Songs you use when auditioning gear

What are some of your favorite songs to play when auditioning gear?  I often listen to Dreams by Fleetwood Mac.  Just about anything off of Gaucho or Aja by Steely Dan or Joni Mitchell’s Hejira or Hissing of Summer Lawns usually gets spun up too.  Dreams, in particular, is such a great song and is recorded with the balance I really like as well as a full and wide soundstage.  Wondering what some of yours are to see what I’m missing.


The Turn of a Friendly card by Alan Parsons Project since I am so familiar with the sound because I have been listening to it from the time I got my first descent stereo in the early 80's and have heard it in every system I ever owned.  It allows me to gauge what I am listening to in great detail. 

After that I listen to a good recording of a piano, which in my opinion is the most difficult instrument to fool you into sounding live on a recording. 

I haven't auditioned gear for quite a while, but if I was going to I'd probably use the Cowboy Junkies cover of Sweet Jane off the Analogue Productions SACD.  I have a couple of Patricia Barber Cafe Blue SACDs and I'd probably use assorted tracks from one of them.

Dorati 1812 Overture on Mercury Living Presence especially the final movement where all heck breaks out. 

Jerry Mulligan - Dragon Fly - track two - Brother Blues

Tom Scott - Smokin Section - track 5 - Ode to Billie Joe (yes that song)

Miles Davis - In a Silent Way - Side 1

Al Di Meola - The Infinite Desire - Track 6 - Invention of The Monsters and Track 10 - Race With The Devil on Turkish Highway

These tracks will show everything a system has to offer. IMHO




I use difficult music such as Sarah McCoy's "Blood Siren." It's a mysterious and unorthodox album that I love. McCoy has a speech impediment and a cajun accent to boot. When I ran it through recently acquired Audion mk3 monoblocs it was when I was hearing lyrics previously unintelligible that I knew it was broken in and measuring up to the hype.

Also, "Harrow and Harvest" by Gillian Welch. Her voice can be treble sibilant and irritating in a lesser system. Th Audions tamed it without killing any detail.

Also, James Taylor's "October Road." Taylor's voice can be honky in less refined systems. A grown system tames the honk while preserving all the details of this masterful recording.

Also, Leonard Cohen's album "You Want It Darker." In an immature system Cohen's voice can be unctuous and gravelly. In a mature system all of that disappears, and his voice becomes a fine instrument floating in a bath of fine instrumental balance and angelic chorus.

On all of these albums if the midrange is not engaging then the emotive power of the human voice is absent as well.

I’m a huge Steely Dan fan.  Gaucho is recorded like crap on CD and don’t use that to judge anything.


I’m a huge Steely Dan fan. Gaucho is recorded like crap on CD and don’t use that to judge anything.

I was very glad to read this. I am a huge Steely fan also, and I always thought that Gaucho was a gold standard reference -- I remember how it (and The Nightfly) would always be playing in (what we called) stereo stores.

Now, it’s very hard to get either Gaucho or Nightfly to sound good on any combination of system I put together. They are overly bright, forward, saturated recordings. A big disappointment to me, because I love those albums.

But...put on Kamakiriad or Sunken Condos or Two Against Nature -- they’re liquid, velvet delights to listen to.


CDs to Evaluate Equipment (I do not use LPs)

  1. Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams: Annie’s Voice; Highs, Dynamics; Stewart’s Electronic Imaging
  2. War of the Worlds, Jeff Wayne’s: Richard Burton’s Voice; Dynamics
  3. No More Tears Duet: Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer; range and distinction of their voices.
  4. Friday Night in San Francisco: last 2 tracks all 3 guitarists play: Imaging and Distinction of 3 types of guitars/strings

I typically use the songs that I play the most, since they would be a reference point.

Blue Bayou by Linda is a good one.


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@newbee touches on this above.

The TL;DNR version.

When I am evaluating gear, I want to, initially at least, use recordings with the least possible amount of studio effects and manipulation. I want the instruments to be as purely recorded as possible, in order to be able to determine the overall accuracy of the gear. For me, this (at least at the beginning) leaves out the vast majority of mainstream studio recordings.

