Worth noting that the reviewer's job is different than the buyer's, so different tools.

 A good reviewer will not who a speaker is good for. A buyer IMHO shouldn't be attempting to discern all aspects of a speaker's performance envelope, but rather should ask it if will play well for them. Not at all the same thing.


I believe the correct answer is to use whatever music you know and enjoy to test any stereo component. It's of little practical value to use bizarre, unfamiliar tracks for testing, unless that's what you are planning to play at home for your listening pleasure. Take a representative sample of your favorite music and you'll have a good idea of how any component compares to what you already know.

Hint: the best reviewers do exactly the same thing.

Thanks for taking time to post all those "best" of links. It’ll be interesting to see what they include.

FWIW - Steely Dan's "Do It Again" is listed to test detail under the best tracks for testing treble category.

It changes as I get boarded with some songs hearing them over and over again.

Right now I use Dean Peer Travelogue and Think... it's all good CDs.

I like to hear how the bass guitar sounds and backing instruments to see if the tone is correct, the impact of the bass and how the backing instruments are layered and separated keeping the right decay and overall tone.  I don't want to hear bongos and drums sound like cardboard boxes but I want to hear the bong of the skin flexing.

IMO using poorly recorded CDs is just that a poor recording so I don't find that helpful in evaluating a system or component.

Happy Listening. 
Best songs:

1.  Heart is a Drum by Beck
2.  Give Life Back to Music by Daft Punk
3.   Water Mellon Man by Herbie Hancock
4.  4ware by Deadmau5
5.  Like Someone in Love by Diana Krawl
6.  Nasty by Vincent Ingala

NOTE:  These are great songs to test for bass extension and sound
              stage.  Try to listen to these on TIDAL in MQA.
Not one of my favorite types of music but Jethro Tull 'Thick As a 'Brick'. If you can find a decent/quality recording.
Thanks OP for the links. I’ve been looking for these and it’s nice to have in one list.  By the way, does anyone know if the streaming from WhatHiFi links are red book quality?
Not one of my favorite types of music but Jethro Tull 'Thick As a 'Brick'. If you can find a decent/quality recording.

i concur. i don't love the record, but it definitely is a good system checker. 

recorded very well, and great dynamics. 
I saw Ian Anderson' ,Jetho Trull in concert in 1973 and performing Thick as  Brick! 
If you can find it, the jazz CD The Wonderful World of Three Blind Mice. Very well produced and will give any speaker system a good workout
+1 jrpnde and dmoss74

”Thick as a Brick” is very well recorded and has gobs of dynamic range.  It is the only LP with such dynamic range that has actually startled me upon first listen, much more so than hearing Mickey Hart’s “The Beast” accidentally fall over on Reference Recording’s “Dafos”.  The MFSL half-speed remastered release of “TaaB” from the late 1980s really shines; that could well be why used copies don’t seem to appear too frequently.  I can’t imagine how good an original first pressing or “hot stamper” could well sound.

Enjoy the music!
Jamie Cullum - Frontin' (2004) Verve
- a piano Jazz trio in very fine form- 

Happy Listening!

"Me And Bobby McGee" by Gordon Lightfoot. When Walter Davies (my first hi end dealer, later known for his Last Record Care products) played the LP track for Bill Johnson and I in 1973, Bill’s response was: "That is a great sounding recording." Gordon’s voice and acoustic guitar are suspended in air, right there in front of you. Lots of inner detail and microdynamics in the fingerpicked guitar playing. My by far favorite version of the song.

"Donovan’s Colours" by Van Dyke Parks, off his Song Cycle album. VDP’s is the genius who collaborated with Brian Wilson on the ill-fated Smile album. Song Cycle was his first solo album, and is unlike anything you have ever heard. This song was included on an LP JBL produced in the late-60’s, for use in loudspeaker demoes.

"Superstition" by Stevie Wonder. Punchy drums (played by Stevie himself), deep electric bass, percussive staccato clavinet. Original pressing on Tamla, recent reissue on MoFi.

"Would I Lie To You?" by The Eurythmics. 12" 45. The 41Hz open E string electric bass note will severely test your woofers' displacement capabilites. Drumming by Clem Burke of Blondie.

