Top 3 songs to evaluate a system

Hi everyone,

So here is the question: what are your Top 3 music pieces to evaluate a system?

The songs should be complementary to cover a wider range of features, but not necessary. If you only listen to one type of music, it would make sense to only evaluate with this type.

Bonus: identify one good part of the piece where you pay extra attention because this is where the difference between systems is more visible.

I'll start:

Holly Cole Trio - Girl Talk - My Baby Just Cares For Me
Highlight: The vibrating cord at 1:59

MaMuse - All The Way - Glorious
Highlight - The clean guitar and the high drum beat that rythm the whole piece

Metallica - ... And Justice for All (Remastered) - One
Highlight - The first drums at 0:53, but the whole guitar as well

Doing this myself, I realize it's very hard to only pick 3!!

Fantastic topic, especially because you're asking for specifics

I'll start:

Ives, Overture & March "1776" Nordic 2L recording
Highlight: At least first 1/2 of song. High quality recording with a lot going on; great test of soundstage depth, width, instrument separation, and the ability of a system to deal with very complex transients and dynamics across the entire frequency spectrum.

Shelby Lynne -- Just a Little Lovin' (other tunes from this album also excellent)
Highlight - Thump of bass drum at beginning should shake your room, will test bass response and dynamics from the get go. Instruments have a lot of space, are very well recorded; vocals have a tremendous amount of texture. 

Keith Greeninger & Dayan Kai, Looking for a Home (Blue Coast Collection - The E.S.E. Sessions)
Highlight: Male vocals, acoustic guitar and steel guitar; startlingly lifelike recording, extraordinarily precise soundstage locations for both singers and instruments.
I might suggest a slightly different approach to this question.  It's easy to list great sounding music.  The problem being those picks tend to make most every system sound good.  I would suggest using music that has always seemed flat (for want of a better term) on one system and ask does the next system improve the sound?  Would that not better show the difference?  Just a thought.
Thanks @hilde45 for being the first. I should have added a double bonus to have song easily available.. like Spotify. I can't find two of the thee pieces proposed. But Shelby Lynne is great and it's really my style of music!

@bigtwin - Excellent point, and is indicate that your strategy is to use "flat music" to evaluate a system. Really something to think about. But which flat song do you use?
@papyneau Nordic 2L is pretty easy to find -- take a look here:

They also have free downloads

@bigtwin makes an *excellent* point. I'd say doing both (audiophile and flat recordings) is a good idea.
I'd say any system that could make Yoko Ono sound OK, is one heck of a system. Anything she has EVER done as far as singing sounds BAD.

As far as a business women, she ain't no dummy, but she was always hard to look at.. My mom would say "Back that one in Son, park her close to the door". :-)

Highwayman by Johnny Cash
Rainmaker by Strunz & Farah
Da Club by 50 cent or Havana by Camila Cabello

They tell me what ever I'm going to listen to is going to sound good or NOT.

Rainmaker is my cable, cap, resistor, tube, tester. :-)

Nearly anything that was done by Steely Dan, James Taylor, Eva Cassidy and Patricia Barber. Every other minute I can give you 4-5 more excellent choices. So many fantastic artists through the  years!
3 songs:

1.  Everything Counts (Oliver Huntemann & Stephan Bozdin Dub):  Depeche mode is very experimental and this has dynamic sound across the frequency range.  

2.  Let's Dance by David Bowie:  The song has some very busy and relatively quiet sections in the beginning of the song there a horn starts playing in the background - you can tell its a horn by the initial peak otherwise it could be confused with a keyboard/synthesizer.

3.  Hey Nineteen by Steely Dan...excellent recording with a variety of sounds and 'musical density'.

Tin Pan Alley by Stevie Ray Vaughn
Pulling The Pin - Run The Jewels
then something live like Spanish Moon from the Waiting For Columbus live Little Feat album or something from Widespread Panic's Live In The Classic City or maybe the opening tracks of the Grateful Dead's One From The Vault or their Playing In The Band from Sunshine Daydream Veneta, OR 1972.
@ papyneau   The tribute album to Jimi Hendrix called Stone Free.  Fabulous musicians from Clapton to Seal & Jeff Beck.  Violinist Nigel Kennedy does an outstanding rendition of Fire.  The Cure does a take on Purple Haze that I actually prefer to the original.  Yet for all this talent, the recording lacks any real depth in the sound.   I would love to hear the system that brings this LP to life.  
1. Supertramp, Crime Of The Century - School => Bloody Well Right
OK, that's two songs, but you really can't stop after "School," especially when playing vinyl.

