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Electronica for audiophiles (Part 4)

  • I have a sneaking suspicion that lossless audio downloads are slowly but surely becoming less expensive. Around $10-15 per album now seems to be the norm with the likes of Boomkat and Bleep now on par with the artist-direct content sold via Bandcamp.

    Got a great two-channel system or killer headphone rig? Here are ten electronic albums that are worthy of your download dollars. Do note: this isn’t ‘audiophiles for electronica’ but ‘electronica for audiophiles’, a subtle but important distinction to make.

    blamstrainBlamstrain – For All The Dreamers In
    No, not a David Bowie-related injury but Finland’s finest electronic music export. Juho Hietala’s latest is more pastoral and/or noise-laden than anything he’s done previously. It’s also more varied. A smattering of ambient pieces blended with field recordings interlock the album’s more crucial cuts. One for listening whilst sitting still behind headphones. Available as lossless download at the Blamstrain Bandcamp for €12.


    fenneszFennesz – Bécs
    An album for the stationary listener. This is Austrian Christian Fennesz‘ first album proper in six years and it comes on like a complex headache that you learn to live with and then, later, love. Fractured beats sit beneath acoustic guitar strums washed in layers of distorted noise. Listening to Bécs is akin to stepping out from underneath the dappled cover of Spring’s first leaves into blindingly brilliant sunshine. The FLAC is £7 from Boomkat.


    flashbulbThe Flashbulb – Nothing is Real
    Another album for the stationary listener. Not as confronting and far prettier than Fennesz, Nothing is Real is an unusual sideways move from Chicago’s Benn Jordan. The chaotic drill n bass n acid of his numerous earlier albums is nowhere to be found. And who wants an artist to make the same album over and over? If you like what you hear of this, Jordan has made nearly all of his releases via his Bandcamp page. That’s where Nothing is Real will run you US$10 no matter which download format you choose.


    LSGL.S.G. – Rendezvous In Outer Space (Remastered)
    Early trance from 1995 (when electronic music’s BPMs generally ran higher) but don’t let that put you off. Producer Oliver Lieb could have easily intended this debut long player (under his L.S.G. alias) as a soundtrack to a thousand low-rent 70s sci-fi TV shows but it’s into the inner space of one’s consciousness that RIOS really drives its message home. Chock full of melancholic motifs, this is electronic music that lends deep emotion to the braindance. Fire it up on a night drive and by the time you hit “Sweet Gravity” you’ll emerge from a motorway-induced catatonia wondering where the previous fifteen minutes/miles went. But it wasn’t the motorway, it was L.S.G. This new edition has been remastered in 2014 and released in 24-bit FLAC. It sounds spectacular. Available from Oliver Lieb’s Bandcamp for €11.

    atomtmAtom TM – HD
    We’re seeing increasingly more electronic artists putting out releases as 24-bit editions. Uwe Schmidt has always been an audiophile focussed fellow. You can purchase much of his extensive catalogue direct from the man himself via his rather clunky website. 2013’s HD sounds positively stunning.  Lead track “Pop HD” is what Kraftwerk might sound like if they were French whilst “Stop (Imperialist Pop)” pokes fun at the mainstream music media (MTV), words delivered by a voice stripped of all sonic humanity. Clearly German-born Schmidt knows a thing or too about melding ironic, tongue-in-cheek lyrics with glitchy electro beats. The production and mastering here are both immaculate. It’s what you drop onto the hi-fi when you want to show off your system’s dynamics and sense of clarity…so make sure you get the 24-bit WAV version, US$13 from

    kangdingrayKangding Ray – Solens Arc
    This 2014 release from David Letellier is more suggestive of cultural disintegration and urban decay than inter-galactical travel. It’s also more 4/4 focussed in places than his previous efforts. Some cuts might even be workable in (Berlin’s) club spaces. However, Solens Arc‘s slow construction-deconstruction cycle keeps the continuously mixed tracks firmly grounded in home listening territory. Put on a decent pair of headphones and sink into the cracks between the sounds. You won’t get the travelling-without-moving vibe of the aforementioned L.S.G but like RIOS, this is a release that demands consumption in one sitting. Take it for a walk during a chilly winter sunset in your favourite city. US$12 from

