Fun listen, I have added a couple to my list, thank you for sharing.
There are so many good albums and tracks named here. Let me name some of my favorite two albums on the heavier/rock side:
- Evil Empire (Rage Against the Machine)
- Stadium Arcadium (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
- In Absentia (Porcupine Tree)
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on the RATM route!
Here’s my reference playlist:
These are all tracks I know very well, and have been excellently engineered. I can think of no better combination for testing audio.
There are, of course, excellent suggestions here that I will no doubt add to my playlist. For example, it’s absurd I don’t have any early Chicago on my list (Terry Kath FTW, yo).
It’s nice to see this thread up and running again. Here are a few of my favorite test tracks:
Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64 (LSO with Previn), especially the overplayed Dance of the Knights: ideal for brass and strings, instrument separation, and resolution
Holst’s The Planets, Op. 32 (Wiener with Karajan): it’s also excellent for testing the same qualities as the Prokofiev piece, but “Mars” helps identify any hazy or overly shimmery sound from headphones
Shostakovich’s String Quartet no. 8 in C minor, Op. 110 (Fitzwilliam Quartet): for string resonance and timbre
“Do Not Reject in My Old Age” by The Orthodox Singers and Georgy Smirnov, from the compilation Basso Profundo from Old Russia: for male vocals and bass texture
Mild und Leise from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (Berlin, Karajan, Christa Ludwig): for the soprano and the soundstage. Also, the headphone’s no good if I haven’t experienced liebestod
Charles Mingus, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady: for instrument separation and to see if the brass instruments collapse into a mess in complex passages (Radiohead’s The National Anthem is also good for this)
Oscar Peterson’s C Jam Blues (from Night Train): as with @sandifop I find this album to be great for testing the sound of cymbals and double bass
The Stooges, the version of I Wanna Be Your Dog that was remastered for the Gimme Danger soundtrack: just to test electric guitar bite and crunch
FWIW, I also have a few tracks that serve as stress tests to determine if headphones accentuate certain potentially unpleasant characteristics:
Boards of Canada’s “Happy Cycling” (from Music Has the Right to Children): is there too much slam or punchiness? The snare drum can also be too piercing
Muddy Waters’s My Home is in the Delta (from Folk Singer): again, the drums can be too fatiguing
Biosphere’s Wyll and Purpose (from Departed Glories): this song, as with the album it’s from, is a great test of treble extension and smoothness; for me, it should be on the edge of being bearable (especially after ca. 47 seconds)
Miles Davis’s “Florence Sur Les Champs-Élysées” (from the Ascenseur pour L’Échafaud soundtrack): the trumpet should be just on the edge of being too piercing
And in case anyone was curious why these are the songs I use:
“Get Miles” by Gomez – sparse, but layered production; excellent dynamic range; good to test how well an audio setup can separate instruments.
“Babylon Sisters” by Steely Dan – c’mon, now. It’s Steely Dan, masters of music engineering. I do sometimes find their sound a bit sterile. But they’re still a top 20 band for me.
“Holiday” by Joan as Police Woman – great for testing female vocals, and the spaciousness of your audio setup.
“Song of the Stars” by Dead Can Dance – there’s some phenomenal low end instrumentation at the beginning of this track that tell me immediately how much bass a system can output. And then the song starts layering. Throw in some amazing baritone and soprano voices, and you got yourself a stew! Great World Music band.
“Shake Your Rump” by The Beastie Boys – most golden age Hip-Hop albums don’t have the best production. This one does. A great test for speed and bottom end.
“Paralyzed” by The Cardigans – I’m a sucker for texture. The more weird buzzes, pops, and whirs, the better. Also a good all-around test track.
“Numbers” by Kraftwerk – I grew up during the New Wave / early electronic era. I therefore know every note of this album. So I always include it to see if a system can reproduce all I know, or introduce me to something I hadn’t noticed before.
“Computer World 2” by Kraftwerk – you can’t listen to “Numbers” without including this track as well. At least, I can’t.
“Mental Hopscotch” by Missing Persons – very bright, almost sibilant production. Great way to immediately see how harsh a system can get.
