Most Realistic Recordings

I was recently listening to my daughter practice the piano and I was enjoying quite a full-body sonic experience. I later went to my system and picked out a few piano recordings that I suspected were recorded well, but as I listened, I just didn't have anything close to the same experience. The piano just didn't sound right, nor nearly as full as I had just experienced while listening to my daughter. I know what pianos sound and feel like. I grew up playing many different types and understand their differences. I've done some research on recording pianos and have learned they are particularly difficult to record well.

As I've delved deeper into this audio hobby/interest and acquired more respectable gear, the more general question that keeps coming to my mind is this: How did this music sound at the time it was recorded? (presuming it was a person playing an instrument, not something "mixed" or electronic). Meaning, if I had been in the room, would I have heard or felt the same? Or is there something about the recording setup/micing/mixing/etc. that has failed to capture the moment? Or has the audio engineer intentionally filtered some of that out?

Now, being an audiophile (i.e., a music lover) has many paths and many goals. For me, I love lots of different kinds of music and am not too caught up in the ever changing landscape of audio gear and the need to try something new. I hope to get to the point where a well-captured recording sounds realistic in my room on my system. I like full-spectrum sound (i.e., if the note/sound is in the track, I want to hear it). I know that accurate, realistic reproduction through any system is depends a great deal on the equipment and the room it's being played back in. I don't expect my system to give me that jaw-dropping "I'm there" experience (yet), but some day I hope to get there.

So, to my question above, I would very much love to hear if anyone feels they have heard an album, a track, a recording of some kind that could be used to test out the "realism" of one's system. What would you say is a recording that more accurately captured the sonic hologram of the moment it was performed. Any genre is ok. And if you think a particular studio/company does this well, I'd love to hear about it!

And, please, I don't want the conversation to about gear or room treatment. This is about the recording itself, the source material, and how accurately the entire moment is captured and preserved. I respect everyone's personal experiences with your system, whatever it's comprised of. So, please don't argue with each other about whether a recording didn't sound realistic to you when it sounded realistic to someone else. Let's be civil and kind, for how can you deny what someone else's ears have heard? Thank you! I'm excited to learn from you all!


I heard a few albums from High Definition Tape Transfers when demoing the Taiko Extreme. Their Pure DSD recordings are direct transfers from the master tape with no editing or processing. As a result they are both very realistic, and also with "flaws" as a result of level mismatch between musicians, singers, and the audience, overly hot levels, etc.*+dsd*&view=ls&type=product

The three albums in 256DSD I heard at Taiko which were incredibly realistic were:

Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington The Great Reunion

Bill Evans at The Shelly Manne-hole

Billy Holiday Songs for Distingue Lovers

My Aurender server can only support 128DSD, so I downloaded Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Song Book, Bill Evans Interplay, and Blue Mitchell The Thing To Do. All are very good, although not as realistic as I heard on the Taiko system.

Check out the following:

1. Claudio Arrau: Chopin 21 Nocturnes

2. Helen Grimaud: The Messenger

3. Evgeny Kissin / James Levine: Schubert: Piano Music for Four Hands

4. Diana Krall: All For You (piano solo on Boulevard of Broken Dreams)

Yeah, I have a piano and play it practically every day, but I still can't give you a definitive answer as to what recording best approaches the sound I hear "live." The major problem is that my piano sits in its own special, but quite small Piano Room and my stereo is in its own stereo room. It doesn't help that when I play the piano my ears are a mere two feet away from the sound board.

Then, when I do go to a concert, the piano is often at least 25 to fifty feet away in a very large room.

@edcyn, exactly. That seems to be a common challenge. And I don't mean this to be just about piano recordings. I'm interested in all kinds of live recordings, vocal, instrumental, solo, ensemble, etc.


