What s Your Frame of Reference?

Whenever I make a change to my system I pull out a select few records to evaluate the "upgrade". Gross differences in sound quality are fairly easily judged, but most likely the change in sound quality is subtle and better judged over an extended listening period. This is my problem: let's say I change something and on one of my reference records the trumpet now sounds a little more brash and upfront, maybe even bordering on harsh. How do I know whether the upgraded system is more accurately portraying the sound of the recorded trumpet, or has the upgrade merely added an upper midrange resonance problem? I have a good idea of what a generic trumpet (w/ and w/o mute) sounds like, but I wasn't at the recording session. The studio, the mic, EQ, recording medium, etc. all add an enormous amount of variables to what is actually recorded onto the record. If I judge the sound to be harsh and make changes to my system to remove the harshness, then maybe all I've done is make the system more pleasant, euphonic, but less accurate. The "live music in real space" paradigm is not particularly useful in that the overwhelming majority of the music I listen to is not of this type. Besides, the transparency of the audio engineering is still a variable. Ideally, I need a wide bandwith recording where I was present at the recording and which the engineer faithfully recorded the music. Unfortunately, I don't have such a recording. How are other dealing with this issue?
I also use several discs but mostly I go for symphonic music
to hear the violins and other strings.I consider this the ultimate test.Just think of the idea that there are probably about 60-80 musicians playing and you are hearing them through two boxes in your living room.What a challenge to make it sound good.
After the strings I go for piano music which is also difficult to reproduce.This is a good instrument to listen for decay-how long you hear the note after the key has been struck.
If an upgrade passes these two tests it is usually good on other types of music.
Kitch29 brought up a good point that I also agree with. The change (hopefully improvement) has to stand the "test of time", eg for me it has to be non-fatiguing over time. Craig
I like to use recordings of the human voice when making critical decisions. If they sound natural, then I feel like I’m on the right path. I second the recommendation of Johnny Cash mentioned above. His recordings from the past few years are very well done. Try “American Recordings.” Just Johnny and a guitar that is downright spooky in its realism. Then again, maybe there is some synergy between the way these are recorded and the sound of my system. I think this is THE great variable in evaluating audio gear. A reviewer in the mainstream audio press tells us that a certain recording has a certain quality. Such as “the most natural female vocals I’ve ever heard.” Of course this evaluation is based on the systems that this particular reviewer uses for his reference. If I choose to use this recording as my reference for female vocals, then I am going to end up with a system that has a similar tonal balance to that of the reviewer. Perhaps not a bad thing, but I’ll never really know. This paradox can drive me crazy. I think I’ll just go down to the pub and listen to the house band.
Depends what I am auditioning. I'll pick a big orchestra piece for trying an amplifier, but will go for Chamber Music trying cables. For a preamp I may pick a solo piano recording. If the piano does not sounds right, I can stop right there.
Sugarbrie; an interesting testing method(s)-- I really don't think I could call it that close. Cheers. Craig