"Mercury Blues" by David Lindley. Play it loud.

"Mercury" from Holst’s The Planets. The New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, on EMI. The percussion section of the orchestra is heard elevated on stage risers, sounding WAY further away than is the wall behind your loudspeakers (assuming they are planars ;-) .

Some of my favorites that sound good on MY system: I've discovered these to be some of my favorites that REALLY sound good on my particular system. I'll use these / play these when I'm introducing my hobby / system to someone for the first time.

Dire Straits: Sultans of Swing
Boston: Fore Play / Long Time
The Police: Wrapped around your finger
The Eagles: Hotel California (off of the Hell Freezes over album)
ZZ Top, Rough Boy
Def Leppard: Hysteria (and in general, anything off of the Hysteria Album)
Ratt: Lay it down
Ratt: Slip of the lip
Poison: Something to believe in

You could add Patricia Barber's debut album, Cafe’ Blue to the album list. I’d like to get a vinyl LP to compliment my CD.

And add The Patriot w/ Mel Gibson to the movie list. Superb close vocal miking and sound effects.
Bring your own music that you are very familiar with.

I bring these 5:

enough is enough duet, Barbra Streisand and Donna summer, hear their voices distinctly?


Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds. Richard Burton's voice sound correct?


Double Bass, two Jazz Bass Players. Can speakers both Produce, and Control bass?


Cassandra Wilson, Blue Light 'Til Dawn. Her voice, amazing musicians, imaging, .....


finally, Drums, Mickey Hart, Planet Drum

There were a few vinyl records made in the 1970's by Lincoln Mayorga that were direct-to-disc to enhance the dynamic range and recording accuracy of the instruments.

We always used these in my shop back then to demo Audio Research and Magnepan systems, which were the best in those days.  We also recorded them onto a Nakamichi 1000 and played it through the same system to hear the differences between the original vinyl and the cassette tape (Their Dragon was a later invention.)

As for regular vinyl, we used Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis" song and, as it was VERY POPULAR with the younger set, Pink Floyd's "Money" as well.  Customers really liked that one, although I was not that impressed with the recording.  The fabulous singer Linda Ronstadt was also a good choice.  Back then, female voices were used as a kind of benchmark for listening.

Orchestral sounds were mainly London Decca vinyl versions of whatever we had on hand.  Customers usually brought their own stuff if they were serious about wanting to listen to different set-ups. 

A local competitor/dealer, Peter McGrath, used a Stellavox and some good microphones and went around recording live music that he used in his shop in Coral Gables.  He became a bit famous for the quality of his recordings for a while, and they were pretty good!

As for digital, it was not invented yet and today, when I listen to my CD's, I am always going back to vinyl for what I believe is more accurate playbacks.  I guess it depends on what you are used to.

Simply listen to things you're familiar with that have at least a modicum of dynamics, and remember to work the word "modicum" into statements as people will think, "Hey, that guy's real smart."
One song I always use is "it's oh so quiet" by Bjork, i think its on her Post record.  
I always come back to -
Rickie Lee Jones "S/T" and her other stuff. "Pop" is fine. No speaker or system has still managed the screaming baby perfectly.

Listening now to Richard Bona track Djombwe & I Wish & Trains. Very live. Not bad at all....

Some of these recommendations are new to me. Will try them.

I think one of these days I will start a thread on DVD video on concerts. The best recordings and soundtracks. I think Eagles do a good job farewell tour. Mixed really well, good impact. Just wondering what everybody uses to show off their eqiupment on surround type systems.
Rickie Lee Jones' "Pop Pop" is pretty much unknown, and a great thing...Charlie Haden on bass and Robben Ford (on a nylon string guitar) et al...and yeah, a good choice for a test CD.

Oh, my, Ricki Lee Jones...thank you for reminding me!  She is a great talent and her vinyl is excellent!

