OK guys, this AudiophileReview.com article is more of a sing-along than a sermon as we need your help to determine what the most cliché audiophile album ever.
In a perfect world, we would like to think that audiophiles find the hobby from a love of music in ways that are both enthusiastic and diverse but even the best of us get repeatedly drawn into the best sounding recordings that highlight what our audio rigs do best. There are many records in modern history that can pull off this feat from various genres.
The question here is: what is the single most clichéd audiophile album of all time. Some are quirky. Some are commercially successful. Some have radio airplay while others are all about the recording. We encourage you to add your nominees and your overall winner in the comment section below.
Pink Floyd: Dark Side of The Moon
DSOTM isn’t just a cliché album but wearing the album t-shirt decades after the record’s release (and while nearing an age where you might collect Social Security) is also a raging audiophile cliché. This Alan Parsons mixed, progressive concept record doesn’t really have a bad note or musical moment from needle down to needle up. Commercially, Dark Side is one of the best-selling records of all time and enjoys timeless popularity across multiple generations of listeners. Despite it being a true concept records, there are some radio hits which is a rarity. For audiophiles, the record is steeped in lore ranging from its quadraphonic roots to the remastered 5.1 SACD surround sound mix. Reportedly, Sony spent over $1,000,000 to gain the rights to put Dark Side of The Moon out on SACD when it was fighting a format war with DVD-Audio and the result was far and away the best-selling high resolution record by many multiples.
The case for: No one record compels even the modern audiophile to spin a silver disc more to show off his system even if you’ve heard every note 10,000 times. Dark Side, because of its rock royalty roots and its swirling “wow factor” mix, makes for an audio demonstration that is second to none – even if you have heard it over and over (and over again).
The case against: DSOTM is a well-made, well produced album that has passed the test of time with multi-generational appeal. The album very likely might be played out but it perhaps is too good of an album to be cliché?
Steely Dan: Aja
Walk the halls of any regional audiophile show and you are likely to hear the familiar, somewhat jazzy melodies of Steely Dan’s Aja emitting from inside a cramped hotel room that is jam-packed with pricey HIFI gear. The album was released in 1977 on ABC records at a time when the audiophile hobby was possibly at its peak in terms of mainstream popularity thus Aja was in effect the soundtrack for the rise in popularity of the hobby. The recording is worthy of cliché as it has dynamics, space, funky grooves and catchy melodies. Aja has a little disco influence and a little jazz mixed in it but somehow still ends up categorized in the rock genre. There is controversy about a surround sound mix as DTS Entertainment apparently tried to re-release the track back when they were a thing. Universal Music also tried to put out a multi-channel SACD but some of the multi-track masters are missing to this day. Audiophile tip: after extensive listening, Dennis Burger, feels that the original Compact Disc master of Aja is the best sounding versus HD downloads, vinyl and whatnot.
The case for: Aja is so audiophile cliché that some people can’t listen to another note ever again. Aja is also about as core to the newly minted genre of “Yacht Rock” which only adds to its overall cliché.
The case against: Like Dark Side, there isn’t a sour note or an off musical moment on Aja. It is a stunningly good recording that has passed the test of time and remains a radio favorite and has cross generational appeal many decades after its release.
The Eagles: Hotel California
Much like our Pink Floyd nominee above, Hotel California is one of the single best-selling albums of all time. While a little more country than straight-rock, Hotel California has some of the biggest radio hits on our audiophile cliché list. Hotel California has a number of world-class radio singles on it including the title track, “New Kid In Town” and “Life In The Fast Lane” but for audiophiles there isn’t an unfamiliar moment on the album. Commercially, Hotel California can only be compared to Dark Side of The Moon in terms of sales and when added to Hell Freezes Over (the live reunion album) and The Eagles Greatest Hits – no album (or material from an album) on this list has sold more. That alone could add to votes of cliché.
The case for: Hotel California is so cliché that the band released a live, surround sound version of the album that is equally as popular and cliché with audiophiles. Today, despite the band’s historical in-fighting, The Eagles now actually tour playing the entire Hotel California album live from start to finish which delivers sold out concert venues nationwide.
The case against: The mainstream popularity of Hotel California might be a knock against it in the realm of audiophile cliché in that audiophiles tend to like their music a little more esoteric (think: Aja). Also, the fact that so many people are drawn to the music of Hotel California decades later might suggest that the record is just timeless – not cliché.
Dire Straits: Brothers In Arms
For anyone who went to the stereo store in the 1980s listening to Brothers In Arms was literally unavoidable as demo material. There were hit songs on this more modern production, but I am not sure there is one more iconic song on any of the nominated albums here than “Money For Nothing”. The song defined a generation as well as a lifestyle and pretty much summed up the original appeal of MTV. The 1985 Warner Brothers album was released at a time when the Compact Disc had given new life to the audiophile hobby and while early digital audio could be a little “harsh” (if you will) the gleaming nature of this well-made record was demo material gold. Many Adcom GFA-555s and Magnepan speakers were sold with Brothers In Arms as the closing track of an audiophile transaction.
