I just snagged a copy of Chris Jones, Roadhouses & Automobiles. All I have to say is this: Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Buy this disc. Now. Just do it.
I’m totally lovin’ the country groove. And the sound quality is some of the best I have ever heard. Just stellar. My new “resolution test” track is the title track. If you hear the crickets, you’re off to a good start. If you can’t hear the crickets, it’s time to start upgrading!
[2019 Update]: I’ve been using this track for almost a decade now, and it’s become a tool instead of a tune. That’s not awesome, but the point here is this — it’s an astonishingly good recording, and yes, I still recommend the disc.
Note that this is not the same Chris Jones album that you can hear streamed through Tidal or Qobuz. I wish. The recording I’m referring to is from Stockfisch Records (SFR 357.6027.2). In that version, and in apparently only that version, it’s “as if” the mastering engineer added some “ambiance” to the recording.
I say “as if”, because I have no idea as to the story here. And I have no idea if that “ambiance” is 12dB down below the main mix, or what. I’m completely BS’ing here — I really have no idea. What I do know, however, that the crickets in the opening sequence of the song “Roadhouses & Automobiles” are there but they are not obvious. Some amplifiers obscure them. Some loudspeakers eliminate them. Sometimes, I add something to my system, and the while the music sounds great, little details like the crickets in this song just disappear — or I have to crank the system way up in order to bring them back.
What I will say is this: with the very best audio chain, the crickets are there as a natural, if faint, element in the overall soundstage. And that’s what I’m looking for. Can I hear the crickets? When I’m listening (especially at “normal volumes”), do I have to strain to hear them? Do I have to have absolute silence in a 10-mile radius?
What I found out, much later, is that there are birds down “in the mix” as well (and there also seems to be more than one bird). It took truly great headphones, like the now-venerable Sennheiser HD800 when driven by a truly incredible headphone amplifier from Pass Labs, to pull that out clearly. And it wasn’t until I got acquired with Tidal Audio loudspeakers (“diamond” tweeters!) that I was able to hear the crickets and the birds in a two-channel system. This became what I now call “The Cricket Test”. It would probably be better/more accurate as “The Ambiance Test”, but “Crickets” kinda stuck. C’est la vie.
Detail is not a requirement for enjoying a high-end audio system. But it is fun. And when a system can pull this kind of detail out, and put it on display in a way that makes the whole soundstage “feel” natural and coherent (and not distractingly hyper-real, for example, when “hearing music” devolves into an exercise of tracking special effects), well, that’s pretty much the whole enchilada.
Of course, your mileage may vary.
Chris Jones’, Roadhouses and Automobiles is an audiophile chestnut for a reason. You deserve to own it, even if you have no intention of abusing it nearly as thoroughly as I have.
Again, highly recommended.