Best Songs to Test Speakers

If you watched any of our speaker setup videos that talk about placement in regular rooms, in odd-shaped rooms, toe-in, and all those other aspects of setting up your speakers, you’ve heard me refer to using certain setup or test tracks. One thing that I haven’t done is gone through some of the albums that I use when I’m setting up a pair of speakers in a new room. It’s a wide variety of different types of music.

Best Songs to Test Speakers

But basically what you want to keep in mind is the biggest changes that you’re going to make by adjusting placement and toe-in to some extent, are in the bass performance of your speakers in the room and also the imaging and sound staging. That means how big the sound appears to be, or how much focus you have on individual vocalists and instruments interesting recording. So the recordings that I typically use excel in these areas: they either have excellent bass, great soundstage, great imaging, or all those things.

Watch a Video on the Best Songs To Test Speakers With

You shouldn’t necessarily listen to just these sorts of albums. I’m sure many of you will watch this video and say, “Oh, that’s not the kind of music I listen to.” That’s a very, very important point. At the end of the day, it’s your speakers, your system, your room, and your music. So, you have to be happy with the performance of the types of music you listen to.

I’ve created a Spotify playlist so you can actually check out some of these things with your own system for yourself and see what you’re hearing and playing with things like placement and toe-in and see they how they affect the performance of these recordings.

Speaker Set Up Test Discs

Let’s start with a test disc, or test CD: something that’s got test tones, either sine tones, or warble tones. The one in the Spotify playlist that we’ve linked is very good because it has warble tones at different frequencies. Why is this useful? Well, if you’re going to listen for improvement in changing the location of your speakers, and how it interacts with the bass modes and nodes in your room, having a way that you can precisely hear at specifically frequencies how that’s being impacted is important.

Even better, with distinct test tones at different low-frequency points, along with a sound level meter, if you happen to have one, means that you going to actually draft with plot what the bass measurement looks like in your room. Now, that’s really important because sometimes bass is very tricky, because depending on your listening position, depending on the specific construction or your room, what you have in the room, whether it’s carpeted, etc. can all impact this. So a test disc and test tones are very, very helpful for set up, particularly looking at what the bass is doing.

Checking for Boominess

The next recording is Holly Cole’s, “Temptation.” If you’re not familiar with her, she’s a Canadian vocalist. Her albums all very well known for being extremely well recorded. “Temptation” is very interesting because it’s minimal backing, it’s piano bass, and drums, and sometimes percussion behind her voice. Her voice is in a fairly low range. So, if you’ve got too much boominess in the setup of your speakers go here right away with her vocals. The track “Temptation” is very minimal, with some percussion that’s almost like bongo drums with very, very low subterranean acoustic double bass. It’s a great, great test track. Every instrument should appear its own point in space, and clearly defined when you’ve got your setup right.

Checking for Reverb and Natural Sound

The next album, another Canadian artist, or Canadian band is Cowboy Junkies’ “The Trinity Session.” This is another famous recording in a number of respects. It was done in an old church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and all of the performers are positioned around a special omnidirectional microphone. And they’re actually in a very, very natural acoustic space. There’s a wide variety of different instrumentation on this album. And Margo Timmins’s vocals can sound thin and screechy if your system is not set up right. The intro track “Mining for Gold” is her a cappella with the natural noise and reverberation of the church that she’s singing in. It’s an incredible test for good imaging and I’ve been listening to this album and using it as a setup album pretty much since it came out in the ’80s.

Checking for Imaging

Another track again with a female vocalist (you’re going to see a theme) that I like to use is Joan Baez, “Farewell Angelina.” It’s her doing an album of Bob Dylan covers. It’s very well done. I like it, you know, musically, even more than the sonic quality. But again, it’s minimal instrumentation. Very, very well defined, and well recorded. Good bottom end. And again, you should be able to listen to a recording like this when your speakers are set up properly, and actually close your eyes and clearly tell where Joan Baez is, where the different instruments are, and they shouldn’t waver. You should have a natural acoustic perspective around each instrument if things are set up right.

Checking for Bass Balance

The next album is the classic Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Now it’s a pop recording, but of course, it was done in a time where everything was analog. Even the synthesizers used on this were analog. So, there’s a certain tone and warmth to the recording, whether you have an LP like this, or whether you have a compact disc, or even listen to it on streaming services. There are very, very complex, dense moments in this. If you know the beginning of “Time,” if you know “Money,” all of these tracks have ping-pong effects, but the acoustic is very natural. Everything should sound very nicely balanced with a good weighty, weighty bottom end. I mean, the bass is thunderous. This has been used as a test track in stereo stores since it came out in the early ’70s. So, it’s a very, very good track. Again, a lot of you are going to think, “Oh, it’s boomer music, I want something more modern.” Just listen to it, if you don’t like the music from the sound perspective, it’s very good helping setting up. If the heartbeats that start the beginning of the album sound too boomy and thumpy, change the position. They should be weighty and full, but well defined at the same time.

