Best music to evaluate audio

August 12, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

38 comments on “Best music to evaluate audio”

  1. Bingo!
    I totally agree with you on this one Paul.
    The fact that I’m mainly into Rock ‘n Roll gives me a little more wriggle-room
    when it comes to paying a high price for perfection…if you know what I mean ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. It makes me always smile when Paul McGowan succeeds in focusing the discussion to more or less irrelevant aspects and thus distract us from the main requirements for a good stereo set-up. Didnโ€™t we all agree that the listening room and itโ€™s acoustic properties are mainly responsible for an acceptable sound quality (see also: ) Thus shouldnโ€™t the question rather be: minimum requirements for the listening roomโ€™s acoustic properties for evaluating a stereo system? ๐Ÿ™‚ Or did he today focus on headphones having a jaw dropping resolution of finest details? ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ My experiences with top end headphones or with the finest listening rooms equipped with loudspeakers with near perfect step response results in the fact that you rarely will find recordings with top end stereo quality – however the majority of all recordings sound marvelous in my car!

      1. Aw give the man a break PS! ๐Ÿ˜€ You frequently remind us of the importance of room acoustics and XTC for stereo, and many don’t disagree. However, dispite these ‘limitations’ in our listening environments, some of us are still able to successfully revue systems based on a thoughtful selection of certain types of source material such as human voice and natural instruments, particlularly solo piano. A ‘good’ system will usually still be apparent, even under less than ideal listening conditions. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        1. Ok, your wish will then be my command! But didnโ€™t you forget to mention my emphasis on phase-coherent loudspeakers, clean componentsโ€™ power supplies and most puristic recordings? ๐Ÿ™‚ I always wonder about the arguments of Paul being sometimes most illogical, contradictory and inconsistent. On one hand he stresses the importance of a good foundation for a stereo system (clean mains power supply) and he puts much effort in acoustically optimizing his music rooms and studios and promotes the best digital recording technique 4xDSD but then he ignores the remaining core elements of the foundation for stereo. And having started designing top tier loudspeakers and establishing his own record company I had expected that the discussion here would have been lifted to a new and higher level of professionalism and seriousness. But as my grandma used to say: Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur! Could it be that stereo aficionados are most liable to be fooled because stereo is based on fooling (!) our ear-brain system creating aural illusions (holographic sound images)? My message here is: donโ€™t waste your time and money exchanging components of the stereo set-up unless you havenโ€™t build correctly the foundation!

      2. Hi ps,
        Sure, however that would be a discussion under a different topic heading.
        As you know I do not claim to have tons of experience with high-end &/or
        ultra high-end home-audio gear, as all of my Hi-Fi retail experience has
        been with lower high-end/upper Mid-Fi gear.
        Now, with that in mind, the one thing that I can attest to is that nothing
        makes as big an impact in SQ of a system than the ‘quality’ (mic’ng/
        mixing/mastering) of the recording…that’s my opinion & I’m sticking to it.
        Therefore I can’t agree with you here that Paul is focusing on a less relevant
        aspect of home-audio & thus distracting us from the main requirements of
        good stereo set-up…that is a completely different topic to “best music to
        evaluate audio”.
        As just mentioned, today’s topic is about the best music to evaluate audio,
        it’s not about the best room or the best diffusers or the best absorption
        devices/panels to improve the ‘sound’ of a room for audio.
        Cheers โœŒ

  2. I recall many decades ago Bud Fried(IMF and Fried speakers) telling me the three hardest tests of fidelity in order were, male voice, female voice and piano. Voice because we are so familiar with it. Male voice was harder than female because it had more mid bass content and many systems don’t handle mid bass well. And piano because it’s so dynamic. It can change level almost instantly by orders of magnitude and then stop quickly. Many systems compress under these conditions and many ring after a tone is gone.

    1. I’m with you there hahax. One of my earliest memories from the beginning of my audiophile journey was the way my then system was unable to convincingly reproduce the dynamics of intimate piano recordings. I remember it being particularly apparent for the sound from firm key strikes. My then system just could not handle the fast rise time of these notes. One of the things I discovered is that my amplifier just didn’t have the ‘headroom’, the reserve power to withstand the requirements of such notes. The sound was distorted or ‘fuzzy’ in these brief instances. The situation was similar with certain singers and notes.

