Best Sounding Albums

Spring-boarding from a conversation happening elsewhere in the community this week, about sound quality and compression on albums, here’s a simple question that is sure to open the floodgates of answers:

What are your favourite best sounding albums? Not necessarily the music alone, though that can be a part of the overall picture for sure, but I mean production-wise. You’ve all heard a zillion albums by now, and could probably even pick out this or that producer by sound. I’m after YOUR personal favourites, not necessarily even the ones we all know are landmark recordings, or important albums, what are your faves? Bonus points: what about live album versus studio?

The one I always use for testing new stereos is Wynton Marsalis’ Standard Time Vol. 3: The Resolution Of Romance. It’s so clear and roomy, and you can even hear the vibration of the strings on the upright bass. It’s like you’re in the room with them. I also always thought radiohead’s OK Computer’s sound perfectly matched the songs, creating a server room of sound for the songs to be in.

For live sound, I always liked Midnight Oil’s Scream In Blue album, it’s a monster. And Rollins Band’s The Only Way To Know For Sure is a great-sounding record that went from the stage to the truck to the CD.

And there are tons of others. Let’s use the comments section to start a list!

Which albums, for you, have the best sound?

61 thoughts on “Best Sounding Albums

  1. cariboumarkt says:

    Dire Straits – Making Movies
    The Beatles – Abbey Road (Mobile Fidelity)
    Steely Dan – Gaucho
    Stan Getz and João Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto
    Alan Parsons – pretty much anything

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  2. Tangled Up In Music (by Ovidiu Boar) says:

    Michael Jackson’s Thriller would be one of them. I think the production there makes even the lesser song shine (The Girl Is Mine).

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        1. keepsmealive says:

          I never owned it, never had to (everyone else had it and played it all the time) and never wanted to (because I heard it so much and didn’t care too much for it). I dunno, it just never spoke to me. It happens.

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              1. mikeladano says:

                You would have thrived in our neighborhood growing up. Most of us were into good tunes — my dad loved classical and my buddy Bob’s dad played jazz clarinet, and across the street was nationally known singer/songwriter Rob Szabo. So really…pretty fertile musical neighborhood.

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  3. Vinyl Connection says:

    First five to pop into my mind (late on a weekday night) that I have used to audition hi-fi speakers:

    Blue Nile – A walk across rooftops (clean, spacious, AND atmospheric)
    Donald Fagan – The Nightfly (for overall pristine sound)
    Chick Corea and Return to Forever – Light as a feather (human voice and detail)
    Gong – Time is the key (for percussion and guitars)
    Steely Dan – Aja (depth of sound stage; meticulous detail)

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      Those are great examples, HMO! I have Live After Death (awesome), and Hysteria was where I go toff the DL bus though I’ve heard it a zillion times, and Brave… well, Brave is one I still need to get. But what Marillion I do own tells me it oughta be more and Brave keeps getting mentioned…

      Liked by 1 person

        1. keepsmealive says:

          And I need you now tonight
          And I need you more than ever
          And if you only hold me tight
          We’ll be holding on forever
          And we’ll only be making it right
          ‘Cause we’ll never be wrong together
          We can take it to the end of the line
          Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time (all of the time)
          I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark
          We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
          I really need you tonight
          Forever’s gonna start tonight
          Forever’s gonna start tonight

          What is it she’s trying to say here, do you think? 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Phillip Helbig says:

    Rush: A Farewell to Kings. Jethro Tull: Songs from the Wood. Both of these are from 1977 and have a similar sound. Nightwish: Angels Fall First. Boston: Boston. Amazingly both of these were originally intended only as demos. Pink Floyd: The Wall. (I really do like the sound, as well as the music and lyrics (a poll recently ranked it as the all-time best concept album, and I think I agree), but it gives me a chance to mention that the oooh—aaah background vocals are sung by Toni Tenille (she of the Captain and Tenille) and Beach Boy Bruce Johnston.) Rush: Moving Pictures. Neil Young: Rust Never Sleeps.

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      I’ve found most if not all of the Rush albums to sound great! They make your list twice, that’s cool. This is an excellent list…I still need to hear Nightwish. There was a disc of theirs in the junk shop this week, but it was all hacked up so I left it. Been ages since I played The Wall, maybe I oughta again… Thanks Phillip!

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  5. Phillip Helbig says:

    “Spring-boarding from a conversation happening elsewhere in the community this week, about sound quality and compression on albums”

    Prompted by my question/comment on the Scorps remasters?

