Critics' Picks

HDTracks Critics' Picks: A Top Ten For You!

Dr. David W. Robinson, Editor-in-Chief, Positive Feedback Online

I've been downloading and enjoying high-resolution music from HDTracks for the past several years. HDTracks has asked my for my current "top 10" (plus 1!) of their high-resolution downloads, with a quick comment on each one. That's a tough one! There's a lot of great high-resolution A&R at HDTracks!

Here 'tis, in alphabetical order:

  • Dave Brubeck, Time Out

    Audiophile 176kHz/24bit

    One of my all-time favorite jazz titles, and a classic recording for all time. The HDTracks version at 176.4kHz/24-bit sounds punchy, smooth, and pulls you in with the rhythm and details. If you don't have this in your download library ... get it!

  • Crosby, Stills & Nash, Daylight Again

    Audiophile 192kHz/24bit

    This was a kind of rebirth of the group back in the '80s. CS&N took their strengths and broke new ground in my heart with this one, which I bought on LP when it came out. (Still have that!) Everyone knows their earlier work, and with Mr. Neil, but this is fresh, haunting, and sounding great in high-resolution. Rich and warm ... check it out.

  • David Chesky, The New York Rags

    Audiophile 192kHz/24bit

    You know, I have to mention David Chesky's NYR to you. Chesky's compositions seem to capture and embody the spirit of NY in a way that evokes the modes of the past ... there's the "ragtime" element ... but also puts a truly modern twist on the feel. I can feel the streets, the crowds, the excitement, the joy, and the deeply bluesy, conflicted sorrow of our greatest city, Chesky's work is quintessentially American, but uniquely his own; he paints NYC effortlessly. I don't know anyone else who composes like this. You owe it to yourself to try his work ... the New York Rags are challenging and brilliant!

  • Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis

    Audiophile 192kHz/24bit

    OK, so who doesn't like Dusty Springfield? You don't have to be an audiophile geezer to dig Dusty; she makes it happen at all levels, and her vocals speak to anyone who loves what a female vocalist can do when she can just make it float. Let her breathe at you in this high-resolution release; you'll not regret it.

  • Eric Johnson, Ah Via Musicom

    Audiophile 192kHz/24bit

    Here's a fave rave of mine from the cusp of the '90s, Eric Johnson's AVM. EJ's effortless mastery of a soaring lead guitar was a jaw-dropper at the time. I dug "The Cliffs of Dover" all day long when it was released in 1990, and still do today. This download has all of the punch and lovely guitar work, without the digititus of the CD. It's much closer to the LP in feel ... more relaxed, less edgy. If you love this album, the HDTracks download isn't a downer ... go for it!

  • Fleetwood Mac, Fleetwood Mac and Rumours

    Audiophile 96kHz/24bit

    Yep. I love Fleetwood Mac, all the way back to Mystery to Me. (Will someone please release that one in high-resolution? Please?) Who needs to talk about the music again? Great tunes all over the place here! I have these titles on the original LPs, CD, and audiophile 33.3 and 45 RPM. The high-resolution downloads are certainly very good here, and clean the clock of the CDs. If you love Stevie Nicks and company, this is a great way to get the best that they'll sound in PCM. Get the higher resolution version between the two at HDTracks ... that's the way to go.

  • Michael Jackson, Thriller

    Audiophile 176kHz/24bit

    Thriller is a favorite album of mine from the '80s. The HDTracks version in 176.4 kHz is killer! Tons of jump, knock-out clarity, bass that hammers your soul, a sense of improved spaciousness, and poundin' rhythm that had me tapping my foot immediately! The enhanced resolution makes the greatness of Jackson at his height of his art inescapable ... there he is! Michael the Man! This is thriller ... you can't beat it! A helluva great job on this major album from HDTracks. My hat is off to David Chesky and company for giving us this gem ... encore!

  • Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die

    Audiophile 192kHz/24bit

    Mr. Winwood. Mr. Capaldi. Mr. Wood. In the aftermath of Blind Faith, Stevie Winwood helped to midwife this excellent album, a favorite of mine from 1970. Great music, with Winwood doing what Winwood does: singing in a way that's haunted me ever since I first heard him in the '60s. My foot was tapping all the way along ... vintage sound or not, this is the real thing, music from the soul. Check this download out if you don't know it; if you do, then you need no further invitation. Again, get the highest-rez you can!

  • War, The World Is A Ghetto: 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition (Avenue Records/Select)

    Audiophile 96kHz/24bit

    OK, so this makes eleven. So sue me. Complete change of pace. As soon as the throbbing rhythm and driving bass of "The Cisco Kid (Was a Friend of Mine)" hit my speakers, I was deeply digging what I was hearing. Back I was in 1972-1973, college days, and all the memories of LPs and FM radio blasting War, with this top-selling LP of 1973. Righteous stuff! And judging from the quality of this high-resolution download, the master tapes must be in great shape. No brainer here ... download this, and set your phasers to funkadelicious! The street beckons! And many thanks to HDTracks for the pleasure!

Michael Lavorgna, Editor, Top Ten Picks

Steve Guttenberg's Top 10 picks for Great Sound

The Audiophiliac,

Steve Guttenberg's Top 25 Best Sounding Pop Albums

Selecting titles for this HDtracks top 25 list was a labor of love. First and foremost, the music had to be great, and I put a high priority on sound quality. Sure, defining exactly what good sound sounds like can be a little tricky, but there are objective standards that characterize sound quality: Low distortion, wide frequency response, and uninhibited dynamic range. On a more subjective basis, the best sounding music has an almost magical effect in the way it connects with me on an emotional level. That is, I feel closer to the music when it sounds realistic.

The music was--after all--performed by human beings, and the best recordings preserve that feel. While most rock and blues records rarely provide the heightened transparency and unrestricted dynamic range I hear from well-recorded classical music, a good number of these titles are audiophile grade material. Instead of two-dimensional, pancake-flat soundstages, many titles feature life-like imaging. Dynamic "slam" will be visceral and midrange tonality superb. So when you upgrade your hi-fi the sound of all of these recordings will continue to astonish. In any case, the best-sounding rock or blues HDtracks downloads will get your mojo working.

-- Steve Guttenberg
Steve Guttenberg writes for CNET, Stereophile and Home Entertainment Magazine.


by Gilbert Hetherwick
Former President of Sony/BMG Masterworks & General Manager of Angel / EMI Classics

Coming up with ten suggested downloads for HDtracks fans can be tough considering the enormous selection of titles that are now available on the site.

Considering that most classical "aficionados" generally don't need much help with their decisions, I instead intend this to be a point of departure for either casual listeners of classical music or fans of other genres who have been wanting to "dive into the classical pool" but didn't know where to start.

I've chosen a broad spectrum of possibilities from contemporary cutting edge recent compositions to classic symphonic works, and all of these recordings represent the highest quality of performances from many of the top artists recording today and should give you a good place to start collecting.

If you would like to learn more after after listening to any of these, simply reach out to me at . I'm always happy to help.

I started out in music retail in the 1970s and "turning people on" to recordings is something I've always enjoyed.


  1. Beethoven Symphony #9 -- Claudio Abbado & Berlin Philharmonic

    Many consider the Berlin Philharmonic the top orchestra in the world and the Beethoven Symphonies have been at the center of their broad repertoire pallet for close to 130 years. And with conductor Claudio Abbado combined with 96/24 sound you have the best of all possible worlds for perhaps Beethoven's greatest work.

  2. John Adams - Shaker Loops / Short Ride in a Fast Machine - Marin Alsop w Nathan Gunn

    Many people don't realize that classical music is a "living" contemporary art form today beyond the traditional image of Beethoven, Bach,or Mozart. And one direction that some composers today have taken is in what is known as "minimalist" music.

