:21 PM on August 18, 2007

also, you say you are "listening to lossless music". if that means you're driving amp from a computer sound card, try improving your source.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:22 PM on August 18, 2007

I can't tell whether you're asking about stereo field specifically (some people seem to have taken it this way), or just testing the equipment in general, so I'll answer the second. I'm not always so into the music personally, but I'd probably put Steely Dan near the top of my equipment test list. Other ones I might use for various reasons are Ulrich Schnauss -- a strangely isolated place, massive attack -- mezzanine, biosphere -- cirque (or shenzhou, or the remastered substrata). Also, probably some [good recordings of] classic jazz (coltrane?) and classical (some choral music, some string quartets, some solo piano, some orchestral). Perhaps some classic ambient from the 70s as well, such as klaus schulze or something.

on preview, +1 on andrew cooke's comments; obvious audio problems, especially if you hear them on a variety of recordings, are much more likely to be somewhere along your signal chain/speaker/room setup than in the recording (unless of course you have developed golden ears somewhere along the way).
posted by advil at 6:25 PM on August 18, 2007

+1 again andrew cooke, get off of your computer. CDs are best if you're pragmatic, vinyl if you like condescending.

I forgot another one: Feist's "The Reminder" is very well-done pop, and sounds very clean.

I love my turntable.
posted by tylermoody at 6:30 PM on August 18, 2007

A good variety:

Graceland - Paul Simon
Achtung Baby, U2 (some songs make your speakers sound busted, which was the goal)
Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd (Good use of stereo effect and dynamic range)
A Night at the Opera, Queen
Guero, Beck
posted by The Deej at 6:37 PM on August 18, 2007

ludwig_van - Great point, I'm pretty sure that some of the albums I've mentioned have a lot of clipping.

andrew cooke - I am not using a computer as a source, and if I were, I'd probably use a DAC to cut down on the interference, etc. I'm listening to CDs. And I am not using a EQ. The frequency response is pretty great, I'd say almost neutral. I probably need to fool around with my room acoustics a bit though.

advil - I am looking for good, well recorded dynamic music for testing my speakers, which happens to be a 2 channel setup. Not so much albums like Sgt. Pepper which are great because they play with the stereo field. I'm more looking for stuff that sounds great.

Keep 'em coming. I can't wait to listen to many of the suggestions so far.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 6:46 PM on August 18, 2007

Oh, and I love the turntable suggestion. I've been meaning to get one for a while and I think Vinyl really does sound better. But I can't really afford another expensive hobby at the moment :-)
posted by |n$eCur3 at 6:49 PM on August 18, 2007

And one more point: I only mentioned 2ch because I don't particularly want sound that is recorded in 5.1, SCAD or anything like that. BTW, I heard that this binary universe is superior in 5 chs vs 2.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 6:57 PM on August 18, 2007

my bloody valentine - loveless and isn't anything

especially loveless, the really complex guitar texture can sound completely different depending on your speakers (and even which direction they are pointing).
posted by mezamashii at 6:57 PM on August 18, 2007

You can sometimes dig up a turntable in whatever Salvation Army/Goodwill/thrift stores you have nearby for around $20. Records cost less than cds. Most new ones from indie labels come with free-download passes for high quality digital versions. The hardest part is finding somewhere in your area that carries vinyl.
posted by tylermoody at 6:58 PM on August 18, 2007

My final recommendation is A Silver Mt. Zion, which is the band Efrim Menuck started after Godspeed You Black Emperor disbanded (I guess); it's post-rock.

Their music is highly intimate due largely to the recording aesthetic. It is very obvious that you are listening to instruments played by human beings. You can hear the drumsticks hitting the hi-hat, the bowstrings on the violins, and the fingers across the bass. I have a feeling that this is precisely the kind of thing that would sound incredible on very good speakers.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 7:02 PM on August 18, 2007

The Yo-Yo Ma album "Obrigado Brazil Live in Concert" has exposed treble problems in several speaker systems that I've played it on (and also, incidentally, sounds much worse when ripped to mp3). I'm not sure why, as the recording doesn't strike me as unusually pristine for a live classical(ish) recording, but the clarinet and higher cello work on the album make treble distortion and harshness unmistakably noticeable to me in a way that even good symphonic recordings don't.

Some people will find this heretical, but there's a stereo downmix of the Flaming Lips' "Zaireeka" that is pretty much the most complex thing I've ever heard in stereo. The original album was mastered in 8 channels (on 4 simultaneously playing discs), and the stereo downmix puts a lot of sound in two channels. The original recording famously featured warnings about extremely high and low pitched frequencies being present in the album. The downmix doesn't live up the full experience, but it is well put together and a great stress-test for your speakers.
posted by Benjy at 7:05 PM on August 18, 2007

Seconding Steely Dan.
posted by emelenjr at 7:39 PM on August 18, 2007

Talking Heads: Remain in Light - incredible texture.

