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Chesky Records 10 Best

editors pick
The Best of Chesky Records


By Brent Butterworth,
editor-in-chief, Home Entertainment magazine
all us biased, call us fixated, call us fanatics.   We don't care.   When the editors of Home Entertainment magazine think of great music recordings, we think first of Chesky Records - and our thoughts often stop there.

Most CDs are recorded with multiple microphones in a dead-sounding studio, with reverb and overdubs added in the mix.   Chesky's approach is purer: It records in the natural reverberance of St. Peter's Church in Manhattan, using custom-made vacuum-tube recording gear, a single microphone (in most cases), and no audio processing or overdubbing.   The result is a spacious, natural sound you simply cannot hear in ordinary commercial recordings.   Other audiophile labels do great recordings, too, but few capture the full-bodied tonality that Chesky achieves.   And fewer still have signed such an eclectic array of artists.

Luckily for us, the company caught wind of our enthusiasm and offered to produce a limited-edition CD of our 10 all-time-favorite Chesky recordings.   East Coast Editor Dennis Burger, Contributing Editor Steve Guttenberg, and I selected these cuts in part for selfish reasons - so we'd have the perfect test CD to use in our product evaluations.   We encourage you to use it the same way.   Compare the descriptions below to the way the music sounds on your system.   Then try it on your neighbor's system.   And use it in the store the next time you choose a set of speakers. If you don't hear a lush, ambient sound, with instruments seeming to come from several feet behind the speakers, you're not listening to a particularly good system.

  1. "52nd Street"
(from The Body Acoustic / David Chesky)
This haunting track by one of the company's co-founders pushes back the walls of your listening room and tricks your ear into thinking you're right there in the church pews, watching the performance.

  2. "Love and Happiness"
(from The Coryells / The Coryells)
"Love and Happiness" silhouettes a soulful vocal against driving acoustic guitars and a tambourine that sounds like it's coming from 50 feet behind your speakers.

  3."Oh Well"
(from Hobo / Sara K)
Hobo showed us audiophile recordings could embody a robust aesthetic - or to put it more simply, that they could kick ass.   Surrounded by athletic acoustic guitars, Sara K delivers a new take on a Fleetwood Mac classic.

  4. "Dinah"
(from Swing Live / Bucky Pizzarelli)
The snug-as-a-bug ambience tells you "Dinah" wasn't recorded in Chesky's usual haunt.   Instead, it's recorded at the Makor jazz club in New York City.   You can even hear the clinks of the rocks in glasses at the table next to you.

  5. "Spooky"
(from Steppin' / Christy Baron)
"Spooky" presents one of our favorite imaging tests the turntable scratch that introduces the second verse should sound as if it's coming from behind you, even though you're listening through two speakers in front of you.   It's not magic, its just Chesky.

  6."Maria Mulata"
(from Entre Cada Palabra / Marta Gomez)
The flute, guitar, and percussion wrapping vocalist Gomez in their reverberant field make this our fave of Chesky's many recordings of South American artists.

  7. "Three Little Birds"
(from Caribbean Circle / Monty Alexander)
This performance presents an alternative to the bombast of a typical drum set recording.   Kick drum, snare, and cymbals saturate the front stage area, while latin percussion provides ambient counterpoint.

  8. "Fever"
(from New York Blue / Valerie Joyce)
In a classically Chesky presentation, dark-voiced vocalist Joyce occupies the center while sparse percussion and a throaty alto saxophone echo off the ceiling of St. Peters.

  9. "No Flight Tonight"
(from Three Guitars / Lany Coryell, Badi Assad, John Abercrombie)
Coryell's acoustic guitar dominates the right channel, while the unusual body and mouth percussion of Brazilian guitarist/instrumentalist Assad rocks the room's reverberance.

10. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
(from The Persuasions Sing U2 / The Persuasions)
Whoever invented singing would surely be happy to hear that his or her creation had risen to such perfection.   If the voices in this crystal-clear recording don't sound natural, your audio system needs work.

Special Test Tracks

11. The Chesky Style: An A/B comparison
This track presents the first clear demonstration of the difference between a Chesky recording and a typical studio recording.   The first snippet of trumpet is recorded Chesky-style: at St. Peter's Church in Manhattan, using a Calrec Soundfield microphone placed several feet from the trumpet so it captures both the instrument and the ambience of the church.   The next snippet is the same trumpet, recorded in the ordinary style.   The difference is obvious - and it's why we so love Chesky Records.

12. Channel ID/phase test
The phrase "left channel" should come from the left, "right channel" should come from the right, "in phase" should come from between the two speakers, and "out of phase" should come from all around the room, or behind you.   Re-examine your speaker connections if that's not what you hear.

13. Balance test
This test lets you adjust the balance perfectly without using a sound-pressure level meter.   If the blip you hear comes from one speaker only, instead of from between the speakers, adjust the balance (or move your head) toward the other speaker.

14. Pink noise (-20 dBFS)
You can use this track to adjust the position of your speakers.   The position in which the noise sounds brightest, with the strongest treble, is likely to be the best for your speakers.

15. Subwoofer crossover test
These tones ascend through the part of the audio spectrum in which your system transitions from your main speakers to your subwoofer   (If you don't have a subwoofer, ignore this track.)   They should sound equally loud, with no tone standing out.   If they don't, try flipping the phase switch on your subwoofer, or setting your subwoofer crossover to a higher or lower frequencey.   It probably won't be perfect - your room's resonance may accentuate some tones - but get it as smooth as you can.

Chesky Records are distributed in Australia by Rockian Trading