What music source/content do you use when comparing systems?

I have been changing the method of storing and accessing my digital music content to allow more flexible access throughout my home but I still need my main system, which is fed via an iFi Zen Signature DAC, to retain the best possible sound from the mostly 192KHz wav files. This has required careful comparison of various software solutions ( mostly Windows but not ruling out Linux/RPi ), so what tracks provide the best listening for testing?

Two which worked very well are from the Judy Tzuke - I Am The Phoenix album of 1981. The first two tracks are sufficiently different to provide both busy and sparse passages. The quality, both of musicality and recording, is comparable to anything I can think of. There is minute instrumental detail behind the up-front vocal and keyboards which really test the reproduction, which is breathtaking when perfected.

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I use a selection, including heavy rock, dramatic orchestral, chamber music, solo piano, female vocalnd prog rock with low bass - reflecting my range of music preference. i suggest that as wide a range as possible within your musical style preference, picking well recorded tracks, but if you have a lot of poorly recorded tracks in your library include some of them as well.


I also like to include a few poorly recorded tracks as sometimes the content is what I grew up with and still love listening to them regardless of how well they were recorded. I also think a good system should get the best out of them. I think it’s important to bring your favs regardless of what the dealer demos

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^^^yep; dealers can use perfect recordings that show stuff off, but if it has nothing to do with what you listen to, AND you don’t get to compare using those same tracks elsewhere, then what is the point.

Tracks you know, are the best to listen to.
you know how they sound.
You are familiar with what you want from them…

And, …
when they sound so much better than anytime you have heard them before… then you know you are on to something good. (system wise)
Some might argue that auditory memory is short…
but when instruments you’ve never heard before magically reveal themselves, or ‘an extra lyric’ pops up,… (or a muffled lyric becomes clear!); then you are on the right path.

My tracks?;
started with the albums I grew up with (my early CDs if you will), stuff like Pink Floyd Momentary Lapse of Reason.
The opening track has a soundstage and is great for listening to room setup/interaction… I must admit I overkilled this album, personally, and stopped using it around fifteen years ago. (too many great systems I had heard it on, so it is hard for me to eclipse those… “I’ve had my zenith with this track”)

So, using specific tracks for aspects of sound:

Inches of Darkness - T.J Eckleberg - in part because I love this track… but it has vocal nuance, and the drumming at the start tells me about how the system renders into the space of the room (can it throw back beyond the front wall?)

Devil will Ride - Gomez - apparently and ‘electronic’ band; this album has some complex layering, and some easy parts… the dynamics and the effects offer a few aspects ‘on my list of checks’ all in one great song.

State of the Art - Gotye - not on my list, although if I was building a new list, this one would be. listening to it is self explanatory. It is a system test track of incredible quality. (to be fair, if I am doing Gotye, as I do when testing a system, it is always the track “Thanks for your time”.)

Suzanne Vega - Fat Man and Dancing Girl - this one is hard to know how it proves a system as a pass or fail affair… once you have heard it play on ‘one of each’ (a dynamic system and one with ‘no life’= “wall of sound”/fatiguing and horrible… )on a great system this is a beautiful render. Personally if I were playing Vega, I’d have a tonne of tracks to run with. (discipline)

it is easy to have a hit list for female vocal and that will depend on who you like.
Many go with Alison Krauss/Diana Krall/Norah Jones/Sade/Tori Amos/Kate Bush etc…
If I want a simple piano piece and it is ‘home audition’ it is Tori Amos - Yes, Anastasia

I’d recommend something live; the audience setup and listening to a large theatre space can be a great reference to understand if a system can place you ‘in’ the crowd.
Eric Clapton - Unplugged
Nirvana - Unplugged

Dire Straits - Private Investigations - offers phase shifting guitars and, well ,… much rock. (not all amps do rock well, so this is worth being able to tick off the list; phase shifting effects should roll out across the listening space. Hifi is about hearing this stuff hit the back wall and ‘with power’)

Sting - Hounds of Winter or Brand New Day (depending on your emotional tilt)
male vocals should be on your list (just like you will develop a preference for a favourite female artist or so, need to do male vocals as well). I myself like some Crowded House - (any track off Woodface just about does it for me)

Studio mastered for the masses… Michael Jackson is an easy one here… (I’d go tracks from Black or White, eg “Remember the Time”)
Jamiroquai - A Funk Odyssey - starting with the first track is a great way to show off the system to friends (it is a slow build that doesn’t reveal how loud the hifi is), but Little L or any liked track is a good listen.