Lou Reed: The Blue Mask - the guitar is wonderful, you can hear the space of the room.

David Sylvian: Blemish - frighteningly intimate.

Also - if you've never done it, listen to your music in complete darkness. Trust me, everything will sound better.
posted by davebush at 7:39 PM on August 18, 2007

Bjork is known for her fastidiousness in recording. You should put in Vepertine. Thats what I use to accomplish the same task , though in 5.1.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 7:59 PM on August 18, 2007

Roger Waters - Amused to Death
Alison Krauss + Union Station - Live
-- Hands down the most sonically perfect live album I've ever heard. Track 9 is haunting.
Beck - Sea Change
Béla Fleck & The Flecktones - any album, really, but Left of Cool is one of my favorites.
Josh Ritter - Hello Starling
-- The electric piano on track 10 sounds like it's coming from waaaay out to the sides. The effect is pretty amazing.
Rodrigo Y Gabriela - Rodrigo Y Gabriela
-- High energy acoustic guitar duo. Sounds great and crisp turned way up without being fatiguing.
posted by pmbuko at 8:10 PM on August 18, 2007

It's your room, man. Fix your room, first. Always.

But first -

I'm confused, here. When you say that albums recorded before 1970 don't sound that great, you're clearly using a different metric than many audio professionals - albums before the 70's (speaking broadly here) tended to be much more dynamic than music produced today. There are many in the pro audio world (myself among them) who find no greater happiness than certain Motown-era drum tracks. Many of the albums you mentioned are far from dynamic - they're over-compressed, and as you said, there are probably some with clipping. They're probably not *technically* clipping (flattening out at 0db, digital), but there are probably some flat spots on those waves, nonetheless. To get truly dynamic music, you're going to have to go with some really carefully mastered stuff, or go back 20 years or more, before mastering became an exercise in squashing the waveform.

When you say that your speakers are "revealing recording flaws," I become convinced that there's a problem in your signal chain somewhere. I promise you, no matter how good you think your speakers are, the studio monitors in the room that most of those records were mixed in are better than your speakers. As was the source that the source tracks came from (mostly 2" tape, but I wouldn't be surprised if Funeral was recorded and mixed in Protools at 88.2khz/24bit. Hard drives are cheap these days, after all.

So, back to my solution - your room. Call your local audio rental shop. Rent from them an Earthworks M30 (Earthworks makes some of the flattest-response microphones around - this is what the pros use to EQ their rooms). Along with the M30, rent a Real-time Analyzer, either as a piece of rack gear, or a laptop setup. Buy a good-quality, 30-band graphic equalizer. Run pink noise through your speakers until your ears feel like they're dripping strawberry jam, all the while adjusting the EQ until the frequency response of your room is flat. Or at least as flat as it's going to be.

No joke, this will make your room sound better than you could have imagined. Many "audiophiles" don't get this, but the single biggest factor on how ANY stereo system sounds is the room. Period. Anyone who says anything else is selling you snake oil, and you should run from them.

As for what to listen to (once you get your room pink noised), I'd second Pixel Revolt. It's a damn fine album, and engineered excellently, as well. I'd also recommend some of the aforementioned A Silver Mount Zion - they're excellent, and the definition of intimate. Along the same lines would be anything by Rachael's. I happen to think that Sufjan Stevens' records are very-well engineered, and whoever mastered them used a very light touch - if you look at the waveforms, the dynamics are all over the place. It's wonderful.

Jesus, that was longer than I meant it to be. This is where I mention that as an audio professional I think any and all audio-wanking is just that; if you paid extra money for your speaker cables or your interconnects, make sure you don't mention it to anyone; it's embarrassing. Also, stay away from the wooden volume knob.
posted by god hates math at 9:18 PM on August 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

The Cowboy Junkies - The Trinity Sessions
Tom Waits - Nighthawks at the Diner (this is a spectacularly well recorded album and the music is fantastic too.)
Frank Zappa - Joe's Garage
Michelle Shocked - Short Sharp Shocked
Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain
U2 - Rattle and Hum

These are all of course albums I like, but more importantly they are albums which were recorded very well, with attention paid to all the details and not overly compressed (well perhaps U2 might be a tad, but I haven't heard it for quite some time so I don't know.) The Tom Waits album is really quite special and perhaps one of the best recordings I have ever heard commercially. I have some single mike jazz stuff and some Stereophile recordings which are superb, as well as a couple of Beatles bootlegs of all things which really put most modern overly compressed, overly mixed crap to shame. For instance, some people like the first Norah Jones album for this. While it is basically well recorded, and not too compressed, it is a pastiche of so many tracks pasted together with a really good system you can hear how they fail to fit right and it can become annoying.
posted by caddis at 9:35 PM on August 18, 2007

I'm thinking the more recent, the better.

