If you're  looking for CDs to display the full resources of your stereo system, check out those listed below. All are outstanding examples of the finest achievements in the art of recording - the best of state-of-the-art digital recording as well as fine analog recordings successfully transferred to CD.  Many have been reviewed on this site; if you’d like to read the detailed review (which will usually focus more on performances rather than sound quality), click on "Review" after the brief commentary. 

All CDs listed are "regular" CDs; for a Sonic Hall of Fame for SACD, DVDA and multi-channel recordings, see Surround Hall of Fame (under construction).  There's no question that technologies of SACD and DVDA (see FEATURE on these) permit even more accurate reproduction of master recordings.  However, proof that regular CDs are capable of spectacular sonics is evident from those listed below.  Outstanding among these are  Japanese Victor reissues (JVC) of RCA Chicago recordings made almost a half-century ago which sound  amazingly good. The price on these is very high, but they prove what can be done.  
Doubtless at some time in the future some or all of these will be issued in SACD or DVDA format and perhaps will sound even better.  

"MUSIC FOR BANG, baa-ROOM AND HARP " played by Dick Schory's 13-member New Percussion Ensemble.  A dozen light display pieces (National Emblem March, The Sheik of Araby, Baia, Tiddley Winks, Duel on the Skins, Ding Dong Polka, Baia, etc),  recorded in 1958 in Chicago's Orchestra Hall, the same site of those spectacular Fritz Reiner/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra sessions. Originally issued on RCA LP, long treasured as a stereo demonstration disk, MFBB&H is now available in this superb CD transfer.

Classic Compact Discs 1866

SAINT-SAËNS:  Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78
Recorded in Boston's Symphony Hall April 5/6, 1959, this splendid performance by the Boston Symphony finds conductor Charles Munch in repertory perfect for him.  Berj Zamkochian plays the Symphony Hall organ, and RCA's engineers have captured it all magnificently.  Playing time is only 34:36; RCA's Living Stereo issue has worthy fillers, but for top sound this is the issue to have.  It's a grand listening experience.

JVC XRCD  0002 (34:36)

POMP & PIPES....."Powerful Music for Organ, Winds, Brass & Percussion"
Frederick Fennell, the Dallas Wind Symphony, and  Paul Riedo playing the huge organ in the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas in a 68-minute program that will test your entire sound system - especially the woofers with some floor-shaking organ pedal notes. Music includes Karg-Elert's Praise the Lord with Drums and Cymbals, The Vikings by Wills, Heroic Poem by Dupré, Grand Chorus in Dialogue by Gigout, Pebble Beach Sojourn by Ron Nelson - and the concluding Polka & Fugue from Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper which is is a knock-out with its huge band/organ sound.

Reference Recordings RR-58 (68:02)

MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL:  Pictures at an Exhibition
The Japanese series of RCA reissues replicates original LP issues; thus the CDs, unfortunately, contain only what was on the original LP with the CD housed in an  elaborate box  with artwork for original LPs.
This Japanese reprocessing of 
Fritz Reiner's famous Chicago Symphony recording of the Mussorgsky-Ravel showpiece, made in that city's Orchestra Hall December 7, 1957, is a magnificent accomplishment, a noticeable improvement over RCA's Living Stereo reissue.  The price is super-high, playing time limited (33:06), but this is a rich feast for audiophiles.

JVC XRCD 10162 (33:06)


Erich Kunzel leads the Cincinnati "Pops" Orchestra in surprisingly vivid, dynamic  performances of  Leopold Stokowski transcriptions including Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,  Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain, Festival Day in Seville of Albeniz, Debussy's Clair de Lune, and music of Rachmaninoff, Boccherini and  Beethoven.   Engineering represents Telarc at its very best with super wide dynamic range and impact combined with warmth,  presence and thundering - but detailed - bass.

TELARC CD 80338 (66:20)


Music for Band

A 66-minute program of band music by Sir Malcolm Arnold including dances (Scottish, English), suites (Two Little Suites, Water Music), marches (H.R.H. The Duke of Cambridge, Overseas, The Padstow Lifeboat) and Tam O'Shanter Overture.  Spectacular performances by perhaps the finest wind ensemble in the U.S. -  the Dallas Wind Symphony -  directed by Jerry Junkin.  Superb digital engineering producing the sound of a large band playing in a resonant hall but retaining detail and impact. Lots of low, low bass here.