2. Patricia Barber, Cafe Blue UN-mastered - Nardis

3. The Sheffield Drum Record, Side A - Improvisations By Jim Keltner

So many possible recordings but these come up time and again.

Loudon Wainwright - Love Songs / Hard Day on the Planet.
Finger snaps, piano.

Jennifer Warnes - Famous Blue Raincoat / title track.
You'll know when you hear it.

Doc Evans – At The Gas Light / Skat De Dat.
Great 1962 recording of whistling 

The Best of Greig  1995 Eclipse Music Group, DDD all metal single CD box.  Morning Mood is the name of the piece.

Steely Dan  2000 MCA, Babylon Sisters from Gaucho.
Vocals have air and space, especially the chorus.

Rockin Roots  The Rounder Subcompact Disc Volume 2. AAD
A very well recorded disc of 5 Zydeco bands.  Sounds live.

Some fine suggestions here that I will follow.
First being:  Rainmaker is my cable, cap, resistor, tube, tester. :-)

In fact, I'm off to try it right now.
Any song on "Styles" by Ben Liebrand. The entire album is great.
+1 for Tin Pan Alley by SRV.
Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. These siblings do some great stuff, all recorded on old analogue gear and played on vintage instruments.
As mentioned, I could pick 3 a minute lol
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Wow, so many to choose from.   In no particular order…

Nils Lofgren, Keith Don’t Go (live)
Return to Forever, The Romantic Warrior (Instrumental)
Supertramp, School
Michael Hedges, Aerial Boundaries
Peter Gabriel, Biko
Jenn Adams, Mozambique is Burning

and I know I can’t count, but they are all so good!

London Grammar, Hey Now
Zero 7, Destiny
Incubus, Vitamin  from the album Science which is recorded great.
It's not so much particular music you are looking for, it's WELL-RECORDED music.  Some is good some is bad, some is excellent even in CD format.

If you want to evaluate a system see out only excellent recordings, whatever the music.
They are much better to listen to as well and can make lesser systems sound greater.

So...choosing only well-recorded music saves you money on upgrading your system.  Which will still sound poor with poor recordings.  Silk purses, sow's ears and all that.
Sad Old Red - Simply Red
Tom's Diner - Suzanne Vega
Thinkin' About Your Body - Bobby McFerrin
I would agree with the anything by Steely Dan. They use a wide variety of instruments. An old song but Do You Know What I Mean by Lee Michael’s. And for good guitar licks, the band America.

Zappa / Joe’s Garage / Little Green Rosetta.
Great for soundstage, layering, inner detail, color of voices.

Joan Baez / Diamonds and Rust / title track.
Crystal clear recording with fast transients.

Suzanne Vega / Solitude Standing / Calypso.
Clear recording, delicacy, close mic vocals, air, space, speed.
Listening for soundstage and detail retrieval I use music I know inside and out.

Led Zeppelin - Whole Lotta Love -  Fantastic 3D soundstage.  It will wrap completely around you, 360° if the system is capable.

Jethro Tull - Locomotive Breath/Fat Man -There's a definite "buzz" after bass note hits on Locomotive Breath.  After Fat Man ends there'e a "hunphhh" from Ian Anderson.   If these are easily discernible, the system is pulling out some detail.

TELARC - 1812 Overture -  What can I say?  First you have to keep the needle in the groove if it's on vinyl.

Honorable Mentions: About anything by Pink Floyd, E. Power Briggs, Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, or any well recorded aorchestral pieces. 

Steely Dan. Aja. Black Cow. For layers and bass

Joni Mitchell. Court and Spark. Free Man in Paris. For layers, female vocals and acoustic guitar in a mix. 

Nick Drake. Pink Moon. Free Ride. Pure acoustic goodness. 

This is my quick list:
David Byrne Lazy - it will test what you are looking at more than anything I know of.  The highs and the lows.  Be sure and put the volume to 11. 

Peter Gabriel - Blood of Eden, there is a bass note that not everything can hit. 

Beach Boys - Our Prayer / Gee pure vocal and total mid-range push.  It should really "sing" on a great system. 

Dave Brubeck - Take Five - you have to listen to some piano and how well that is reproduced.  Also do all the instruments represent or does one sound overpowering to the rest. 
A lot of GREAT SONGS and choices: not necessarily in this order:
Elton John: Funeral for a friendMetallica; Nothing else matters/Fade to BlackAC/DC  Thunderstruck
1.  Nasty by Vincent Ingala
2.  Choolate by The 1975
3,  Maybe You're The Reason by The Japanese House ( extremely high 
     quality recording)
4.  Little Person by Michael Wollny

Exile on Main Street. Any system that can make that awful recording sound decent wins.
Rick Wakeman - Jane Seymour from The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
The pipe organ at St. Giles takes you right into the church and the Moog piece takes it to another dimension.

