Headphone Evaluation: Test Tracks

I found great song list from this thread. Thanks Andrew and all the comments

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Some interesting stuff. I made it into a playlist, check it out.


My classical music test play list from my classical music headphone shootouts, and what I’m looking for with each:

  1. Bach Cello Suite #1, Prelude. Janos Starker. Looking for detail and bass extension, reverberation, harmonics and overtones.
  2. Also sprach Zarathustra, Leonard Slatkin, Lyons National Orchestra. A poor recording, used to test how forgiving the headphone is. Also checking for placement of audience noise, low organ note, bells at climax, clarity and impact of brass.
  3. Beethoven Symphony #3, 3rd movement Scherzo; Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic live. Clarity and definition, dynamic range, and timbre/impact of the horns in the Trio section.
  4. Beethoven Piano Sonata #32 op.111, 2nd movement Arietta, Sviatoslav Richter. Looking for clarity, piano timbre (especially high notes), audible differences in touch and pedaling.
  5. Carl Czerny, String Quartet in A minor, Scherzo, Sheridan Ensemble. Balance and clarity of the four voices; in particular balance of the pizzicato cello in the Trio section against the arco playing of the other three voices.
  6. Act I aria ‘Caro nome’ from Rigoletto, Maria Callas and the La Scala orchestra, Tullio Serafin conducting. Soprano voice, clarity and soundstage. A key challenge is not being shrill on Callas’ high C-sharp.
  7. Act I, Scene 5 aria ‘Nel profondo, cieco mondo’ from Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso; Lorenzo Regazzo with Concerto Italiano, conducting by Rinaldo Alessandrini. Testing bass voice detail, transparency of texture, continuo in support, not the foreground.
  8. Gershwin Concerto in F, 3rd movement; Freddy Kempf piano, Andrew Litton conducting Bergen Philharmonic. Key points are balance between piano and orchestra, timbre of piano, brass and pizzicato rendering, and percussion, especially the gong in the climax.
  9. Vivaldi, Sonata for recorder and bassoon in A minor RV 86, 4th movement; L’Astrée. Looking for the timbre of these difficult instruments to be rendered properly and especially the balance between the treble of the recorder and the bass of the bassoon.
  10. Mozart, Ave verum corpus, Peter Schreier conducting Staatskapelle Dresden. A challenging mix of full choir, organ and strings, all in a highly reverberant setting. Looking for clarity and sense of space, and ability to render the extremely soft beginning properly. Can the soprano and alto parts be distinguished without a score?

I love the specificity and commentary here, thanks! I don’t suppose you have these in a spotify/tidal playlist?

Holy shizz. This thread quickly went from listening-test-songs to check-out-some-of-these-tunes!

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God, this album just “sings”. Nice choice.

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@andrew My fave so far is
Holst The Planets - Simon Rattle, Berliner Philharmoniker
It’s available on Tidal in Hi-Res I believe. Released in 2006 and digitally recorded.

For punch, I love all the newer albums by Donald Fagen, such as Sunken Condos, Morph the Cat etc.

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Awesome. I’m checking it out now!

That’s because it’s really a whole lot easier to just put in a song or album rather than do the work that gardibolt did with his excellent post of classical music tests.

It gets very difficult, especially if you have a choice of media. One of the albums I like to use to test vocals is Linda Ronstadt’s Frenesí . I have the original CD from 1992 that won the Grammys. But it’s been remastered. I don’t know if it sounds better or worse. I see it is also available on vinyl, which I hope would be a nice pressing, and it can be had streaming. I looked at HD Tracks, and it’s only on 16 bit 44.1 (Redbook) so I guess there might not be a digital high res version.

You used to be able to assume that vinyl was real, lossless analog (discounting things like how a stylus tracks the groove, condition of the record, RIAA tweaks, that the master tape is in good condition and was done at 15, 18, or 30 IPS (inches per second) with the tradeoffs there. (Before the late 1940s, there were other ways to record - wire or direct mastering).

Good headphones can bring out the best and the worst in the recording process.


No, sorry. I’ve never used Spotify so I would have no idea where to begin. The Zarathustra is a private recording (off French radio, I believe) so it may be difficult to track that one down. The others should be pretty readily available.

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Jennifer Warne, New Blue Raincoat


Hey all, I am currently putting together a pinned thread for reference test tracks for ease of reading and when newcomers eventually arrive since this thread did become a little de-railed. This thread will still exist so no worries there!

The thread will be sorted with genres and what the particular song / album is looking for (low-end, timbre, clarity etc). Something like this

If you have any particular tracks that you’ve already posted here that you would like to flesh out why you use them I will be more than happy to add to the thread!


The first track I reach to to test the bass on a new set of cans is the first track on the [Visceral 04](http://www.hybridized.org/sets/1011) mix by James Warren.

Everyone should check out Roger Waters record Is This The Life We Really Want. This is the best work he has done since leaving Pink Floyd. When listening with a good headphone system it will blow your fucking mind!! Sorry about the language but there is no other way to let people know how powerful this music is. Not for children or the faint of heart !!


Steely Dan - Aja and Gaucho
Michael Jackson - Bad
Spies - Music of Espionage
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones - various
Supertramp - Crime of the Century
Billy Joel - Glass Houses (Half Speed Remastered)
Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra - For Sentimental Reasons
Elton John - Blue Moves and Live in Australia

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The friend who first got me into auditioning speakers said that it’s a great idea to audition equipment with music that you’re intimately familiar with. I also completely agree that the audio engineering can make (or break) a whole album.

I’m not a very good technical listener, but here are a few that I use the most and why I like them for critical listening:

  • Radiohead - Videotape (I could pick 10 Radiohead songs, but Videotape has a musicality and a slow simple piano that my favorite gear can just crush)
  • Rusted Root - Beautiful People (There’s a female vocal line in this song that is beautifully recorded. When equipment gets that right, it’s so right. It’s also a song that can be really sibilant, which is a good check for me)
  • Fleetwood Mac - Dreams Take 2 (it’s such an intimate version of this song, and — of course — Stevie Nicks)
  • Explosions in the Sky - First Breath After Coma (an intricate soundstage, very busy song that good headphones can draw out details and unravel well)
  • Alt-J - Dissolve Me (lots of layers, textured vocals, good test of drum attack(?))

Opus 3: “Test Record One” the vinyl, not the CD!!!

May seem like a strange choice, but I enjoy using Thunderstruck from AC/DC Live to test a pair of headphones.

The better the transducer, the more subtle details you will here at the intro to the song before Angus starts in on his well known riff. Really cool experiment if you have some lower quality headphones lying around in your collection


Wow, nice eclectic listing

Donald Fagen The Nightfly Entire album is one of my go testing tracks. This man is totally devoted tight sound.

Natalie Merchant album Tigerlily song Carnival

Diana Krall Temptation

Queen Bohemian Rhapsody