What are the Best Music Files for Testing New Audio Gear?

I still think that vinyl provides the most satisfying listening experience–if you purchase good vinyl and have a proper modern turntable. At the same time, though, we can’t ignore the reality of digital music files. Digital music is here to stay.

With a small but growing segment of the population rebelling against the bad sound of MP3s, lists are starting appear featuring the best digital files for testing out new audio gear. Note that we’re NOT talking about MP3s here; for anything of these recordings to be of any use, they have to be encoded in FLAC at the very least.

Computer Audiophile has this list of recordings, all of which are of the classical and jazz variety.  Nice, but I’m not really enough of a fan of those genres for these recordings to be of any use to me. It’s like giving me a $500 glass of wine; I wouldn’t be able to appreciate it over one that cost $15.

If I had to pick three High-Res Audio recordings to audition new gear, I’d go with the following.

  1. Legend/Bob Marley:  Lovely dynamic range. You’ll hear a new clarity in Bob’s voice that’s hard to describe. I also hear bass notes that I never knew existed even after listening to this album roughly 800 million times.
  2. Brothers in Arms/Dire Straits:  Listen for the snare drum snap on “So Far Away.” I swear you can also hear Mark Knopfler’s fingerprints as he picks at the strings.
  3. Aja/Steely Dan:  Their records are engineered to perfection. A High-Res version is pretty much as good as a 180-gram vinyl edition.
  4. Tour de France Soundtracks/Kraftwerk: Everything exception the vocals have a digital source. Flawless recording, mixing and mastering.

I realize that only a tiny, tiny number of people are into this kind of digital high fidelity. But if you are, what recordings would you include in this list?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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3 thoughts on “What are the Best Music Files for Testing New Audio Gear?

  • phantom of the opera. speakers have to do the full range & have impact on that organ sting

  • Random Access Memories by Daft Punk and the latest Black Keys albums are good for this task. Also, Agaetis Byrjun by Sigur Ros is very good. Although it’s a little spacious and empty, there is good instrument separation and a lot of range. I agree wholeheartedly with you about Brothers in Arms and Aja.

  • My go to is usually Rage Against The Machine’s self title. “Take the Power Back” specifically.


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