What makes a reference track?

August 4, 2020
 by Paul McGowan

In yesterday's post, I offered an extended list of my reference tracks.

Some of you may have noticed that not all tracks are great recordings. What gives?

Diversity.

Whether you're setting up your sound system, designing new products, or simply enjoying music, the key to great reproduction is diversity. A proper system should be able to handle a wide variety of tracks without shedding volumes of dander. If you can only enjoy perfect recordings then you might have to rethink some of your equipment or setup choices.

The very best systems show off great tracks and handle without upset the tough ones.

Depending on your goals, diversity can also work against you.

I remember well one of my first introductions into the dark secrets of the HiFi industry. While on the road and working with a well known dealer, I watched how he used a very specific tracklist of demo material to sell a certain brand of speakers—a very famous UK brand with a particularly bright tweeter. The idea was that speaker, when paired with the right music, stood out from the pack because of how live the highs sounded—every other model sounded dull by comparison. Lots of people went home with that brand only to discover they had to change the rest of their system to deal with the aggressive tweeter (but that's another story).

The point of all this is simple. The beauty of a diverse playlist is to offer a broad range of challenges for the system. Too much focus on one quality of recording and you may find yourself home with an equipment choice that only plays nice on a small not-so-diverse list of music.

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