Reference Recordings RR 66 REVIEW  (66:24)

These two Volumes gather together some of the finest classical recordings conducted by the late Charles Gerhardt, all with the National Philharmonic. Volume I features Borodin's Polovtsian Dances, Lalo's Le Roi D'Ys Overture and works of Glière, Weber, Monti, Arnold, Bizet and Rossini.  Volume II features  Ballet Music from Verdi's Aïda, Dvorak's In Nature's Realm, The Moldau of Smetana, and music of Mussorgsky, Offenbach, Kabalevsky and Puccini.  Chesky's superb transfers capture the brilliance of the original Reader's Digest recordings.

Chesky CD 102 (Volume I) (60:00)
Chesky CD 108 (Volume II) (64:17)

SHOSTAKOVICH:  Symphony No. 11, Op.103. 
Leopold Stokowski made this recording in April 1958 immediately after he conducted the  American premiere of this powerful symphony.  This colorful work  brings out the best in Stokowski. Oliver Daniel's biography of the conductor tells of engineering adjustments at the conductor's request (...we give it a full dynamic range and powerful lows...").  You won't hear sound like this in any concert hall, but the end result is spectacular.  The 2LPs were in the original issue were in the elite group of demonstration disks; this finely-processed  CD is as well.

EMI Classics 65206 (62:38)


TCHAIKOVSKY:  Nutcracker Ballet (complete).  Excerpts from Sleeping Beauty Ballet.
This 1975 complete recording of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet features Antal Dorati and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in a near-definitive performance superior to the conductor's two earlier recordings.  A plus is a stunning 1962 recording of a an extended suite from the same composer's Sleeping Beauty Ballet in a dynamic performance with Anatole Fistoulari and the London Symphony.  Magnificent analog sound for both recordings.

PHILIPS Duo 442 562 (2 CDs) 
REVIEW  (63:29 & 69:30)

ANTILL:  Corroboree Ballet.  VILLA-LOBOS:  The Little Train of the Caipira. GINASTERA
Excerpts from Panambi, Estancia. 

Sir Eugene Goossens leads the London Symphony in this colorful program. Antill's aboriginal ballet is filled with exciting dances featuring exotic sounds of native percussion instruments, ending  in a frenzy of orchestral color. Excerpts from Ginastera's two ballets and Villa-Lobos' brief excursion on a little train will also delight sound buffs. The vivid sounds were  brilliantly captured  on 35 mm film in 1959, now perfectly transferred to CD.  

Everest EVC 9007 (54:15)

HOLST:  The Planets. Op. 32
Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony perform this  seven-movement suite scored for large orchestra which vividly depicts seven planets ranging from the fury of "Mars" to the gentle serenity of "Neptune" with its wordless mysterious distant womens' voices.  The music  gives engineers ample opportunity for sonic display and this recording,  dating from 1986,  is one of the blockbusters from Montreal.  The organ pedal notes in "Mars," "Saturn," "Uranus"  and "Neptune" will shake your floor.  CD jacket shown is the original  issue;  this has been reissued at mid-price in London's Penguin Music Classics series.

London PLON 460606 (52:51)

Chesky has gathered together 67 minutes of film music recordings by Charles Gerhardt with the National Philharmonic originally recorded for Reader's Digest, most of which are not available elsewhere.  A highlight is a 7-minute suite of music from King's Row by Korngold, along with Three Coins in the Fountain, Laura, Born Free, Charade, El Cid, Topkapi, East of Eden and The Call of the Faraway Hills, as well as a magnificent "Fanfare" from Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra. All were recorded from 1968/74, and the transfers to CD are superb.