“Black Metallic” by The Catherine Wheel – Shoegazer is one of my favorite genres. This isn’t the most dynamic album. But there are guitar atmospherics that I like to test here, to see if the headphone/speaker can transport me somewhere outside of the room I’m in.
“The Weapon” by Rush – huge Rush fan. And despite purists, this is my favorite album of theirs (I can explain if you are sufficiently outraged). Any song from this album will do.
“Possibly Maybe” by Björk – more buzzes, whirs, and pops.
“Weeping Willow” by the Verve – Britpop is my second favorite genre. Great guitar work on this one.
“Forever” by Turin Brakes – an excellent test of midrange realism. The male voices and acoustic guitars are incredibly clear on this track.
“Marlon J.D.” by Manic Street Preachers – I love MSP. There’s no other reason to include this track other than testing if a system will play some of my favorite music well.
“Howl” by BRMC – almost complete separation of right and left channels on this track. If you wanted to test an amplifier that provides some sort of crossfeed functionality, use this.
“Snow in California” by The Stills – I like post-punk bands that can combine guitar and synthesizers well. This is one of those bands.
“Idioteque” by Radiohead – and here’s another one.
“Happiness is Easy” by Talk Talk – …oh man…I love this band. There’s some great bass work here that I love running through a good setup.
“Deadlock” by Magnet – a favorite artist of mine. Another track to see if a setup will reveal something new.
“Tracy’s Waters” by Patrick Watson – Sonic genius. Another artist who likes to drop unexpected sounds in his songs.
“Delicate” by Damien Rice – this album is so well engineered, it can make even mediocre setups sound great. Play it on a superior system and I suspect folks’ll be reaching out to touch Mr. Rice.
“Angel” by Massive Attack – another “transport” track to me.
“Hail Bop” by Django Django – there’s some tight punchy bass on this track. Great layers, excellent vocal harmonies as well.
“Welcome Home” by Punch Brothers – y’all like your Bluegrass? I just love the mandolin, guitar, and vocals here. Very lifelike.
“Cancer” by Mansun – there are a lot of instruments playing this song. I like using it to see if I can pick out each one, and see how big of a soundstage I can hear. It’s also a beautiful song.
“Fevered” by The Stills – great post-punk song. Sparse, very angular, and tight. It’s another track in which I like to follow each instrument individually. And it’s from my favorite album of the Oughts.
“Ends of the Earth” by Hot Chip – good, clean, layered, electronic fun.
“Landmines” by St. Vincent – an atmospheric track, one that hopefully transports me to another locale, preferably one with Annie Clark present.
“Fools Gold” by The Stone Roses – just listen to that guitar wah-wah pedal work and tell me John Squire isn’t a genius. My god.
Edit: I left off Dead Can Dance; some punctuation and spelling cleanup
Thanks, @Torq. There’re so many good suggestions on this thread. I have a feeling I’ll be going to bed very late tonight.
Currently enjoying some Chicago VII. Terry Kath is the man.
Now I’ll have to look for the Mingus online. I’ve got some nice Mingus in vinyl. I like your selections of orchestral music, although I’m not familiar with those performances.
Thank you! The popular Cleveland and Maazel version of Romeo and Juliet is nicely recorded; it’s just a bit too ponderous for my tastes, which is why I prefer the livelier Previn. I can’t say that I’ve heard nearly enough versions of even my favorite orchestral works, let alone all those I have yet to discover. If anything, I’ve long relied on The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2010: The Key Classical Recordings on CD, DVD and SACD. Even though its latest version is a decade old (and some of its reviews go back decades), I’d still steer those looking for solid recommendations in the direction of this volume.
There’s an enthusiastic but succinct piece about the Mingus album on the allmusic website that might whet your appetite. I could probably put together an entire test-track playlist made up solely of Mingus’s music.
I’m blaming you for keeping me long past my bedtime on a school night! Thanks for your list, it was great to see so many recommendations - I know of probably half the bands you listed (I’m likewise a fan of much of the music you mention), but I’m familiar with only a quarter of the tracks, so I’ll probably be up late tomorrow night as well. Thank you!