Jeff Beck Group - Goin Down from the S/T Orange album.
The separation of the instruments in the left and right channels and right out of the center. The beautiful tone and resonance of Max Middleton’s piano. And of course Jeff Beck squeezes just about every note that you could get out of a guitar. Close your eyes and you can feel the strings bending. The whole album is just fantastic.

Santana - Waiting from the S/T first album.
The soundstage and spaciousness comes at you from every direction in the room. The music just floats.

And one more.
Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris - Why Worry from Real Live Roadrunning. Emmylou sounds like an angel. Oh wait, she is an angel.

1.  Concordia Viols - Crye by Concordia Viols (2001-10-02) - Music  The gorgeous sound of the consort of viols will tell you everything you need to know about a speaker's midrange.

2.  John O'Conor - Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1 (Moonlight, Pathetique, Appassionata) - Music  Well-recorded piano music tells you a lot about a speaker.

3.  Samuel Barber, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, André Previn, London Symphony Orchestra, André Previn, Gil Shaham - Barber: Concerto for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 14 / Korngold: Much Ado about Nothing Suite, Op. 11 - Music  Here's a real litmus test.  On speakers that are tipped up or otherwise too bright, the violin tone will be edgy or astringent.  On good speakers it will be just right.  As for bass extension, there are bass figures here that are not loud but should be audible; listen to hear how clear they are.
I can barely pick just three just to evaluate bass.

Frazey Ford  U Kin B the sun  Purple and Brown 
Deep Bass 

Soul Coughing Soft Serve
Feel in chest impact and power

Woong San Round Midnight
Realistic string bass

I'll stop... but it's just scratching the surface
First is Stevie Ray Vaughan vinyl version of “Tin Pan Alley”. This song gives you everything needed. Good bass guitar breaks from light to hard pick control, and the part when you can hear the drum stick hit the rim before the skin. Not all systems will render this.
Second is anything Doors. Their albums have great sound stage and depth. You actually feel Jim is closer than the rest to you.
Third is Jethro Tull “Thick as a Brick”. This album front to back is one of the best produced you will ever hear. Wide rang of instruments to check system balance.
Artist to never use Joe Bonamassa the bass on his albums is mud and sounds terrible.
After posting mine earlier and reading these comments, we all have failed to mention one group who still sounds phenomenal: The Beatles. Put on Hey Jude and it sounds like McCartney is right in front of me playing bass and piano and singing. Ringo never sounded better on the drum kit with the cymbals crystal clear. Of course, there are others: Something, Penny Lane, and the list could go on.
From the album "Turn Of The Cards" by Renaissance:

1) Black Flame
2) Running Hard
3) Things I Don't Understand.

All three will feature copious amounts of acoustic piano, harpsicord, Rickenbacker bass and an orchestra. Annie Haslam is an incredible vocalist. The use of the cliche' "sing like a bird" rarely applies or is deserved but, on the song Things I Don't Understand Annie actually sings like a bird from the 5;00 to the 6:50 mark of the song. So, there is much here to challenge any audio system.
1.  Beach Boys: Heroes and Villains - Sounds of Summer
2.  Frank Zappa:  Blessed Relief - The Grand Wazoo
3.  The Who: Quadrophenia - Quadrophenia 
Bcuz I’m all about that bass:

PM Dawn - "I’d Die Without You" for full range of hi, mid & low

Dave Matthews Band - "Grey Blue Eyes" for mid & low

Eighball & MJG - "Just Like Candy" for lows. (I’m not satisfied until my system can resolve the lowest of the low bass in this one)
The Sex Pistols didn't make the cut......

-Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life, Joy Inside My Tears......the initial crescendo that settles into bass, vocals, then there's that cymbal crashing in the left channel.

-Van Morrison, Moondance, Caravan.....a full complement of  instruments are there, soft to loud, dynamic recording.

-Radiohead, The Bends, title cut.....

Honorable mention: Billy Cobham, Spectrum, Red Baron....tour de force instrumental.
Dimming of the Day, Richard and Linda Thompson
Looking for an Echo, The Persuasions
400 years, Bob Marley and the Wailers
If something sounds great on these 3, they'll sound great for everything.
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This is my go to (othwerwise I just listen to whatever strikes my fancy out of the 4K+ albums that I own). 

To evaluate a system / component whether it will suit your needs:
Listen to music that you like to listen to!And when you make your choices based on that, your system will grow in the direction you take it...

I would recommend listening to all sorts of music you normally listen to. Do that for a month, and then you will notice whether you are happier than before or was it a let-down.