Check For Toe-In and Cymbal Reproduction

The next disc, a Jazz album, a famous one, “Time Out” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, with the famous track, “Take Five” on it. Now, most people, if you start playing “Take Five,” they’ll know it immediately. Even if they can’t tell you what it is, it’s a famous track. What also is very, very well known about this album is the recording quality. It’s absolutely stunning. The symbols and the bass drum on this recording are so natural that it’s an incredibly tough test for any audio system. If you can reproduce it well, it sounds like you’re in a jazz club with these wonderful musicians. If everything is a little washed out, ill-defined or if tending to clump towards the center between the speakers, you don’t have your toe-in setup right. Try adjusting it until you get a wide space in perspective between the different instruments. It’s a great recording for that.

Check Your Speaker Placement

Now, turning to a classical piece. This is Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” This recording is on Deutsche Grammophone. But there are many, many good recordings of this piece on Telarc, had a great one on CD that might be on streaming services. I couldn’t find it on Spotify. So this is the one that’s on the Spotify playlist, but it’s a very, very complex, heavily orchestrated piece of music, full symphony orchestra. There’s solo vocalists. There’s an entire mass choir. And this is a real good recording for putting on and seeing, does everything completely fall apart when it gets really loud and raucous or can you clearly still hear the different sections of the orchestra, the choir, the soloists all in their own individual space with weighty, nicely balanced bottom end. The double basses and cellos should not drown out everything else. If they do, check your speaker placement: pull them out from the walls a little bit to try and deaden the bass in your room. It’s a great recording.

Check Depth of Image

Now this next one, you’re probably not going to find on any streaming services. There was a small Swedish audio file label called Opus 3, I think they are actually still around, and they had a series of first LPs and then CD reissues that were all looking at different parts of listening. This one is the “Depth of Image.” I also have the original LP here, Test Record 1. Number two in the series was “Tambor”, which looks at the different sounds and structure of different instruments. These recordings, I think there were four or five in the series, are a little hard to find now, but you know what, if you’re really into tweaking the last percent or two to try and get your system at its utmost, track these down.

The “Depth of Image” album, in particular, is just incredible. There are tracks on here with complex pan pipes or pan flutes that bounce from the left the right channel, and they’re complex to reproduce tonally, but just as complex to get that imaging working well. So, I mean, these are torture tests. If I set up a system and I listen to this album and it sounds really, really good, and the soundstage on every track is excellent, the imaging well-defined, I’m done. I’m finished. I don’t have to tweak anymore. I’m going to just enjoy listening to my music.

Now, AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” Yeah, I’m sure some of you have been wondering, “Are you going to play any real music, some metal, some hard rock, you going to suggest anything like that?” Absolutely. AC/DC’s “Back in Black” believe it or not, was an incredibly well-recorded album, incredibly well-recorded. It’s dense, it’s thick, but it’s layered. The instruments all sound fantastic. And you know what, it’s an important album that you should listen to. I have copies on both CD and LP  and it’s on the Spotify playlist. Check it out. Everything should sound dense, but it shouldn’t sound all mashed together when your setup is right.

And then the final album that I’m going to mention is a modern one. It’s the latest Billie Eilish album. And I know there’s been a lot of talk in the audiophile community on music and audio forums about how the bass is really distorted on this album. Well, yeah, it is, but it was done for effect. It was done on purpose. But amongst that very, very heavy, dense, distorted sounding bass are some fantastic vocal synths, fantastic effects. It’s a heavily produced album. There’s a lot of studio trickery going on. But you know what? It actually is one of the best recordings from a top 40 artists in the last number of years that I would say is really, really well-recorded and very hard to reproduce because you have a lot of very dense heavy bass going on with Billie’s vocals at the same time. And again, they should be distinct, shouldn’t sound like a mishmash of things. And it’s really a great recording to check out. I’m sure many of you have listened to it and are going, “Wow, I didn’t even think that that could be something to help with my speaker setup,” but it’s really, really a great recording.

So, please give me some comments down below if you’d like. If you have albums or CDs or streaming cuts that you use for setup, share them below, not just for my benefit, but for everyone else who watches this video. It’s very interesting to see what people use for their speaker setup and their system setup. So please share that, check out the Spotify playlist. Like I said, most of what I’ve talked about is on that playlist so you can check the tracks out for yourselves. And, you know, if you’ve got problems if you listen to some of these tracks and go, “Geez, that sounds really this or really that and is that right?” Again, comment below, ask, I’ll make sure to keep watch of the comments and answer when I can.

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