Jun 2, 20164712 views

What are Your Favorite Test Tracks and Why?

I like to test out the performance of new headphones (or any other part of an audio system) when I get them. I prefer to do my testing using the best instrumentation for the job that an audiophile has: My ears.
As a result I strongly prefer listening to music with contents that target a something specific rather than a rocking out to a signal generator. I am always interested to hear what other audiophiles and headphone enthusiasts like to throw at their cans and what their reasons are for doing so.
Here's a few of my favorites:
  • "Bombaclaad Star" by Liquid Stranger - Has a great stretch just after the 4:00 mark where the beat changes to claps and the bass is low. Very low. So low, in fact, that many audio systems can't produce it at an audible level. I use this track to test out bass extension and it's a fun track to listen to while you're at it.

  • "Rock n Roll Chainsaw" by Maximum the Hormone - The album this song is from is mastered a bit treble heavy so this song makes it easy for me to listen to see if cymbals sound natural (like a cymbal instead of someone saying, "ssss") which is partially how I evaluate my high treble end. It has the added benefit of being one of the funnest tunes I've ever rocked out to.

  • "Hedwig's Theme" by John Williams - Right out of the gate there's a magical combination of chimes and bells. Again I'm looking for the natural sound of the bells in particular to prove out the high end of my new pride and joy. There's also plenty of opportunity throughout the rest of the track to evaluate instrument separation. Truly a joy to listen to if you're a big enough nerd for it.

  • "Magnificat 4. Et Misericordia" by Kim Andre Arnesen - I love this whole composition but this movement in particular. I test out female voice production with it since the accompaniment is subdued to the degree that you can easily distinguish between the two.

Please share some of your favorites! Sorry about the compression on the YouTube videos but I'm not sure how else to share tracks here.

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As others will say the best is one that you know well, for me personally I always use "Wouldn't it be nice" by the Beach Boys. I wouldn't even say its a great test track but for me it seems to always give me a feeling to how they sound. Besides that I use "Zealots of Stockholm" by Gambino because that bass-ey part gave away a bad pair of speakers I got a year ago roughly so now I always use it to hear for any distortion, but again its really personal preference I think.
Aja - Steely Dan
One of my favorites as of late has been Sledgehammer (from one of the Star Trek movie soundtracks apparently). It's a very busy song that does a good job testing treble, mids, bass, and overall coherence and instrument separation. Also, Rihanna's voice in the song sounds strident, harsh, and artificial on > 95% of headphone setups, so it's an EXCELLENT test of upper mids, treble, and the transition between them. Even the Sennheiser HD 6XX / HD 600 sounds a bit harsh/strident here. If a piece of equipment fails this test, I don't want it.
Jack Loussier Play Bach ;)

There you will find everything: jazz, classical, treble, medium, bass, stage, emotion, etc. ufff #enjoy
"Euro-Trash Girl" by Cracker (Kerosene Hat album, hidden track #69) - Eight minutes of addictive grunge-rock. Characterized by a lack of chords, the continuous riffs, defined vocals, and minimal instruments provide a decent test for a defined soundstage. The somewhat technical 45-sec run from the 5:40 mark is a good place to twist the pot up for an isolated test of distortion or clipping.
The band plays with a clear separation of instruments and a nice dac will put you in an intimate setting with this performance rather than out in the crowd. It lends better as a test for dac & headphone combination more-so than an amp. The eight minute length also allows time for dac adjustments during play.
Favourite tracks are tracks that I always listen to. Coz:
1. They are my favourite
2. I've been hearing them A LOT over many headphones, so I can easily discern any deviations
3. I will continue listening to them, so if they sound good on a new pair of phones, even better!
Whenever I am testing out a subwoofer setup (or new headphones) for bass extension I always play Burial (feat. Pusha T, Moody Good, and TrollPhace) by Yogi, Skrillex. I bothered listing all that because this specific version of the song has a fantastic bass line starting right around the 3 minute mark (just a bit past that in the video). On most systems all you can really hear is the kick drum and some vague bass tones, but if you have yourself a good setup it will shake your soul. you can still hear it on youtube, but try and find a better version if you can (it's on spotify). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQ13nr6urIo
Memphis Underground by Herbie Mann. It is a good test for instrument separation.
Fleetwood Mac - The Chain - Kind of all around everything, but mostly soundstage and imaging.

