What to listen for?

This is aside to the obvious ones such as does a piano sound like a piano, the singer's voice sound close to them live, etc.

So, what I am trying to put together a list of songs where there is something specific to listen for. For instance, in the song Guinevere (CS&N) I have read that Crosby should sound as if he's standing in your room, front and center. On the acoustic Hot Tuna Album, they are playing in a bar and a beer bottle breaks landing on the floor  - it should be sharp and sound like it's in the room with you. On Babylon Sisters there are some cymbal crashes on the left that should be crisp and not smeared. On a Beatles song (I forget which), a chair squeaks and a door opens and closes in the studio. 

A good system will revel these little things. Any other that you have heard of? 




A real super defining system will let you hear feet shuffle and music sheets flipping. Not sure if that will enhance your music listening experience. 

On Elvis’ ’Kentucky Rain’, I swear you can hear the air in the recording studio just as Elvis starts to sing ... ’Seven lonely days and a dozen towns below" and again at the start of the next verse ... ’So I am walking through the rain, thumbing for a ride.’

On Frank Sinatra’s ’Night and Day’ there is a drum roll in the background right before the opening fanfare kicks off.



I heard something recently that I had never heard before. On SWEET HOME ALABAMA at the 56 second mark. There is a background vocal saying SOUTHERN MAN. I like those little gems because it makes me feel like I am there with the performers when I hear those subtle sounds. I also think it adds to the musical experience.

The trick is for me to get this level of detail with no fatigue. I was listening to this above example on a tube headphone amp.

Just for curiosity’s sake, I just played the song on my KEF LS50 Meta and Benchmark preamp and amp with Lumin X1 DAC. You could hear it at the 56 mark too but if I did not know to listen for it, I would have missed it. Listening to the song on my headphones was a better experience because I was more immersed in the song. That is, I heard everything. My headphones are also known for extreme detail.




True, it may not enhance the listening experience, for instance I hear guitar player hands moving up and down the neck all the time. But as @yyzsantabarbara mentions, it can bring you closer to the venue and performers. If you know of a recording which picks up sheet music or people moving around, that would be interesting also.

I'm looking at this more as a fun topic then a serious test of any system.

Thanks @rar1 !

And someone must know which Beatles tune I am referring too!

If you go for that sort of things, there is this one East of Eden record, Mercator Projected where someone pulls the chain flushing the toilet, it sounds great, love it every time I listen to it.

On a JGB show from The Keystone in the 70's on Real Listen one night- super loud -you can hear some woman(wasted) wander up to Garcia (he's wailing) and ask him if he still gives  guitar lessons. He keeps playing and responds "I don't really have time anymore". Then if you have a good system you can here one of the backup girls say to the other "He didn't miss a note". I wish I still knew the date of the show -for DH1000.

I suggest it is very simple, listen to music, if you like it then its good, if you don't its not. Recently heard a $150,000 system I wouldn't have in my shed.

What I primarily listen for(and you need software that has it recorded) is dynamic linearity(my handle). This is NOT dynamic range, the ability to play loud cleanly although that's a part of it. It's linear changes in level whether small.\, medium, or large, the lack or at least minimum compression. This is waht makes real sound real. It's not frequency response. Change your seat in a music hall and frequency response changes. And it's not distortion(as long as it isn't huge but thousandths of a per cent is irrelevant. Harmonic distortion is musical(hate that term). But clean, wide band sound without dynamic linearity sounds like a great radio but not like live sound.

P.S. This was explained to me 5 decades ago by Bud Fried(the name sake of IMF speakers) but it took me a few decades to understand what he meant.

Linda Ronstandt's version of Blue Bayou. At about the 50 second mark when she sings:

I'm going back someday
Come what may
To Blue Bayou

you should be able to clearly hear a subtle mandolin coming from the left speaker.

There was a Freudian slip in your 2nd to last sentence----You will hear all of the details in those tracks if you go with Revels.

I use the song Nasty by Vincent Ingala and the song Little Person by Michael Wollny to demo my system.



