Mans hand on a music mixing desk in the studio

Best Music to Test your Hifi System – 11 Perfect Tracks

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If you’re buying a new HiFi set up or pushing your current set up here are the songs to do it with


MAKE LIFE CLICK
Best Music to Test your HiFi System
2021

Every time you purchase new a HiFi system there is the need to give it a workout with some of your favorite tunes. I have a few playlists I use to test out HiFi systems but there are always new tracks to consider as they are released.

A few things impact what music might or might not choose for a new trial of your prospective HiFi purchase include:

Age of track – when was it produced

Mixing and mastering have changed dramatically over the last 50 years. Some tracks will sound very different to newer music that has been more recently produced digitally.

Increasingly, modern music is produced with little to no acoustic instruments instead preferring to be made from Garage Band, Pro Tools or similar but this also means it can be more precise and less ‘warm’ than older tracks.

An older piece of music might also struggle with overall balance and volume. e.g. older classical music might need more volume and some older rock tracks like Deep Purple might have guitars front and little vocals. 

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When testing this kind of music for your HiFi system you will want to try a range of release dates and genres within that.

Think about your partner or best friend

Weird, I know. Why would you possibly care about your partner or friends when testing a HiFi system? It’s for you, right?

Well, you might feel this way and that, at the end of the day, is your decision to make. For me, I like others to enjoy my HiFi as much as I do so I like to try a few tracks that I might not care for but ones they might like.

This makes it easier to get PAF (partner acceptance factor) buy-in and approvals from flatmates, roommates and other special people in your life.

All the highs and lows

When testing your HiFi you want to test music that focuses heavily on the bottom end, mids and highs. Don’t just play your favourite tracks but experiment with tracks that exhibit extremes in frequency needs. It might be you don’t care for Bass or Treble, or anything specific in between, but it’s still worth giving the system a workout to see how it does perform.

At least then there will be no surprises down the road when your partner brings their music to listen to and feels disappointed in the audio quality that fails to move them.

Just ensure there is enough dynamic range to make you satisfied.

But, it’s still a HiFi system for your ears first

With all the above said this is still a HiFi system for your ears and your music. It’s as subjective as a tattoo of Def Leppard on your calf muscle…everyone has different tastes. Audio quality matters to you first and foremost here.

Consider the source

Try to test a HiFi system with the source device you’ll use at home or wherever your HiFi is. This isn’t always possible if you have a large vinyl collection but CD’s are usually easy to take to a HiFi store.

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There are plenty of digital options with Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google Play and Tidal and most modern amps will let you stream directly to them. 

You could also take your digital audio player (DAP) and plug it in directly if you can. Heck, you could even take your DAC in if permitted.

Purists will not like the digital options, I get it, but the streaming rates these days are getting pretty fat.

Assumptions for this list

The basic assumption I’m making here is that this is for a HiFi system with a single pair of stereo speakers. I’ll do another post for the best Home Theatre tracks for audio to test your Home Theatre system later. 

Steps to Make this Process a Success

If you’re purchasing and testing out a new HiFi system then ideally you will be able to have more than one listening session.

  • Testing Day 1: Go in and play your favorite tracks to give you the best first impression. Play anything you have listened to recently as this means it will be easier to decide if what you are listening to is better than whatever else you’ve been listening to the tracks on.
  • Testing Day 2: On your second time listening take in some more favorite tracks but also some from this list below. Each track is designed to highlight or showcase elements of the HiFi that help identify if a stereo system has the right stuff.
  • Testing day 3: Repeat testing day 2.

It’s about getting the whole package – Amp & Speakers. If you have a music listening room at home then if you can borrow some great to try at home with this list, even better.

When your testing music you want to make both the Amplifier and speakers are working for you. Don’t be afraid to ask to change amps and speakers around, especially if you’re in a decent store with high-end HiFi gear.

When I chose my last set of Q Acoustic Concept 40 I went through Monitor Audio Silver 200, 3050i and Klipsch Reference speakers before I decided on what sounded best for me.

The ultimate goal of any HiFi system is to produce music that makes you feel something

Music to Test your HiFi System – The Ultimate Playlist

All of these tracks can be found in the following Spotify Playlist.


Track List

Track 1: Giorgio by Moroder

Artist: Daft Punk
Album: Random Access Memories
Track Name: Giorgio by Moroder

This track pumps and pulses with the heartbeat of a studio session gone wild. MIDI arpeggios and seriously well-produced guitar, drums and bass laying down intense rhythms. A few background keys, modular synthesiser layers and MIDI sound effects take this track from a slow start to a triumphant ending. 

The truth is this whole album is a worthy album to test your HiFi on. 

Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

This track is ideal to listen to: for the acoustics of the drum kit especially, and also how the system deals with so much going on. Is the soundstage separated or is it all mashed up in a mess. A good system will let each instrument shine in its own space in the soundscape. A balance of electronic and acoustic instruments will test any HiFi capabilities.

Track 2: Suntoucher

Artist: Groove Armada
Album: Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub)
Track Name: Suntoucher

Get in the groove with the tasty rhythm section on this track. A great tune to test the party elements of your HiFi. A couple of Long Island Ice Teas and your stereo should have you sloping around your listening room or lounge-like it’s a 00’s dance floor.

Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub)

This track is ideal to listen to: for the round, full, solid bass. The vocals are a little back in the mix so it’s not all about the lyrics. This is a tune for dancing in your private space too or driving down the road on a sunny day with the windows down and the sun streaming on your face. It’s one groovy step from getting a flower braid in your hair. Chill turned up to 11. 

Track 3: Angels

Artist: Sarah McLachlan
Album: Surfacing
Track Name: Angels

This tune includes Sarah’s vocals soaked in a reverb that helps to make this track feel as angelic as the title. The Piano sits under the vocals and adds a nice deep melodic base which allows the breathy lyrics to soar over the top.

Sarah McLachlan – Angels

This track is ideal to listen to: if you want to test the delicacy of your HiFi system and how it deals with the separation between Piano, Keys, Vocals and Double Bass. Each layer of instrumentation should almost feel like there are stacked on the lines of a music staff. The tricky part in this is the Double Bass (played by Jim Creeggan from Barenaked Ladies) which is so subtle and easily missed if your HiFi lacks bottom end. 

Another favorite of Sarah McLachlan’s to listen to is the live version of Building a Mystery of her Mirrorball live album. I believe she was still married to the drummer at this point and he is super tight.

Track 4: 9 Crimes

Artist: Damien Rice
Album: 9
Track Name: 9 Crimes

This track has been on my HiFi testing music list since it was released in 2006. It’s not even the whole track I usually listen too but it’s a beautiful track if you decide to go all the way to the end. 

The mix is so raw and delicate that the vocals of Damien and Lisa Hannigan introduce the son so beautifully. The mix progresses and get’s a little messy as the strings come in and begin to compete for clarity a little until the track dies down again with just the piano arpeggios for company.

I would also consider Blowers Daughter for some acoustic guitar.

Damien Rice – 9 Crimes

This track is ideal to listen to: at the beginning where the vocals come in one by one but especially to listen for, what sounds like, a Timpany drop, large loose skinned kick or deep floor Tom. If you can feel that deep thrub when it first lands around 56 seconds it’s a good sign.

Track 5: Big for your Boots

Artist: Stormzy
Album: Gang Signs & Prayer
Track Name: Big for your Boots

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There is an element of deep bottom end on this but it’s so low and subtle most stereos will miss it. If you get a whiff of it from time to time that’s a plus. Stormzy rocks this track like a mad man on too many pickles from a Big Mac. Sizzling lyrics that he spits so effortlessly it’s impossible not to get a head nod going.

Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

This track is ideal to listen to: for PRAT. PRAT is a term we use in audiophile forums to describe Pace, Rhythm and Timing. It’s more about the track than the system in many ways but it’s important that a system is tight and quick enough that tracks like Big for your Boots make you move, make you feel it. 

The overall mid-bass and bottom end aren’t particularly heavy on this so it’s a track that moves fast. Test it on your HiFi and if you don’t get a head nod on then it might be a head shake.

Track 6: Hey Now

Artist: London Grammar
Album: If You Wait (Deluxe)
Track Name: Hey Now

Another ambient and moody track that’s just a delight to listen to. Hannah Reid’s vocal can’t be ignored and while this track is deceptively simple there is a basic element in it that will test your HiFi in addition to her moving vocals. That basic element is the deep bass track that sits under the bulk of the middle of the track.

The separation of the tracks and the right positioning of your stereo speakers will make you feel like you’re lost within the soundstage

London Grammar – If You Wait (Deluxe)

This track is ideal to listen to: for Hannah’s vocals but mostly the bottom end track. It’s so low and deep which means you will ideally have a little vibration in your soles when it kicks in. Maybe you’ll even wonder if the neighbours can hear it.

Track 7: Tin Pan Alley (AKA Roughest Place in Town)

Artist: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
Album: Couldn’t Stand the Weather
Track Name: Tin Pan Alley (AKA Roughest Place in Town)

Holy smokes this track is a masterclass in dynamics. Electric guitar, Bass Guitar and Drums. Not only was Stevie one of the most talented guitarists to ever play but this track is such a nice test of your stereo. 

Even if you don’t like guitar blues music with the right stereo this track will moooove you.

