Artist: Various Artists
Album: Audiophile Reference II (Popular Music)
Publisher: FIM
Recording Technology: HDCD 24K Gold Disc

About this album:
This is the second compilation from FIM for Audiophile’s reference. The first was classical, and this one contains more popular music. I think FIM realizes that not all people love classic. So, this one contains more popular musics. Surely, FIM hopes that this album can be accepted by most listener, not just for an audiophile.

At the first, the popular track “High Life” will open the disc and let you enjoy live audience. Then, Patricia Barber would let you check the soundstage and emotion from her track, “A Taste of Honey”. Her emotion should be felt easily by listener. She has cold voice and the background instruments are superb.

Track #3 presents Yamaha’s piano recorded on Lion Studio with John Herbert as the recording engineer. You can feel the naturality of the piano played in this track. Next, a French traditional will bring you to the Christmas enjoyment though it’s not December 😉 Quite useful to test the bass extension.

On track #5, we can hear a unknown male singer. Feel the naturalness of his voice. On track #6, a classic “Summertime” will be pronounced different than you’ve ever heard. Nice to feel the ambience and articulation from the instruments. Next is very useful to test your low and mid extension. There are lot of drums played in this track. Try to guess the size and position. Good power handling necessary since this low-mid frequency will easily “eat “your system power.

We have softer track on #8. Teresa Teng’s classic “The Moon Represents My Heart” is now played instrumentally with harmonica and urhu. Some string, piano, and percussion also added to give concert nuance. Very unique track and suitable to test your harmonic and soundstage.

I guess track #9 is one of the best in terms of showing the pianist skill. Jeremy and his friends were on the mood to dance his finger on the piano. Very skillful player and you easily will agree with me after finishing this track.

The rest of the tracks are also nice to hear. On track #10, you can hear violin in “Deer Hunter”. Check the string tone and soundstage here. Track #11 contains slow easy listening jazz. The enjoyment (involvement) of this track should be recognized easily on good system. Track #12 will show piano again in old song, “Edelweiss”. “The First Noel” will touch your heart on track #13. Musicality and definition are simply pronounced clear here. Track #14 will ask you to enjoy the double bass atmosphere in “The Trout”. Last, Teresa’s famous “Alone in my Chamber” will bring you into a unique ending (since this is the last track). Harmonica and piano will catch your heart and put you into a deep loneliness emotion. Close your eyes, imagine you are alone in this world, waiting for something that you don’t know and play this track. After finishing it, open your eyes and consider how lucky you are (because you are not lonely).

This is a nice set collection of popular song and very useful to benchmark your sound system. I would rather bring this CD than bring 5-6 CDs that I used to use it as reference. Maybe this CD will not cover all of your taste when benchmarking a system, but you simply can get over 80% of system characteristic. Not too bad, eh?

The recording quality is superb and not much different from track-to-track (though all of the tracks was collected from different album). I just feel that the recording is too dry for my taste (okay I admit it, I don’t like dry sound). Emotion and involvement are excellent, but all the voices and instruments somehow a little bit lack of “soul”. And somehow, on the near end tracks (#10-#16), the tested aspects are quite boring and repeatable. Maybe it’s just because I don’t like the tracks or something, but I prefer to focus on track #1-#9 to evaluate a system.

Sound Quality: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Song Popularity/Arrangement (subjective): 5 of 5 Stars

Recommendation: 4.5 of 5 Stars

Track list:
1. High Life – African Folk (from Jazz at the Pawnshop)
2. A Taste of Honey – Patricia Barber
3. Feelings – M. Albert
4. Il Est Ne Divin Enfant French – French Traditional
5. I Can’t Help Falling in Love – Peretti/Creature/Weiss
6. Summertime – G. Gershwin
7. Night – Chinese Traditional
8. The Moon Represents My Heart – Yat Ming (from Teresa Teng)
9. Falling in Love with Love – Rogers/Hari
10. Deer Hunter – Palestrina
11. Besame Mucho – Valazquez, Skylar
12. Edelweiss – R. Rogers
13. The First Noel – Traditional
14. The Trout – Schubert
15. Alone in My Chamber – K. C. Lau (from Teresa Teng)