I’ll add a few more nontraditional options, including some international (Indian) songs.
A. R. Rahman - Radha Kaise Na Jale - from “Lagaan”: https://open.qobuz.com/track/167063 (very high treble and drum punch)
The intro to the song has really piercing chimes followed by a really punchy drum. Good for testing treble smoothness / extension as well as slam.
Augustin Haderlich - Paganini: 24 Caprices, Op. 1: https://play.qobuz.com/album/0190295727444
Really well recorded solo violin. Great for testing microdynamics, bite, detail retrieval (you can hear the hand sliding around on the violin, his breathing, etc.), and space (on some tracks, you can hear the violin echo).
Various Artists - Miles in India: https://play.qobuz.com/album/wpzsq8ns8e3zb
A REALLY cool fusion album that takes Miles Davis’ compositions and blends them beautifully with Indian classical music. What you end up with is a really interesting blend of instruments and vocals that’s beautifully recorded and engaging all through. I particularly like So What and Blue in Green, but the rest are great too. Very good for testing instrument separation, imaging, and texture.
Yehudi Menuhin and Ravi Shankar - Swara-Kakali - from “West Meets East”: https://open.qobuz.com/track/88078253
One of the fusion recordings from the early days that actually showed what was possible and popularized the concept itself. The song ends in an incredible crescendo of violin and sitar accompanied by a Tabla (played by another all time great, Alla Rakha). Great for testing the layered complex sounds of a sitar (it has 21 strings!), detail retrieval (random stage noises), and instrument separation (being able to pick out all 3 instruments reaching a crescendo simultaneously).
Really nice of you to share your playlist and musical taste. I can definitely identify with Rush’s The Weapon. I have a Mobile Fidelity sound labs gold cd of it and I can definitely say it is reference level listening. Beastie Boys is great too! Very cool man.
This is a great thread and an important one. We all need help discovering great music. So my list comprises of high dynamic range recordings because I feel DNR is the true life and blood of all music. You take it away you usually have loud and overly processed crap. Hope you guys enjoy this list. These few tracks have everything I love about music.
IQ— Darkest Hour
Stevie Ray Vaughn— Cold Shot
Peter Gabriel— The Rhythm of the Heat
Dead Can Dance—-Rakim
The Sisters of Mercy — Temple of Love
Fields Of The Nephilim—For Her Light
Dire Straits— Telegraph Road
Rage Against The Machine— Revolver
Phil Collins— I Don’t Care Anymore
Melody Gardot— Preacher man
Metallica— Wherever i May roam
Ray Charles— The Right Time
Little Richard— Long Tall Sally
Savatage— Ghost In The Ruins
supertramp— Hide In Your Shell
Dream Theater— At Wits End (Blu ray Audio stereo pcm 24/96k version!)
The Alan Parsons Project— Psychobabble
Tears For Fears— The Working Hour.
If you guys want more just say the word. Happy listening!!!
One of my first tests is Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy - it’s well mastered, and it starts off slow with acoustic instruments and slowly builds with electric guitars and extra percussion, all placed deliberately around a sound stage. Really tells me how a DAC “sorts” a busy track, while also telling me how it presents natural acoustic sounds and a male tenor voice.
I’m into a lot of the pretty extreme metal stuff, so these might be pretty out-of-the-ordinary for most audiophiles. However, they are songs that I know well and actually will listen to, rather than superbly recorded masterpieces that I don’t know well enough in order to evaluate gear effectively.
The top 10 I use for testing/demoing would be:
What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse – The Black Dahlia Murder
Broken Hands – Lamb of God
Reach Beyond the Sun – Shai Hulud
Scoop – Nasum
Death – Crystal Mountain
Of Mind - Nocturne by Tesseract
Esoteric Surgery - Gojira
New Noise – Refused
Blinded by Fear – At the Gates
Marianas Trench – August Burns Red
I don’t rely on a vast collection of recordings when comparing headphones, I listen mostly to prog-rock (often live) and fusion and found that the material below do a pretty good job of rendering my tonal and dynamics preferences. I consider these albums to be among the very best produced works of rockdom. All date back to the vinyl era but each has lossless versions that bring me equal satisfaction. As a collector I buy headphones on a regular basis and carry these albums on a USB stick when I go hunting for cans. In chronological order:
For frequency separation, female vocals and wind instrument (well, saxophone anyway) : Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd
For mid-bass and general vocals: I Robot by The Alan Parsons Project. A go-to for traditional prog.
