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.

Man listening to music on a mobile device through headphones
Lifewire / Ashley Nicole DeLeon

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.

out of 10

Toto «Rosanna»

Album cover of Toto IV
Sony BMG Music

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.

out of 10

Holly Cole, «Train Song»

Temptation album cover, Holly Cole
Alert Music

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.

out of 10

Motley Crew, «Kickstart My Heart»

Album cover of Dr. Feelgood, Motley Crue
Warner Records

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.

out of 10

Coriella «Sentena del Cuore — Allegro»

Обложка альбома The Coryells, Ларри Кориелл


The Coryells a self-titled album featuring jazz guitarist Larry Coryell and his hyper-talented sons Julian and Murali, is one of the best Chesky Records has ever made, and that’s saying a lot. This song is a favorite for judging depth.

Listen to the castanets on the recording, as they are key. If the instruments sound like they are 20 or 30 feet away from the guitars, and if you can hear them bouncing off the walls and ceiling of the large church where this recording was made, then your system is working great.

out of 10

World Saxophone Quartet «Holy People»

Cover of the album
Elektra / Nonesuch Records

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!

out of 10

Olive «Falling»

Обложка альбома Extra Virgin, Оливковое


If you want one of the best bass tests, choose Olive’s Extra Virgin . We often use the song «Falling» when testing on best subwoofer placement . The synth’s bass line is punchy and powerful, dropping to a deep note that almost disappears when played through mini speakers or bad headphones.

Be aware that this is a harsh recording if you listen to mids and highs. So it might be worth making a special version with -6dB of treble cut at 20kHz.

out of 10

Weil, «Love/Hate»

Одаренная обложка альбома, Уэйл

Maybach Music/Atlantic Records

Headphones can sometimes be marketed as a «hip-hop thing», with many popular models designed specifically with hip-hop in mind. In our opinion, most hip hop mixes are too elementary to tell you much about the sound product. However, rapper Wale and singer Sam Dew are an exception to the song «Love/Hate Thing» from the album The Gifted . Both of these people have smooth voices that shouldn’t sound harsh in any good system.

But the best part of this track is the background vocals repeating the phrase «Keep giving me love.» Through a good set of headphones or speakers, this vocal should sound like it’s directed at you sideways (at a 45-degree angle) and from a distance. You should feel a tingle along your spine or a thorn in your skin. If not, a new set of headphones may be in order.

out of 10

Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3, «Organ Symphony»

Симфония № 3 Сен-Санса, обложка альбома 'Органная симфония'


This might be the best deep bass test ever. when — or . We don’t mean buzzing, headache-inducing hip-hop or heavy rock bass brand. We’re talking about subtle, beautiful bass from a massive pipe organ whose deepest notes reach as low as 16 Hz. This record from the album Test CD-1 Boston Audio Society should not be played without caution.

The low tones in this track are so intense that they can easy to destroy small subwoofers !

You’ll want to enjoy it with some monster subs like the SVS PB13-Ultra or the Hsu Research VTF-15H. This track is absolutely breathtaking and should be appreciated by any self-respecting audiophile or audio enthusiast.

out of 10

Trilok Gurtu, «I once wished for a tree upside down»

Album cover of Living Magic, Trilok Gurtu
CMP Records

There is no better way we have found to test stereo and shell than this beat by Indian percussionist Gurtu and saxophonist Jan Garbarek. When listening to the album «Once I wished a tree upside down» from the album living magic pay attention to bells choker shaker.

If your speakers are excellent, the sounds of the bells seem to swirl and even materialize right in front of you, almost as if Gurtu is standing between you and the speakers — and that’s not hyperbole! Put on a pair best electrostatic or planar magnetic headphones and you’ll hear exactly what we’re talking about.

out of 10

Dennis and David Kamahahi, «Ulili’E»

Обложка альбома Оаны, Деннис и Дэвид Камахахи


From the album Kamakahis Ohana is a gentle and beautiful recording of relaxed-toned guitar and ukulele behind two rich male voices. People who listen to this song through smaller sound systems may not be as impressed. If true, it could mean that there is a problem with your speaker’s upper bass reproduction, or that your subwoofer’s crossover point is not suitable, or the position of your speakers and subwoofer needs to be adjusted.

Reverend Dennis’s voice is especially deep, which can sound overblown on most systems. This recording — especially the out-of-tune sluggish guitar strings — should sound amazing. If it doesn’t happen then you got some work, to do, to improve quality the sound of your system .

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