Post removed 
Thanks for sharing.  It’s an interesting selection.  I like the listening notes that accompany the choices too. 
I love Rickie’s POP Pop, and it’s bass can get a bit overblown, and can be a good test for control.  This thread reminds me I have to try it with the latest Directstream Dac software and EtherRegen . I have it on the Alto LP but would love a hires file to be made available.  
 Also I use patricia barber companion, the Sacd version is best.  
I have a couple SACD's both by Blood Sweat and Tears Vol 2 &3.
Awesome sounding SACD's.

If I'm limited to 1 album it would be a 'Book of Roses' by Andreas Vollenweider. It contains instruments that highlight all aspects of a system including harp (including some deep bass notes on the harp that many systems can't reproduce), piano, acoustic & steel guitar, flute and acapella vocals. Vollenweider is also famous for creating rhythmic percussion by playing chalk on a chalkboard, the sound of tumbling marbles and book pages being turned. This really helps evaluate a system as we all know what these common household items sound like.  

I agree with many of you on choices such as Blood Sweat & Tears, Beck (especially the Morning Phase album) and Al Dimeola's ' Flesh on Flesh' album. Other notable tracks include 'If You Go' by Shirley Horn for the unbelievable recording of vocals, piano and drums, especially the cymbal work and 'She's Already Made Up Her Mind' by Lyle Lovett.
The best songs to test your speakers on are the songs you will listen to once you have chosen your speakers.

Case in point........

From another op...

Listening to mostly jazz, solo instruments and vocals I find my Martin Logan Spire hybrids to sound awesome, but recently I was listening to some both "Busy" 90’s rock and classical (lots of instruments playing loudly together) and I find the music starts to sound garbled and annoying (to bright), so much so, I turn it off.
I was wondering if you all might have some suggestions on some speakers that would be a little more forgiving with busy/loud music that I could possibly switch over to when listening to different types of music. That is unless I can find speakers that can handle all styles of music, then I would consider taking the hit ($$$) on selling the Spires.

Without getting into room size and dynamics, lets just call it a standard room, I was also looking for something more efficient. The Spires need a huge amount of power (and volume) to sound good. Looking more for something I can listen to loud but also still enjoy the music at a much lower volume if that’s at all possible. Neutral and not to bright.
Living in the sticks, I can’t just jump in the car to go demo speakers. Only once, in the past, did I purchase a set of speakers online and unheard, going solely on the sales person’s recommendations. I learned the hard way to never do that again!

Equipment now: Coda CSiB integrated amp with W4S 2v2 SE Dac running Roon Nucleus.

I also wanted to mention that the Spires have phenomenal base, so much so I sold the 2 subs I was originally using with them. Floor standers and bookshelfs have come along way in SQ these days, but if I need to purchase another set of subs the budget is starting to dwindle.

I find it best to listen to a variety of music that is well recorded, well listened favorites. I burned a CD that I used (and continue to use) for auditions. Some show soundstaging, others impact, etc.

I left out classical even though I own a number of pieces but don't listen as often as I used to...

Shirley Horn - The Music That Makes Me Dance
Rebecca Pidgeon - Spanish Harlem
Michael Franks - Dragonfly Summer
Dianne Reeves - Never Too Far
Fourplay - 101 Eastbound
Steely Dan - Jack of Speed
Grace Jones- Don't Cry - It's Only The Rhythm
Larry Carlton & Lee Ritenour - Take That
Herbie Hancock - Butterfly
Lee Ritenour - Boss City
Dave Brubeck - Take Five
Miles Davis - So What
Buddy Guy - Sweet Black Angel (Black Angel Blues)
Cassandra Wilson - A Little Warm Death
Troubles What you’re in - -Fink (Live from Union chapel London)
Keith Dont Go - Nils Lofgren
Daggers & Knives - Woodes
Hey Now - London Grammar
Caught our in the rain (live royal Albert hall ) - Beth Hart
Mountain Time (Live at Carnegie Hall) - Joe Bonamassa
Serious - Bernard Allison
River Child (acoustic ) - Civil Twilight 
Heaven I know - Gordi 
Parade of the dead (unplugged) - Black Label Society
Blessings & Curses - Wolves at the gate
Euphoria - Stalgia
Mindlessness - Jimmy Wahlsteen

Lots of different types of music to hear - full soundstage, crisp vocals, a punch is bass, the feeling like the artists are actually in the room with you. If these don’t sound great on your system you need to replace it. Lol 

I don't know if my favorite music is appropriate for another person to test speaker performance with since what we like is all personal taste.
My approach is to bring my favorite music (both poorly recorded and well recorded).
But I have 3 albums I use for testing Dire Straits Brothers in Arms, Bella Flec Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, and Jeff Beck Wired.
If a speaker system can satisfy me with these albums I am good to go.
Some great suggestions here, thanks.

