Hi fi essentials: a test record

Track Selection: Equipe 68 >

Artists

 Azymuth (Brazil) – Jose Roberto Bertrami (keyboards), Alex Malheiros (bass, guitars), and Ivan Conti (drums, percussion).  Formed in 1972,  recording on the Jazz label Milestone 1990’s and London-based Far Out Records since. “Before We Forget”  (2000)

Music

One hangover from a brief period of listening to jazzy fonky stuff was Azymuth, and I still have eight or so vinyl LP of their Milestone recordings. One which I still play each time I make a Hi Fi upgrade is the track Equipe 68 for its beautiful recording, superb soundstage and use of stereo positioning, and the wide dynamic range, captured by this excellent vinyl pressing. Probably difficult to find on vinyl now as it’s ten years old in a genre known for rapid obsolescence. Cymbals sizzle, shakers shake, electric piano notes hang suspended in mid-air while the bass drum physically punches at floor level and bass harmonics glisten in this atmospheric Brazilian swinger. All-electric apart from the percussion, it still shows a clean pair of heels to a lot of modern fonky stuff, though I am no expert (not that it ever stops me offering an opinion)

Vinyl

In stark contrast to the horrible job done on the Avishai Cohen LP, this modern vinyl record (dating from 2000) is a mastering and pressing beauty. The recording, mixing and mastering is solid professional handiwork (recorded in Rio de Janiero, mixed in London by Roc Hunter and mastered by “Pete” at Heathmans, according to the credits). The dynamic range is perfect, without the loading-up of bass, as I am told is common in records mixed for the club and dub generation.

Tweakers Corner

It is useful to have a few test discs whose sound is well committed to memory, to reveal quickly what a tweak has done to your system, and whether you like what it has done. Any loved recording will suffice, this happens to be one of mine, and its demands are very revealing of what’s going on in the handling of bass and treble.

Sometimes the painful truth is that your first reaction is unfavourable, as a tweak may reveal a weakness elsewhere in the system, or you may have become accustomed to an artefact of your hifi that does not exist in the music itself. From recent experience, this is often in the control or lack of control of bass, and the presentation of the upper freqencies. To anyone with an interest in photography there is an interesting parallel, in the retention of detail in both highlight and shadow areas, from light (treble) to dark (bass), to achieve high dynamic range.

Among HiFi enthusiasts the test record of choice is often the Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. To judge from HiFi Online Forums Dark Side of the Moon  may be the entire extent of their music collection, as their predominant interest is hifi, not music. This has a parallel in the motor car, where  men are often interested in the car and its performance rather than where they go in the car, which may be just the occasional visit to the in-laws.

I find a correlation between the enjoyment of  music and good sound reproduction. I can even listen quite happily to types of music I don’t generally like. But play me a poor recording and it kills my interest immediately, whatever the type of music.

7 thoughts on “Hi fi essentials: a test record

  1. I have one (or rather two) of the dreaded Technics 1210s, a Pioneer amp of some kind, B&W speakers and an Alan & Heath mixer which I don’t really need but keep for sentimental reasons. I need to get my speakers off the same Expedit that my turntables live on but that would mean buying longer cables and they cost a lot of money. Apart from that I’m unlikely to upgrade anytime soon.
    Perhaps unsurprisingly I’m much more interested in finding a copy of Before We Forget. Is this your favourite Azymuth LP? I also have quite a few and my rather battered copy of Outubro never fails to cheer me up.

  2. I use “Mountain In The Clouds” by Miroslav Vitous, “Five Pieces” by Anthony Braxton, the quieter pieces on “Law & Order” by Lindsey Buckingham, most of “The Visitor” by Mick Fleetwood, “Carnegie Hall” by Harry Belafonte, and “The Ghost Who Walks” by Karen Elson.

  3. I have been reading your blog for some time now, mostly because of your great jazz album reviews and your guides to the different record lables. And I enjoy your blog alot! I have been collecting Lp’s for 15 years now, but until recently, been playing them at a hifi system that not really gave me enough satisfaction. So after reading the section for audiophiles, I decided to upgrade. I have bought a primera a30 1 integrated receiver, a Musical fidelity V-LPS II riaa, V-PSU II power supply, a Dynavector 23 karat for my Technics 1210. And a pair of Swan D2.1SE Bookshelf speakers. And it sounds great to my ears, and I cant believe what I have been missing out on! So now I am doing small tweeks and maybee in the future do so other upgrades.

    The test record I have used the most is Gábor Szabó – Dreams. The track Galatea’s Guitar sounds amazing!

    Thanks for all your great writings on the blog, Keep up the good work!

  4. Ah… Azymuth. That is: the Brazilian Azymuth and not the U.K. Azimuth jazz trio 😉 Their work has that funky seventies sound that I love, mainly because of the elaborate use of the Fender Rhodes. Up to this day even. Plenty of seventies releases on Creed Taylor’s KUDU and CTI labels sound like that.

    As I found out soon after I got in touch with the older cats on Jazzcollector, my system doesn’t come close to what most of y’all have in the living room, ’cause that’s high-end material par excellence. My Reference Master II series, however, gives me enough joy to not be envious. It also means that I don’t really have a reference track or album to tweak things, simply ’cause there ain’t much to tweak. Now if I had the financial means to obtain a high-end setup, things would be different. Maybe after I win the lottery! 😛

    • Yes, the good Azymuth. The electric instruments sound so different to the acoustic instruments of bop, it requires a versatile system to do them both justice.
      You have plenty of time to climb the path to audio heaven, relax. I have more mileage on my clock than you young ‘uns, so I am in more of a hurry.

      • (from the main article….I find a correlation between the enjoyment of music and good sound reproduction. I can even listen quite happily to types of music I don’t generally like. But play me a poor recording and it kills my interest immediately,whatever the type of music.)

        In the 70’s I have listen, all summer long, to Charlie Parker’s recording on a portable Realistic cassette player , no headphones, throught the small speaker…..I was hearing everything I mean the music not the mechanics and manage to learn by heart most of the famous bebop heads….These days I’m listening to all that stuff on expensive reissues on a 5K turntable and not necessarely enjoying it more….but all is much more confortable….I will listen to good music on a cheap system and no bad music on a super system….actually i’m not into bad music, and super system…..I’m into good music on any system…….good music is always pleasant.

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