Chesky CD 71 (67:01)

A Night on the Bare MountainBoris Godunov: Symphonic Synthesis.  Entr'acte to Act IV of Khovantschina.  Pictures at an Exhibition
Matthias Bamert and the BBC Philharmonic do full justice to these vividly-scored Stokowski transcriptions.  The Chandos team has brilliantly caught all of the myriad orchestral textures, loud and soft - check out the soft (and loud) tam-tam strokes in the Boris "Coronation Scene" (track 3).  Stokowski's Pictures transcription is quite different from the more familiar Ravel, filled with brilliant orchestral effects.

CHANDOS 9445  (69:20)

BARTÓK:  Concerto for Orchestra. 
Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra taped this magnificent performance of  the Concerto for Orchestra October 22, 1955; it remains one of the finest recordings of the work, with engineering that perfectly captures the rich acoustics of Orchestra Hall.  The Japanese remastering is outstanding - the only debit is that this very expensive CD contains only the one work; RCA's Living Stereo CD (61504) also contains the same composer's Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste and Hungarian Sketches (available on another Japanese issue- JMC 10122) - but there's no question the Japanese version is superior.

JVC XRCD 0007 (37:23)

HANSON:  Symphony No. 2, Op. 30.  COPLAND:  Suite from Billy the Kid.  Hoe-Down from Rodeo.  GRIFFES:  The White Peacock. The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan, Op. 8.  GOULD:  Tropical  
These were recorded from 1962/67 for Reader's Digest with Charles Gerhardt and superb London pickup orchestras.  Legendary Kenneth Wilkinson was engineer  - analog sound at its best.  The Hanson "Romantic" Symphony is the definitive recording; the composer loved it! The Griffes works are sensuous Americana, and you'll enjoy the recorded sounds of birds in Morton Gould's charming Tropical.  Chesky's transfers are superb.

CHESKY CD 112 (62:12)

STRAUSS:  Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30.  DEBUSSY:  Jeux
BBC National Orchestra of Wales cond. by Tadaaki Otaka (Strauss) and Mark Elder (Debussy)

These superlative BBC recordings made in Royal Albert Hall in 1998 show the expertise of the British engineers, and quality of one of their lesser-known orchestras.  What a pleasure to hear the thunderous Royal Albert Hall organ in the Strauss showpiece!  Quite remarkable, and a splendid performance as well.  Some Szymanowski songs for tenor and soprano are an added bonus, equally well recorded, but the showpiece here is the Strauss.

BBC Proms BBCP 1004 (76:49)

DEBUSSY:  Orchestral works:
La Mer, Three Nocturnes, Afternoon of a Faun, Images, Jeux, Marche  écossaise, Berceuse héroïque, Rhapsodie for Clarinet & Orchestra and Sacred & Profane Dances.
Totally satisfying performances by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink, analog recordings made from 1977/79. The famed Dutch orchestra displays shimmering, delicate textures as well as huge bursts of sonority when needed. Sonically these are among the finest recordings made in the famed Concertgebouw.  Eduard van Beinum, conductor of the Dutch orchestra before Haitink, leads Berceuse héroique.

PHILIPS DUO 438 742 (2 CDs) REVIEW   (65:04 & 76:15)

WAGNER:  Das Rheingold
George London, Kirsten Flagstad, Eberhard Wächter, Paul Kuen, Set Svanholm et. al.  plus the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Sir Georg Solti combined forces in this pioneering opera recording from 1958, a true sonic marvel.  Soloists are perfectly balanced against the magnificent orchestra with presence and impact not to be found in most more recent recordings.  Sonic demonstration high points include the descent to the Niebelheim (CD1 track 15) and the conclusion of the music drama beginning with track 13 on CD 2, the "Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla."  This issue is  the highly-praised "de-hissed" version.

LONDON 455 556 (2 CDs) 
(70:32 & 75:13)


SILVESTRE: The Mummy Returns
The Mummy, issued in 1999, had a superb  Jerry Goldsmith score; this sequel has music by Alan Silvestre, another master of the genre. Whatever the dubious  merits of this followup as a film, the soundtrack is a remarkable sonic blast - just sample the opening with its huge orchestra, chorus and massed percussion, sonic thrills that continue in most tracks.  The highly rhythmic score often sounds like John Williams at his best - and engineering catches it all.  Ignore the last track, Live's rendering of Forever May Not Be Long Enough, a definite letdown after what preceded.