SRV – Couldn’t Stand the Weather

This track is ideal to listen to: appreciate detail and dynamics as the music moves from loud to soft. See how natural the guitar sounds and the vocals of Stevie. Mostly this is a guitar track and with the right system, you could almost close your eyes and feel like the guitar is being played right in front of you in a smoke-filled bar with a shot of whiskey in your hand.

Track 8: New Rules

Artist: Dua Lipa
Album: Dua Lipa: Complete Edition
Track Name: New Rules

Pop music isn’t always considered worth the listen by many audiophiles and those who believe only vinyl can save the world. This track is an excellent around work our for your stereo. Strong bass with some slow sine wave style drops into the chorus, very well mixed vocals and a range of other things bouncing in and out of the song.

It’s a busy but well-mastered track and the pre-chorus electric snare fill is just super tasteful.

Dua Lipa: Complete Edition

This track is ideal to listen to: for its pop hop and bass drop. It might be the track you try in consideration of your partner or friends who might like a genre you don’t fully appreciate. Pop music being it. Overall it’s a great all in one pop song that is short punchy and Dua Lipa is always a fun listen even if she can feel a little overproduced at times. Treble, Bass and lots going on in the mids. 

Track 9: Prey

Artist: Parkway Drive
Album: Reverence
Track Name: Prey

Hardcore, rock, heavy something – whatever the genre you put Parkway Drive into they have an excellent full, rich and well-mastered sound. While heavy rock might not be your cup of tea this track is a real belter. Not bad for a bunch of surfer dudes from Australia.

The rhythm section is tight, vocals growl and guitars are rich a melodic.

Parkway Drive – Reverence

This track is ideal to listen to: if you need to know how a wall of sound feels like through your HiFi. You’ve got a smooth overall mix with some choral singing parts to mix things up. If by the end of the track your ears are feeling fatigued and you just want to turn it down, maybe try another pair of speakers or amp and compare.

It should take in the full frequency range of your audio set-up.

A close second on this same album to put your HiFi through its paces is Shadow Boxing. In fact, I’d consider it equal in its testing benefits. Check out their documentary on Netflix.

Track 10: Violin Concerto No.1 In A Minor, (Allegro moderato)

Artist: Johann Sebastian Bach / Daniel Lozakovich
Album: Bach, J.S.: Violin Concertos No. 1 & No. 2; Partita No. 2
Track Name: Violin Concerto No.1 In A Minor, (Allegro moderato)

Cello is often a great instrument for speaker testing as the timbre and feel of the bow on the strings is so tangible and real. This track however is an excellent Violin concerto that includes a great accompanying Chamber Orchestra.

The audio on this track is so smooth it’s almost like water flowing over you. There is enough of a step to it that it’s upbeat but it never shouts at you which allows the melody to envelop you.

Daniel Lozakovich – Bach, J.S.: Violin Concertos No. 1 & No. 2; Partita No. 2

This track is ideal to listen to: as a true representation of a strings experience and the fullness of an orchestra. It should feel alive but not harsh, smooth and not sharp. It might not push the dynamic range but ideally, it will reach some highs and express the mid-range frequencies.

The list of Piano and Cello tracks could also fill a list but this is an allround testing list so we’ll do one of those separately.

Track 11: Karma Police

Artist: Radiohead
Album: OK Computer
Track Name: Karma Police

This whole album, like most Radiohead albums, is superb. Layers and layers of talent with such great songs. While many might choose Burn the Witch, Exit Music (For a film) or other Radiohead tracks this one is a simple straightforward four-on-the-floor track with a mix that a poor stereo system could easily butcher.

It builds subtly until everything is all out in the mix and everyone is relaxed into the beat and flow of the song. No major crescendo, just a full sound with guitar effects to take you out at the end.

OK Computer – Radiohead

This track is ideal to listen to: as one song which if not well reproduced can sound weak and lacklustre. If you can feel it, then you’re winning.

Again, there are plenty of Radiohead tracks that make for great HiFi testing.

Summing Up – How does it all sound so far?

There is so much music available to test your HiFi system that it makes it hard to land on just a few tracks. Ideally, this list will give you enough songs that you can experience frequency ranges and music you might not otherwise have tried out.

We didn’t include so many great tracks from Metallica, NF, Fat Boy Slim, Eminem, Muse, Dave Matthews, Jeff Buckley, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Gene Pitney, Rage against the Machine, Bob Dylan, Wilco…oh so many! There isn’t even any Country Music on this list!

If you have special tracks you like, feel free to drop them in the comments below. I can’t believe someone one include Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd – that guitar solo by Dave Gilmour is moving.

Speaker tests and Amp tests take time. Enjoy the journey and as mentioned, try to have more than one listening testing session. Your ears will be different based on what they have been listening to before you test out your HiFi system. A busy office, traffic, silence will all change how you hear things as you try it all out. 

Whatever the HiFi equipment you end up with, enjoy it and let it move you.


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