I think you asked a great question. One that you would think is easy to answer. But typically the answers will take you in the wrong direction. It is easy to be seduced by being able to hear some musician move their foot or some other tiny detail. But great musical reproduction is not mostly about details. Sure, you want them, but in proportion. Turn on your analytical side and what can you determine? Details… probably making your system emphasize treble too much… strip it of the warmth and reality of music.


‘’What else? Bass, how does your system slap you in the face / chest with the bass lines. But, is this how real music sounds? No, not at the symphony, not at rock concerts… or jazz concerts.

So, while a quick survey of detail and bass is helpful… you need to immerse your self in the music and see if it draws you in. Or does it shout at you? You want a sound that is real, musical… technically with great rhythm and pace… engaging… sure with detail and bass… but has an emotional connection. This is really what high end audio is about.

When I was working having 45 minutes a day was a privilege. Also, a system that showed me every nuance of the venue and mastering was cool. But as I had more time. I would loose interest.

After hundreds of trips to the symphony, and concerts I learned that musicality was what it is really about. My system is the most engaging I have ever heard. I listen for two or three hours a day and have to tear myself away. It is musical. All the details are there, but they are in proper proportion to the music with fantastic rhythm and pace.

I often listen to jazz while working; I can't have lyrics playing when I am working on very technical stuff. I remember working while I had a live album on, recorded in a small club (I wish I remember which one). But at one point, I got annoyed at the couple at the table next to me, and wished they would shut up. Of course, that table was on the recording... I get pleasantly surprised now and again at random small things like that. 

Smoothness. Smooth, not dull; clear, but not etched. Smooth. Like real acoustic music.

When I changed to film and foil caps, I heard smoothness. When I changed to nude Vishay resistors, I heard smoothness. When I changed to an air bearing TT, I heard so much smoothness that I suspected that something had been lost - and it was - I lost the need to stop listening after 2 or 3 hours. Improved motor isolation - smoother. Panzerholz wand - smoother. Koetsu - smoother.

How do I know that it's really an improvement? I listen to a song in another language, or in dialect, and I can understand it more easily. I disentangle the lines in a symphony more easily. Clarity without compromise. Smoothness.

One well-known one here in London is the rumbling of the underground (subway) trains under Kingsway Hall that was used extensively by EMI in the 1950s-60s for orchestral recordings.

Check out whether that rumble is on the record or comes from your turntable.  In fact, when a train passes the rumble is easily heard.

In Nina Simone’s “I loves you porgy” at the 1:28 mark, you can hear a very subtle “queef” sound. Not sure how to describe it other than it sounds like “queef”. Might be the guitarist sliding on the strings. 

@ghdprentice I got halfway through your post without looking at the author and said to myself this has to be ghdprentice. Ever the voice of wisdom in this forum, I could not agree more with your comments. I am in the middle of a speaker cable search, on pair number four, and the differences are significant, but so far only one gives me what you are talking about and makes me want to listen more.

My addition to the comments on details, at the beginning of Miles Davis' My Funny Valentine someone in the audience coughs. You can hear this on any system, but the clarity improves with the gear.


@zlone Thank you. I appreciate you kind words.  

@clearthinker I have the Nutcracker recorded there. One can hear the train passing under.

@ghdprentice      With Previn and the LSO.  I have quite a few others as well.  I like the recordings, even with some rumblings every five minutes.  I guess they could have done the recordings at night.

At 1:44 in below video, with engaging the Pure Audio mode of Oppo-95, slight brightness and smearing sounds change to more focus and transparent sounds. Alex/Wavetouch **disclose - I sell this modded Oppo-95.