      So, yes, you can use a good solo piano recording to revue a system.

  3. I still think acoustic piano is to trickiest to get accurately reproduced.

    I seem to recall a story of a European studio engineer for Elton John back in the 70s who mounted a piano to the ceiling and devised a system of hinges and rods to a floor keyboard setup that was engineered to activate the upside down piano just so they could get the sound in the studio that they wanted. There was PLENTY of $$ to blow on excess studio time and…..well, things that would cause one think that duct taping a piano to the ceiling would be a good idea.
    Anybody familiar with such a tale? Because I googled it and – NUTTIN!

    I can’t recall the details or perhaps I’m completely imagining it due to the fact that I’m deteriorating cranially every nano-second.

    It’s deliriously warm and kookily soothing to witness your own cheese sliding right off your cracker…..
    I’ll be a frenzied spiral-eyed mad window licker with my index finger oscillating rapidly betwixt my upper & lower pursed lips whilst producing a monotone humming sound and my other index finger spinning a beanie-hat propeller before I know it.

            1. Ahhhhhh, Ima xpecting the same in return. Doggonit.
              “Sound” is a “Top Tier” entertainment something. Among a “very” few things!
              Send the clock in reverse often!
              Repeat, etc. Thanx Mr. Rat
              Thanx Paul!

        1. I saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer at the D.C. Armory. . . he came on stage and belted on to his piano bench and when he started to play. . . the piano and Emerson rose into space and levitated and spun in air while he played it.

          Never seen anything like it !

          Later he accomplished a huge sustain note by plunging a large Bowie knife into a Hammond Organ key board !

          He play the organ so hard it came apart and exploded on stage, he couldn’t encore . . .

          1. Yeah I remember him stabbing the keyboard with that
            Bowie knife; you don’t forget something like that.
            Like Ozzy biting the head of a bat & not getting CoViD ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Jeff,
      Those musician/entertainment dudes back in the 70’s were snortin’ so much coke that they
      were spinning upside down, on the ceiling, flying around the studio, etc even if they weren’t.
      Perception is reality…”Reality, What A Concept!” ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1. I (somehow) recall Zappa made some “profound” comment about perception and reality!??….Ima thinkin Steve Via was included in ……..

  4. I prefer jazz as it tends to have fewer instruments in the mix and it seems easier to get the mix and mics right. David Bromberg’s Wood comes to mind. Talk about spanking the wood. ๐Ÿ™‚ The music I like the least are large, live rock performances with a entire stage of assorted musicians as there tends to be a lot of intermodulation distortion. When I first heard the latest CD from the new Eagles with Vince Gill and Deacon Frey, I thought “OMG! What happened to my system? It sounds like it got hit by lightning.” Not to worry, it was only Joe Walsh on some crazy distorting pedal. And, that’s why the mute and fast forward buttons were created.

      1. I can remember, in a Pink Floyd documentary from the early 70’s, David
        Gilmour telling Roger Waters that he new exactly how much distortion that
        he should add to his guitar riff, & indicating that Roger should ‘butt-out’.

  5. The best music to evaluate audio is the one you like and you are familiar with, but you should not take one track or similar tracks, they should cover up a lots of things, like timing, fine dynamics and different frequency ranges, etc.
    One track or CD I recovered for this again is :
    An American in Paris from George Gerschwin, here for exampel from the Seattle Symphony Collection, NAXOS 747313120574.
    My best liked film music too and even a great movie…

  6. I have a couple of pair of speakers of Dennis Murphy designed and/or cross over design. Heโ€™s a classical musician. I recall him mentioning his demo disc includes works with French horn because their range spans the cross over ranges which will either highlight well implemented or reveal poorly implemented driver integration.

  7. Beauty is in the ears of the beerholder. Lots of subjectiveness. Method of recording, Which mics, What piano, What studio……? Where was the Scotch from?

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