So what’s your favorite genre? Did I miss it - was it new wave / early electronic or shoegaze? For the latter, you might like The Stargazer Lilies - the first and third songs on this album are great - but the audio quality, alas, is pretty poor. I suppose this band, My Bloody Valentine, or Ride could be used to test headphones for how forgiving they are…
@Tchoupitoulas, my favorite genres are most def. Shoegazer and New/Neo Wave. But to my ears I find a lot of the Shoegazer artist recordings not as clean, dynamic, or interesting as they could be (yes, even MBV and early Ride). So I typically don’t use them for sonic tests. If you can think of a Shoegazer track or artist to prove me wrong, by all means send them my way.
I’m listening to Stargazer Lillies now. Thanks for the suggestion. A recent Shoegazer album for you to check out is “DIIV” by Deceiver (2019). It’s definitely one of the cleaner, more dynamic Shoegazer-influenced albums I’ve heard. Much better instrument separation than the “wall of sound” you typically get.
I went back and looked at 91x top 91 songs. It was fun to see what some us were listening too in the 80’s and early 90’s
The top 20 of the list in 1986
20. Desire – Gene Loves Jezebel
19. Bitchin’ Camaro – Dead Milkmen
18. Wig – B-52s
17. Blood and Roses – Smithereens
16. To Be a Lover – Billy Idol
15. What You Need – INXS
14. Faults and All -General Public
13. Panic – Smiths
12. She Sells Sanctuary – Cult
11. Questions of Time -Depeche Mode
10. Cities in Dust – Siouxie and the Banshees
9. Shell Shock – New Order
8. Summer of Love – B-52’s
7. Pain – Oingo Boingo
6. Walk Like an Egyptian – Bangles
5. Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel
4. Wild Wild Life – Talking Heads
3. Big Mouth Strikes Again – Smiths
2. Boys Don’t Cry Cure
1.Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo
Mmmm all good healthy fare from the 80’s. Catchy tunes well The Smith’s and The Cure notwithstanding. .
Yes, you have to click through the year as alternative taste changed into the 90’s as well.
Most definitely the 90’s was such a musical sea change for me. I prefer the 1980’s for but that’s just me. That’s not to say the 90’s was a bad decade musically speaking.
@berzerkeleyan - thank you for the recommendation, I’m very much enjoying “DIIV” by Deceiver. Great stuff! You might like the album “Pasar de las Luces” by Mint Field. Its sound quality is likewise surprisingly good, at least for this genre of music, and I love that buying this album and others digitally on Bandcamp means you can get high-quality ALAC or FLAC downloads for the same price as the lower resolution formats. “Ojos en el Carro,” “Ciudad Satélite” and “Párpados Morados” are great songs and excellent places to start. I’ve used this last song as a test track a bunch of times.
@angstorms and @prfallon69 - I wonder how far our musical preferences are shaped by our formative years. My friend and I shared with each other our top 25 favorite albums a few months ago - rules: no compilations, no live albums, and no more than one entry per band, just to mix things up a bit (we were deliberately excluding classical) - and it was a bit sad, but not entirely surprising, to see how many of our choices lined up with our first loves as teens and early twenty-somethings. (That meant late 70s/early 80s for him, and 80s/90s for me).
I forgot to mention Minor Victories as another decent-quality album also worth checking out (with Give up the Ghost, Scattered Ashes, and Folk Arp being outstanding tracks).
Personally, I feel most things in life are laid down in the formative years. Certainly my tastes are most likely influenced being a teenager in the 1980’s. Though that’s as far as my musical upbringing (for want of another word) goes.
For instance my parents weren’t heavily into music per se. Just the usual record player hi-fi system and a small collection of records. Contrast that with others on the forum who I’ve heard say were brought up in and around music. Take @TylersEclectic for example. I hope he won’t mind. He has said in other posts that his parents were heavily into music and played instruments too. This must have a big positive influence on both tase and consciousness of different genres. As well as having access to things like concerts and actually hearing music played or performed in the flesh so to speak. Just a few thoughts anyway.
Agreed! Friends and secondary school were also crucial - my best friend got me into The Rolling Stones, which he’d picked up from his parents, and then the slightly older (and cooler) kids turned us both on to The Smiths, The Clash, and Depeche Mode (this having been the late 80s).