The case for: Brothers In Arms literally defines well produced and engineered audiophile rock for the 1980s complete with background vocals from of all people, Sting, on arguably its most cliché track. The role of Sting, one could argue, doubles down on the cliché’ of the album.
The case against: Brothers In Arms is very well recorded, well-crafted album that was not only musically important at the time of its release but passes the test of time. The non-smash-hit songs on the record make for a musically compelling spin especially considering that the record was a concept album.
Various Artists: Jazz at the Pawnshop
Only on an audiophile list could Jazz At The Pawnshop make the cut. This multi-session, Swedish recording from 1976 is audiophile gold but highlights why Jazz is the truly great American (not Swedish) artform as the performance is anything but epic. Nonetheless, audiophiles looking to light up their stereo systems flocked to the recording as a reference standard for years if not decades as it does a wonderful job showing off what your latest tubes and transducers can do in your music room.
The case for: Jazz At The Pawnshop has by far the worst songwriting and performance of this running list of albums. Historically, although the timing of JATPS’ 1976 release made it highly relevant in the audiophile world just like Aja, Hotel California and many other meaningful albums at the time, it doesn’t make the album better over time.
The case against: No true music enthusiast gives a flying you-know-what about Jazz At The Pawnshop. It would need some musical relevance to actually be worthy of being cliché.
Miles Davis: Kind of Blue
We’ve covered a lot of rock and rock crossover records but Miles Davis Kind of Blue from 1959 is about as iconic of both a jazz recording and an audiophile staple as there is. Coltrane plays on the record along with a complete all-star band featuring literally a handful of the best performers in the history of Jazz. The melodies are a good as you will ever find in the genre and much like Aja or Dark Side of The Moon – there simply isn’t a bad note or a less than perfect musical moment from the start to the end of this album. The recording which was released in both mono and stereo originally is also pretty world class thus lending itself to more and more high resolution rereleases ranging from everything including Compact Disc, Mini Disc, SACD and HD download. Critically, Kind of Blue is universally accepted as on the of (if not) the best jazz records ever recorded.
The case for: Because of the quality of the recording, the timelessness of the star-studded ensemble and the cutting edge remasters over time – Miles Davis Kind of Blue is a bit played out and perhaps cliché.
The case against: While Kind of Blue is an iconic jazz record, Jazz isn’t a wildly popular genre of music in some parts of the country and to some musical palettes thus its lack of overall, non-reviewer and mainstream popularity would keep Kind of Blue from the top of our list.
Lyle Lovett: Joshua Judges Ruth
While The Eagles have hints of country in their most-pop-rock Hotel California, Lyle Lovett’s fourth album from 1992, Joshua Judges Ruth, comes a little to the mainstream music from a solid base in the country genre. The lyrical topics of the album are a bit serious as compared to typical country albums but it is the stunning recording featuring incredible open space and never-heard-before levels of three dimensionality that draw audiophiles to this record over and over. “Church” builds deliberately into a raucous gospel jam that also is one hell of a closer at the good old stereo store. Somewhat like Kind of Blue and Dark Side of The Moon, Joshua Judges Ruth has been remastered and repackaged to offer the best possible resolution for this record that pretty much defines 1990s recording excellence with respectfully zero audio grunge.
The case for: Depending on when you got into the audio hobby, you simply couldn’t avoid hearing this stunningly well-made recording at every stereo store, audio show and beyond. It was simply everywhere and has remained there for decades after its release.
The case against: Country (and especially) gospel music just doesn’t appeal to as many music (and audiophile) fans as more mainstream genres like rock, pop or even hip-hop. Joshua Judges Ruth also got close to no mainstream radio airplay at the time of its release and certainly not today. Commercially, the album sold well but doesn’t even compare to some of the other albums on this list such as Hotel California and Dark Side of The Moon.
Fleetwood Mac: Rumors
John Coltrane: Blue Train
Daft Punk: Random Access Memory
The Eagles: Hell Freezes Over
Queen: A Night at the Opera (DTS DVD-Audio)
So what is the most cliché’ audiophile album of all time?
In the end my vote is Steely Dan: Aja. Don’t get me wrong, I love this album but it gets my vote for a number of reasons. The era for which it was released (1976) was a formative time for the audiophile hobby and business. Musically, the album is quirky as hell albeit wonderfully performed, recorded and engineered thus its audiophile appeal. Aja’s timeless appeal, I guess is a positive but the fact that it is also cliché’ in the newly defined and super-cheesy Yacht Rock sub-genre is the cherry on top.
Respectfully, I could make a case for any of the albums above and likely including the Honorable Mentions as well.
Now it is your turn to have your say. Did we miss a record that you need to out as an audiophile cliché? If not, what album from the above list tops your list and specifically why? We look forward to hearing from you below in the comments section.