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  6. Heff says:

    Interesting question. For me, Meatloaf Bat out of Hell and Zeppelin IV are two of my favourites. For a live album, and maybe because it was the first one that to my ears that sounded so frick’n good was Springsteen Live 75-85 album compilation. I remember when I heard the opening track to a raw Thunder Road, you could hear glasses clinking and the crowd crystal clear as Bruce sang. It was like I was there. The whole 5 album set was like that. Well, there’s my two pennies worth!

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      Hiya Heff! Bat Out Of Helll – great call, it is well-produced! And James will approve! Zep IV has come up twice now, so I’ll ask you too – do you prefer the old masters or the remasters (either 90s or 2015)? Does it matter to you, did it change anything significant in your listening experience of the record?

      That Springsteen live set is huge. Brought up a funny memory that (excellent) Copland movie, when Stallone is listening to The River in mono, and the girl says to him you know you can get this in stereo! And he says it doesn’t matter to him, as his character only has hearing in one ear. Proof it’s the music that matters!

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      1. Heff says:

        Regarding Zep IV, I like my music like I like women…original and unaltered! I am not familiar with the movie copland. Great story. Will have to check it out. The music definitely matters!!!

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        1. keepsmealive says:

          Haha nice one. And too true.

          The Copland reference just proves what a geek I am, and how much little stuff like that I carry around in my brain when I couldn’t tell you anything actually important! It’s a small moment in the film, which is about small town police corruption, and it’s really strongly acted by all involved.

          The music definitely matters. In fact, I would say it Keeps Me Alive. 🙂

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  7. Becky says:

    Oooh, fun!

    Sam Roberts – Chemical City
    Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
    Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
    Bahamas – Bahams is Afie
    Feist – Metals
    Whitehorse – The Weight of the World Depends on This Kiss
    Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
    Harry Manx – Dog My Cat
    Joel Plaskett – Three
    Radiohead – Amnesiac, Kid A
    The Beatles – Rubber Soul

    Liked by 1 person

    1. keepsmealive says:

      Wow that’s a great list, Becky! I was waiting for the Beatles to turn up in somebody’s reply… 🙂 Also agree on the Feist, that’s a cool album all around.A few there I haven’t yet heard, I’ll use it as a recommendation list. Thanks!

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      1. Becky says:

        My favourite from Feist’s album is “Undiscovered First” – blew my socks off! Checking out the Wynton Marsalis album now on YouTube. Your description of the vibrating strings sold me. Great stuff! Do you ever listen to Tonic on CBC?

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        1. keepsmealive says:

          Called up my copy of Metals and replaying Undiscovered First now. Great call.

          I do not listen to Tonic. That would require listening to the radio, and I generally avoid the radio. My lovely wife listens to the CBC in the car, but didn’t know Tonic. I looked it up and saw it’s a collection of jazz and thoughtful stories. I’d like the jazz, but it’s the talking on the radio that makes me stay away. 😉

          I fully recommend all of that Wynton album – it’s an all-timer for me. Desert island disc. Put on your good headphones and check out Where or When, but especially the last half. I mean… holy crap. Makes the hair on my arms stand up every time! You can hear everything, his breath, the wee rasp of the spit valve on his trumpet. Crazy clear. And that run of notes, soaring high to crashing low. Damn. The whole record is full of moments like that. Just beautiful. I own it on vinyl now, too, and dropping the needle on that majesty is one of life’s sweet moments for sure!

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          1. Becky says:

            Under headphones now and DAMN! Even through YouTube the sound is crystal clear. That’s incredible. And the lead track on “The Seductress,” is that a trumpet or his voice? It’s like a strange and wonderful hybrid fed through a wah-wah. That’s crazy! It’s like the Led Zeppelin of jazz. And that drum intro to “A Sleepin’ Bee” is like something out of an audio fairy tale. I’ve replayed it probably 20 times. Will definitely be checking out the rest of the album. I can only imagine the vinyl experience.

            I recommend Tonic for you and your wife. Radio DJ banter can be annoying, but CBC hosts are different (in my opinion). It’s like listening to a friend’s friend who knows all about a particular genre and just wants to share it with the world.

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            1. keepsmealive says:

              Yup, I swear by that album. It can usually be found (on CD) for cheap. Most trips to Taranna I see it for about $5. Total shame, it’s worth so much more.

              No voice on the album, that’s all his trumpet. Wynton has a tone… and so much control and soul. It’s beautiful. I have several of his records, all different styles, and the man nails it every time. NB: The Seductress is no wah-wah. Just a mute held to the end of the bell. I have one in my own trumpet case in the Man Cave. Now all I need is to be able to play like him! haha no way. 🙂

              The vinyl is one thing I would grab if the house ever caught fire. Early 90s, not many copies got made as the shift to CD happened…

              Also cool trivia: the piano work on that record is all done by his father, renowned jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis. It’s quite the family. His brother Branford is also famous for jazz saxophone. Their brother Jason is a jazz drummer, and their brother Delfayo is a producer.