    plastikmanPlastikman – EX (Performed live at the Guggenheim, NYC)
    With age comes maturity. Much like Sven Vath before him, Richie Hawtin has copped a lot of flack in recent years. Accusations of ‘selling out’ to the Ibiza crowd have been hard for Hawtin to refute given a complete absence of new Plastikman material since 2003’s Closer. When Hawtin revived this minimal acid house alias in 2011 – one that has lent his career the double-whammy of critical acclaim and commercial success – things began to swing back in his favour. Once the tour to promote 2010’s Plastikman Arkives release had wrapped up, Hawtin was asked to play Manhattan’s famous Guggenheim museum, a gig to which it would have been crass (and lazy) to bring belters like “Spastik’ and “Gak”. Instead, he slowed the tempos and upped the minor-key melodies. And it’s the distillation of this live show that forms the first Plastikman release in over ten years. It’s a continuous mix that builds from almost nothing but rarely gets too carried away. Subletly is its core strength; you could spend hours dissecting and unearthing new sounds each time you listen. Introspective and beautiful, EX is available for previewing in full on YouTube for those who want to try before they buy, after which it’s US$12 for the full FLAC release from

    plaidPlaid – Reachy Prints
    I didn’t connect so well with their last effort, 2011’s Scintilli. Duo Ed Handley and Andy Turner seemed hellbent on squeezing their woozyily playful take on electronica into the then dominant dubstep narrative, if only on its margins. Subtelty has always been one of Plaid’s core strengths. They’ve made fine art of gently twisting melodies in on themselves so that each tune’s (initially) disparate tropes ultimately climax together. Reachy Prints sees Plaid not trying as hard to reach the dancefloor, instead returning to the intertwining of naive melodies underpinned by head-noddable beats that lent longevity to their first few1990s releases. At first blush, Plaid might not impress but stick with Reachy Prints as it gives up its secrets slowly over repeated listens. You can snag a 24-bit WAV version from for US$15.

    scannerScanner – Electronic Garden
    Interest in Robin Rimbaud’s cell phone scanning samples peaked for many in 1995 when Björk sampled the untitled lead track from his Mass Obersation EP, released under his now well-worn alias of Scanner. But being a one-trick pony isn’t a strong enough foundation on which to build a career…not for Rimbaud’s lack of trying though. To these ears, Rimbaud’s eavesdropped recordings of banal phone conversations wore out their welcome soon after the millennium so it was a both refreshing and surprising to hear this live recording as something that could’ve easily been plucked from the 1990s – burbling electronics driven forward by subtle rhythms – when it would’ve been called ambient-techno. There are some beautiful moments here. US$12 for the 16-bit FLAC release from

    danielaveryDaniel Avery – Drone Logic
    By far the most dancefloor-agreeable album featured here, Avery’s debut arrives as a startlingly accomplished long player. A highly polished production adds a glistening sheen to bouncy techno cuts that invariably squelch the listener to a destination marked ‘fun’. Think: Orbital’s earlier efforts or Simian Mobile Disco’s Fabriclive, dance music with an intellectual bent that’ll really shine on a top notch system. US$12 will get you the 16-bit FLACs from Bleep.


    Previous instalments of ‘Electronica for audiophiles’ can be found here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. To find (or morelikely hear) new music I usually listen to some internetradiostations @ Soma FM.
      From the songs I really liked I noted the artist names, then find them on Soundcloud or Bandcamp to hear more en eventually buy (download) an album on Boomkat.
      So in recent years I found quite a few new artists who are really into blending any old & new electronic music/sound to a refreshing new style.
      Names like… Tycho, Ulrich Schnauss & Mark Peters, Isan, Northcape, Beach House, Metronomy.
      Old names still going strong… Moebius / Neumeier/ Engler – Another Other Places, Roedelius / Schneider – Tiden. (Cluster from the 70’s) All from German label Bureau B.

      • I was really into Ulrich Schnauss’ first coupla records, very reminiscent of Cocteau Twins. Beach House I like too. And yes Soma FM is a superb service, isn’t it?

