Auditioning Audio Gear - The Music Used

We have our usual stack, that we take with us or pull out when we have something new here. Some would even fall into Cornfedboy's confession thread :-)
What music and why do you use when auditioning audio gear? Do you use different music for different components?
I have a few "test" disks. They change from time to time, but each disk has a distinct purpose. I, like Craig find vocals to help a lot. I use Eva Cassidy "Time After Time" to see how smooth the treble is. This disk is not as well recorded as I'd like and therefor the treble can be quite fatiguing, if the treble is harsh or bright here it will clearly wear over time. I use Sara K. "Hobo" for pace. This disk is very well recorded with a lot of sudden noises and quick rhythms. It also has excellent bass and very good sound stage. If my feet are tapping and I'm not listening for anything in particular, the equipment is working. Patricia Barber "Cafe Blue" is a favorite of mine. The base MUST be tight and focused, even on the deepest notes. If the base tends to flatten out across your floor rather than staying a tight note above the floor, the system is not able to handle the base to the lowest notes. If it does flatten out, take note of when (how low) and use this as a yard stick. Her voice should never sound shrill or bright, even in the highest passages. The studio should be present, but only if you look for it. The piano should sound true and the strikes on the strings should be apparent if you look for them. For me, if I find myself not looking for anything, just enjoying the presentation the system is resolving everything well. "Nature's Realm" on Water Lilly Acoustics is an "audiophile" standard. This is the disk with the subway running under the church and a system that resolves this has "great" base control. (well that's the audiophiles story) I can feel the train yes, but the real story for me is this is a great disk. The pace and extremes are very good. The sound quality is fantastic, I use this to see if the system can keep up on the loudest most sudden passages. This disk will bring out the worst in amps and speakers. Finally I'm using Duke Ellington "Blues in Orbit" for detail. There is a large group of brass instruments here in three distinct layers of depth. My system is able to pick out the tone variations of three instruments playing side by side the same notes, together, I must listen for this however. The depth and definition of sound stage is evident. The louder more complex passages should remain uncongested, still have the appearance of individuals playing together. There is also some studio information that will take some looking, but if the system is resolving this you will hear it.
I hope this has helped Angela. It's all a bit esoteric, but the point is you must know the music first, and have music that has pushed you system to it's limits in the past. When I was shopping equipment and setting up my system I found the Chesky "Ultimate Demo" disk to be very informative. They take you through 20+ areas to listen for and give you examples of when it's working. Thanks for the great thread, J.D.
I would say things that you are most familar with that are good "pressings" /old vinyl term. I ain't into this--these speakers/this amp/ are best on that/ kind of music. Female vocal/piano/dynamics would be the things I'm looking for.If I have to strain to hard / it ain't there,and I sure ain't paying for this whatever. I do my best at home, within the confines of my own system/environment.I can never figure out what 'is' the room; or what 'is' the cables or the other equipment I'm listening to at the showroom.Isolated I can tell you what the piece is or isn't doing within my system.
Hi Angela 100, before I pull out my best recordings, I like to use the various artists discs. These recordings sonics range from excellent to poor. If a disc of average sonics is unlistenable I usually will reject this speaker or component. Most of the music I listen to is not recorded that well. An example is a disc I bought at Starbucks called Songs of the Siren. It has 15 cuts of Jazz, country, pop and Blues with each cut recorded differently. If I like what I hear with these type of discs then I will continue on with the audition and start pulling out my good stuff. I do this because most of the equipment will sound good with the best recordings. There seem to be a fine line. Great thread Angela 100.
as with most folks here, i begin equipment auditions with recordings of male and female voices. my selections change over time, mainly 'cause i eventually get bored with "test" cd's/lp's. for several years i used jennifer warnes' "famous blue raincoat" as a primary test lp (i actually bought out a record store's sale stock of this recording; still have 4 or 5 sealed copies). presently, i'm using the persuasion's "might as well" (covers of the dead) and "frankly acapella" (covers of frank zappa). i also favor the fairfield four, "standing in the safety zone" and "the unaccompanied voice" on the secretly canadian label. all of these acapella recordings help me establish the "character" of the equipment i'm auditioning and lay a foundation for other tests. bass response is generally tested using the "poem of chinese drums" track on the burmester sampler "vorfurings cd III" (the u has an umlaut, which i can't insert with a-gon's text creator). rythym and pace are first heard with the "stimela" track from hugh masekela's "hope" (which is also on the burmester cdIII). after listening to these bits, i usually switch to some cd's or lp's that i just plain enjoy. among those i've just pulled out of my "test cd container" (one of those neat little bags from starbucks) are: lou reed "new york"; music from "steal this movie" ; "dead man walking," music inpired by the motion picture; "badlands" (covers of bruce's "nebraska"); and the corrs "unplugged." playing tracks from all these recordings gives me as complete a picture of the equipment under review as i can acomplish in a hour or so. for really important components (speakers, amps and pre's) i want to have at least a week of listening time, during which i throw several dozen more lp's and cd's onto their transports.
Hi Angela:

