Records to Die For 2019

When we premiered this feature in 1991, we felt that, rather than a selection of all-time (or year's) best recorded performances or a list of audiophile reference albums, we should choose recordings that were, in then music editor Richard Lehnert's words, "both musically and sonically impeccable—in other words, the best, the tops, to die for." As RL went on, "such a list also makes for some strange procrustean bedfellows—obscure recordings that would never make the proverbial 'desert island' list snuggling up next to towering classics of the concert hall and control room."

Now, 28 years later, "R2D4," as it has become universally known, is one of the magazine's most popular features (footnote 1), with forgotten masterpieces brought blinking into the light, hidden gems uncovered. It also reveals a lot about our writers' musical tastes. One thing all of us at Stereophile have in common is that we have huge collections of recorded music, even if, among those collections, there seems to be little overlap. But whether our choices are obscure or mainstream, sparse pieces for solo instrument or voice or blockbusters for overwhelming musical forces, they all belong on every audiophile's shelves, hard drive, or Tidal/Qobuz playlist.

The only rules for this annual exercise are: 1) Don't choose anything you've chosen before; and 2) the records selected must be (or have been) in print and available in the US. So here is the music the contributing editors of Stereophile simply must have, with equipment and music reviewers lumped together in alphabetical order, and composers/performers listed alphabetically under each writer.

Note: If a recording listed here was previously reviewed in Stereophile, whether in "Record Reviews" or in a past edition of "Records to Die For," the volume and number of the pertinent issue(s) appear in parentheses at the end of the review. For example, a listing of "(Vol.41 No.5)" indicates that a review of the recording appeared in the May 2018 issue.—John Atkinson



Footnote 1: In 2016 we published a special issue with 10 years' worth of "R2D4" features. click here for details on how or purchase it.

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Deep listening :-) ..........

Anton's picture

Some added info:

For Jim Austin's great choices...

1) The Paul Desmond Quartet album can be had on CD, "remastered" in 2015, on a disc called Paul Desmond Quintet & Quartet "Here I Am" that has two albums on the disc, and includes the full album Mr. Austin mentions.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B011VX0K4A/ref=ppx_od_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

2) If you really wanna Hi Fi up on the Count Basie and the Kansas City Seven album in the digital realm, the Esoteric SACD from their "6 Great Jazz, Impulse!" set is pretty awesome. (It's my favorite digital verson.)

http://www.esoteric.jp/products/esoteric/essi90133_38/indexe.html

All the discs in that set are great. My wife swoons for the Coltrane Ballads album, and the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is an all time classic. The set is very worthwhile, I feel.

My only criticism of Jim's entry is that he failed to mention the "Wines To Die For" he was opening when he mentioned sipping!!!

Cheers!

volvic's picture

Anton, does the Count and Coltrane really sound that much better on the Esoteric SACD?

Anton's picture

This being subjective and all...I think they do.

I can hear so far into the Count Basie, it's spookie. There are some studio sounds way way down inside that still make me look around for people when I listen in the dark.

I think the set offers good value.

volvic's picture

What hardware are you using? I am a late adopter to SACD.

Anton's picture

I have an Esoteric DV50 that Alex Peychev modded. He used to do it via APL Hi Fi and I have heard nothing in the past decade to move me away from it! I think he was very early on the scene with clocking mods and such.

Also, a couple of Oppo UDP-205 players that I just can't say enough good things about for the price.

Also, some 8+ year old Marantz players whose model numbers escape me and I am not at home.

This is a generalization, but...I think I find that SACD players have done a better job with redbook CD playback for me, as well.

I really pray SACD remains, I have found great joy in those discs.

volvic's picture

Let me know which Marantz players you like, been looking at the $1k Yamaha player and the soon to be released Technics one. I too hope SACD survives despite not caring for it much when it first came out.

Anton's picture

Robert Schryer absolutely has his finger on the pulse of greatness with his Bruce Cockburn choice. "Dust and Diesel" is my favorite track on that great album.

Sticking with Bruce...his oeuvre is immense!

"Nothing But A Burning Light," "Charity Of Night," "Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws," "Big Circumstance," "World Of Wonders," "Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu," "You Pay Your Money And You Take Your Chance," well, I was going to mention a few other great Bruce LP's, but how do we slice his awesomeness?

Solidly desert island artist territory there.

Thanks for picking Bruce!

What a Mt. Rushmore of guitar skill he has, as well.

Jon Iverson's picture
Cockburn's In The Falling Dark is also an all-time favorite. The songs are wonderful, but the guitar playing on "Gavin's Woodpile" is exceptional.
Anton's picture

That's the hardest part of narrowing down the list!