    For my personal taste, John Adams is the top "minimalist" composer today. You may be familiar with Philip Glass or maybe Steve Reich but for me Adams seems to take the music to more places with more variety. "Shaker Loops" was his "break through" piece and is a wonderfully mesmerizing tour de force. Also included on this disc is the piece "Short Ride in a Fast Machine", which is a perfectly descriptive title. If there was ever a "single" (as in "45") for minimalism this piece would be it. Great stuff played pitch perfect and with strong conducting from American rising star Marin Aslop. The one vocal track also features American baritone Nathan Gunn, who is a major star at opera houses around the world including the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. Gunn is as good as it gets and he has a great "feel" for contemporary music which his performance here demonstrates.

  3. Gidon Kremer - Keith Jarrett - Dennis Russell Davies - 12 Cellist from Berlin Philharmonic - Music of Arvo Part

    Another contemporary composer, Arvo Part creates a world unto himself. Beautifully performed by the legendary Keith Jarrett on piano and Gidon Kremer on violin as well as the TWELVE cellos of the Berlin Philharmonic.

  4. Pierre Boulez - Vienna Philharmonic - With Anne Sofie von Otter - Mahler Symphony #3

    The third symphony is one of Mahler's most melodic and evocative works that unfolds like a great novel with plots, sub plots and multiple moments of discovery. It is also Mahler's longest symphony and among the longest in all of classical music. But trust me, it NEVER gets boring. Performed here by perhaps the greatest Mahler orchestra on the planet (the Vienna Philharmonic) with Pierre Boulez conducting AND with 88/24 sound it makes for a great introduction to Mahler.

  5. David Chesky - Urbanicity & Electric Guitar Concerto - With Bryan Baker

    This is NOT "your father's" classical music. David Chesky is one of the most prolific young composers writing today and his broad knowledge of both "classical' composition as well as rock and jazz makes him the perfect person to attempt this kind of unique concerto. Although there have been attempts before to place the electric guitar in a symphonic context (most notable by Frank Zappa and Terje Rydal) this composition and recording takes it to an entirely different level with the instrument perfectly balanced and integrated into the music in a way I have never previously experienced. And as a guitarist myself I can truly say that Bryan Baker's "chops" are truly staggering. Chesky's a master at not just composition, but also cutting edge technology and recording, and his talents in these three areas combine together perfectly here for a sonic and musical feast for the ears. And the opening ballet "Urbanicity" is a wonderful soundscape "painting" of contemporary New York City which could stand as an evolutionary extension of the city's portraits painted in earlier decades by Bernstein and Gershwin.

  6. Chicago Symphony Orchestra - Haitink - Shostakovich Symphony #4

    Shostakovich wrote this piece during the terrifying years under Stalin in the USSR. When the piece was first performed, Stalin "denounced" the composer (a VERY serious thing at the time) as it was felt that the overwhelmingly tragic nature of the composition was NOT the kind of uplifting spirit that Stalin was demanding for the motherland. His "followup" of the fifth symphony was much more in the spirit that Stalin desired and it has become possibly the composers most popular work. But in truth, the fourth symphony is a great and frequently overlooked work which was simply the composer writing from his own emotions during these extremely difficult times for the country. Dark?... yes.... Brooding?... yes.... But overwhelmingly powerful. Performed here by arguably the top orchestra in America today with Bernard Haitink conducting.

  7. Philadelphia Orchestra - Charles Dutoit - Richard Strauss - Alpine Symphony

    You probably know Richard Strauss from his composition entitled Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was made famous as the intro music to "2001 A Space Odyssey". The Alpine Symphony was written late in the composers life as a descriptive symphonic "soundtrack" for a climb through the Alps. Gorgeous orchestrations and expanses of sound which include sound effects from a "wind machine" that the composer had built for the "storm sequence" on the mountainside. Performed by the legendary Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Charles Dutoit. Music doesn't get any "grander" than this!