Here is my short list:

"Kepa Junkera" modern Basque music with many different instruments including percussive, distributed by Alula Records and is a two CD set.

"Clapton Unplugged" of course, and I use tracks one and thirteen.

"Engineer's Choice" John Argle's favorite demo tracks - classical.

Diana Krall "When I Look into Your Eyes", any track.

Cowboy Junkies "Lay it Down", track nine for female vocal.

K.D. Lang "Ingenue", any track.

And like Brulee I use a sampler "Voice Reflections, Women of Song" which was a give away at Barnes & Noble.

Since DanVet recently turned me onto a score of Lyle Lovett material I will also include much of this material as soon as I am better aquatinted with it.

For R&R I use The Eagles, "Hell" and "Hotel" CD's

I used to use a Sarah Vaugn and Billy Ekstine CD but gave it to my parents.

For "hall acoustics" I use "Celtic Solstice" by Paul Winter and friends, recorded at ST Paul's Cathedral in NY.

Another future candidate is the "Dead Man Walking" soundtrack and I also use various (many) tracks by Ry Cooder and some by Taj Mahal.
I use basically the same methods listed above. Have a standard set. It evolves, as do I. I also use this rotation when inserting a new component in my system, and again after break-in. Basically, I want to evaluate familiar recordings for male/female voice, saxophone/trumpet/piano/drums/cymbals(I love the cymbal test). I want to hear the tonal characteristics of a component, laid back or forward presentation, dynamics, bass response, weight, sound at low and high volume, and tendency to harshness or brightness. My list? Steely Dan-Aja(Black Cow and Aja), Francis Dunnery-Tall, Blond Helicopter(The Johnny Podell Song and I Believe I Can Change My World), Dar Williams-Mortal City(The Christians And The Pagans and Southern California Wants To Be Western New York), Lucinda Williams-Car Wheels On A Gravel Road(Car Wheels On A Gravel Road and Drunken Angel), The Cure-Mixed Up(Pictures Of You), John Coltrane-Blue Train(several tracks), and Sade-Best Of(several tracks).
Since I primarily listen to classical music, there are a few discs I bring--Bernstein-Candide, Reference Recordings for full scale orchestral, dynamics and bass, Handel--Arias for Cuzzoni and Corelli, Concerti Grossi, both with McGeagan and the Philharmonia Baroque, on Harmonia Mundi, for female voice, small orchestra and natural sound, and the Delos Mahler 2nd, for full scale orchestra and chorus. Sometimes I'll bring The Cars and Linda Ronstadt, too, just for fun. Ultimately, I advise my friends to bring the discs they like the most and listen to the most, because a system that won't convey the enjoyment they get from their favorite discs isn't worth getting, IMO, no matter how good it is.
Stevie Nicks 'Enchanted' HDCD boxed set is my acid test. There's something about her voice that's very difficult to resolve cleanly; if the rig handles Stevie smoothly, only then do I continue testing.