This is a collection of tracks that, whether you (or I) like the music or not, should not be played to demonstrate the capabilities or qualities of your playback system.
1. Anything by Sting on SACD.
Why: Personally, I love Sting’s music, but his recordings and mixes are terrible and, in my case, therefore disappointing. There are resonances all over the place – particularly in the vocals. The spatial capabilities of multichannel – particularly when it comes to delivering a coherent sound field, are completely ignored, unfortunately…
Album: Some Nights
Tracks: Some Nights
Why: Have a listen to the drums when they come in. That’s what distortion caused by clipping sounds like.
Artist: Johnny Cash
Why: Don’t get me wrong – I love Johnny Cash. I always have. But the vocals cause the track to clip occasionally. For example, have a listen to the track at 1:02 on the word “I” in the line “I am weak”. You’ll hear the distortion show up as a brief noise in the hard left and right, at exacly the same time as the vocal in the centre. Whether this is in the original recording or its just the Ogg Vorbis codec freaking out on the Spotify version, I don’t know… I’ve only hear the Spotify version to be honest.
Update: It seems to be in the original recording, since it also shows up on Tidal. The easiest way to listen for the problem is to hear how the “I” (mentioned above) seems to suddenly be in a very wide stereo – this is probably caused by the left channel and right channel distorting differently – so the artefacts decorrelate what would otherwise be a correlated, mono signal.
Artist: Norah Jones
Album: Come away with me
Tracks: All of them
Why: I like the tunes and the performances on this album, and the kick drum on “Turn me On” is great. However, there are massive distortion problems on the vocals all the way through this album. I don’t know what happened, but it sounds a little like someone was clipping the mic preamp on the vocal microphone. What mystifies me is that this album won a Grammy for Record of the Year which is awarded not only to the artist, but to the producer and engineer – both of whom should have known better.
Anything with auto-tune
Personally, I’d like to start an anti-auto-tune club. If everyone agreed to not buy albums with auto-tuners on the vocals, maybe the studios would stop using it…
Album: Death Magnetic
Track: All Nightmare Long
Label: Warner, Vertigo
Comments: This thing has no dynamic range to speak of and it clips all over the place. Look at it in a DAW display and you’ll be amazed that it’s recognisable as music…