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Good Music, Bad Music, and Reference Discs

Steven Stone looks at the concept of “Reference Discs” and doesn’t like what he sees, and hears.

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George Carlin once said, “There are two kinds of music; good
music and bad music. Good music is what you want to hear RIGHT NOW. Bad music
is everything else.” That succinctly sums up my own feelings on the subject.

Of course for audiophiles there is one other kind of music –
reference discs. Which, in my humble opinion, are a category I would just as
soon see vanish, just like the sabre tooth tiger and the ten-toed sloth.

Why vanish? Because I see the whole idea that someone can
recommend to someone else what he or she should use to judge the quality of a
reproduction system ludicrous. I’m 61. I can’t expect my musical taste to
correspond or even intersect with a 20-something music-lover. My tastes are
sufficiently non-mainstream that my music library’s contents have little in
common with other similarly aged audiophiles, so where do I (or anyone else)
get off suggesting “reference discs” to other people?

I’ve been regularly attending Hi-Fi shows for well over 20-years.
In that time I can count on one hand the number of times I heard music coming
from an exhibitor’s room that actually made me want to enter it. And more times
than I can count I’ve heard music that was so repellant that I had to force
myself to enter a room. As to what particular tracks tripped my “flight
impulse” is unimportant. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, so the track
instantly was relegated to the role of “bad music.”

What should audiophiles use for reference tracks? The answer is
simple – anything you like that you know well. By “know well” I mean a track
that you’ve heard many times on many different systems. Also it’s important
that you like the track well enough so that you won’t hate it by the 100
listen. That, is a tall order.

I’m well aware that “reference tracks” can go from good music
to bad music merely through repetition. I have about five “sacrificial tracks” that
I use at HiFi shows, knowing full well that by the end of four days I won’t
want to hear them again, for a very long time. At the most recent CES, I used a
track by the band Bearfoot, from their album, “American Story,” called “Tell Me
a Story.” I hope that I’ll be able to stomach it again in a couple of months,
but right now, it’s been shifted to my own personal “bad music” list merely
because it reminds me of how sick I was at CES. Yes, even reference tracks can
become bad music; just ask any longtime audiophile how they feel about “Famous
Blue Raincoat” or “Graceland.”

Yes, good music can go bad, all you have to do is put in on a
reference disc list, force folks to listen to it ad-finitum and it can turn
from ear candy to hog-food in less time than it takes to think, “Boy, that

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