The vast majority of audiophiles and melophiles know what acoustic violins, pianos, percussion, woodwinds, etc sound like in person, in an acoustic space. So, when we hear a recording of them, we have a real world referent to compare it against, and determine if the gear is reproducing the instruments faithfully. This provides a baseline of sorts.

But with all those well respected recordings (some mentioned here):and others, like Steely Dan, Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, etc, how are we supposed to know: what effects were employed in the studio (how many overdubs, delay, echo, panning, phasing, etc, etc)? We don’t know what effects the guitarist was using on the guitar, what settings were used on organ or electric piano, or the EQ setting on the vocalist, etc.

The result is, we have no idea what the instruments actually sounded like at the time of the recording, so we have no idea if the system is reproducing them accurately. I am not saying the recording won’t sound good, just that we can’t tell of the gear is accurate.

Even before I was a fan of classical music, I still understood that classical recordings were the best for evaluating gear. Simply because there are substantially less unknowns between what was originally recorded, and what is being reproduced. Acoustic jazz is a very close 2nd choice.

All those attributes we want to evaluate (timbre, attack/decay, detail imaging and soundstage, transparency, etc, are much easier to determine if the recording was made with minimal manipulation at the time of the recording, and afterwards in the studio.

There is a qualitative difference between the sort of imaging and soundstage on mainstream studio recordings, which is pretty much created by the engineer. In other words, if you hear a musician sounding like they are coming from the left of the vocalist, it is because the engineer panned them to be there.

And the type of imaging and soundstage on a classical recording, which is created by the MICing methods used by the recording engineer. If a violinist sounds like they are coming from the left of the cellist, it is because that is where they were at the tome of the recording. These types of recordings are designed to capture the live musical event, the sound of the acoustic space they are playing in, the position of the musicians in the acoustic space, and all other spatial cues of the acoustic space.

@hilde45 I listened to some David Chesky last night specifically Graffiti Jazz.  Not sure if that’s the correct Chesky but it was a good album.

@mapman that version of 1812 Overture is really good.  I don’t think I have the room to do service the that recording but I certainly understand what you mean about the last movement, persuasion, string, horns, and canons going off everywhere.

@bigtwin Al Di Meola Race With The Devil on Turkish Highway was intriguing, I liked that one a lot

@bolong Sarah McCoy's "Blood Siren” was interesting and she certainly does have a particular way of enunciating.  Gillian Welch was very good as well.

@soix ​​​​@hilde45 that’s an interesting take on Gaucho, and I can’t say you’re wrong.  I think it’s great musically but you’re right about the recording and I listen to it a good bit so maybe that’s why I use it sometimes.  Kamakiriad  is a great and well recorded album.

@simonmoon that’s an interesting perspective.  I don’t listen to much classical but I have been diving into all types of Jazz though.  Any suggestions for well recorded Jazz titles?

@jastralfu yes all that at the end + toss in all the bells (carillon?) ringing and you really have quite the full frequency range, with macro and micro dynamics, challenge for your poor hifi to try and reproduce all at once without screaming “uncle”. 

@mapman yes I was quite surprised by it especially the bells! I think my setup handled it reasonably well at least as far as I can tell, I could still clearly make out all the different instruments and their place in the soundstage.

The Cars Albums

Supertramps Crime of the Century

Alan Parson Eye in the Sky 


@jastralfu Glad you liked that selection.  You mentioned you're looking for well recorded jazz.  I'll recommend again Side 1 of Miles Davis - In A Silent Way.  It is a stunning recording.  Cheers.

I have, from my youth, a few Sheffield Labs direct to disc LPs. There are a couple of Harry James big band LPs that are wonderful. 

45 years ago when our small group 'got into audio', we soon started to use classical music. NOT because we liked the music (NOT), but because all the modern music was CRAP, recoreded/mixed/molested to death with their umptieth track and gazillion mics, and uterly useless to 'test' equipment. The sound engineers for classical music on the other hand had already decades of experience how to record and preserve music the right way. 

Today, I put Steely Dan, Friday Night in San Francisco, Frank Zappa, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd (45 years of using it, the one constant), Yello, Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (lets see what is shaking), Driver's Seat (not sure why, just snappy) in the CD player. 


The self titled album of KARLA BONOFF.....Great music...great recording...great emotion....and I'll bet nobody here knows who she is !