All good!

halloweenjack's picture

You can still grab a decent, original mono or stereo copy of this title for semi-reasonable $ - they sound great -

mtrot's picture

Yes, even though the movie is only good, not great, I find myself watching Kingdom of Heaven over and over, simply because the score is so beautiful!

music or sound's picture

This years are the last scrapings of bottom of the barrel. With previous years I discovered some music I found great or at least interesting. Sad!

Anton's picture

146 characters.

If we had to go 140 characters...

This year's are the last scrapings of bottom of the barrel. In the past, I discovered some music I found great or at least interesting. Sad!

There! 140 characters! You are now Presidential!

;-D

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Anton ...... Best comment I have read all day ......... You made my day and thank you .:-) ........

Anton's picture

Imagine my country if Twitter had been based on a 17 syllable 5/7/5 format of political communication.

Converting Twitter style to Hi Fi haiku...

Barrel’s last scrapings.
Was much better in the past.
Now not great, so sad.

music or sound's picture

you trumping it! Why one can not express ones opinion without been trolled

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Choices" .......... George Jones :-) ..........

mmole's picture

Some say R2D4 is now passe.
It used to rule (back in the day).
They maintain this year's is very bad
And that for me is awfully sad.
Next up, Recommended Components (oy vey)

Anton's picture

I like your idea!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hopefully AD would write more polite commentary for the recommended components list (oy vey) :-) ........

ok's picture

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piH5iSPPOpY

tonykaz's picture

Tyll, you forgot Tyll dammit. How could you forget Tyll? Tyll is a Giant.

and you forgot...

... Steve Guttenberg!

Steve Guttengerg ( Steve G. ) and Paul McGowan are making significant contributions to the supply of accurate information about all things Audiophile ( especially affordable audio ) , as is the now blooming Kal Rubenson in his explaining of the immersive audio experiences.

Herb R brings the reader into the room and has him share his experience. Herb could be a Michael Connelly and is Audio's all time Great, readers 100 years from now will read Herb and feel the exact same experience that we feel as we read Herb's writing fresh. HR is No.1 with words and prose.

Bob Katz belongs in the Greats List, he's easily the most Credentialed Audiophile Evah!,

Tony in Michigan

ps. I'm not including any Advocates in my listings, a good many Reviewers have obvious Commercial Relationships. Paul McGowan is PS Audio and is my only exception, Paul is a man of Integrity that I've known since 1982

ps. I can't accept the agenda writers, agenda writers are paid to support and will dismiss or diminish defects, even ignore glaring problems. Agenda writers are selling product. example: Tube Gear that eats tubes, Vinyl systems that cost the price of a House. Today, Vinyl is a Collecting and Hoarding hobby based on it's history of being part of the Audiophile Hobby. Vinyl electronics are designed and made to make Vinyl sound good. I was a Vinyl guy.

rschryer's picture

It all comes down to what is pleasurable for the listener.

You don't have to spend a gazillion bucks to have a rewarding vinyl setup. I own a Rega P5 equipped with an Audio Musikraft / Denon DL-103 catridge, which I tend to listen to more regularly than I do my more technologically modern Bryston BDP-1USB streamer / BDA-2 DAC. The latter, for whatever reason, is marginally less involving musically for me than my analog rig.

Don't forget, Tony, that cars and bikes and parking meters are all based on old technologies that keep getting refined. Just like turntables.

ok's picture

..when record (later known as vinyl, please not to be confused with cheap cd plastic) loyalists proudly declared superiority of all things analog as a backlash to the humiliating “perfect sound forever” new digital age chant. Man, hadn't it been so embarassingly difficult for one to simply indulge into one’s miserable little habits with no wish to make the rest of the world appreciate and applause!

tonykaz's picture

I'm not referring to you, you should present a review of your P5 or your Wires or Amplifier or just write about being an Audiophile in Eastern Canada ( fascinating )

I'm referring to the Vinyl Shrine Reviewers.

I own Vinyl.

Vinyl playback has an "Electrified Air" quality about it. Those sizzling lead-in grooves set-up a person's nervously thrilling expectation. Vinyl people have synapses connecting to deliver a dopamine High, that build a memory, reconstructing with the sound of the needle finding the groove. The Brain never quite forgets it's vinyl wiring circuits. All music works this way, it's whats delightful about Singing and playing music.