Yeah, I have a piano and play it practically every day, but I still can’t give you a definitive answer as to what recording best approaches the sound I hear "live." The major problem is that my piano sits in its own special, but quite small Piano Room and my stereo is in its own stereo room. It doesn’t help that when I play the piano my ears are a mere two feet away from the sound board.

Then, when I do go to a concert, the piano is often at least 25 to fifty feet away in a very large room.


I was also going to bring this up.


Do you want to hear a realistic sounding piano as if you are in the same room with it, Or a realistic piano as if you are in a small venue, or as if you are sitting 10 rows back in a concert hall?

Lots of recordings on the ECM label have great sounding piano.

Art Land and Rubisa Patrol - kind of a small venue feel

Keith Jarratt - Koln Concerts - solo piano in the center of a big stage, as if from 10 rows back

I could list many classical recordings with realistic piano, but my tastes tend toward the avant-garde, modernist, atonal side of things, so, YMMV.

I just tend to avoid Deutsche Gramophone, They tend to record instruments too close up, and they end up sounding like way larger than they would at the concert hall. And if they are being played from your lap.





"Realistic recordings seem to be few and far between. I think that in my collection there are examples of overall realistic sounding recordings, and sometimes an example of a recording where one instrument seems very realistic.

One example of that is the first Hot Tuna disc. It originally had tape hiss but has been remastered and is now very quiet. Anyway, it is a live recording of Jorma and Jack playing, and Jack's bass guitar sounds perfectly focused and very detailed without any artificial bloom or boom. It is a reference for electric bass for me.

@simonmoon, I appreciate you sharing this, because it certainly does make a difference. I guess I'd say I'm not asking for either one specifically, but all of it. If, they sound real to you (i.e., if you were in the room with Art Land and Rubisa Patrol), then I'd hope the recording gave you that accurate sonic impression. I'd expect you could hear more overtones, sympathetic vibrations, and more distinct imaging in a smaller venue. For the larger venue, the sonic experience is going to be different where it feels more like a wave of sound because of all the reflections & reverb. I wouldn't really expect any recording to sound like you are the one playing the instrument.

I'm good with both kinds of suggestions. So, thank you! Any specific recommendations are appreciated which, to you, sound like the recording engineers did a great job at accurately capturing the experience.

It's also interesting that you explicitly call out Deutsche Gramophone because it came up in another thread about a real sounding piano as a good example. I appreciate both perspectives.

Realistic recordings seem to be few and far between. I think that in my collection there are examples of overall realistic sounding recordings, and sometimes an example of a recording where one instrument seems very realistic.

Very grateful for the response, @roxy54 ! This was my suspicion as well. So, I'm grateful for some examples of what to look at.



It’s also interesting that you explicitly call out Deutsche Gramophone because it came up in another thread about a real sounding piano as a good example. I appreciate both perspectives.


Maybe they were referring to tone, timbre, dynamics, detail and such.


Thanks, @twoleftears ! Will check it out!


Maybe they were referring to tone, timbre, dynamics, detail and such.

Could be. I haven't had a chance to hear it yet, but I'm looking into it as well.

How about Vladimir Ashkenazy doing the Rachmaninov Etudes on London/Decca.I have it on vinyl. Full and rich tone and better-than-okay sound-staging. But it certainly ain’t no normal, living room sized pie-anny!

James Boyk was (and perhaps still is) a music teacher at UCLA, and recorded himself (using a pair of ribbon mics in Blumlein-fashion into an Ampex 351 recorder) playing a Steinway piano in a recital hall at Caltech, releasing the recordings on his Performance Recordings label.

James is himself an audiophile, and used the QUAD ESL as his recording monitor loudspeaker. I don't know how hard the PR LP's are to find, but they're worth looking for! VERY high quality recordings, very natural sound. No electronic equalization, compression, or limiting employed. 

I myself have made recordings in a similar (but more financially-limited) fashion, using a pair of small-capsule condenser mics directly into a Revox A77 recorder. Those recordings sound more like live music than do all but the best of my LP's and CD's. Make your own! 