However, with one or two exceptions, there's very little here in the way of excellently recorded orchestral music, which I think presents a unique test for loudspeakers.  Mercury Living Presence has some good stuff but the application of modern recording techniques has raised the bar substantially.  

Any recommendations in this genre would be appreciated.
I use different kinds of music to explore various performance characteristics of speakers, ie:

  • Well-recorded acoustic jazz to explore timbre, detail/speed & soundstage
  • Well-recorded large scale classical and choral to explore time, detail/speed, soundstage, and dynamics
  • Well-recorded blues, Afro-pop, reggae, electronic/chill to explore overall tonality, bass depth/impact & dynamics

One of my favorite torture-test tracks in the 3rd category is Donald Fagen's "Morph the Cat" (title track of that 2008 recording). The opening note is a huge transient built up of countless bass instruments & other things in the studio. Few other cuts show just how large & loud a speaker can get (in a hurry).
For overall 1 disc to have (if you can find it) I choose Opus 1 (1st) test CD .. amazing breadth of music and well recorded .. Tiden barogue (unsure of name/spelling cut) I have found glaring distinctions from 1 system to another .. and while its not my "relax a bit CD" it allows me to quickly size up a systems strength for placement, depth, stage width & especially detail.
An all out dynamics and bass challenge would be Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band "Life in a bubble" (HDTracks & others) if your not hooked by the 1st track .. you need to turn it up louder.
The one orchestral recording I’ve been taking to every audio show and have used for (almost) every equipment review for the last 5 years is a 2010 recording on the RCO Live label, an SACD. It’s Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 (his last) with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink. I use the first movement—it’s just 8 minutes long and, once you get to really know it, it seems to have most everything needed to judge gear.

• There’s a wide variety of instrumental solos: are they correctly scaled and is the timbre/tonality correct?
• High treble: the glockenspiel notes that open the piece and recur throughout. Are they focused, with a precise attack, and can you tell that lower pitches are produced by larger pieces of metal?
• Deep bass. There are some exposed bass drum hits a few minutes in. Can you tell how large the drum is and are you getting a sense of the volume of the instrument? Is the decay natural and free of overhang?
• Dynamics: There’s one major orchestral climax halfway through - does it crest gracefully?
• Imaging: Do you get a realistic degree of localization to soloists and orchestral sections?
• Soundstage: This recording has excellent front-to-back layering of the players - are you hearing it?
• The Concertgebouw (the hall) in Amsterdam is a great place to hear and to record music in. Do you get both a sense of immediacy and of music in the air around you? The acoustic is both clarifying and atmospheric - the equipment should let that come through.

One other point worth making: The performance is quite good (Haitink was the first conductor to record all the Shostakovich symphonies) and I never get tired of it.

There are plenty of other recordings of large-scale orchestral music that I find helpful, and I’m sure you’ll discover your own. But do give this one a listen.

Andrew Quint
Senior Writer
The Absolute Sound
Jethro Tull - Locomotive Breath will certainly test the dynamics of your speakers. The caveat is you have to have heard the music on a good system to realize how it is suppose to sound. 
A real dilemma for budding audiophiles.

I had the same issue with speakers not being able to play everything. Even had B&W CM10s2’s which muddled mid-bass. Found a deal ‘Sonos Fabre Amati Futura’s’ and I’ve never looked back. 
I had the same issue with speakers not being able to play everything. Even had B&W CM10s2’s which muddled mid-bass. Found a deal ‘Sonos Fabre Amati Futura’s’ and I’ve never looked back. 
For  Setup.  Ballad of.the Runaway Horse.
Rob Wasserman Jennifer Warnes.

For Acoustic Bass.
Brian Bromberg. Wood 1 or 2.