Vinyl is 100% a "hands-on" experience, there is no Auto Pilot in a vinyl system. It's like flying an older Multi-Engine Aircraft where the busy Pilot is adjusting all aspects of a very complex system. Not for Everyone and it's an entirely different type of experience, well apart from enjoying music itself. Playing Vinyl is something you learn to Master from being a part of a peer group.

A cantankerous Vinyl system, i.e. LINN LP12/Ittok/Koetsu, AudioResearch SP9, Amp & Quads is a hell-of-a Vinyl system, probably $10,000 Used from StereoExchange but it still needs a useful record cleaning machine. Then comes the Record Collecting ( great if you live in Brooklyn,NY ) A wonderful hobby in itself. It's a fully hands-on participation, needing significant monthly financial commitment in a USA where the bottom 50% of the population are POOR, working multiple jobs, no health insurance and struggling on a paycheck to paycheck Basis. So, for many aspiring audiophiles, a $50,000 Magazine Front Cover Product is a Hubristic middle Finger Statement.

Stereophile & JA do provide a useful service to our financially challenged. Mr. HR writes directly to a greater population of disadvantaged Music Lovers, as does Steve G. & Tyll ( long gone ).

Tony in Michigan ( getting our first Snow of the Season )

rschryer's picture

I agree with much of your comment, Tony. However, not sure that me writing about life as an audiophile in Eastern Canada is going to enthrall a predominantly American audience.

BTW, I'm surprised you didn't add your own special memory to my latest AWSI; I peg you as someone who has a gazillion memories, especially considering your lengthy stint in audio retail.

Why don't you regale us with a story?

tonykaz's picture

Telling your Story is exactly what makes Stereophile wonderful.

It's kinda like Walking into a Audio Salon where someone is carefully listening in the Big Audition Room and you join-in. Later you discover the magnificent performance is coming from some small Loudspeaker, not those Big MG3 Magies. Wow, a Story!

You have plenty to say and the ability to say it. You are our Stereophile Foreign Correspondent. Your point of view is an important ingredient to the Larger Audiophile Experience. Your experiences widen-out the Image that Stereophile projects, you bring important dimensionality to what all of us are enhancing our lives with. Your "Voice" brings Clarity and Focus. You've been given a Podium and I'm delighted with JA for it. You're part of the reason JA has his own following and reputation.

Tony in Michigan

ps. of course, everyone has stories but few have the ability to tell them, It takes multiple proof readings and at least one proof reader. ( are you proofing me? )

tonykaz's picture

Thank you for the Invitation, if thats what it is.

I'm just about coming-out of a another crisis.

I haven't yet read the article but did notice the old recorder.

Tony In Michigan

rschryer's picture

..way of expressing yourself, Tony. Your writing sticks out. It is immediately recognizable. It is you. I do not feel compelled to "proof" you or otherwise judge your writing style because it is exactly as it should be.

"You're part of the reason JA has his own following and reputation." Yeah, I know. John's been riding my coattails for a while now, but I'm glad to have given him his big break in the publishing biz. He's a good man.

As usual, thanks for your support, Tony.

tonykaz's picture

Proof reading isn't judgmental, isn't critique.

Proofing is Building, it's constructive, it's enhancing.

It's a successful thing to have a 1st. Proof reader ( like a wife ) and then have 3 additional successive Proof readers to make the writing presentable to the intended audience. Proof readers will transform a writing person into a Steven King! --- then look-out world!!!

The Manufacturing World will always have multiple proofers refining the processes. ( ad infinitum )

Tony in Michigan

BillyC's picture

Tony, why can't we be all natural and write the way we feel? This is only the internet and all, you know. btw I checked your post on Grammarly. It gave your writing 70 (out of 100).

BillyC

BillyC's picture

 I don't have an idea how those records sound. They are probably good but very much doubt I'd die for owning them. Because in my experience no audio recording is perfect. There are so many parameters affecting a recording that no audio engineer can capture them perfectly. That said, I've come across an old recording recently that blew my mind. I had downloaded an hour-long audiophile (?) YouTube music video that some DJ compiled. There was a song in the video sang by a baritone (didn't have a clue who the singer was but after I uploaded the video on YouTube, UMG on behalf of Roy Rodger's estate claimed the copyright) singing a version of the old tune 'I Don't Hurt Anymore' accompanied by acoustic guitar and bass. I never heard a voice recording so realistic and wonderful in my life. It's what I call 100% transparency. You guys need to check it out. Oh, don't forget to wear your headphones (and the Focal Beryllium tweeter looks yummy). Here is the link:

https://youtu.be/bqLn2ibgHD4

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