I have a CD of Leonard Bernstein conducting Appalachian Spring with the LA Philharmonic. I played it a few months ago for the first time in years (also for the first time since making several significant upgrades to my system). I had pulled it out and put it on just because I wanted to hear Appalachian Spring, paying no attention to who the conductor was.  Several times during the quiet section within the first few minutes of the piece I heard a soft human voice grunting, or saying a quiet "uhnn." As soon as I heard it, my mind said, "that's Bernstein." I knew his voice because I've watched videos of him in rehearsal. It was absolutely crystal clear and obvious in my current system, but I don't recall ever noticing it during the many times I played this CD in years past. Now that I know it's there, I can discern it listening to a YouTube recording, but it doesn't stand out, and I certainly wouldn't have identified the grunter listening to it that way. Like the OP said, not really a critical test of a system, but kind of fun!

I gauge sound quality using three song sections.  1st=the bass guitar, drum snap and cymbals, and guitar highs and distortion at the end of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain [Alternate Mix] from "25 Years - The Chain" compilation.  2nd=very clear bass rumble at the end of "Enter Sandman" from Metallica.  Also, the boy clearly saying "My soul to Keep".  "Keep" is often unintelligible.  3rd=the clarity and separation of the bar singing at the end of "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks.

Sometimes in order to achieve a natural and balanced presentation I have to give up some of the details I've heard and are aware are being masked now. Hyper detail often comes at the expense of overly harsh and analytical. But yeah,it is exciting when you discover something new- a wrong string pluck that's quickly damped(oops!),a squeaky piano pedal,etc.It feels more real and "human".

The Hot Tuna song with the shattered glass - listen closely and you can hear the glass being swept into a dustpan:-)

if one is thoroughly familiar with live sound [i played in a concert band for over a decade], compare that remembered sound with what the system you are listening to puts out. you are listening for both omissions and commissions [aural sins] in sound. the loud sounds should never "blast" or overwhelm or drive people out of the room. the quiet sounds should be crystal clear without straining. there should be a naturalness and balanced frequency response where there is never any boominess or thinness/shrillness at any time. male voices should never be thick and female voices should never hoot. you should easily be able to notice musical incidental sounds such as feet tapping/shuffling, sheet music turning and music stands creaking, musicians breathing and their clothing rustling. this assumes that such didn't fall beneath the resolution of the original recording equipment. you can hear it in an ordinary audio CD, RCA Red Seal Fritz Reiner/CSO "Scheherazade," even on mediocre equipment. of course the listening room is a major part of all this, you must have absolutely no external noises [HVAC roar, humming from appliances, neighborhood noises] leaking in, better luck with this if you have your man cave in the basement or live in a mansion in a ritzy neighborhood], or else you basically lose the bottom half [below about -30db] of dynamic range in most quality recordings. if you live chockablock with your neighbors, you essentially lose the top 10/20db of your dynamics as well in terms of having it not much louder than background level to avoid disturbing your neighbors. in this regard, a good audio compressor is a good addition to most folks' audio systems as it brings the dynamics in within the limits imposed from within and without the listening room. at least one audio reviewer has mentioned this. 

You will hear fine details that are otherwise not audible on a lesser system.

Bass - How tight or loose the bass is (including but not limited to its style and textural resolve) Can be described as boomy, full-bodied, etc. and of course being able to discern bass extension etc.

Midrange - It should sound like being inside the microphone, capturing the very same tonality and extension as the singer’s voice. Sharp or peaky female vocals should, for example, bloom naturally. Like in Diana Krall's - Black Crow. With other artists, you can almost tell what they ate just before recording etc.

Midrange/instrumentals - being able to establish the relationship between vocals and instrumentals. How prominent or recessed are the instrumentals? Do they ever overpower the vocals; or do they instead act as a perfect backdrop to elevate that performance? Are there fine details that were reproduced slower, rather than faster? This is telling of a resolving audio system.

Treble - Like midrange, it should be extended and bloom naturally. Sharp peaks, dips, and even unpleasant-sounding treble frequencies should coexist organically, with the rest of the spectrum. A cymbal that wasn’t recorded or mixed/mastered properly on a track will sound artificial, papery...not metallic enough and with recessed attack/decay/fade out. )

Brilliance (uppermost treble) - The "air" so to speak in a recording. The space between instruments. The tempeature of the air in a room, which results in a overlay that must coexist with overall tonal balance. Not enough during post-production can result in a track that sounds too "digital" or congested.