    2. I’m not sure how important hi rez is for electronica. For acoustic instruments, arguably, it’s a different story. One cannot get “natural” for electronic instruments directly plugged into a mixer. Yes, one might detect differences, but what is the value of those differences?

      As for Fennesz – Bécs, both names are Hungarian, not German (or as Barack Obama calls it, Austrian, for he knows well that Austrian is a unique language distinct for its own.)

      The first name may be that of the artist, the second is Hungarian for the city of Vienna.

      Cannot confirm if Barack Obama knows where that city is located.

      It is likely somewhere.

      • If there are audible benefits to bringing hi-res encodes to electronic music then bring it on. Besides, where does one draw the line? What if an album combines sampled drums and acoustic instruments? As much as we like to think that genres are cut and dried, they often bleed into one another.

        I’ll concede that the albums listed in this article aren’t the best for determining the ability of a DAC or amp to replicate tone and timbre but they’re knockout for testing dynamics and detail retrieval. And that’s even before we move beyond the uber-narrow niche of hifi reviewers and/or those audiophiles who are more into the gear than they are the music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

        There’s a tendency for some audiophiles to look down their noses at people who do things one way or another. And yet that’s precisely what I saw spill from one US loudspeaker representative’s Facebook page yesterday. He wrote: “…the idea of curating electronica for audiophiles makes me want to barf.” That’s not only snobbery, it makes for dumb business sense. Yet this attitude is symptomatic of the unbelievably narrow range of music one hears at shows. One reason perhaps why young cashed-up folk stay away. I know I’ve written time and again about this but my objection to Krall and old-time Jazz isn’t an aesthetic one. Who am I to judge? It’s the ubiquity of the same old same old at audio shows and in-store demos that has me suggesting alternatives with electronic music. My intention must be obvious: to introduce different music selections into the audiophile conversation so that Krall and Boards of Cananda can exist side by side in demo spaces.

        • I cannot speak for electronica and the long-in-the-tooth audiophiles who built this hobby to where it exists now. I cannot speak for much of the elevator Musak that goes for the show-off crap demos at audio shows, nor for the snobbery and one-upmanship this hobby is noted for.

          What I can speak for are the necessity for standards: for testing, not standards for liking. One should be able to like anything. To deny what another prefers is to deny his humanity. The scientific method however demands not opinion, but repeatable testing that can be verified by independent (disinterested) parties.

          Audio equipment requires several different kinds of testing, the meter and the ear and possibly others. Using various kinds of music recorded in many venues, we can determine which component better excels at reproducing a range of real instruments and real voices, acoustically-produced in an acoustic environment in real time.

          Arguably we cannot reference to reality anything electronically-produced. We don’t need to reference to reality electronica because it doesn’t exist in reality as we know it to be. Most electronic instruments (even an electric guitar most of us are familiar with) and synthesizers are directly plugged into a console for recording their sound – they are unable to create the sound acoustically we hear through other electronics (a guitar amp for example) or on a recording.

          Accordingly, we cannot compare A (input) to B (output) and there are no tests for electronica we can scientifically support.

          We can however easily support the validity of a recording reproducing a Steinway grand (two of which we have in my family, facing back to back for four hands and two ears), a Martin guitar, a Strad or Zildjian – and our own voices.

          • Yes – but the idea that hifi equipment exists so we can attempt to reproduce the live event at home is so…quaint. A movie is not a film camera pointed at a theatre production and an album is so rarely just the mic’d recording of musicians. If it is, we could just as easily apply the ‘referencing reality’ maxim to Kraftwerk as others do with string quartets. Kraftwerk play live in venues too!

            However, most albums are so far removed from live recordings that referencing reality isn’t just unviable, it’s plain silly. Instead, many listeners reference *other equipment*. The comments sections of reviews are littered with questions from people asking ‘how does X compare with Y’; that’s exactly why I try my hardest to included comparisons in my reviews. The master of comparative information is Srajan. Go check out his review of the Oppo headphones to see what I mean.

            Moreover, each DAR review features a list of selection of recordings used to ‘test’ the equipment. I’m rather partial a bit of David Bowie, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits (and their descendants) as well as electronic music (natch) so that’s what I use to conduct reviews. And it’s probably not too far removed from what my intended audience listens to (and what they take to in-store demos).