Yeah, James Boyk --

I don’t seem to have his LP in my collection but I remember him showing up at Tower Classics when I was working there as a clerk in the early 1980’s. Or was it at the Panorama City store where I worked previously? Anyway, his LP was featured on a shelf at the front. I took the LP off the shelf and put it up next to him. I said, "good likeness." He graciously tolerated my hipster rudeness.

(1) I think this is probably my more realistic sounding recording:

Bach Cello Suites with Zuill Bailey from Octave Records

It's a solo instrumental, so there's nothing to be a distraction.

(2) If you enjoy piano and don't have this you're missing out:

Horowitz: Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon Box Set

(3) One of my favorite CDs that has some excellent piano is:

Legends by James Galway and Phil Coulter

It's a favorite of mine.


David Wilson of Wilson Audio was an exceptional audio engineer IMO. If I recall correcdtly, he once stated that he made recordings as he could not find good examples of natural recording. Most of his catalog of recordings are on Qobuz. Treasure for Clarinet and Piano by Charles West and Susan Grace is one of my go tos. This is the catalog and from there you can find on Qobuz. When I look for realistic recording I ususally look by label. I sometimes go to Qobuz's website where you can search on label and from there once found, find using Qobuz thru Roon or whatever server software you are using.  19 - Wilson Audiophile Recordings
87 - Reference Recordings
6 - Chesky Records (mostly Sara K.) which is quite good.
No - Analogue Productions
No - Linn Records
Tons of RCA's Living Stereo
Tons of Mercury's Living Presence

Ton of Proprius (not sure if Jazz at the Pawnshop is a one off, need to research label). 

Vital Record, VTL is a label that is excellent and Todd by Todd Cochran is one of my go tos. Unfortunately, not on Qobuz.

Any of the recordings by Tony Minasian ( Tonian Labs ). He records using a limited number of instruments, played by awesome musicians, but has shown me, again, that the recordings have been our limiting factor in approaching " live ". 

Thank you, @mceljo , @georgeab , and ​​​​​​@mrdecibel ! Will definitely look into all those!

I love all the input I’m seeing so far!

@simonmoon said:

"Art Land and Rubisa Patrol"

Great music. Even the US pressing has mojo and the import is better. For CD lovers, Black Ice by the Wolfert Brederode Trio on ECM (redbook only AFAIK) is stunning.

One of my favorites for real piano sound is Amina Claudine Myers, Salutes Bessie Smith, the original US Leo Records pressing- it is improvisational blues with vocals, which may not be your cup of tea, but the piano has gravitas and the sort of hammer strike/decay that I hear with a big grand. I’ve had some very large great pianos, very hard to record to scale. The later "audiophile" recut from Japan does not have the ambience- sounds lifeless.

@edcyn: In the mid-90’s District Supervisor Bob Fetryl offered me the Panorama City store to manage, but I had heard about the drive-by-shootings the store had experienced. No thanks! Bad neighborhood, and I loved my BMW 528e ;-) .

For those who know the sound of an old harpsichord, the recordings of Trevor Pinnock performing works by Scarlatti, Vivaldi, and various members of the Bach family will love his LP’s on the UK label CRD. Fantastic music, fantastic sound!

For the sound of the cello, get a copy of Janos Starker performing J.S. Bach’s Suites For Unaccompanied Cello. The Mercury Records original is almost impossible to find (and very expensive when it is), but Speaker’s Corner has a great 3-LP reissue (retailing for around $100), and Analogue Productions a 6-LP (45 RPM) version ($200-ish).

For the sound of a drumset, there is the old standby: The Sheffield Drum Record, a direct-to-disc LP on Sheffield Labs. Studio great Jim Keltner on one side, Ron Tutt (most well known for his work with Elvis Presley) on the other.