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (most people go with),… although I go with a later album, and the song “Harder Better Faster Stronger”

Some soundtracks that have diversity and are enjoyable:
City of Angels
O Brother Where Art Thou
Blues Brothers
Blues Brothers 2000 (the last track is a veritable whos’ who of blues)

For my orchestral fix (the hardest genre to reproduce); I like to get a little tricky…
nothing especially brilliant ( I have many friends into classical as a genre and I’d not want to pretend I’d know which are GREAT recordings)… but London Philharmonic doing Pink Floyd tracks is a great listen…
As is the New Zealand Symphonic Orchestra (?) performing “ENzso” (songs of Split Ends)

again,… build your own list.
Desert island discs for me are things like
Sheryl Crow - Tuesday Night Music Club (any track is great and there is diversity / a ‘few’ go to tracks that give me what I want… “We do what we can” (/“What i can do for you”, “I Shall Believe”
R.E.M. - Automatic for the People (you can find your own tracks on this album…)
Joan Osbourne - Relish

Get something with some chorusing/choral.
I have a band called Aka a capella,… and I love every track
Sometimes a favorited artist will layer vocals in their tracks (eg Tori Amos - Suede), although my favourite album is “Boys for Pele” (and it has a range of recorded spaces); and how a system or component can free up those voices (or clump them together) shouldn’t be down to individual preference- try to hear them on a top tier/reference setup so you know how it should sound
To be fair this is why some of the best equipment critics I know are adamant that people should get out and see Operas/Orchestral presentations. (and buy me tickets, Yay!)

One last, and certainly not least: if I want other people to hear what i am playing; I’d probably go with
1 Giant Leap - first or second album…
“What About Me” (second project) has so many excellent tracks…
^^If I had to live with one album, THIS would be on that shortlist^^

I would have a tonne more, but as I said,… reference and high quality recordings is only a part of the equation…
listening to what you WANT to listen to is probably most important.

Having five favourite test tracks that cover a few aspects… (ie soundstage/dynamics/male&female vocals/instrument timbre etc) is ultimately why we have select test tracks.
Know what you like and find tracks that highlight those traits in meaningful ways… and then make your own shortlist

I use less than ten.
(and try to listen to whole albums once I get the equipment home… “try to” as when we have new kit and are excited to hear how it handles XXXXX, and XXXXX, we start to get in DJ land, with small piles of discs being rotated quickly)

smiles with~

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I feel that post was a little bit self authoritative- it skirted a line of ‘someone who is new to hifi’ asking what test tracks; and when I reread the OP posts (as I like to do sometimes to make sure I redress the actual question asked: I realised I was off mark a (fair) bit.

as a newbie here, too, I cannot edit my posts it would seem.

If I ran with the question asked and listed MY five- ten (actual top) used recordings to ‘sample’ equipment; then there are a few I missed totally (or omitted on purpose because I wouldn’t want them being played in showrooms etc - I have always done my ‘auditioning’ at home, and really it is just a way to learn the capabilities of the kit I have on hand)

Rebecca Pidgeon “MacDougalls Men” (/“Primitive Man”)
1 Giant Leap “There’s nothing wrong with me” (/“How can I be a better friend to you”
Blue Man Group “You’re Attention” (/“Up to the roof”)
Nine Inch Nails “Into the Void”
City of Angels “I Know” (/“Feeling Love”)
Tori Amos “Yes, Anastasia” (/“Suede”)
Suzanne Vega “Fat Mat & Dancing Girl”
Gomez “Devil will Ride”
Dire Straits “Private Investigations”
Enigma “Principles of Lust”

shorter succinct post (but without directions for what to listen for in each of them)
but, trying to avoid the ‘wankery’ this time!

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Just curious - why not?

some are just long (Tori Amos; Yes Anastasia),… some are just loud (NIN; Into the void Ep)
Those 1Giant Leap and City of Angels tracks are not always public appropriate…
and that is the list I gave…

Kodo drumming tracks, and Tool, and ‘other tracks I use’ I feel are for home use.

in part because room setup is ‘half the battle’; a subwoofer/or speakers in a showroom space will play differently in your own room…
whilst it is nice to know certain capabilities of kit,… the home session is what matters.
being relaxed whilst listening affects acuity.
listening to Principles of Lust in a public space, at loudish levels isn’t ‘my thing’! (same as TJ Eckleberg “Inches of Darkness”)

and I feel for salespeople.
Like in Waynes world joke; no “stairway to heaven”

theres only so much Eagles Hell Freezes Over a storeperson can take …

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Always June Tabor. ‘The doctor calls’ From Angel Tiger. Velvet voice, V subtle reduction.And Coldplay Viva La viva to see if system gets the complexities and deaths. Paley

Sorry. eyes and spelling not working tonight. Too much red stuff

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