This is a complicated issue. As for the recording itself. They had that nailed by the late 50's. Mixing followed in the mid 60's. Then digital came along. It offered some great advantages, yet challenges. The early CDs were horrible from an audiophile standpoint, with a few notable exceptions. The traditional challenges were reduced by the new format but they didn't necessarily understand the new challenges of brickwall filters, jitter, aliasing etc. Just as they started to figure that out (late 80's to mid '90's) the big push to compress the crap out of all the music started and now it is hard to find a pop record that isn't compressed to the point that much of the CD advantage is lost. Many jazz and classical recordings avoid this, but most rock is afflicted. So, IMO, from a time stand point the recordings from the early 90's are the best. They have the technology down, and they have yet to completely abuse the compressor.
posted by caddis at 9:51 PM on August 18, 2007

I used to believe that picking the right speakers for your room and then setting your room up properly was all that really mattered, until I got myself a nice set of Wharfedales and listened to several different amps driving them. I had just assumed that amplifiers in a given price bracket were all much of a muchness until I did this exercise, and I was absolutely shocked to hear obvious high-end distortion coming out of some quite well-respected name-brand gear.

Some of that "brightness" you mention might actually be top-end dirt. Things with treble in them *should not* set your teeth on edge (except Aphex Twin, who do that deliberately).

I ended up with a Proton amp (put together by a bunch of ex-NAD engineers, I believe) because it was the only one in my price range that I couldn't hear something obviously and grossly wrong with. I'm not talking subtle, maybe it's there, maybe it's not differences here; I'm talking hey, here's a blind A-B-X test and that's the shitty amp and that's the sweet one.

If you've now got some nice speakers, and your room is under control per god hates math, and you're still not happy with Dark Side of the Moon, I'd be looking sideways at your amplifier.

But I agree 100% about speaker cables, interconnects and wooden volume knobs. Wank is wank. There is no audible difference between a twenty foot run of Monster Cable and a twenty foot run of mains-grade figure-8 flex.
posted by flabdablet at 9:59 PM on August 18, 2007

So what speakers did you get and what are you driving them with?

As for great recordings (not necessarily great music)
Steely Dan : Aja
Philip Glass/Ravi Shankar : Passages
Kraftwerk : The Man Machine (synthetic bass and great weird moogy sounds).
Pink Floyd : The Final Cut (Not the best PF album but a great recording)
The Beatles : Both the White Album or Abbey Road are much better recordings than Sgt. Pepper.
Fleetwood Mac : Rumors (like 'em or not, it's a great recording)
Cassandra Wilson : Blue Light Till Dawn
posted by doctor_negative at 10:02 PM on August 18, 2007

flabdablet makes a good point - for actual mixing, headphones are a nightmare, but I love listening to a good record through a nice pair of headphones, and I don't even own a high-quality device to drive them.

If you can get past the idea that your stupid ears (the shape of them, really!) are getting in the way of letting you hear the song *preceisely* as the engineer intended you to, there ain't nothing like throwing on a pair of Sennheiser HD-600s and flopping down in a comfortable chair. (I like 'em - they're clear and comfortable. Some people don't like 'em. Try out a lot of pairs. Beyerdynamic makes some good cans, as well)

A good set of cans, well driven, can make the whole world disappear. They're not much for impressing the ladies, though...
posted by god hates math at 10:26 PM on August 18, 2007

Cowboy Junkies- The Trinity Sessions
Kyuss- Blues for the Red Sun
Mr Bungle- Disco Volante

Do you mind giving a description of your system? It may help characterise what you're hearing.
So, back to my solution - your room. Call your local audio rental shop. Rent from them an Earthworks M30 (Earthworks makes some of the flattest-response microphones around - this is what the pros use to EQ their rooms). Along with the M30, rent a Real-time Analyzer, either as a piece of rack gear, or a laptop setup. Buy a good-quality, 30-band graphic equalizer. Run pink noise through your speakers until your ears feel like they're dripping strawberry jam, all the while adjusting the EQ until the frequency response of your room is flat. Or at least as flat as it's going to be.
Do pros still do this much these days? It was certainly fashionable 20-30 years ago. A third octave EQ is certainly not an ideal component of a critical listening chain!