For stringed instruments, few commercial recordings come close to the sound Kavi Alexander captured of Ry Cooder and B.M. Bhatt improvising together, released on Water Lily Records, and earning both Cooder and Bhatt Grammy’s for Best World Music Album in 1994. The LP was mastered by Kevin Gray (who has done a lot of LP’s for Analogue Productions, including the entire Capitol Records Beach Boys’ catalogue), and serving as Technical Advisor was the late, great Tim de Paravicini, designer of the EAR-Yoshino amps and pre-amps. Kavi’s vacuum tube recorder, by the way, was fitted with tubes from another late great, Roger Modjeski of Music Reference and RAM Tube Works fame.

And don't forget Muddy Waters Folk Singer, available in a couple of pressings. I have the old version reissued by MoFi, but I'm sure the current one on Analogue Productions is even better at presenting Muddy's voice and acoustic guitar. 

Or the Kodaly piece, on Period Records, old but not forgotten. I was told by a player (whose son studied under Starker at Indiana) that Starker did not use vibrato to cover his intonation. He was playing brilliantly for decades, even as a very old person. 

@bdp24 -- Yeah, I was held up at gunpoint at the place, one night, when I was behind the counter "working the reg." Gave her (yeah, her) all the money. It wasn't much later that they tried to make amends to me by getting me a job at the Classics store on the Sunset Strip.

Tsushi Yamamoto A trio I believe. Playing Misty

and blow up. It’s recorded by three Blind mice.

hope you get a chance to hear it. Best regards

@georgeab, Qobuz has most or all of the Linn Records catalog (several hundred albums). Try this:
Keep scrolling and it will dynamically load more at the bottom until it runs out.

@edcyn: Damn, I'm sure then we've seen each other, as I shopped at the Classical Annex on Sunset regularly. The main guy in Weezer worked in the Pop store, and Axel Rose in the video store. One big happy family ;-) .

When Weezer hit big, the main guy was asked about working at Tower, and described it as a nightmare (I think he got picked on by a bully employee). The main office sent a memo to every Tower forbidding them from participating in any Weezer promotion from that moment forward. 

Not to be a stickler, but it's Art Lande.  Great album!

I don't consider being an audiophile the same thing as a music lover.  If the God of Music allowed you to choose among the following 3 options, if you select

1. The must perfect recording ever made, you're an audiophile

2. The best available recording of the greatest musical performance of all time, you're a music lover

3. To be IN THE ROOM for the greatest musical performance of all time, you're with me!


I sometimes plug my electronic keyboard line out into the stereo and it sounds a whole lot more realistic than any recording

I second the Claudio Arrau Chopin Nocturnes suggestion upthread.  I also recommend Vikingur Olaffson recordings on DG; there is a Bach themed, Mozart themed, and one alternating Rameau with Debussy.  Alfred Brendel Phillips recordings of the last 3 Schubert Sonatas is also an excellent late analog recording 

Being in the physical presence of a musician is a fundamentally different sensory experience to listening to a recording. Piano is very challenging to record and reproduce realistically - at a minimum it needs a wide bandwidth, full range system with excellent timbral and dynamic capability.

Bob James's recent Feels Like Making Live is a good example of a well recorded piano, bass, drums ensemble.

One of the great things about being human is our ability to ’Suspend Disbelief.’

Once the music is canned (recorded), it is no more possible for it to sound real than canned peas to taste freshly picked, or frozen OJ concentrate to taste freshly squeezed. You will NEVER be able to kiss the girl, or guy, on the big screen.

I have recently been ’fooling myself’ with these two Qobuz streams :

*Trio Wanderer playing the complete Beethoven piano trios

*Benjamin Grosvenor playing concertos, Saint Saens no2, Ravel G major, Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue.

Both offer front row seats, if not onstage perspectives, getting the musicians into your room. Boy do they sound ’REAL’ if I stay in the dream.

Joe Jackson, Body and Soul 45rpm 12 in vinyl. Amazing sound stage. I believe It was recorded in a Masonic lodge, and you can definitely hear and experience the venue. Breathtaking! 

