Music to evaluate systems

During a YouTube noodling session I came across the personal music choice of Paul McGowan for evaluating HiFi. He’s the MD of PS Audio, a very well regarded brand. He produces regular videos and addresses questions that people have and tries to explain them in understandable terms. A bit like everyone’s favourite uncle.
His choice of music in very interesting and indeed revealing of gear. I’ve just played it and can only agree. Google “Pauls picks” for a list and also Tidal playlist.
Having recently spent couple of months auditioning new speakers I know there are certain tracks that can trip up what are otherwise well regarded kit. For example I played Jennifer Warnes “Lights of Lousianne” during an audition which has a full acoustic bass and it tripped up a well known UK made speaker causing distortion. Are there any other favourite out there?

Strange that Joni has been mentioned. Ever since my first travels up the Tottenham Court Road, Joni’s ‘For Free’ has been my test track of preference. As you say if it doesn’t move you then the kit has failed.

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Years ago I slipped into an Absolute Sounds demo at a show in Hammersmith. I wasn’t enamoured by the sounds but was impressed by the vinyl they were playing. I took a quiet moment to flip through their LP box and discovered Michael Franks- Passion Fruit. “Don’t Touch that phone” was the stand out track and it continues to be a test track when I audition. It tests complex rhythms and bass and toe tapping. If that’s not there then a cross not a tick against the speaker.

Not sure that my selection process would elicit anything but thumbs down, but my selection process is to look for different pieces of music .

A simple piece of say Eva Cassidy or Leonard Cohen, perhaps followed by a piece of classical music that I know challenges a system such as the St John Passion in our followed by (say ) Pink Floyd - and also spoken word.

My view is that the audition should produce a discernible improvement across all classes - and yes that includes plugging in the Sky Dish

It all depends whether you want to listen to music, or recordings.

If you prefer to listen to music, there are no titles as such you should be using to audition equipment. Find a piece of music – on vinyl, CD, digital file or whatever – that you once loved or that you know well, but have since fallen out of love with, or lost interest in.

If during your audition you find yourself falling in love with it [the piece of music in question] all over again, then you’ve got a good system.


That’s a fair point. I limit myself to about six tracks I know and love but at the end of the day I was looking for a pair of speakers I could live with and enjoy that didn’t get in the way of the music.

It’s best that it comes down to a personal choice; the emotional connection between you and a piece of music will not be universal, and in fact may well be unique, as will the ability of a particular piece of replay equipment or system to best make that connection for you. At it’s simplest, I personally find that I have to really like the music for it to be of any use to me in evaluating a music system.


This. I.e.: Personally , when I test for future acquisitions, I use In Utero by Nirvana and The Final Cut fron Pink Floyd: álbuns I know from eyes shut and can pinpoint if something “wrong” when played erroneously .

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