Music to evaluate Speakers and System

I would like to hear about some of the pieces of music or test cd others use to evaluate a system.
This is a topic that comes up regularly and, after a slow start, garners a fairly long list. The bottom line, however, is that it does not matter what others use since the most important factor is YOUR familiarity with the recording, not its genre or technical issues. The only way to hear anything that will distinguish the sound from what you know is to eliminate as many variables as possible. Using a familiar recording is essesntial. Too bad one cannot use the same acoustics!

Almost any Wagner, if your system can do any of his operas at full trottle without collapsing than your cooking.
I think the best is to use the Music type you listen to..If you like Female Jazz singers you should use that format..I happen to love Female Jazz singers so thats what I use to evaluate..If you mostly listen to Classical that should be the Format to use..For loud Rock Music I would expect that would be the area you should use..I would think this makes the most sense to me..Maybe not for others...
I'll second Kr4s recommendation. Excellent advice.
I disagree that one should use whatever one likes. A system should play everything well unless one is happy to predispose what one can play and enjoy to one genre or another.

A nasty test is the Sheffield Drum Track - Track 1. Try this at realistically high SPL levels and see if it holds together properly without sounding compressed, dull, warmly resonant or boomy. If this difficult percussion test fails then there is no need to waste time auditioning other much easier music. Suprisingly Piano (another percussion instrument) is also tough for most systems - so I would cue that up next after drums. Next I would try brass most "Hi-fi" is often too polite to do brass instruments proper justice...they should be able to sound loud and brash (edgy) and placed forward in the soundstage - sometimes but not always mellow and subdued.

Be wary of spending time on female vocals, saxophone or clarinet, as these are generally pretty easy for any system. Male vocals are significantly harder and as someone mentioned...keeping it all together at realistic levels on a big jazz band or Wagner can tell you an awful lot too.

Really one should methodically go through each instrument one by one to check timbre...some systems hold together at high levels but sound too much like "hi-fi" and just aren't natural sounding on the detail...and one needs both for long term satisfaction. Some systems do everything well and then fall down over a specific frequency or instrument - this can be a long term irritation that can drive you crazy. And some systems only do one thing exceptionally well...this to me is the worst scenario if you like music, as this kind of system, no matter how impressive or magical, is only good to demo one or two tracks!
You have to go with what you know best. I 'know' piano so I tend to listen to recordings of a Bosendorfer with which I'm very familar and I own because I love them enuf to have listened to them extensively without regards to their value to system evaluation. And I know what it sounds like live from a relatively close prospective.

Now, if you have no absolute reference in your memory bank, a good 'test' recording(s) is made by Opus 3 and includes cuts from many of their recordings. I have 'Depth of Image' on LP but the digital version comes in a set I believe.

The benefit of these disc's is they are minimalist recordings of various types of jazz and classical music, vocal, instrumental, groups, even organ and choir. Each cut comes with a description of what you should hear when it plays. In a properly put together and set up the music is both natural and the soundstaging can be fantastic. If you play these discs and you can't hear what is extrodinary about the recording then you've go a lot of work to do on your system and/or your listening skills.

If you interest in 'test recording' is less about timbre and tonality, but more about set up, check out the Sheffield/XLO Test and Burn-in CD. I've found the cut with out of phase information and the 'walk about'cut very helpful in fine tuning set up (identifing problem areas and correcting them).

Female Jazz is fine but that music sounds good on almost any speaker, I swear some must love the format simply because it makes them feel good about the gear they own.
You only need to bring what you like and are familiar with to decide what you like.

I agree with others. Use something you've listened to a hundred times or more.


Timbre,an a capella choir. The Robert Shaw Chorale comes to mind. Human voices are the most complex things to reproduce.Second choice,a string quartet.

Imaging,the last movement of Mozart Symphony #41. Can you follow all four horizontal/contapuntal lines, playing at the same time,without the speakers getting in the way?

Dynamic Range,Use a piece of music for which you have a written score. Look at the dynamic markings. ff is 100db,f is 90db, mf is 80 db,mp is 70db,p is 60db, pp is 50 db.

Find a ff passage and set the volume so your SPL meter is 100;keep the volume setting there and play a pp passage It should be 50,if it is more,you know how compressed the dynamic range is. Then do the same in reverse,set a pp at fifty,play a ff and see how close to 100 it is.

Range extreme,treble. Anything with a half stopped violin.

Range extreme,bass. Anything from the JS Bach Organbuken.

I know that is over the top,but there it is.
I disagree that one should use whatever one likes.

