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Does anyone hear actually buy an entire rig preassembled? With a single instrument, you can get a feel for timbral accuracy, so its a good place to start, but clearly you have to move on to music that uses multiple instruments and voices to complete the evaluation.
But to answer your question. Piano first, followed in order by cello, violin, french horn, then soprano and tenor voices.
I have heard speakers that do all of these well but fail on piano. That is a deal breaker. On the other hand, I have never heard a speaker that gets piano right and fails on the rest. So the lynchpin is piano.
I feel that guitar comes closer, better, to a variety of instruments, voice included than any other that I am familiar with. It can have a percussive quality to it, a voice quality to it, it can carry a rhythmic quality or foundation of a piece. It is an instrument that speaks in a variety of ways to to me. For some reason colors come to my mind when I listen to music and for me the guitar creates more colors than any other accoustic instrument that I know of.
Theo, Beethoven's Waldstein sonata is my favorite of the 32 sonatas he wrote. Also, it is a great piece for equipment audition. Very dynamic and engaging. You can listen to it 1000 times and not tire of it, which can be helpful when you are auditioning equipment.
I like to use good recordings of recent vintage for auditions. The Schiff account on ECM of this sonata is a pretty decent recording. Not sure if he used a Steinway or Bosendorfer grand for the Walstein. The Paul Lewis recording of this sonata is also probably very good, but I haven't heard it yet.
Brownsfan, if you don't already have it try to find the 1981 recording on the Astree label of Paul Badura-Skoda performing the "Waldstein" and two other Beethoven Sonatas on an early 1800's fortepiano. I have it on LP as Astree AS73. Not sure if it was ever released on CD. An absolute treasure, musically and sonically!
Brownsfan, I did find it on Amazon on the ECM lable and am ordering it once I get my order completed, I realize that it was ONE selection you suggested not two as I said. I did see a number of other listings but am sticking with your suggestion, I have been realy wanting to get a good piano recoding for evaluation as well as enjoyment.
Again thank you for your help.
My own. :)
I actually do often audition equipment with horn music, sometimes with recordings of my orchestra.
But to give a more serious answer to your question, the human voice would be the one to use, and not just sung, but also spoken. The horn is not a bad second choice, though, as it has one of the more pure timbres, acoustically speaking, among the orchestral instruments.
Some folks recommend piano because it is a difficult timbre to duplicate. If you want to try another very complex tone acoustically, than the oboe is a good choice. But if the more pure timbres are not resolved very well, then certainly the more complex ones won't be, so I would first use instruments with less complex timbres.
If it has to be just one instrument, I agree it would be piano.
Two allowed it would be piano and violin.
Saxophone would almost seem like a good choice, the problem is it can have such a huge variety of sound one can hardly be sure what is the 'definitive' sound. So that rules it out as a great choice for auditioning.
(I have never used a saxophone recording to audition, even though it is one of my favorite instruments!!)
I use stuff with choral, female vocal, orchestral, piano, big/lots of drumming, piano/violin
Learsfool is right on the money. And his opening remark is particularly
useful; even if he made it partly in jest.
I would add that the piano is best from the standpoint of using an
instrument with the most extended frequency range. That is obviously an
important consideration when auditioning gear. Also, if the gear is a
turntable, nothing like checking speed stability with piano decays. Now, as
far as timbre goes, I have always had trouble with the notion that the sound
of any one instrument is more difficult to reproduce than another. And that
takes me back to Learsfool's opening remark.
ALL instruments (and voice) are difficult to reproduce accurately; and I
would suggest that they are all equally useful in assessing the ability of
gear to reproduce timbre. It all depends on which instrument (or voice) we
are each most familiar with or have the most affinity for (maybe the same
thing). True, some instruments have a more complex tone than others. But,
does that not also mean that the ones with the less complex tones will be
more difficult to differentiate? IOW, as Learsfool states, the horn (his
instrument) has one of the most pure tone structures. I am sure he would
agree that, as a result, the differences in tone between each member of his
horn section are that more difficult to differentiate than, say, the oboists'
tones. But the differences are certainly there; and to Learsfool, very
obvious; because he is intimately familiar with the sound of the horn. So, it
follows, that gear that can reproduce the subtle differences between
various horn sounds will, as he points out, easily reproduce obvious
BTW, while I agree that the reproduction of timbre is key for realism, I think
that most gear has gotten good enough that an even more important,
elusive, and unfortunately overlooked aspect of music playback is dynamic
nuance. As far as I am concerned, that is the area that separates the men
from the boys (in gear).