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Critical (Best) Music Tracks for Speaker and Room EQ Testing

When I saw this thread I was surprised that Harman's 1st three best tracks for critical listening were also in my list of top 12 tracks for selling speakers in the mid '80s. I sold audio in a large regional chain from the late 70's to early 90's and then taught others to do it. Critical to the process was choosing demo tracks that would be both instantly engaging and also make differences quickly discernible to untrained listeners.

Fast Cars, Bird On a Wire, and That's Why I'm Here were all in heavy rotation. The purpose was different from Harman's, but coincidentally many of the tracks were the same. In reading through this thread many of the tracks mentioned are great for sales demos...and some are not.

RayDunzi said in post 2: "It would seem that detecting colorations would require uncolored or at least known source, which to me, rock is not." and I am somewhat in agreement. Great demo tracks usually have great vocals and great vocal recordings, usually of well known performers. Most of our customers were rock/pop fans, so while it may be easier to critically judge the fidelity of an acoustic instrument, most customers were more familiar with electronic ones. James Taylor's "That's Why I'm Here" really stands out in that regard. The opening vocals are thrilling.

Other tracks mentioned in the thread are probably even more revealing if you are familiar with them, but would not be great choices to sell speakers. I am a huge Lou Reed fan but MMM would be an example. For my own critical listening I often used Fleetwood Mac's "Future Games" track...its very midrange centric and on speakers with crossover issues it sounds like mush.

Some other very popular demos I used: Jennifer Warnes "Somewhere Somebody" and "Way Down Deep", BB King & Tracy Chapman "The Thrill Is Gone", BB & CC Wynans "I'll Take You There", and the acapella Fairfield Four "These Bones".
No jazz at the Pawnshop ?
Some Dire Straits songs are also quite well recorded.
This is an older study so reflects music of a different era. That said, I participated in Harman's blind speaker testing and they played the tracks from that list.
This is an older study so reflects music of a different era
Back when there was a lot of quality popular music being made.
Much of todays "rhythm over all else" leaves little of worth.
Today I heard the best recording I have ever heard. Drums & Bells, Comparing Sticks by Brad Dutz & Chris Wabich.
Absolutely jaw-dropping incredibly lifelike sound. No compression, incredible dynamic range, full spectrum captured from the timbre & attack of the lowest bass drum to the endless HF extension and incredibly fast yet silky smooth transients of the brushes & stick hits. Not a hint of artificial HiFi enhancement, just completely and effortlessly natural and transparent.
I have several of the Harman recommended tracks, and they are very good, but this is in a whole different league.
I am out of adjectives! Has anyone else listened to this? What do you think?
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I may pick one of these up, just to hear the current state-of-the-art in recording.

Yesterday I was listening to a few tracks recorded in the late 50s-early 60s, some Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Elvis, and marvelled at how good they sounded. Thought to myself, can recorded music even sound any better than this? I’d convinced myself that the quality of recordings really hasn’t advanced since then.
Oh yes the SOTA has improved since then. Some of the best recorded Jazz from the 50s and 60s has good midrange detail and clarity, but limited bandwidth and dynamic range, voicing/timbre imperfections, among other things. Satchmo Plays King Oliver, Muddy Waters Folk Singer, and a few others come to mind as some of the best engineered recordings from that era.

To my ears, the quality of recording has advanced leaps since then. Recording engineers back then were skilled at squeezing the most out of the limited technology they had, whose imperfections were clearly audible. Today, most recording technology (with the exception of microphones) has become audibly transparent (for all practical purposes), but recording engineers too often abuse it to intentionally fabricate imperfections.

But if you look at those cases (sadly too rare, outside of classical music) of modern recordings that use technology to be as transparent as possible, they just can't be compared to anything from the 60s. They're in a whole different league.
Some of my favorite recordings for sound quality were done by David Manley for his label Vital Records. A all tube recording chain custom built by David, the quality on the CD's I own is awesome. Sadly they all now seem to be completely out of print but you might find some on the used market. A interesting article on David's recording studio was writen up on Postive Feedback.
... Two more produced by Tony Minasian:
Hang around
Moon Jazz
Both sound excellent and nice to excellent music to boot. Some of the few CD that use the full potential of the format.
My new copies just arrived and I agree. All CDs should sound this dynamic, natural and clear. It really puts "High-Def" to shame. We don't need more bits, we need recording and mastering engineers to do it right and stop over-processing everything.
What impresses me most about these recordings is how well he captured the bass drums. Not just a low frequency "blatt", but it has the complex timbre, attack, decay and resonance. I've never heard it recorded so well. The mids and treble are also excellent, but it's the bass that blows my mind. Perfect for differentiating the bass response in headphones & speakers.
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Regarding the "A New Listener Training Software Application" list and the "Differences in Performance and Preference of Trained versus Untrained Listeners in Loudspeaker Tests" in the OP: is each track revealing something specific? Or are all the track for general listening and not listening for specific parts or sounds?
Regarding the "A New Listener Training Software Application" list and the "Differences in Performance and Preference of Trained versus Untrained Listeners in Loudspeaker Tests" in the OP: is each track revealing something specific? Or are all the track for general listening and not listening for specific parts or sounds?
They are general music tracks. I found them most useful in testing for vocals when taking the blind speaker tests.
Just played Paula Coles “Tiger”. Holy smokes that bottom end is tremendous!

