Getting a pair of good speakers is often the key to completing a killer stereo system. But that isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Besides ensuring that they’re a good fit with your amplifier, you have to make sure they can handle different types of music.

There are some speakers which are great at handling the deep bass found in dance tracks and electronic but sound absolutely dull and lifeless when called on to cope with the dynamic range of other genres like jazz.

In this post, I decided to come up with a small list of tracks drawn from various styles of music that can help you check out just how good a pair of speakers is. It’s always a good idea to take your own music along with you to a store to audition speakers or the amplifier you intend you buy.

1. “Irish Boy” from “Cal” by Mark Knopfler: A great track to check the dynamic range of a pair of speakers – begins with the gentle sound of a synth and cymbals before the Uilleann pipes, the rhythm section and Knopfler’s steel guitar kick in. The entire album is beautifully recorded with pristine sound.

2. “The Day You Went Away” from “Lily” by Wendy Matthews: Not an easy album to track down but this song with sparse instrumentation has a killer backbeat that will reduce most speakers to jelly. Most speakers give up while trying to cope with the huge bass drum sound that opens the track; add to that Matthews’ pristine vocals and an acoustic piano. Any speakers that pass the test with this track will be able to handle most types of music.

3. “Mustt Mustt” (Massive Attack remix) from “Mustt Mustt” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: If you’re a dance music or hip hop enthusiast, this is the track to help you test speakers. Some amazing low frequencies as Nusrat’s qawwali meets the trip hop of Massive Attack. Also a great test for the speaker’s ability to handle vocals.

4.  “Mango” from “Breakfast In New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu” by Bruce Cockburn: This track from the Canadian folk-rock guitarist’s lovingly recorded 1999 album is another great test for dynamic range and a speaker’s ability to handle a complex mix of sounds. There’s subtle drums and percussion, harmony vocals by Cockburn and Margo Timmins and an acoustic bass that snakes its way through the mix.

5. “Ganges Delta Blues” from “A Meeting By The River” by Ry Cooder and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt: A pure analog recording with absolutely uncompressed sound. Just the sound of Cooder’s acoustic slide and Bhatt’s Mohan Veena though things can get very lively when the tablas and the dumbek kick in.

6. Any track from “Who’s Next” by The Who: If you’re a rock fan auditioning speakers, this is the album for you. Not a single duff track here. Great vocals, one of the world’s best rhythm sections and Pete Townshend’s guitar work. The 2003 deluxe edition of the album has the best sound and favourites include “Baba O’Reilly”, “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Bargain”, which features some of Keith Moon’s most propulsive drumming.

7. “Fly Me To The Moon” from “The End Of The World” by Julie London: This jazz standard has been performed by many great vocalists, but for me, London’s take is the definitive one. A great string arrangement and truly sultry vocals.

This list will be a work in progress and I’ll come back and add other tracks. In the meantime, you’re welcome to add your suggestions with other test tracks.

 

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