What Are the Top 10 Digital Tracks for Testing Speakers?

I love high-end audio.  For cheap entertainment back in university, I use to torture the sales people at audio stores by asking to demo expensive speakers using records I brought in myself.  Not a single one of these people ever made a sale, but I sure got to hear this music the way it was meant to be heard.

If things go my way, I hope to finish the basement later this year and turn part of it into a dedicated two-channel listening area:  a good amp, CD player, a turntable and the best speakers I can possibly buy without my wife divorcing me.  The thought of auditioning new gear makes me giddy.

But what music should I use?  Here’s my latest list for vinyl–all 180-gram reissues, of course.


  1. Kind of Blue/Miles Davis (1959)
  2. Time Out/Dave Brubeck Quartet (1959)
  3. Crime of the Century/Supertramp (1974)
  4. Aja/Steely Dan (1977)
  5. Marquee Moon/Television (1977)
  6. The Wall/Pink Floyd (1979)
  7. Love Over Gold/Dire Straits (1982)
  8. Avalon/Roxy Music (1982)
  9. So/Peter Gabriel (1986)
  10. Random Access Memories/Daft Punk (2013)


Now what about the best digital recordings?  I haven’t made my list yet, although I did find these ten recommendations from CNET.  What would you add?

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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15 thoughts on “What Are the Top 10 Digital Tracks for Testing Speakers?

  • This isn't really my taste in tunes, but the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack is another good one. An audiophile I know uses the CD version for a lot of his equipment reviewing.

  • Check out Chesky Records Audio Sampler called "Wake Up Your Ears". You can get it at 24 bit 192KHZ but then you have to make sure you have the DAC and amp setup to take that feed. If you do, it's amazing. Lots of uncompressed drums and far less compressed than normal tracks. Very cool.

  • Oya, and after purchasing and listening to Random Access Memories on vinyl this weekend, I can't agree with you more about having it on this list. Your article the other day was spot on, this album sounds great whether you like the music or not.

  • When I was working for Porsche, I put together a CD for showcasing the audio systems in these cars.

    Roger Waters – Too Much Rope, What God Wants
    Guns N Roses – Estranged
    John Lee Hooker – Chill Out (Things Gonna Change)
    Sting – A Thousand Years
    The Chemical Brothers – Music: Repsonse
    Madonna – Justify My Love

    I wasn't just looking for diverse and dynamic music, I wanted stuff that sounded good. Where the mix, the rcordings themselves sounded good.

  • I'd add Odessa by Caribou to that list. I can't get enough of it.

  • I've always liked the track "Stoney Street" from Amon Tobin's album Bricolage. The main bass line in the track hovers around the 40Hz area. Really low! Tasty track as well.

  • I love listening to Steven Wilson's "The Raven that refused to sing (and other stories)" on my friend's Tekton "Lore" speakers put through a Bryston amp. An amazing album, engineered by Alan Parsons. I used that album to tweek the system at Call the Office in London this weekend. I highly recommend it.

  • I've always been a fan of Daniel Lanois' production, and one of the albums I think sounds great is Robbie Robertson's 1987 debut solo record. Recorded at Peter Gabriel's studio, with help from Gabriel, Bono, Tony Levin, Manu Katche. It's open, atmospheric sound is Lanois' signature.

    Another Lanois masterpiece: The Joshua Tree, especially Bullet the Blue Sky (with help from Brian Eno)

    Also: Simple Minds' Sparkle in the Rain, produced by Steve Lillywhite,

    • Joshua Tree is one of my favorite all time albums…However, the recording quality perhaps intended (Brian Eno) is horrible.

    • Joshua Tree is one of my favorite all time albums…However, the recording quality perhaps intended (Brian Eno) is horrible. Maybe someone can enlighten me as to why?

  • Great list, though personally, I'd sub Dark Side of the Moon for The Wall….I,like it better sonically. Try to listen to something with some female vocals as well, as they can be really revealing. Hope you keep us posted on your stereo room / speaker quest as I'd like to do something similar. ( once the mortgage is paid off and the kid is done with University!)

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  • David Harvey’s response is good.
    Avalon was THE album in the golden age.
    I also used to mess with salespeople’s minds. Remember Great Metropolitan Sound Company? they were great!
    I tore apart a speaker cone with “Tubular Bells”.
    the modern speaker shredder is “Rabbit Proof Fence” by Peter Gabriel.
    Tori Amos “Little Earthquakes”

    In the olden days, the exercise was to bring in an album you were SO familiar with, that every musical nuance spoke to you, and you’d just focus on those nuances.
    So Dark Side of The Moon was an easy choice. Crime of the Century. In later days, Peter Gabriel’s “So”.

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  • Bjork – Post (Hyperballad)
    Gustav Holst – The Planets (Andrew Davis w/ Toronto Symphony Orchestra) (Jupiter)
    Ween – The Mollusk (Buckingham Green)
    Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (Bitches Brew)
    Public Image Limited – Second Edition (Albatross)
    Spinal Tap – Smell The Glove (Big Bottom)


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