Synthetic bass.

Mostly the low is 33Hz with about 100% 2nd harmonic at 66Hz.

Though they vary it a bit.

Lowest at 26Hz.

From YouTube

I don't find synthetic/electronic bass very useful for testing because you don't know what the timbre is supposed to sound like. You can tell whether your system reproduces that frequency, but you can't assess whether it is distorted.
Deep bass from natural acoustic instruments is a better test, if you know what it sounds like live. For example the lowest piano note is A0 (28 Hz), a full size concert harp usually has a C1 (32 Hz) string and I have a recording of one with a G0 (25 Hz) string.
These sounds, when well recorded, will make distortion more apparent and differentiate bloated bass from taut, well defined bass.
What are the frequencies of the lowest note on an upright bass, and on a standard/common electric bass?
Are there lower frequencies than those in an orchestra, such as bass drums?
What are the frequencies of the lowest note on an upright bass, and on a standard/common electric bass?

Are there lower frequencies than those in an orchestra, such as bass drums?


4-string bass upright or guitar - 41.204 Hz

"Most orchestral basses these days can reach low C3, 32.7Hz"

5-string bass guitar - 30.868 Hz

Piano - 27.5Hz, but the harmonics are very strong.

Depends on tunings...

Discussion - https://www.stereophile.com/content/question-bass-bass-instruments-frequencies-page-3

Big drums --- I'll maybe see 30-70Hz for the fundamental, but many spectrums. They produce a broad range of frequencies.

Pipe organs might have 16Hz on a big one.

"The largest pipe of a 64' stop is more than 20 meters (22 yards) long and produces a frequency of about 8 Hz!"

Electronically generated - anything

25 Hz is my limit for hearing low sines as tones... maybe lower with more volume, but lower frequencies become a shudder more than a tone.



Spectrum of one whack on a foot-cube cardboard box with a spoon:

Red- peak
Black - noise floor in the room


Well, not quite a cube.

Box Dimensions:

10 x 8.5 x 12

300Hz - Probably the 8.5x10 side where I hit it.
120Hz - resonance of the 10x12 sides.
180Hz - resonance of the 8.5x12 sides.
The rest of it is the chaos of all the box vibrations

18Hz - airconditioning noise.
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I post the list of tracks Harman uses after literally decades of research to detect fidelity of speakers and room Auto Equalizers in another thread but thought it deserves its own thread. I have had the fortunate luck of sitting through a couple of their blind tests and can attest to the efficacy of the tracks used:


AES Paper, The Subjective and Objective Evaluation of Room Correction Products
Sean E. Olive, John Jackson, Allan Devantier, David Hunt, and Sean M. Hess

JW - Jennifer Warnes, “Bird on a Wire”
TC - Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”
JW - James Taylor, “That’s Why I’m Here”

AES Paper, A New Listener Training Software Application
Sean Olive, AES Fellow
Harman International Industries

· Tracy Chapman, "Fast Car", Tracy Chapman
· Jennifer Warnes, "Bird on a Wire", Famous Blue Rain Coat
· James Taylor "That's Why I'm Here", “That’s Why I’m Here”
· Steely Dan “Cousin Dupree”, “ Two Against Nature”
· Paula Cole, “Tiger”,” This Fire”
· “Toy Soldier March”, Reference Recording
· Pink Noise (uncorrelated)

AES Paper, Differences in Performance and Preference of Trained versus Untrained Listeners in Loudspeaker Tests: A Case Study*
Sean E. Olive, AES Fellow

James Taylor, “That’s Why I’m Here” from “That’s Why I’m Here,” Sony Records.
Little Feat, “Hangin’ on to the Good Times” from “Let It Roll,” Warner Brothers.
Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car” from “Tracy Chapman,” Elektra/Asylum Records.
Jennifer Warnes, “Bird on a Wire” from “Famous Blue Rain Coat,” Attic Records.

And this from a 1992 research at NRC on genre of music and its revealing nature in this regard:


A bit about the science, the suitability of track is a matter of statistics. Colorations in speakers are only revealing if there is significant content/energy in that part of hearing spectrum. Rock music tends to have such rich spectrum. Classical music as a general rule does not. Hence the domination of rock/pop music in the top most critical list.

In both this space and audio compression with which I am intimately familiar with, high fidelity of the music recording is not an aid and if anything a distraction. A "pretty" sounding track sounds pretty on many systems because we are drawn to it by its good substance. Critical test clips on the other hand tend to be uninteresting and force you to pay attention to the task which is to analyze equipment with your ear.

Not that these tracks are bad, but I wouldn't describe most of them as being "hard" for most systems to reproduce.

They're not especially high dynamic range, they're not terribly complex at high volumes (and thus likely to highlight thermal compression), not particularly bassy.

I'd keep the Tracy Chapman and swap out most of the others for some Dvorak 9th Symphony, Massive Attack or Daft Punk, and some minimalist piano recording, instead.
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It seems like 'hard for a system to reproduce' and 'easy for most humans to hear/distinguish' may not the same thing. My guess is that Harman's tracks focus on what our ears hear best, following that track to determine differences in sound systems.
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