Mr. Oizo - Flat Beat - Bassssssss

Flight Facilities - Clair de Lune / Crave You / Sunshine - great production quality and lots of hidden subtlety (especially in the vocals of Sunshine)

High Contrast - High Society Album - More bass testing, I know this album inside out so its very revealing when a system/room has non-linear bass response or doesn't extend low enough.

Pink Floyd - Welcome to the Machine - This song has the ability to transport you to another planet filled with robots and machines. Really otherworldly on good speakers with good soundstage. Not quite the same on headphones.
+1 for Rumors
I never use YouTube audio to test my headphones. Blasphemy to even suggest it.
Now that we talked about that.

The Prodigy - Breathe (Bass response)

The Gathering - In Motion # 1 (Treble response)

Mortichnia - Carrion Proclamation (Treble response/Percussions, bonus points for pinpointing a recording flaw on the CD on the right channel)
Mgła - Exercises in Futility I-VI (Percussions. If the drums sound mushy, it's your end, not the drummer)

Tristania - A Sequel of Decay
Selbst - ...Of solitary Ramblings ( SOUNDSTAGE!)

Epica - The Phantom Agony (Classic instruments/Heavy Metal/Opera Vocal)

Electric Wizard - Funeralopolis (Heavily down-tuned and over-driven guitars, if headphones are crackling, don't buy)

These are great tracks to check your headphones for quality, if you are a Metalhead. Make sure to NOT use YouTube. At the very least 320kbps mp3 encoding. Better straight from the CD or vinyl.
I use "Towerblock" by Frost* to test soundstage. Jem Godfrey did some amazingly bizarre stuff on that song with stereo. Part of the reason I like it is that the first time I heard it I seriously ripped out my IEMs thinking a shelf had come crashing down in my bedroom closet. It was so excellently done that I didn't realize it was the music.
I should note I managed that with an iTunes downloaded rip on my 1More triple drivers. I'm looking forward to testing it on my new Sennheisers.
The short list,

Steely Dan, Aja DSD 2.8 & Gaucho DSD 2.8 both for everything, depth, detail, stage

Adele, Hello FLAC 24/96 for vocals

Roberta Flack, Killing Me Softly FLAC 24/192 1973 remastered for vocals... she is right there...

Here is the odd one, but so familiar to me for comparing "fluidity":

Fleetwood Mac, Bare Trees (yes, the song track Bare Trees from the album) FLAC 24/192 1972 remastered

In case you forgot:

Roberta Flack! :D

That's a magnificent track! It's among my favorite for imaging. The drum kit in that track is so precisely placed. The hat at far right the snare just to the left of it and the kick drum just to the left of that is so easy to pick out. The bass guitar at far left is clean and consistent and there's a subtle acoustic guitar just to the right of that. There's some other percussive instruments like a couple triangles and a tambourine at center left. The keyboard and backup vocal is dead center. And then to top it all off, as you said, Roberta herself almost like she's standing only a couple feet in front of me singing straight to me personally!

If I close my eyes and just listen I can almost see the whole performance if the system is up to it.
I think we can see the physical studio stage here, as it was recorded... as you said...

When I first listened (new rig),, it seemed somehow faked,, yes, cans off - back on,
it was so real...

Back in the day, I had a subscription to Stereo Review magazine. One day I saw an advertisement for Boston Acoustics speakers. They were giving away CDs titled "The Boston Bass Disc." I called the toll-free phone number and requested one. I eventually got one. I, along with most people, expected the disc to be bass-heavy rap music. Much to my surprise, the disc contained contemporary jazz from the Wyndham Hill label.

I was mildly disappointed, but the liner notes included an explanation of what to listen for. Upon a critical listen, the disc is full of transient bass. With good speakers or headphones, you can hear drums being struck and their heads vibrating, you can hear bass guitar strings being plucked and decaying. The music was also recorded well enough that treble and mid-range are well represented and their interplay could be quite difficult for inferior equipment to faithfully reproduce. Various behaviors were explained and sure enough you could hear them quite well with good equipment.


I got mine for free. :-)
1. Patricia Barber, Companion (XRCD). Live, excellent recording, great range.
2. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of The Moon, Black Triangle version -- need I say anything about this one?
3. John McLaughlin & Shakti - an incredibly detailed live recording with a great soundstage
4. Hot Tuna, Live At the New Orleans House Berkeley - amazing acoustic set recorded great.
I've used Alabama Shakes sound and color album here recently. Doesn't hurt I really enjoy there music.