What a great thread Tisimst - I have been taking notes to sample the recordings that are being recommended for their realism! Thank you all for your contributions. My goal with my system has been to recreate a small Jazz / Blues venue in my Listening room - this is what I value. The best realistic recording of a Hammond B3 organ is off Bonnie Rait’s new album - Just Like That - cut 6 - Blame It On Me. I use Diana Krall for vocals and piano - All of You album is a great start.

again thanks for the thread.



MA recording does have a lot of piano recording and they sound so real and price is cheap.Sally Harmon has a piano recording that sound so real. Mapleshade is onother one. Check it if they have piano only cd.

@tom8999, I'm with you there. This is great to hear so many ideas for well-captured recordings. I'm excited to add all of these to my collection.

Thank you for this thread. Great stuff!  In my experience, smaller groups/ensembles are easier to “get me in their room” or “get me in theirs.” I’m always looking for larger, more complex music/recordings. in my experience, listening with eyes closed helps…

Most Sheffield Sound Labs recordings.  Pat Coil, Micheal Ruff are very good.

James Taylor Hourglass-“Enough To Be On Your Way” personal favorite 

Steely Dan “Aja” and “Two Against Nature.”  Completely different sounding but totally there 

Eva Cassidy Live At Blues Alley.  Read an article saying Sonor Fabus uses cuts from this record as reference  

Cannonball Adderley Something Else- A recent surprise. Recorded 1958  Miles Davis and Cannonball sound forward and Real. In your room.

Any recording by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.

Pat Williams Big Band album Aurora

John Gardiner’s recordings of the Beethoven Symphonies, especially #3 

The recent Boston Symphony recordings of the Shostakovich Symphonies. Stunning performances and beautiful recordings. 

+1 Keith Jarrett Koln Concert. Add to that Yesterdays Live. Keith is an audiophile, BTW. 

Frank Sinatra Only The Lonely. Another recent surprise. Recorded live with minimal mic-ing given when it was made. 

The most realistically-recorded piano recording I have heard is David Montgomery "The Piano" by Direkt To Disk Records.  He also did some others for this label and they show up on Ebay now and then. Also very good is "Nightfall" on the Naim Label.  Very well-recorded that captures the high harmonics of the strings inside the instrument.  "Bach on a Steinway" is also pretty good.  There are others, but I don't want this to get too long. 

Rachmaninoff concerto #3, Kondrashin / Symphony of the air with Van Cliburn on piano. Live concert recorded in 1958. Living  Stereo. Amazing!

Octave Records. About the best recordings I’ve yet heard. Consistent high quality. Even their vinyl record versions are very high quality. DSD recorded. Zephyr conversions to PCM.

To start, audiophile < > music lover, although there is an intersection on the Venn diagram.  Some of the best piano recordings: Reference Recordings, particularly Dick Hyman; Joe Marino on M&K.  Some of the worst piano recordings: Blue Note RVG; the guy must've really disliked piano, as most group recordings sound as though he stuck the piano in a closet with the worst mic available.  IMO, of course.


Great recommendation, Josep Colom is one of my favorite pianist and Musica Callada is simply a stunning masterpiece. I got front row seat with my Tannoy's and native DSD256 file renders this masterpiece in its full glory. 


To start, audiophile < > music lover, although there is an intersection on the Venn diagram

You're right that "audiophile" tends to have a different, more extreme connotation nowadays (we're all crazy in our own ways lol). We can certainly argue all the different ways this word can be applied, but technically speaking, we have audio+phile. The suffix "-phile", as we know, means "lover of" or "someone who likes something very much". So, say what you will, but I prefer the simplest meaning of the word: "Lover of audio". I love great sounding, well recorded music and if there's something in the recording that's supposed to be there, I hope my system will reproduce it well. I certainly hope the same for you. Enjoy the music!