Perhaps put together some reference tracks and compare/constrast? I know quite a few that can help...

The Ultimate Demonstration Disc by Chesky. It explains what you should be hearing.

My volume is too loud cranking morbid angel or Celtic frost to pay attention to that stuff

When playing the album The Big Sounds of the Drags, my system system can reveal the differences between Hooker headers and Hedman headers.  I'm not quite there yet on Quadrajet vs Holley carburetors, but I'm hoping some minor "tweaks" will get me there.

I'm open for suggestions.

During “Tin Pan Alley” Stevie Ray and Double Trouble there are a couple times you hear the drum stick contacting the rim of the snare and times Stevie sings the word better you can hear the pop of air hitting the mic.

"Jackie Wilson Said", Van the Man @ 2:03~2:04....;)  My fave hiccup...

Ah, the drags are only good to go when you're There....   The roar of the fuel, the smell of the crowd....😏  Not to mention the heat blast from a AA fueler 'bout a quarter of the quarter, down track.

Not to mention what has and could go Very Wrong Very Fast of late.... *shrug*

....Paul Simon lighting a cigarette and blowing the match out, into the mic....there's another oldie...

I don’t go out of my way to focus on such details-- it's not "what I listen for" -- but whatever floats your boat...












If you want to get the best reference (that I'm aware of) to judge the stereo imaging of your system there is none better, IMHO, than a compilation of cuts from several recordings on the Opus 3 label. Title 'Depth of Image'.  This was originally on an LP but it is still available on CD (check out Amazon). Each cut is different - small band, solo instruments, small groups, voice, etc. It comes with a description of each cut, i.e. what you should hear. On a quality system, properly set up, the sound is spookily holographic. Give most folks trying to optimize their imaging a real challenge! Kept me busy for a few years. :-) This record does not deal with proper speaker set up, there are several others out there for that,  this really about fine tuning.

This is an interesting thread to me, to give me ideas on how to judge my system and any changes that I might make.  One thing I would add, is that clearly hearing the words on a vocal recording would be a good way to judge the quality of a system.



I would Rebecca Pidgeon’s recording of Spanish Harlem. I have listened to this cut on a dozen high end systems… in some, her voice makes it sound like she is naked… it sounds like she is thin and almost 2 dimensional… in great systems she has an incredible fully fleshed out alto voice. With only two or three instruments playing, you really get an idea of how the system is rendering what you are hearing. This is a great cut to evaluate systems or components. 

@ghdprentice Thx for the tip!  I had never heard of her before, but she is good.  I’ll take your suggestion to use that song as a test.

It’s great that you take the time to share your knowledge on this site.  It’s been a big help for me!  


I don’t go out of my way to focus on such details-- it’s not "what I listen for" -- but whatever floats your boat...


For me, if a system is able to reproduce these types of details (chair squeaks, papers moving, etc), it is also able to reproduce fine details of instruments themselves.

So, it may not be about hearing the chair squeak itself, but what that sort of detail tells you about the the resolving ability of the system on the whole.

I would just like to caution folks about detail.

I recently auditioned three integrated Amps. The first highlighted detail (Luxman), the second had the detail, but made my foot tap… I couldn’t help but sway with the music (Pass), the third… my eyes closed and I just fell into the music… while the detail was there… I just got lost in the music (Audio Research I-50).


It completely depends on what you are after. For me, it is the musical / emotional experience. Long ago it was analytical perfection… now it is emotional connection with the music.


"It completely depends on what you are after. For me, it is the musical / emotional experience"

Same here. 


"So, it may not be about hearing the chair squeak itself, but what that sort of detail tells you about the the resolving ability of the system on the whole"

I can't dispute the above. 

All I can say is, while listening, if my focus is on a system's resolving capabilities (or any other sonic attribute), it means I'm not fully engrossed in the music.

To each his/her own.