Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon…especially if you can find one of the old master albums.
Pink Floyd, Time
Crystal Method, Smile?
Miles Davis, So What
Those four usually give me a pretty good idea of how something is going to sound.
I like to use a range of things to explore the full capabilities of any setup. The important things to include are:
- An unprocessed female vocal such as any Linda Ronstadt album
- A very dynamic orchestral piece such as Holt’s “The Planets”
- A well produced rock album such as Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon”
- Some clean acoustic music with good vocal harmonies such as Crosby, Stills, & Nash
- Some well recorded chamber Jazz such as “Quartet Live” or any old Miles Davis quartet/quintet stuff
- Some great blues just because I love it.
If all of these sound engaging to me, I have confidence everything else I listen to will be great.
Anything from the Fleetwood Mac Rumors Album…
Perhaps more important than “what songs” is “how to you use the songs to audition the gear?”
Here are five songs I use and how I use them:
“When You Believe,” Prince of Egypt: Listen to the deep bass note that happens towards the beginning. It should be subtle but present enough that you notice and can savor it.
“Unchained Melody,” Air Supply Live: There is overblow from a wind instrument here that should sound breathy, weightless, and not have midbass coloration or sharpness to it.
“Solar Sailor,” Tron Legacy: Can the headphones handle and differentiate between the deep notes without sounding like flutter or making them all sound the same? They are at different pitches and should sound different. There are nine “strums” to get to the deepest note. If you can only count 8, the headphones are sub par. If the last few sound the same, it’s not playing the correct pitch. If it’s too quiet and blends in with the other element that comes after the deepest note, there is some bass roll off.
“Circle of Life,” Lion King: There is a sharp tinkling sound once you get into the heart of the song. It should be clear, but if it’s too much and causes you to want to turn the treble down, the headphones are a bit too bright and may have treble spikes. (The TripleFi 10 has this problem here.)
“Down to the River to Pray,” Oh Brother Where Art Thou?: Does the singer sound rich without being chesty? Is the voice intimate and natural? If it sounds extra full, make sure it’s not just midbass coloration. Can you hear he mouth, breath, etc. or just the noise coming out? There should be a tiny bit of “mouth noise” you can make out.
Thumbs up on Diana. Saw her in concert in Charlotte, NC. She and her band were awesome!
What do you listen for in this particular album? Anything that is hard or impossible to hear or appreciate on lesser headphones?
Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon.
Use the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs CD if you can get it. If you can clearly hear and understand the low-level voices and announcements in Breathe and On The Run, you have headphones with exceptional clarity!
The bells and clocks in Time - particularly the “winding up” sound of the grandfather clock near the end of the clocks chiming - will give you goose-bumps on a good set of headphones.
Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms.
Use the first two pieces on that CD: So Far Away and Money for Nothing. If your headphones don’t overload on the drums and provide a flat, clean, low bass response, that will be a good test.
Enya, Watermark and The Celts.
Most of the pieces on these CD’s will show the low-level bass response of your headphones (use Watermark, Aldebaran, and Cursum Perficio for example) and the clarity of voices (Orinico Flow)
There are others that I use, particularly for classical piano and violin, but these above will be a great start.
I use the a CD mix that I made to audition ANY equipment I have interest in; all very familiar music that shows everything from soundstage to frequency response to detail, etc.
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”
I really believe the best music to test with is what you like and listen to the most. You’ll know when something is “off”. Personally, I like using:
- Carpenters - Rainy Days and Mondays - for Karen’s amazing voice quality
- Eagles - Hotel California - You can’t help but know when the guitars don’t sound great
- Elvis Presley - I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You - it’s so familiar that you can pick out anything that isn’t right
- Don McLean - American Pie - a classic tune; sounds that are great to test headphones with
- Audiophile Hi-res System Test - great sampling songs. Available on HDTracks.
Ok, I can hear some of you counting my age on your fingers based on my picks. Now stop it and go listen to some music. Enjoy!
I agree with this categorical approach and these categories, with a few additions:
- A stereo channel studio production such as Radiohead “Let Down” or Hendrix “All Along the Watchtower”
- Detailed percussion, to include the Tony Bennett “Beat of My Heart” album (also good for unprocessed male vocals), or anything from M.I.A.
- EDM from Skrillex, Steve Aoki, or Grimes for the extremes of electronic highs and lows
- Sleighbells “Treats” album starting from “Crown on the Ground” for comically absurd distortion (also White Stripes “Little Cream Soda”)
- Yngwie Malmsteen “No Rest for the Wicked” for precise and fast electric guitar
Mahler’s 9th and Beethoven’s 4th. Also some flute music by Poulenc, and then Lucinda Williams and Bonnie Raitt - leading into Springsteen.
I’ve been looking for the best Mahler recording to start with. Any recommendations?
Mainly Jazz cuts
Revelation - Marcus Miller
Lesley Ann - David Sanborn
Reflection - Julian Vaughn
Priscilla - Yellowjackets
El Camino del Corazon - Acoustic Alchemy
Dude-- for Mahler’s 9th, it’s got to be Karajan (DG).
Wow, there is a lot of variety posted here already.
I would add The Chain by Fleetwood Mac of their Rumors album. You can get a high-def version from HDTracks.com.
Give me some authentic classic country music by the King of Country Music. King George Strait. YeeHaaw!
Anything remastered or produced by Steven Wilson.