@kraftwerkturbo definitely Flight of the Cosmic Hippo!  Dire Straits and Driver’s Seat are excellent as well.

Rage Against the Machine's cover of Renegades of Funk.  Speakers are challenged by the high pitched whine.

Subterranean Homesick Alien by Radiohead.  Good for checking image depth, air and space.

I try not to avoid the audiophile tracks that always sound good and are the equivalent of turning brightness up on a TV in the showroom. 

@jji666 RATM Renegades of Funk reminds me that Metallica Sad But True is a great song to test bass control, the bass guitar in that song can cause all kinds of problems if the amp and speakers can’t handle it.

Symphony Fantastique by Hector Berlioz, recorded by the L.A. Philharmonic conducted by Gustavo Duhamel, a DG recording.  Especially the fifth movement.  It has everything from solo woodwinds to the oversized orchestra playing full out!! Tubular bell, bass drum, big brass; full dynamic range.  And beautifully recorded. Unfortunately,  I  believe it's only available on streaming,  has not been released on CD.

Yeah Kara Bonoff,i used to listen to her back in the late 70s.Great voice and the lps were good.I picked her best of cd at a thrift store and it was great.

I don’t audition gear with great frequency, so my "auditions" are limited to specific component upgrades. In other words, I’m not cycling through components so the music I use for evaluation is the music I enjoy listening to. I don’t use any of the traditional "audiophile" tracks most will list. Just a preference. I will use The The’s Dusk album and any of Neko Case’s albums as both provide a good opportunity to see what the new equipment "reveals."

I’ll then move on to listening to select ambient, electronic, blues, jazz, funk, classical tracks or full albums by Depeche Mode, Chet Baker, the Police, Radiohead, Talking Heads, New Pornographers, Calexico, etc.

I think that my "test" music should be the music I listen to the most across a wide array of genres and not limited to specific tracks or genres. I want to enjoy all of my music not just one song or one album. Can the equipment make a mediocre vinyl repress of Hank Ballard & the Midnighters sound good? If so, then the rest of my collection will sound good. Will it reveal something on the colored vinyl pressing of Calexico’s El Mirador that is more present in the FLAC file? Then there’s a good chance everything will sound better. Rarely have I had an upgrade make a bad recording worse. It might reveal the shortcomings of certain albums but certainly not to where I would stop listening to certain albums. 

@bipod72 listening to tracks across the musical spectrum you listen to is a good point.  I think I sometimes get too focused on a particular song and don’t think enough about that sometimes.

@jastralfu I can fall into the same trap where I'm really into a particular track or album and will listen to different versions to see if I can hear a difference. But then I've found myself tiring of said track or album. I think having a handful of favorite albums across genres is a good way to listen to new components and throwing in a few new / old cuts is a great way to freshen the ears. 

Whatever I’m most familiar with or have lately been listening to so I can hear what is different or improved from what I usually hear.

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—Clarity, Female voice: Gravity (Alison Krauss/Union Station)

— Human voice: Gjeilo: Ubi Caritas (Voces8)

— Bass/Slam: Sing, Sang, Sung (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Fat Band)

— Bass Drum: March from Suite 1 (Holst) (Cleveland Symphonic Winds, Frederick Fennell (Telarc))

— Pipe Organ: Toccata and Fugue in D minor (Bach) (Michael Murray (Telarc))

— Large Orchestra:  Mahler Symphony 5 (Benjamin Zander, Philharmonia Orchestra (Telarc))

— Big Everything: First minute of Mahler Symphony 8 (Robert Shaw, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Telarc))


@hilde45 @jastralfu @soix 

Yesterday I listened to LPs of Aja and Gaucho back to back.  I wouldn't say Gaucho  was that much brighter than Aja.  Maybe the horn sections were a little bright on Gaucho, but that LP was one that received better treatment.

More generally, I would rely more on well-recorded classical orchestral pieces and jazz for auditioning components.  They can inform about both timbral accuracy and soundstaging better than pop/rock records, which are generally multimic'ed with artificial reverberation and often EQ added.  When auditioning gear, I did use a few rock records because I was very familiar with them and wanted to be sure they would sound good, since I listened to rock as much as classical and jazz.