              More cool trivia: Ellis Marsalis was Harry Connick, Jr.’s piano teacher. Yeah.

              Careful, Becky! Once you open the Marsalis door, you’ll never come back! Haha it’s all good, but there’s just SO MUCH out there, all of it great.

              As for Tonic, radio’s a tough sell for me (thanks for trying!). I got turned off listening to the radio a looong time ago. The music would be worth it, but I just don’t like people talking at me on air, no matter what they’re saying. Just let the record play! 🙂

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  8. deKE says:

    Surprise! Hear comes 3 quick Rock Picks…
    1- Sad But True when that Lars snare kicks in …Holeeeeee Sheeeeit! Same with the bass drubbing along with the drums at the start of Sandman when the guitars chirp in! God Damn I gotta Review the black album…Bravo Bob Rock…
    2- Bruces Fairbairn production on Aeros Pump Album especially when they synched the little bits of instrumentation between tracks…
    3- Said it before and I’ll say it again….Rick Rubins production on the Cults Electric album! The crisp hi hat and snare sound is so fudgin good (Peace Dog especially)The whole mix is awesome on Electric!
    Cool post…

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      Definitely like to hear Deke’s babbling about the Black record. Oh yes. Another good one there is all of The God That Failed. Whoa.

      I own Pump and haven’t yet played it. Crazy. I got it for $0.01, I think…

      Also great call on the Cult, and that album for sure.

      Thanks Deke!

      Like

  9. 1537 says:

    I’m not a very hi-fi sort of person really. For pure sound though I’d pick Floyd’s Wish You Were Here; it has a slightly warmer tone than its predecessor.

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  10. J. says:

    Oooft! Now there’s a question!
    … Led Zeppelin’s IV is a favourite, as is The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion, Amorica, Tiny Music, Very Extremely Dangerous, The Band, Mule Variations, Orange Blossom Special, Scraps At Midnight … recently I’ve been lost in the production / recording of Like Clockwork (again!), Sol Invictus, Post Pop Depression, and Return To Sky. Probably a mix of space and compression. Has to suit the music, huh? But space and dust … space and dust.

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      Do you have any thoughts on Page’s remastering of the Zep albums (and IV specifically, here)? Do you prefer the old copies or do the remasters work better for you?

      Lots of Crowes, nice one. And Tom Waits. Yes. Mule Variations is a brilliant album, perfect in almost every way (I still dislike What’s He Building In There) but you’re right, the sound is also bang-on.

      Lots of great suggestions here, thanks!

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      1. J. says:

        I haven’t heard the remasters, so can’t comment on them or whether I prefer the originals. However, I reckon IV is just about perfect (referring to vinyl, which I think sounds better than the CD I had known for many years prior to finding a copy on vinyl). Are the remasters done differently for CD and vinyl?

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        1. keepsmealive says:

          You know, I heard the old originals so long, I wanna say I THINK the remasters sound better? Tightened up a bit in sound, maybe? Haha I was hoping you had an answer because I was gonna go with that! Likely only the audiophiles (and Jimmy Page) know for sure. I think they sounded frickin’ fantastic on 180g vinyl, of course, but that’s a given anyway, and how much of it is just how great the albums were in the first place? Exactly. Right on, Dude!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. J. says:

            Definitely great sounding albums to start with! I might have a looky to see what the audiophile opinion is … I only own IV on vinyl, so would be interesting to see whether the remasters are worth picking up instead of an original press.

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          1. mikeladano says:

            It’s not going to be considered “good sounding” by audio fanatics, but there is more to a good sound than that. There has to be a warmth and realness to it.

            I’ve mentioned before that Bob Rock is one of my favourite producers. Motley Crue’s 1994 self titled album remains today one of the best sounding CDs I have ever heard. It is so big.

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            1. keepsmealive says:

              Absolutely! If you feel like you’re in the room with them, and it sounds great, then right freaking on.

              I just re-bought that Mötley album on my last Taranna trip. It does sound big!!!

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  11. jprobichaud says:

    I can’t say that I truly understand the technology behind but to my ears, the following are some of the best sounding:
    Spiritualized “Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space”
    Nine Inch Nails “Pretty hate machine”
    Depeche Mode “Violator”
    The Cure “Disintegration”
    Dandy Warhols “Are sound”

    Liked by 1 person

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