Further, the process described above will do nothing to correct room issues. At best it will flatten the first arrival frequency response at the place where you put the microphone. It will not change the fact that the room is storing energy in differing amounts at different frequencies. Room problems are best approached by treating the room- carpet, drapes, bookshelves, and bass traps are the sorts of things that change they way the room stores energy.

There are some new systems out there that will do real room correction, and quite well. DEQX comes to mind. These systems are vastly more sophisticated than the measurement mic/31 band equaliser approach.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 10:27 PM on August 18, 2007

Seconding The Trinity Sessions.

Also, try some stuff from the 4AD label: get into a bit of Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil (Blood, in particular, is full of detail).
posted by flabdablet at 11:52 PM on August 18, 2007

Lots of good suggestions (steely dan, any nigel godrich album). But I gotta say...

most everything I listen to sounds imperfect because the spakers are quite good at exposing recording flaws.

Most or all of these albums were mixed and mastered in studios with hundreds of thousands of dollars of gear. Professional studio monitors alone can easily cost over ten grand. If there's a problem, it isn't with all the multi-platinum albums, it's with your setup.
posted by erikgrande at 11:55 PM on August 18, 2007

This thread is fascinating. I now realize that I was making false assumptions about the quality of music based on date of release. I didn't realize that mastering on modern rock albums was so horrendous. And what really gets me is that remastering can actually make a CD a lot worse than it was in its original form!

I think that the best solution will for me to purchase a turntable at some point in the near future, but for the moment, I think I will download audacity and look at the waveforms of my cds before I listen to them (to make sure that they have some headroom).

Thanks for the suggestions on music and room treatments. I can't really afford a really good amp right now... I bought a Yamaha 661, which is great for now because I need it for video as well as audio. But I do agree that a better amp would likely improve listening dramatically and down the road I will probably get something dedicated for music.

And erikgrande, please do read the article about the loudness war on wikipedia. Even the most expensive studio engineering doesn't matter much when you have poor mastering.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 12:45 AM on August 19, 2007

At best it will flatten the first arrival frequency response at the place where you put the microphone

Sorry, that's not right. It will flatten the reverberant response, at the expense of the first arrival response. Which is to say, it tries to correct time-domain problems with a frequency-domain solution. The DEQX thing I mentioned corrects room problems by different means.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:02 AM on August 19, 2007

Seconding Graceland, an excellently-mastered CD.

Peter Gabriel's So is also fantastic, with superb mixing, at least on my copy. (I have a pressing from the 1980s.) Looking at the waveforms, it's just perfect. His recent Long Walk Home is clipped, though. I didn't realize it from listening, so it's not hugely offensive, but it's clipped. His older stuff, like Security, is a bit hissy at high volume. I assume this is because it was done on analog masters. But 1985-version So is deep fried awesome.

If you'd like to test out your speakers, Sarah McLachlan's "Solace" is excellent. The original pressing has some of the deepest bass I've ever heard in semi-mainstream music. It's also a darn good CD.

They remastered it a few years ago, though, and apparently pulled out the deep bass at the very least, and probably butchered it like all the rest of today's music. You have to get the original pressing if you want the full impact.

If you like classical, all Telarc CDs are first-rate, some of the best you can buy.

Oh, and erikgrande said: Most or all of these albums were mixed and mastered in studios with hundreds of thousands of dollars of gear. Professional studio monitors alone can easily cost over ten grand. If there's a problem, it isn't with all the multi-platinum albums, it's with your setup.

C'mon, you know as well as I do that lots of money does not automatically translate to great recordings, just like an expensive home stereo doesn't automatically mean great sound. Amount spent is much less important than skill.

Modern music, for the most part, has absolutely shit mastering. And being popular has absolutely no bearing on being good. Look at Evanescence... neat music, very popular, sold tons of copies.... and has the worst mastering ever.
posted by Malor at 3:37 AM on August 19, 2007

I've used this CD to test speakers for 25 years; it will point out any flaws: Flim and the BB's - Tricycle.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:38 AM on August 19, 2007

Andre Nickatina.
posted by ageispolis at 8:38 AM on August 19, 2007

I have a whole list of tracks I've put together for exact purpose of testing (and showing off) my hi-end stereo setup.

First, without a doubt, get some Diana Krall. Start with "The Girl in the Other Room." It is extremely well recorded, and has a perfect mix of instruments (deep acoustic bass, shimmering cymbals at the treble end, and gorgeous midrange sounds in the form of vocals, piano and guitar).

