First off, this post is not going to list music we recommend. Sorry.
In fact, we don’t really recommend music, per se, and this post is going to talk about why.
First, although I think we both enjoy it when someone else plays their canned selection of tracks… THIS one shows awesome mid bass, that one shows how wonderful female voices are etc. - it is a terrible way to evaluate a system and I think a dishonest way to try and sell a system.
That midbass is nice and deep and rich, yes, but won’t it sound like that on almost all systems? Maybe it sounds better, in actual fact, on most other systems and this system actually sucks.
That it is the track itself that is extraordinary, not the system.
And when friends play us these kinds of tracks, and they not trying to sell us something , this is probably their main point - that it is the track itself that is great, yes… “but doesn’t it sound great on my system!” with a big smile on their faces.
There are two ways that we use to select music to evaluate a system.
1. One is the way Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note recommends: using a wide selection of music you have never heard before [or at least do not listen to very often]. This is great for people stuck in a musical rut, usually only playing 3 or 4-piece jazz bands with female vocals because that is the only stuff that sounds good on the systems they are familiar with. By playing more complex music at random - they will actually be able to recognize when they come across a high-quality system that can play many, if not all, kinds of music well. For people NOT stuck in a rut this method works [and is required for any real in-depth evaluation], but it takes a lot longer to evaluate a system this way than…
2. Playing a select group of tracks [songs] or varying ‘complexity’ that you are VERY familiar with to test various aspects of the system.
Not sure that complexity is the right word.
There is a continuum of music with varying degrees of… ‘difficulty’, say, stretching from music that sounds good on every system, just about, music from which only a few clues about the quality of the system can be judged [so called audiophile music - but it is really useless-for-audiophiles music] to that which sounds unpleasant on most systems below a certain quality.
[i.e. some music sounds about the same on most systems, and some sounds very different on different systems - to exaggerate a bit]
And this is why it is hard if not impossible to recommend music - we can talk about how track #16 shows wonderful decay and amazing separation between 16 different instruments being played simultaneously, for example. But it requires a certain amount of quality in the system to render the music like this - and people who listen to it on a lesser system, they will either think we are nuts or, instead, will imagine that they too hear such amazing things - that their system is up to the task when it is, in actual fact, not.
So what we do is, when it is our turn to pick music to demo our system to someone, and we are done with playing music they are really familiar with [approach #2 above. BTW So many people are embarrassed to admit their favorite music! What a world we live in] , we just pick music we like at the time [which serves as approach #1, above, for the listener].
When I play music to evaluate someone else’s system - I play any Radiohead track that I am VERY familiar with and then something natural, real world stuff, that I am familiar with: classical or world music or whatever. After these two I can rate the system based on separation, depth, imaging, soundstage, tonal quality, detail, and stuff like harmonic detail, imaging sizing, etc [all from Radiohead] and also whether the sound is grounded in reality. This only works because [besides Radiohead being deceptively complex] I have heard a these few Radiohead tracks on a number of very high-quality systems - and others - that I listened to with full attention - and so know kind of just What Can Happen… what these tracks REALLY should sound like [kind of. Think of a graph, lesser system sounds on the left, better systems sounds stretching to to the right. The graph is trending up, so one can extrapolate that there might be better systems someday that will extend the graph farther to the right. This anticipation of what Radiohead etc. will sound like over in the uncharted areas on the right side of the graph is one of the things that keeps me playing with this stuff ].