That is not what I or anyone else said. We emphasized that the recordings need to be familiar but no one said that they should be restricted to a single type or genre.

A system should play everything well unless one is happy to predispose what one can play and enjoy to one genre or another.


I would agree to bring a poor sounding recording to see how the speakers will play new music, Rock and Pop are some of the worst offenders so beware of how a speaker handles this music if you enjoy it.
There are obviously many fine recordings to demo a system, but my favorite 3 are:

Patricia Barber Cafe Blue LP
Weather Report Weather Report LP (the blue one with red letters)
Bruce Katz Band Transformation
Back in the day (1950s) "everyone knew" that speakers should be evaluated by playing loud organ music. 12 inch woofers were acceptable, but 15 inchers were best.

Nowadays a delicate female vocalist is the test signal. This reflects how audiophile priorities have changed.
Nowadays a delicate female vocalist is the test signal. This reflects how audiophile priorities have changed.

LOL...yeah that was my warning too but in those days Wives accepted big ugly boxes. Since the 80's we have been told that tall narrow elegant speakers with tincy wincy woofers are the best and now the wives will never let us go back to the kind of things The Who used....ahh the skill with which the industry has recognized the WAF marketing opportunity of tall and narrow speakers and they do indeed do a great job on female vocals...
Hi Rleff. First, to what purpose do you want to evaluate "a" system? For now I'm assuming you want to enhance yours. First I'll suggest you only use recordings that are in correct phase. I think most test recordings have a phase check track so you may start there(XLO has a good one). Once "your" system is properly set up you must only choose recordings known to be in correct phase(for ex Chesky & Reference Recordings among others are reliable) as this will avoid complicating your evaluation. "Solo" classical instruments are a nice place to start. Guitar for detail, micro dynamics and image specificity(can help position speakers. Flute, woodwind & horn are revealing of sibilance(often cleared up with power conditioning) and often soundstage. Piano is a tough one but when you're getting things right it's remarkable to hear the improvements in dynamics, soundstage, and lovely delicacy with overtones & decay plus subtle piano action sounds. When things sound good you can challenge some orchestral, Reference Recordings are good for this as they seem to choose pieces that are both interesting(not background music) and dynamic for the whole orchestra. (If you use average recordings that may be 'phasy', or not, it will make for frustration; much better to buy a couple of discs.)If the orchestal is clear and provides the detail to hear all the instruments and the dynamics you want I think you'll be well ahead of many of us who thoroughly enjoy there systems & music anyway. HIH(hope it helps)
I do use 'the ultimate reference disc' by Chesky and a choir recording 'Cante Domino' I think it is on Propertius
I was just intertested in the other types of music/recordings other people are using whether it was for dynamics,imaging,phase,linearity,seperation of instruments,and emotional involvement of the music.
Shadorne-Thanks for the Sheffield recommendation as I do not have any of this label.
Thanks for all who have responded thus far.
the music that you are familiar with, whatever it is.
Another stress test is this:

Erich Kunzel & The Cincinnati Pops - Very Best of Erich Kunzel: Top 20. Lots of variety and almost all of it dynamic.
Here's a link to an article on the Audio Note website. I found it very helpful in evaluating different pieces of equipment. It's definitely worth a read. Good luck in your quest.
it is not possible to "know" the sound of a recording.

having listened to a recording many times does not achiev knowledge.

it is not necessary to be familiar with a recording to detect a sonic signature.

selecting a variety of recordings and genres is sufficient to evaluate speakers and stereo systems.

even if you have never listened to a cd before it does not disqualify it to be used to evaluate speakers and stereo systems.

since recordings sound different, the chances that say, 5 recordings will have the same "errors", i.e., frequency response imbalances, etc., is remote.
"Body Acoustic"
David Chesky

For imaging and soundstage.

When making evaluations with more than one unknown parameter, e.g., new speaker and new recording in a new system/room, one cannot determine what accounts for all the discovered sound differences. It is a mathematical/logical impossibility.

Even if you play 5 different (unfamiliar CDs) and they share the same characteristic, you can only ascribe that characteristic to the system if you know (and you don't, of course) that those recordings do not, in fact, share that characteristic.


I really enjoyed that article thanks for sharing.

This recommendation below is a real gem!

play a larger number of recordings of vastly different styles and recording technique on two different systems to hear which system reveals more differences between the recordings.