For live performance and keyboard-generated bass and mid bass: ELP In Concert (rec. 1977 rel. 1978) Even if it was recorded in a giant stadium with an audience of 70,000 SQ is excellent and the rendition of a live atmosphere while retaining the essence of well-disciplined musical performance free of the wild jam-like distorted flights of fancy common at the day is quite unique, Good phones will convey this without effort.
For sheer dynamics: Moving Pictures by Rush. Certainly one of the best produced, most polished albums of the era. That allows good phones to meet the challenge of the fast-paced punchy power-prog without missing a beat while covering the whole FR spectrum from sub-bass to treble with a guitar-lead emphasis on mids. Suits hard-rock and prog-rock alike. Not a devoted Rush fan myself but I respect their impressive proficiency and what they’ve done on this album is sound quality test material at its best for the rockier genres.
The albums above are well-produced enough so as to be free of annoying artifacts. But when it comes to classical I mostly stick with 1970’s recordings so forgiveness of glitches is an important consideration. For this I use average recordings of Ode To Joy and various symphonies of eclectic origins just to ensure whatever I stumble upon still sounds alright. I think it’s pretty obvious that I don’t listen to classical music much except perhaps for Chopin. But in his case my tests with prog-rock translate well. The main condition is that silence remain silent which is more of an issue with what drives the headphones than with the headphones themselves.
I’ve put together my list of test tracks here for reference so that anyone who has a chance to hear headphones I’ve evaluated can get a sense of what I’m talking about. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of what I use to test headphones with, just a selection of tracks that have a specific purpose. Also keep in mind that this is not necessarily going to match with everyone’s genre preferences, and for my part, this isn’t an endorsement of all the musical material either, even though I do like most of it. This list may change over time as I include more test tracks and remove others.
Sinne Eeg “We’ve Just Begun” - Female vocals and multi-layered brass section. Great for identifying texture.
Steven Wilson “Three Years Older” - This whole album is good for evaluating electric guitar tone - Guthrie Govan’s guitar solos in particular.
Molly Johnson “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” - Female vocals, upright double bass and good piano tone.
Leslie Odom Jr. “Under Pressure” - Male vocals, well-recorded jazz orchestra.
Eric Clapton “Change the World” - Slightly forward recording but with good layering and instrument placement.
Yo Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone “Ecstasy of Gold” - Testing acoustic instruments (strings).
Adam Baldych “Spem in Alium” - More acoustic instruments.
Tingvall Trio “Beat” - Listening for upper-midrange recessions, getting piano tones right.
Michael Wollny Trio “Little Person” - Great for both piano tone evaluation and bass drum hits.
Pain of Salvation “Stress” (from the Falling Home album) - Close-mic’d instrument and percussion balance. This will also reveal percussion compression issues between 5-6khz.
Ulf Wakenius “When God Created the Coffebreak” - Testing upright double-bass tones and guitar tones
Ostura “The Room” - Resident metal track. Good for evaluating distorted guitars. Reveals emphasis in upper mids. Also helps identify how the headphone handles busy passages
Michael Buble “When I Fall in Love” - Identifies the balance for orchestral swells in the intro.
Listening for problem areas:
Patricia Barber “Code Cool” - Checking for sibilance and issues between 7-9khz
Patricia Barber “Just One of Those Things” - Another sibilance test track, also reveals percussion compression issues.
Hans Zimmer “Why So Serious” - Checking for sub-bass extension
Renee Olstead “Midnight at the Oasis” - Checking for sibilance and issues between 7-9khz
Christian Scott “New New Orleans” - Reveals percussion compression issues, specifically tambourines. Also will reveal any shout, glare or peak issues for trumpets.
Ulf Wakenius “Suffering” - Just the intro section, an individually isolated instrumental line. Listen for decay in intro tones. I often use this to help identify detail and image clarity.
Yosi Horikawa “Letter” - Soundstage and imaging test track.
Yosi Horikawa “Bubbles” - Another soundstage and imaging test track.
Tool “Chocolate Chip Trip” - Yet another imaging test track.
Michael Buble “La Vie en Rose” - Vocal harmonies reveal image separation capabilities. Try this with planar magnetic headphones.
Pink Floyd “Dogs” - Great test track for tube amps. Listen for image placement, depth, and textural qualities.
Dunno either but Jean Michel Jarre once said he wasn’t sure if his fans enjoyed his music as much as they seemed to enjoy recording his albums on tape royalty-free for reference purposes, which didn’t make him happy.