Lotus - Germination: This is an extremely well recorded live album. The drums are unreal. On a good system, the soundstage pops out in 3D, and you swear you are right there when you close your eyes.

Little Feat - Waiting for Columbus: There's a newly remastered version of this album that is great. One of the best all-time live rock albums. If you get the bass right, the sound on this is phenomenal.

Some more picks:

Carmen Rizzo - Lost Art of the Idle Moment - Beautifully produced
Buena Vista Social Club presents Ibrahim Ferrer
Rom Ryan - Mysteria - Very good, shimmery guitar work soaked in reverb and chorus
Zero 7 - Simple Things

BTW, it sounds like your setup is too bright. You should not be getting listening fatigue except for the harshest of recordings. If you are getting listening fatigue from more than 1 out of 100 tracks, you need to fix the brightness. I've had this problem myself. Room treatment is the first thing to consider. If you've got a lot of windows and hard surfaces in your room, treat those first (curtains, carpeting, etc), and if that doesn't fix it, think about other solutions.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:20 AM on August 19, 2007

Donald Fagen's The Nightfly is considered to be one of the finest engineered records and is used as an excellent reference source. Steely Dan's Two Against Nature is a good one, too. You can AB those two and see how mastering has changed in the decades between their releases. Records are much louder overall now.
posted by wsg at 10:00 AM on August 19, 2007

Peter Gabriel - So. Especially track 8 (Excellent Birds/This is the Picture).

Sonia Dada - A Day at The Beach. Tracks 4 and 12 are especially revealing, but the whole album is good for your purposes.

Ennio Morricone - Official Soundtrack: The Mission.

+1 on Graceland and The Trinity Sessions.
posted by toxic at 10:00 AM on August 19, 2007

Adding my vote for The Trinity Sessions and Aja.
Also in the Dan vein, Donald Fagen's The NightFly is an album that many recording engineer's use as an "ear-tuner".

I think what you really want for system testing is well-record classical or acoustic jazz: something that showcases voices and and instruments in real acoustical spaces. The state of the art for such recording had been pretty much attained by 1960.

Since then, most recording innovations, from multi-band EQ and multi-track recording to digital pitch correction, while adding flexibility and convenience to the recording process, have actually made the resulting recordings sound worse by adding distortion, noise, phase incoherence and other artificats.

OK Computer or House of the Holy may or may not "sound good" on your system, but how can you know whether they sound as they were intended to sound, unless you were at the mixing and mastering sessions?
posted by timeistight at 10:19 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

By the way, I installed audacity and it is fun to look through tracks and guess which ones have clipping and which ones don't. Funeral by Arcade Fire is so loud it's embarrassing.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 10:46 AM on August 19, 2007

Steely Dan are frequently cited as some of the best recorded music of the analogue era (or the greatest cheese money can buy).

If you want some complex stuff with incredible dynamics check out Paul Dolden's The Threshold of Deafening Silence!
posted by TwoWordReview at 12:27 PM on August 19, 2007

Neil Young is also picky about how his albums are recorded these days, haven't listened to much of it personally though!
posted by TwoWordReview at 12:29 PM on August 19, 2007

The Olivia Tremor Control's Black Foliage: Animation Music.

This is by far the most sonically complex album I know.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:46 PM on August 19, 2007

I was going to point out that older albums were often recorded extremely well, but may not sound good because of the CD transfers, but that point seems to have been made by a few folks.

So with that, I'll add The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds, which I'm surprised nobody else has mentioned.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:47 PM on August 19, 2007

For dynamics, but not sonic complexity, try Muddy Waters, Folk Singer. Several flaws, unfortunately, because Muddy gets pretty loud here and there, and saturates the master tapes, but between the flaws you get total awesomeness.

Keep your eyes peeled for audiophile masterings. DCC is always great, Mobile Fidelity can be great.. Then you get into the audiophile recording labels, like Sheffield Lab and Chesky records.

Really, I'm not always into the 'complex' thing.. I think my favorite album, for mastering as well as musical content, is Stardust. You have to get an audiophile mastering though, I can remember listening to the standard version circa 1999, and it was astonishingly horrible. I never understood what Willie was about until I heard him on good gear.
Of course good gear will also ruin the Beatles for you, so there are costs..

Oh, wait.. Complex and good mastering: Casino Royal soundtrack. Awesome!
posted by Chuckles at 10:08 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

The special edition of Michael Jackson's Thriller does a great job of revealing how well-crafted that record is. Plus it's a lot more danceable than most of the suggestions above.
posted by anildash at 11:58 AM on August 20, 2007

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