Since recordings are never totally accurate in and of themselves, it makes sense to see how a system handles a wide variety of music. Ignoring, for a moment, the way you enjoy hearing Britney Spears "Hit me one more time" bass to sound....but rather by concentrating on whether a system shows up more nuamces on each recording and between one recording and another. This means that rather than a "beautiful" or "sugar coated" sound contest (liking the way it makes Britney's bass shake the room) you are aiming for a resolving system that lets you distinctly hear more of what is or isn't on each recording. You are keeping score by how a system makes each recording more unique and distinctive relative to the next reocording and not simply how "pleasant" it is able to sound. You are also checking that nothing throws up a huge red flag that the system is overly emphazing anything too much..if it does then all recordings will have a certain slant to them.

This is a very analytical way to approach it but it avoids the pitfall that your favorite "demo" recordings are quite likely to happen to be the ones that sound best to you on your own existing system....and a better system may not always throw at you what you like or expected with your favorite tracks!
Thanks for article as it was a interesting read with many points of which I never thought of.
When people come to your home to audition gear; do you find many people using the same genre of music or are they mixing it up; I was just curious? I like the chesky recordings with their different types of microphone/recording techniques and will check out the one you mentioned.
Shadorne; presently hunting for the Sheffield you mentioned as well.
Tough to evaluate separate components in an unknown room/system. You just won't know what you're listening to, what exactly causes the sound you are it a cd player, speakers, amp, preamp, cables or the room?

Unless you are buying that entire system, really, your findings mean very little until you bring the component you were "evaluating" home and hook it up to the rest of YOUR gear.

Some of the music I usually have when I go to a high-end showroom:
Patricia Barber - "Modern Cool" and the live cd "Companion"

Madeleine Peyroux - "Half the Perfect World"

Brian Bromberg - "Wood II"

Metallica - "The Black Album"

Mahler Symphony No.1 with Zander on Telarc(usually use 4th movement to see the separation of instruments as some of the systems/components tend to make a moosh out of this piece).

But again, as I said, it is a tough task to evaluate a particular component within an unknown system and room.
{quote] Mahler Symphony No.1 with Zander on Telarc [/quote]

I agree! Wow. I met Benjamin last time I was in Boston. What a demanding character - he sure knows how get the best out of an orchestra!
Thanks for your kind words, but I recall that this article was recommended by Bob Neill in some other forum. I just happen to remember where I read it. It is an interesting process to evaluate systems and different components. I'm currently in the process of replacing my speakers (B&W N804) and/or my power amp (Krell 2250) and this has openned a few doors for me. As always, I try to trust my ears first and foremost.
the purpose for evaluating a stereo system is not to attempt to "know" the stereo system, but rather to observe the performance given a sample of recordings.

a stereo system is as "strong" as its weakest link. if i like the sound of a stereo system and am looking to purchase an amplifier, i may consider auditioning the amplifier in my own system.

when i went shopping for speakers, i did not purchase a pair of speakers until i heard a stereo system whose performance i enjoyed.

here is my reasoning. if i enjoy a stereo system with a specific pair of speakers, i consider that there is a probability that i can enjoy these speakers in my own stereo system. until i obtain some sufficient evidence, i won't buy the speakers, nor will i want to audition them in my own system.

on the other hand, since i like full range panel speakers, i willing to audition any of them without hearing them.
once i hear them in a stereo system, i require a positive experience.

i can sum this up. if i have a negative experience, i won't take action, if there is a positive experience i will take action. if there is no experience, i may or may not take action. in the case of solid state amps, e.g., since i don't like them as a rule, i won't listen to one, in general, without having a positive experience outside the context of my own stereo system. there was an exception.
i auditioned roger sanders esl solid state amp, without hearing it first, against my better judgment. after i auditioned it, i have decided never to audition a class d amp, or solid state amp until i have first heard the amp somewhere.
I agree with others, first use what you know best. I have a few tracks I like, I am a great believer in opera, to sort the men from the boys.
Verdi's Otello, the version with Domingo and frenni, has a very busy opening, a lot of movement, chorus set in a deep soundstage, you even get a cannon, for goodness sake.
I also like Shawn Colvin's Cover Girl, not because it is a great test, but I love it and play it often.
"Planet Drum" by Mickey Hart was an audiophile staple 15 years ago and the bass album by Dean Peer. Both are instrumental's, but they'll highlight good dynamics.
I have the 1st ten records Sheffield released. Bought new-kept like new.(I am a collector 'nut', have been 4 4ty yrs) Listening to them now really reveals clean recording- but.... Your better off getting jazz records from the 60's & 70's. Many are startlingly! good.
When you get into it you'll realize why many 'old-timers' kept insisting "mono" was better than stereo. Heck, I think solo instuments like flute & guitar would still sound better recorded "mono" and played back on one speaker.KISS. Clarity, dynamics, nuance.