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5 Hi-Fi Albums You Need to Hear With a New Cartridge

If you’re in the market for a new cartridge, these hi-fi records will put your upgraded stylus to the test.

When it comes to building a stereo setup with exceptional sound, there are tons of factors to consider. Record collectors often discuss turntables, speakers, and integrated amplifiers, but the cartridge remains the unsung hero of an impressive home audio setup. 

For those unfamiliar, a cartridge is the component of your turntable that includes the stylus – aka your record needle. As many entry-level and intermediate cartridges are more affordable than other pieces of audio gear, upgrading your turntable’s cartridge can be a cost-effective way to heighten your home listening experience. Cartridge lines like Audio-Technica’s VM95 series allow you to easily swap out the stylus, making it easy to interchange and upgrade as you navigate your vinyl journey. 

After you find the cartridge that’s right for you, the only real way to appreciate your latest sonic upgrade is to put it to the test with a hi-fi record. Hi-fi refers to the high-fidelity sound of an album, usually thanks to the exceptional source materials, mixing and mastering, and manufacturing practices that have been expertly curated for an audiophile release. 

The list below features albums that are known for their memorable production and unique recording methods. These particular vinyl pressings have also been praised for their sound quality as members of the Discogs community have given them high ratings and glowing reviews.

Pet Sounds (1966)
by The Beach Boys

Pet Sounds
The Beach Boys
Rock, Pop
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, 180g, 50th Anniversary

The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds revolutionized popular music with its ambitious arrangements and production techniques. Often referred to as the most progressive pop album ever recorded, Pet Sounds allowed the genius of bandleader Brian Wilson to fully shine. Wilson’s fresh approaches to orchestration included layers of vocal harmonies, found sounds, and recordings of everything from bicycle bells to beverage cans. Through his pioneering use of the recording studio as an instrument itself, Brian Wilson captured his complex songs so vividly that they went on to inspire a greater appreciation for pop music, more frequent use of synthesizers, and the rise of the concept album. Appreciate this monumental album with a new cartridge and this dynamic 50th-anniversary edition that features a stereo mix from sessions supervised by Brian Wilson himself.

Bitches Brew (1970)
by Miles Davis

Bitches Brew
Miles Davis
Jazz, Fusion
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, Special Edition

Released in 1970 to mixed reviews, Bitches Brew has gone on to be celebrated as one of Miles Davis’ most innovative albums. After experimenting with electric instruments on 1969’s In a Silent Way, Miles Davis continued to explore these elements even further. The inclusion of electric piano and guitar in jazz was groundbreaking, and it paved the way for jazz rock and other forms of jazz fusion. Beyond its massive influence and breathtaking compositions, Bitches Brew also sounds amazing. Davis and his producer, Teo Macero, used the recording studio in radical new ways. Intensive tape editing helped shape compositions and develop unique musical structures, while studio reverb and echo effects all enhanced the overall atmosphere. Give this reissue from 2014 a spin if you want to hear an audiophile pressing sourced from the original analog master recordings and assess how good your new cartridge sounds.

What’s Going On (1971)
by Marvin Gaye

What’s Going On
Marvin Gaye
Soul, Rhythm & Blues
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, Limited

What’s Going On is an astounding achievement viewed by many as the best soul album ever recorded. Gaye strayed from the traditional Motown studio formula and brought in musicians of his own. By using a more laid-back approach, the sessions surfaced candid performances and happy accidents that yielded incredible results. When a few lead vocal takes were inadvertently mixed together, Gaye’s trademark vocal layering was born. The album’s jazz and gospel influences, classical orchestration, dark subject matter, and use of congas and bongos immerse you in a one-of-a-kind listening experience. Put on the 50th-anniversary reissue of What’s Going On, enjoy the superb sound of direct-to-analog mastering from the original primary album tape reels, and let your new cartridge reach its full potential.

Loveless (1991)
by My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine
Vinyl, Deluxe Edition, Reissue, Gatefold

My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless used experimental guitar techniques and production methods to create an album that still sounds as vital today as it did in 1991. With numerous studios and engineers used throughout the now legendary recording process, frontman Kevin Shields used a “glide guitar” technique and digital samplers to create lush soundscapes. The meticulous approach used for producing the album may have cost Creation Records a fortune, but the result was a landmark shoegaze album that embraced the digital sounds of the day in a way that has continued to wow listeners of all kinds. To make it sound even better, Kevin Shields worked with Domino Records to release a 30th-anniversary edition with a fully analog cut. Grab a copy if you can and test out that new cartridge of yours.

Random Access Memories (2013)
by Daft Punk

Random Access Memories (10th Anniversary Edition)
Daft Punk
Electronic, Electro
Vinyl, Album, Limited Edition

Daft Punk created an entirely new approach to making electronic music with their magnum opus Random Access Memories. After feeling dissatisfied with some sampling and looping techniques, the duo decided to bring in live musicians and use acoustic drums, guitars, horns, woodwinds, a string section, and a choir to craft their songs. A custom-built modular synthesizer was performed live in the studio and vintage vocoders were used to capture robotic voices that also conveyed emotion. Made with the smooth West Coast sounds of the 1970s and ‘80s in mind, Random Access Memories is a timeless classic, and big-time fans are praising the sound of the expanded 10th-anniversary reissue that includes nine previously unreleased outtakes. If you have a copy handy, listen to it once your new cartridge is ready to go. 

Published in partnership with Audio-Technica.

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