Critical Listening Music

Music2-1260x840What do you use to put your system through its paces for critical listening?  What do you use to demo your system for friends?  How about when you relax and just enjoy the music?  There is a large amount of music that has been specifically produced and recorded to be technically flawless to help “audiophiles” pick out minor nuances between speakers, turntables, and the latest $15,000 RCA cables; Music that is recorded to be technically good, but not, good good.  What’s the difference between Technically good and Good good?

Music can be a deeply personal experience.  I know for myself I’ve had trouble in the past being willing to express the styles and artists that I listen to publicly, as if it was revealing something too intimate about me in the process.  Looking back this seems silly, as I’ve grown older and wiser, I’ve developed stronger convictions in my personal choices and am often more than willing to openly discuss my actual favorite artists and movies (rather than just nodding along with what popular culture deems appropriate).  What it showed, however, that my preferences in music were so deeply ingrained in me, that the information was emotionally protected.  However, audiophile recordings have, never, ever, been on any sort of list of music that I “listen” to or recommend.  They’re filed away somewhere with my pink noise tracks and sine wave sweeps; tools with a specific purpose.
Remember, what I’m referring to as “audiophile” are those tracks and albums that were recorded specifically for their technical merit.  This is the stuff you hear all too often at your local A/V retailer when you wish they’d be playing some hard rock to really get that subwoofer moving.

Music has a direct emotional effect in our brains when we listen to it; that is why we enjoy it so much.  If not for this emotional response, why would we go through all this effort?  Unfortunately what we find all too often in “audiophile” recordings is technically flawless, but emotionally sterile content.  To bring a speaker system to its best, the listener must not only listen to well recorded music, but good music.  What is good music? Well that’s completely up to the listener to decide.

What I find is when I listen to new systems technically, I can use my emotional response as a key metric in overall system performance. If I get emotionally pulled into the track and lost in the music, I can defiantly say that the system performs to at least some qualifying standard. I always enjoy listening to these tracks, but on some systems I just find their stimulation more fulfilling.  Yes, we are supposed to keep subjective and objective reviews separate, but music is an inherently subjective experiences.  I am strongly opinionated that listening tests should provoke an emotional response, and all technically analysis should be left for the measurement microphone to be without bias.

Here is some music that I find particularly engaging and emotionally stimulating and which I use for testing out system performance.

Technically great recordings:

  • Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here) 5:34
  • Time – Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon) 6:53
  • Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd (The Wall) 6:22
  • Over The Hills and Far Away – Led Zeppelin (Houses of the Holy) 4:49
  • Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits (Dire Straits Re-mastered) 5:48
  • Hide and Seek – Imogen Heap (Speak For Yourself) 4:28
  • Diamonds and Rust – Joan Baez (Diamonds and Rust) 4:48
  • Give Life Back to Music – Daft Punk (Random Access Memories) 4:35
  • Angel – Massive Attack (Mezzanine) 6:19
  • The Eater of Dreams / Copy Of A – Nine Inch Nails (Hesitation Marks) 0:52 / 6:22
  • The Perfect Drug – Nine Inch Nails (Lost Highway) 5:15
  • Supernatural (Album) – Santana
    • Standout Tracks:
    • Put Your Lights On (feat. Everlast) – 4:47
  • Shaman (Album) – Santata
    • Standout Tracks:
    • Victory is Won – 5:20
    • Nothing at All – 4:28
    • You Are My Kind (feat. Seal) – 4:16
    • Sideways (feat. Citizen Cope) – 4:40
      Feels Like Fire (feat. Dido) – 4:39

Fun Stuff:

  • Listen To The Music – The Doobie Brothers 3:47
  • The Sound Of Silence – Disturbed (Immortalized) 4:08
  • Cherub Rock – Smashing Pumpkins (Siamese Dream) 4:58
  • Today – Smashing Pumpkins (Siamese Dream) 3:21
  • What can I say – Brandi Carlile (Brandi Carlile) 2:49
  • 100 – Brandi Carlile (Bear Creek) 3:21
  • Dying Day – Brandi Carlile ( Give up the Ghost) 3:31
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