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Your Favorite Songs to Use for Testing Headphones and Speakers

Last week, we published a short playlist of songs curated by songwriter, performer, and author Evan Zwisler, featuring his “8 Favorite Songs to Use to Test Headphones and Speakers.” Since then, we’ve been pleasantly overwhelmed with your amazing suggestions of more songs that can be used for the same referencing purposes. Thanks so much for your input!

We’ve collected and added all of your suggestions into the following playlist, and below we’re highlighting some of songs and comments from the community that we found the most helpful. One piece of advice that came up a few times was that if you’re going to be using the headphones or speakers to mix your own music, you should test them using music that has a similar arrangement or production style to your own.

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Steely Dan — “Time Out of Mind”

The drum track in particular is so crisp, biting, and EQ’d to perfection… As with all Steely Dan recordings, the meticulous care taken to get the perfect sound, level, EQ and mix so every instrument has its own specific place is second to none, in my opinion.” ~ Greg V.

Jan Garbarek Group — “Gautes-Margjit”

“I use ‘Gautes Margjit’ to test the sound-staging of (largely) acoustic instruments playing a lot of notes simultaneously with a large dynamic range. The delicacy of the soprano sax must come across well without being thin, with the full depth being heard when it’s opened up. The piano must sound full across the length of the entire keyboard and the bass (electric upright) must have considerable warm presence without becoming boomy at the bottom end or thin(ner) and distorted in upper ranges.”

“I play drums myself, so I use the drums and percussion as the reference sound for all kit types across genres. The kit is a relatively large one, so the speakers must be able to handle Manu Katche’s many intonations cleanly, regardless of the actual drum or orchestration being used. I expect a full, rich sound from these deep(er) toms. On this song, the snare drum is played with snares off, so I expect to hear a long, clean tone and a snare drum note that isn’t muffled or throttled and sounds relatively close to a timbale with clean ghost notes. Furthermore, Katche’s cymbals are a more traditional sound, so perhaps more sibilant and brighter than more modern cymbal sounds and should mix well between ride and stepped hi-hat with a degree of noticeable distinction between them. Splash cymbals should be relatively quick and sharp (Katche’s trademark) and I expect to hear the nuance between different splashes. Larger cymbals should blossom with colour as they open up. There should be clear definition between the bow and bell of the ride cymbal. The bass drum must sound full and deep, like being punched in the chest. Although it’s a smaller bass drum, it still should sound resonant and present rather than slappy. The same rules apply to the percussion, with special emphasis on the more delicate cowbell/jamblock parts which should be heard cleanly and blend well with the kit cymbals. The percussion should not overpower the drums in the mix.” ~ Paul L.

Deadmau5 — “Strobe”

This song “works perfectly to define frequencies that might be lacking that extra punch! ~ Jack L.

Leftfield — “Storm 3000,” Rob Dougan — “Clubbed to Death,” and Simon Boswell — “System Software”

“Leftfield create a massive sound field with beautiful sweeping synths over a huge bass line driving the tune — huge track. Rob Dougan’s track has some artfully separate live instruments that all come together over the course of the song with a dramatically swelling bass line. The Burn:Cycle track (by Simon Boswell) just has a huge bass for testing the low end. Like Leftfield, some interesting synths add interesting texture to the sound, with some dialogue from the video game hanging in spaces throughout the sound-field.” ~ Sean B.

Icehouse — “Great Southern Land”

“Every instrument has great frequency separation and the clarity is amazing.” ~ Robin T.

Prodigy — “Firestarter”

This song “sorts out good speakers from bad for me! Punchy bass and high frequency polyphonic shimmers give any ‘want to be’ sound system a good beating. If it can handle that, it can handle almost anything!” ~ Andy J.

Dave Brubeck — “Take Five” and Fleetwood Mac — “Second Hand News” and “The Chain”

On “Take Five,” listen for “the warm sax and the subtle percussion accents, as well as the solo drums.” The Fleetwood Mac suggestions “are textbook cases on well recorded and mastered songs.” ~ Julio M.

Daft Punk — “Game of Love,” David Gilmour — “This Heaven,” George Michael — “Roxanne”

“Game of Love” features “huge wide toms” and “great low end.” “This Haven” displays a “great mix and very pristine vocals.” And “Roxanne” has “awesome dynamics” to listen out for. ~ Ivo K.

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  • Gary

    Flim and the B.B.’s — Tricycle