  8. Jan Garbarek & The Hilliard Ensemble - Officium Novum

    Something old and something new. This is the third volume of collaborations between jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the vocal group the Hilliard Ensemble. The singers in the British Hilliard Ensemble made their reputation performing "early music" from the Medieval and Renaissance periods but it was when they began their more contemporary collaborations with Garbarek that they broke through to a much larger audience. Gorgeous textures from the voices with improvisational exchanges from Garbarek's saxophone makes for one of the most unique collaborations in modern music. Plus the usual killer sonics from ECM in 96/24 sound.

  9. Lang Lang - Daniel Barenboim - Chicago Symphony - Tchaikovsky & Mendelssohn Piano Concertos

    Performances of two of the greatest piano concertos of all time by perhaps the best combination of musical forces performing today. Lang Lang is a true phenomenon today and the Chicago Symphony has rarely sounded better in this stunning 88/24 recording.


MUSIC REVIEW - Carlos Kleiber - Beethoven's 5th and 7th Symphonies - Vienna Philharmonic - Deutsche Grammophon - Original analog recordings from 1975 & 1976 as 96/24 Digital Downloads from

By Gilbert Hetherwick (Former President of Sony-BMG Masterworks and General Manager of Angel/EMI Classics)

After learning the basics of classical music from my father as a child, I later further educated myself in college by buying stacks of inexpensive "cut out" LP Boxes at the campus bookstore. And I'm sure like many early explorers of the genre, one of my first sets was an inexpensive box of the complete Beethoven symphonies. And in between listening to The Beatles, The Stones, and Crosby Stills & Nash, I kept coming back to the Beethoven set, playing it over and over again, and trying to trace the path of discovery and inspiration which led from one symphony to another. And today Beethoven has a special place for me as the doorway though which I passed to ALL things "classical".

Later in the mid seventies when I went to work at a record store, I came to understand and appreciate the broader world of various performances and interpretations and it was then that a store customer (and avid collector) introduced me to the recording of the Beethoven 5th by Carlos Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic. And this recording and others helped lead me on a path that eventually led to my "accidental" career in the classical recording business.

Although Kleiber was known as one of classical music's great eccentrics, it wasn't just his eccentricities that set him apart as one of the greatest conductors of our time. He cared passionately about the music and worked and studied until he was totally "one" with each piece he conducted in a unique way that far transcended the simple notes on a page. Whereas most conductors would have two or three rehearsals for a performance Kleiber was once known to have over thirty (and then he cancelled!). And although his interpretations were sometimes jarringly different than others, he was always able to bring me around to his point of view through not only the passion in his performances but also with the incredible accuracy and power he could bring out of an orchestra. As his career grew, so did his "legend", despite the fact that his performances were few and far between. In his fifty-year career he conducted fewer than one hundred symphonic performances (although he conducted several hundred opera performances) and his recording output is a small fraction of that of most other famous conductors. If you are a collector of classical music there isn't much I need to tell you about Kleiber as I'm sure you've got your own opinion, but if you are a beginner and want to learn about Beethoven, I can't think of a better place to start than with the his performances of these two symphonies.

So I was especially excited when I heard that HDtracks was releasing the two symphonies from Deutsche Grammophon as high resolution 96/24 downloads. The original recordings were made in the mid-seventies toward the end of D.G.'s "analog" age just before the label moved into digital recording (when it took the label a period of adjustment to come to grips with early 16 bit recording and their sonics briefly suffered). So with this 96/24 version you get a brilliant high resolution "snap shot" of the warm analog sound of the legendary Vienna Philharmonic conducted by one of the great legends of the twentieth century. Major thanks to HDtracks and Universal for bringing these gems back to life with such stunning depth and clarity. Maestro Kleiber certainly deserves it!