Updated: Dec 24, 2022
When we want to evaluate the sound of an audio system, these are some of the tracks we use, courtesy of Qobuz, which delivers them on multiple platforms (BlueOS, KEF Connect, Sonos and more) in CD quality or even higher resolutions.
We use a wide variety of music with a focus on songs that are well recorded and preferably feature real instruments.
We listen for a systems ability to create a believable soundstage (the sound of a performance taking place in between, in front of, and behind a pair of speakers), with wide dynamic range (clear and undistorted playback volume form soft to loud), a palpable sense of scale (does the apparent “size” of the recording match what it would sound like in real life?) and the capacity to reveal details in the music that other systems tend to mask.
Check out our Modus Music Demo List on Qobuz and get a 60 day free trial of their HiFi music streaming service here, courtesy of Modus AV.
Here are some of our favorite tracks:
“Kyrie Eleison” by Franco-Lebanese musician Bachar Mar-Khalife is a great example of scale and dynamics. It starts off with Mar-Khalife singing several parts in harmony against a softly playing piano that builds in intensity before slowing back down to just solo piano and organ. There’s a great sense of depth in the recording with a rhythmic drive, clean delineation between all of the voices and instruments, and real weight to the piano.
“The Plan” (From the Motion Picture “TENET”) by Travis Scott combines layered samples and electronica with a driving bass line to convey the frantic and time-warped world of TENET. Listen for Scott’s voice as it alternates between the left and right limits of the soundstage and dead center while a very “dry” percussive beat keeps time behind all of the atmospheric effects. The sound here is big and cinematic. A system with a high degree of resolution and speed will be able to suss out all of the different elements without letting the sound collapse into a muddled mess.
“I Wouldn’t Be a Man” by Kirk Whalum. This track does a great job of recreating a sense of space with vocals and instruments placed precisely throughout the the soundstage and an appropriate amount of air around each performer. Everything sounds open and relaxed with no feeling of artifice or compression. Voices have body, cymbals have a nice sheen, and you should be able to hear the sharp attack decay of each drum and cymbal hit.
“Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars. This is a track that everybody knows at this point but when played back on a good system, you’ll notice things that you may not have been aware of before. There’s nice width to the soundstage. Bass, drums and Bruno’s voice are upfront and in your face with background vocals and horns placed behind.
“Closer” by Corinne Bailey Rae. This is an interesting recording. The presentation is very two-dimensional with Rae’s voice, bass and drums at the very front of the soundstage, recorded with very little reverb. Guitars and keyboards are spread across the width of the stage and have a bit more air around them. The result is a high degree of intimacy, which is the intended effect. On a system with wide frequency response, you should be able to hear some sub-bass notes from the bass guitar and just enough high-frequency energy to keep things from sounding too dull.
“Avo” by Ahmad Jamal. This track is a great demo for showing a systems detail, speed and dynamic range. The Jamal plays the piano like a percussion instrument with equal parts power and subtlety. The soundstage is deep and wide with bass, drums and percussion all well defined in three dimensional space. The piano is the star here, taking up the entire width between the speakers.
What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments. Enjoy!