As reviewers, we rely on lab tests to evaluate gear, but rely much more on our collection of stereo test tracks that have been amassed, augmented and cut down over years of testing experience. Most of these melodies are stored on computers as WAV files on mobile devices in the form MP3 files and on numerous CDs. These songs can be played through speakers or headphones to gauge how good (or not) the product sounds.
Any audio enthusiast should compile a selection of these tunes. This is handy for checking out pairs of headphones in stores, a friend’s new stereo speakers, or audio systems you might encounter at a Hi-Fi show. You can even edit the songs if you like, cutting right into the parts you want to hear just for testing purposes.
To get the best quality playing songs, be sure to purchase a CD (or digitize vinyl records ) to create lossless digital music files. Or at least download the highest quality MP3 tracks — 256 kbps or better is recommended.
While your audio test tracklist will evolve over time, keep a few basic tracks that you know well and don’t change them. The guys at Harman Research, who easily rank among the top researchers in the world, have been using Tracy Chapman’s «Fast Car» and Steely Dan’s «Cousin Dupree» for over 20 years.
Listen if you want on the album toto , Toto IV but the tight mix of this track really spans the audio spectrum. This is usually the fastest test we’ve found for assessing the accuracy of an audio product’s tonal balance — the relative level of bass and mids in the treble. In just 30 seconds, Roseanne will tell you if a product is good or not.
Holly Cole, «Train Song»
We bought the Cole album Temptation, when it was released in 1995. Since then, «Train Song» has been one of the first three test tracks played in an audio system evaluation. This song starts with very deep bass notes that can easily push woofers and subwoofers to bass distortion .
The ringing percussion that dances across the front of the soundstage is an excellent test of high frequency performance and stereo imaging. If your tweeter can play the ultra-high-pitched melody just after Cole sings the line «…never, never, never ring the bell» clearly and distinctly, then you’ve got a good one. Use the studio recording instead of the live version.
Motley Crew, «Kickstart My Heart»
This tune is from the album Mötley Crüe Dr. feel good uses compression so dynamic that your SPL meter (or the needle on your amplifier output meter) barely moves. And that’s a good thing, because the steady level gives you an indication of the maximum output capability for products like Bluetooth speakers and soundbars.
But listen to your system play the bass and kick drum during this song; the groove should be sharp, not loose, swollen or booming. Unfortunately, many headphones make this tune sound boom, and that’s just not right.
Coriella «Sentena del Cuore — Allegro»
World Saxophone Quartet «Holy People»
metamorphosis is a great World Saxophone Quartet album, and «The Holy Men» is one of the best test tracks for stereo imaging and mid-level detail we know. Each of the band’s four saxophones — all four of which play continuously throughout the tune — is located at a specific location in the stereo soundstage.
You’ll want to be able to select each saxophone individually and point to it (yes, in the air). If you can do that, then you have a fantastic system. If not, don’t worry too much because this particular listening test is quite difficult!