          • Re: “Arguably we cannot reference to reality anything electronically-produced. We don’t need to reference to reality electronica because it doesn’t exist in reality as we know it to be.”

            True, but that does that mean we shouldn’t strive to reproduce these “artificial” sounds as best we can?

            If you apply the whole “shortest/purest signal-path” theory that audiophiles so often brag about, then sounds that come out of synths could potentially have more detail than the sound that goes into microphones.

    3. Cool. All of these artists (electronica in general, I suppose) are new to me, with exception to Fennesz. In the Fishtank with Mark Linkous is a favorite, and, I came to it via Sparklehorse.
      Good timing too – this may help pull me out of a slow dive (often interrupted by recent releases – Open Mike Eagle, The Antlers, Tune-Yards, Wooden Wand) into 60’s jazz on vinyl.

      • I’m really into Sparklehorse but didn’t know he’d done a Fishtank record so that’s now earmarked for future investigation – thanks.

        • Digging the Fennesz record. Thanks. Also looking into Throwing Snow, Hundred Waters and James Blake.

    4. I was afraid you had left this column, glad you haven’t. You have fine taste in electronica music. Some nice pedigree mentioned here, people should take note. Thanks.

      • Thanks. I’m simply trying to extend the audiophile music conversation beyond the usual suspects. Not that I want to see electronica as a dominant force at demos or shows, just that it has its place alongside the likes of Patricia Barber and Nils Lofgren.

    5. Next to Kangding Ray – Solens Arc, Answer Code Request – Code and Abdulla Rashim – Unanimity, EX is rather underwhelming for me, to be frank. On its own as a backdrop to a catwalk in a fancy gallery, it’s sort of alright, but you’d expect more from a Plastikman album.

      Didn’t know Avery had new stuff out. Will have to check out that one. I did enjoy his last Fabric mix. Your other choices are all solid. Props, mate!!

      Release of the year for me (so far) has been the Music for the Uninvited EP by Leon Vynehall;

      On the deep techno end, this one’s probably my fave. Late 2013 release but I only got it this year;

      Other 2014 notables have been the Re-issue of the brilliant DJ Sprinkles – Midtown 120 Blues (CD only) and Kassem Mosse – Workshop (vinyl only, afaik). On the compilation side, Mule Musiq’s Enjoy the Silence Volume 3 (Vinyl or CD only) has been getting a lot of play on my end, particularly in the car on teh way to work.

      • Yes, I’m really digging that Answer Code Request album and thanks for heads up about Prologue’s Bandcamp – some solid stuff there. Will investigate further. As for Plastikman, I’ve read some +ve reviews and some -ves ones too; it seems to have really divided fans. An inevitability after such a long time between meals. I’m pleased he just didn’t try to re-hash Musik or Sheet One though.

        • Can’t believe I forgot to mention Edit Select – Phlox. Definitely a personal highlight of the year, that one. Just grows on you with each listen. Also available on Prologue’s Bandcamp page. Some of the tracks on that album absolutely demand you have a system (or one of those SubPacs) that can render sub-bass down to 10hz. Monstrous bastid of a techno album!!

          • Isn’t a SubPac just a Rumble Seat? 😉 Will check Edit Select as soon as I’m done setting up Qobuz.

      • I have been trying to get my mitts on that damn DJ Sprinkles album forever now. Now if only those bastards at Hardwax would repress some of the older Kassem Mosse 12s.

    6. I always enjoy these articles, and am convinced that electronic music can be in the audiophile music. Especially after getting tipped off to guys like Uwe Schmidt, Alva Noto, and the rest of the Raster-Noton Canon. I also agree with your sentiments about hi-res encoding for this kind of music. I don’t see why a techno album like Carl Craig – More Songs About Food & Revolutionary Art should be treated differently from a classic jazz album. Many snobs tend to think its all just computer music and are not aware of the enormous resurgence in analog production equipment used in the making of modern electronic music.

      I def need to get a hold of the Answer Code Request LP, Ostgut Ton has a pretty good track record of album releases from Barker & Baumecker et al.

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