DECCA 440 013 983 (73:34)

VILLA-LOBOS:  Uiraperú.  Modinha. PROKOFIEV:  Cinderella Ballet Suite.  The Ugly Duckling. DEBUSSY:  Children's Corner Suite
The Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York under Leopold Stokowski produces rich, exotic masses of sound in the Prokofiev and Villa-Lobos scores.  Uiraperú, with its imaginative orchestration, is particularly effective representing  Stokowski at his masterful peak of performance.  Recorded on 35mm film in 1958/59, the brilliance of the master tapes has been totally captured on the CD issue.

Everest EVC 9023 (69:44)

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV:  Scheherazade, Op. 35.
Recorded February 8, 1960, this is another of the sonic spectaculars with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra  They were in top virtuoso form on that day (the final movement is one single take), and RCA's recording team brilliantly captured the warmth and clarity of Orchestra Hall.  Never before has sound of the mastertape been so vividly replicated, with scintillating high percussion, sonorous bass, and a sense of space missing in many more modern recordings.

JVC XRCD 10152  (44:29)


ARNOLD:  Symphony No. 5, Op. 74.  Symphony No. 6. Op. 95.
Richard Hickox and the London Symphony recorded the first six of Sir Malcolm's symphonies for Chandos, Nos. 5 and 6 in February 1995. Producer and engineer Brian and Ralph Couzens have worked wonders in capturing every detail of Arnold's imaginative, richly-orchestrated scores, with a fine sense of space - and plenty of percussion impact.  Symphony 5, with its dazzling brass and strange soft ending, is a powerful listening experience. 

CHANDOS 9385  (57:46)

WAGNER:  Orchestral Music from "The Ring". Siegfried Idyll.
  A 77-minute program of big-scale performances of extended excerpts from Wagner's Die Walküre ("Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music") and  Götterdämmerung ("Siegfried's Funeral Music"),  as well as a sensuous reading of Leopold Stokowski's arrangement of Love Music from Tristan and Isolde, concluding with the gentle Siegfried Idyll.   Charles Gerhardt  leads  the National Philharmonic Orchestra, his only all-digital recording on the Chesky label, containing performances not available elsewhere.

CHESKY CD 161 (77:47)

LEIFS:  Hekla, Op. 52, Loftr-Suite and other works
This CD of music by Icelandic composer Jón Leifs features Hekla, sometimes called the loudest music ever written, composed in 1961, vividly depicting the 1947 eruption of the volcano.  The huge orchestra includes a massive array of percussion played by 19 musicians including stones, sirens, chains, artillery and heavy bells.  During recording sessions many of the musicians used earplugs!  Hekla is a wild 11-minute piece that begins softly, soon becomes ominous; at the conclusion your equipment may suffer sonic shock. This gargantuan sound has been vividly captured by BIS' engineers.  As balm, sample other works on the CD, all, of necessity, of a gentler nature.  En Shao leads the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.

BIS CD 1030  (64:41)

RESPIGHI:  Belkis, Queen of Sheba.  Dance of the Gnomes.  The Pines of Rome
These richly-orchestrated works are splendidly played by the Minnesota Orchestra under Eiji Oue, with two lesser-known Respighi works coupled with the familiar Pines of RomeBelkis includes "War Dance" and "Orgiastic Dance," which well live up to their titles.  Gnomes is about fiendish actives of grotesque creatures, vividly depicted in the music.  Pines may not be the most exciting recorded performance, but sonically it cannot be bettered.


GOULD:  American Ballads.  Foster Gallery.  American Salute.
A welcome collection of music by one of America's most popular composers, featuring his arrangements of a group of Stephen Foster songs, a group of six American Ballads, and concluding with a rip-rousing account of the familiar American Salute.  The Ukraine National Symphony is totally at home in this music under conductor Theodore Kuchar, and producers Victor and Marina A. Ledin have provided wide-range, demonstration sound - and at budget price.

NAXOS 8.559005 (73:48)