Yesterday I listened to LPs of Aja and Gaucho back to back.  I wouldn't say Gaucho  was that much brighter than Aja.

@drmuso I was referring to the CD version of Gaucho, which sounds like a lot of early 80s CD recordings in that it’s thin and glassy sounding. Personally I use Patricia Barber’s live Companion CD and Keb’ Mo’s Slow Down CD among many others as well-recorded reference material. As for rock “Tin Pan Alley” from Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather CD is always a good go to.

@drmuso I stream mostly and the streaming versions of the two albums sound similar to what @soix describes.  The CDs I’ve ripped to my local SSD sound the same as well.  Maybe I should get a turntable and start spinning records, sounds like I’m missing out.

The King's Singers:  Hard Day's Night

Fourplay: Between the Sheets

Flim and the BB's: Brekken's Farm

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters: Kansas City Monarch

And, popular rock hits that they've heard a gazillion times, but never experienced on a high resolution system with space, focus, and depth.


that’s an interesting perspective.  I don’t listen to much classical but I have been diving into all types of Jazz though.  Any suggestions for well recorded Jazz titles?

Even before I became a classical fan, I would still use classical recordings for evaluation purposes. Again, because I knew that the vast majority of classical recordings, are recorded with the least manipulation between the recording process, and the recording that us consumers are able to purchase. 

But, the thing that convinced me that classical recordings were superior for evaluating gear, is an experience I had in a high end store years ago, in my early days of high end gear.

They were demoing some high end gear for a customer, playing the usual stuff (Aja, Sire Straits, Fleetwood Mac, etc), and it was sounding really good. 

Then they put on some modern chamber music, Bartok I believe. And my jaw hit the floor. Not from the music itself (I was still not a classical fan at the time), but from the qualitative difference between the soundstage and imaging of the classical, and the other recordings. 

As well as the other recordings were creating a soundstage and image, it was nothing like the classical recording.

At no time during the playback of the rock recordings, did I ever get the feeling as if I could get up off the listening couch, and walk into the soundstage among the musicians. At no time could I "hear the walls" of the studio were those bands were recording. At no time could I hear the space around the musicians. 

I could go into the type of mic'ing techniques used in classical recordings as to why they have such a 3d soundstage, but this post is already getting too long.





A well-recorded jazz CD, if you can find it, is Fred Hersch Trio Plays...on Chesky Records.  It's a very natural, realistic recording of a piano trio with natural ambience and soundstaging.  Another one, not as good musically or recording-wise, is pianist Michael Garson's Serendipity on Reference Recordings.  I used to use track 6 from the latter CD when auditioning speakers and other gear because it has some very high, hard-hit piano notes that I thought were good for assessing for treble harshness.  That recording is from 1986 so I would imagine there are better ones around by now.  Diana Krall has some good CDs, well-recorded, mostly piano trios or quartets.

There is  only one LP for meeting my needs - Roger Water's - 'Amused to Death'

Frequency Extremes and Back Ground detail that can put many set ups under strain to present in a way that impresses.


Excellent suggestions as above. A few more for your consideration;


Diana Krall- The Look of Live (Live in Paris CD).

Jamie Cullum - Frontin' (Twentysomething CD/SACD).

Miles Davis - So What (Kind of Blue CD/SACD).



AC/DC - Back in Black CD

Nirvana - Unplugged: Live in New York CD.

Pearl Jam -  Ten CD

Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon CD/SACD

Steely Dan - Aja CD


Happy Listening!

Hunter’s & Collectors - Betty’s Worry or, the slab (bass, vocals, horns)

El Ten Eleven - Fanshawe (bass, harmonics, picking, “fret work”)

Miles Davis - Birth of the Cool (RVG ed) BUDO. 

Michael Hedges - Aerial Boundaries. I saw him live a week before his fatal accident, sitting 3 rows back. Every time I listen to that song I can hear and see in my mind’s eye the intense amount of work he put into that guitar. Gives idea of soundstage, highs, mids.


King Crimson - Court of the Crimson King , “I Talk to the Wind.” Vocal harmonies, flute, cymbal shimmer

Crimson Jazz Trio - same song. Piano.


But I can get a LOT out of just Hedges’ work.