Any other form of evaluation will take you towards a direction where you will not be happy. Use the demo tracks as a learning tool, they are very valuable. But do not use them to make system decisions.
As many have said it’s hard to pick just (3), I have many -  but I do have my #1. A great owner/dealer introduced me to his # 1 (5) years ago and I agree.
The imaging/ soundstage/ separate distinct instruments, with Wynton Marsalis, then with Dianne Reeves voice are simply great. Have a listen and enjoy. I am grateful to that dealer in Tampa.

””The Feeling of Jazz” (covered by many) with 
Wynton and Dianne!


I don't get why Miller Carbon questions why you guys actually still do this?

I would have thought evaluating a system is a completely valid exercise and some recordings are likely to be better than others at revealing flaws.
   I believe this post will receive responses from those who just want to express what their favorite songs are rather than doing what the OP is asking (maybe he is asking that)
   It makes sense to use songs (music) to evaluate a system with those you are familiar. But, the same songs when it comes to "evaluating an amp"  can vary more than the results you want to achieve. Recordings of the same song can sound terrific in one case or horrible in another depending on the quality of the recording.So, an evaluation of a particular amp can't be limited to just 3 songs of a particular genre but to a range of music.
   Music of all styles (pop, hip hop, rock, metal, folk, classical, jazz, xydeco, and some others) contain useful dynamics. Your focus may be on male/female vocals,, instruments, or all of those.
   I'll join the "herd" and weigh in on some of the music I've heard that contain excellent dynamics.......In no particular order.

Steely Dan...Aja
Boston Pops...most any selection
Jennifer Warnes....most any selection
Jethro Tull....Thick as A  Brick
Stuff...Do You Want Some of This
Sanford-Townsend Band...Smoke From a Distant Fire.

There's no end to this list or any other.

not songs so much as musical pieces- 
*Fritz Reiner/CSO- Scheherazade - this 1960 recording, on the right systems in the right rooms, is like being there, you can hear every little bit of musicians' breathing, music stands creaking, sheet music and clothing rustling, all the little details that spell out "live performance of real musicians." if any of this is missing in the playback, something's the matter with your system. likewise if it sounds harsh in any way. tape hiss should be audible and sound separate from the musicians.
*Organ Stop Pizza - "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" - subharmonics below 10 cycles per second in this one, on the world's largest Wurlitzer theatrical organ. need abundant line current and woofer travel/linearity of response or else it just doesn't work and may result in woofer damage. the deep bass should rock the room. room rumble and wind chest noise should be apparent. 
*Red Norvo, "The Forward Look" - a KOJ recording of the highest quality, of a small jazz combo in a live setting. on the right system the imaging is holographic and wall-to-wall. the string bass should be nice and woody and round, the cymbals shimmering, the drum set viscerally bombastic on the solos, the kick drum should feel like a real KICK, sharp and deep. the electric guitar should not hoot [bad speaker enclosure or panel resonance] and the alto sax shadowing it should stand out. above all, Red Norvo's vibes should have a sharp attack. you should hear some tape hiss [recorded before Dolby A was available] and rumbles in the room. if this recording sounds flat on your system, something must change.
And Justice For All?? I give it credit for being interesting production but there is literally no bass guitar and the kickdrum is a poor man’s Pantera! 
Aw, c'mon's idle fun, and nobody gets all riled up over it....

...going against the grain, so to type...

The Art of Noise; Beat Box (Diversion One): The closing piano.
The Crystal Method; Returns to The Lab LA: Complex in its' way, live off the boards, and you Can dance to it.  Dust your subs.
Fat Boy Slim; Live @ Sydney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne: Listen; watch and listen; or just get out of your chair....wake the neighbors....they expect to go off into the deep end, anyway.... ;)
Thank you so much for that variety of suggestions. This thread is generating lots of "work" for me as I' actually listening to all pieces that I can find and decide if I keep it or not in my bank of "song for system evaluation" - And I'm loving it - I discover lots of great stuff!

To those who suggest to use song we like/love to evaluation: this is what I thought at the beginning. But the more I'm into it, the more I find that my judgment is clouded when I listen to those ones. Because I'm moved by the song itself, I suspect a halo effect that make the song better that it is really (a much bigger effect that the one created by well recorded music). I now pick some that ressemble to music I like, with great recording quality and dynamic, but that are not making me too emotive. I have a lot to pick from from your suggestions!

And also - I realize that "top 3" is highly subjective as I love my top 10 equally. But limiting to 3 will keep the mount to song to listen to under control!

@hilde45 - thanks - I don't know how I missed it!

Keep the suggestions coming!