Give your system a full-body workout with these tunes. All the tracks here have been specifically selected to help expose any weak-points in your audio gear. And remember to test at all volumes - not just LOUD! - as it is surprisingly hard for audio kit to sound really good when played really quiet.
The title track from the sorely missed superstar’s final album, Blackstar is a terrific tester as well as a glorious song. Drummer Mark Guiliana transferred Bowie’s original electronic drum programming into ‘real’ beats. Your system should keep firm grip of Guiliana’s wicked rhythms, delivering a snare drum full of snap, and clearly laying out Blackstar’s extensive sonic details.
Track: A Case of You
Humans have a natural ability to detect whether or sound is ‘real’ or not. This skill probably saved our forebears from becoming food-for-bears, and, when testing hi-fi, it remains a lifesaver. To swiftly gauge the realism of a sound system, play a vocal-heavy track, such as any of Joni Mitchell’s. A set-up playing A Case of You should make you. Stop. And listen. If it doesn’t, move on.
Spiegel im Spiegel
A stunningly beautiful piece from Estonian composer Arvo Part. Written for piano and violin the result is a blanket of sonic serenity. That violin should sound delicate, yet forceful and never sharp. On a worthy system, the piano should beautifully integrate with the strings, creating a single musical message, mesmerising the listener leaving him/her lost in thoughts, be they melancholy, reflective, or uplifting. Or, most likely, all three.
Track: Get Lucky
Album: Random Access Memories
Test tracks work well when you’re familiar with the song, which is where Get Lucky comes in. Not only is it a beautifully produced track, it’s also the one track, which even as yet uncontacted Amazonian tribes know the words to. Play this and your system should shine. The bass here is huge and Nathan East’s licks should sound deep, rhythmic, and super-tight.
Track: Hey Yah!
Album: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Timing is a word often used in audiophile reviews. So what are the audio beards* talking about? The answer is surprisingly simple. Feed Hey Yah! to your system and check how easy it is to tap along to the track. The better the systems’ timing, the more natural it feels to tap along to it. Go on, shake it like a polaroid picture.
* Please note that beards currently appear to be - unfathomably - cool. Ergo, so are beardy audiophiles. But, hey, even a stopped clock is correct twice a day.
Track: Anthem Without Nation
Album: Beyond Skin
One word: bass. From the British Indian former financial controller – accountancy’s loss is the music world’s gain – Anthem Without Nation’s abyssal beats roam with an increasing urgency and an unrelenting insistence. Twist your system’s volume northwards and chances are, sooner or later, your speakers will distort. This is normal – do not be distressed! The question is… when. And, before the end came, did the bass sound taut, as well as deep?
Track: The Battle
Album: Gladiator (Soundtrack)
Rumbustious classical pieces are a great bet to test your system’s dynamics. The bonus here is that this a piece that lots of us will recognise. Listen out for how well your gear copes with Zimmer’s rampaging score’s highs and lows. Percussion should be dramatic, brass should snarl with attitude, strings should stop and start with the agility of a prima ballerina. Should leave you feeling like you’ve been to battle yourself.
Track: The Man Comes Around
Album: American IV: The Man Comes Around
Like our chosen Joni Mitchell number, the Man in Black’s extraordinary 2002 release examines a system’s ability with vocals. You should hear a voice positively creaking with advanced years, yet still packed with emotional muscle. And that acoustic guitar should accompany Cash’s vocals with the dedication and enthusiasm of a faithful hound at its beloved owner’s side.
Track: Wish You Were Here
Album: The Ecleftic – 2 Sides II a Book
The former Fugees man takes Pink Floyd’s classic tune and creates a brilliant test of detail, pace, and realism. How well does your system uncover that opening intake of breath? Does Jean’s acoustic leap out at you as if it’s in the room? And does that beat make your internal organs run for cover?
Track: Unfinished Sympathy
Album: Blue Lines
A one-stop tester, Unfinished Sympathy, from the off, demands deep, taught bass. Your system must also create an open soundstage, one in which your ears can easily pick out the intricate percussion samples. Orchestral strings should be flowing and sweet, while Shara Nelson’s vocals should sound like they could scale mountains.
Keep scrolling to access the Steljes Audio Test Tracks playlist on Spotifty...