Ten Tunes To Test Sound Systems
Ten Tunes To Test Sound Systems
When a sound installation is finally complete, it’s time to hear what the system can do. Sound engineers test dynamic range with high-fidelity recordings of low to high frequency sweeps, rising from bone shuddering sub bass to ear-piercing highs. But the fun really begins when testing the setup with music and every technician has their favourite piece for putting a sound system through its paces.
Ask any group of engineers which songs they use to check fidelity, clarity and tonal accuracy, and you’re likely to get answers ranging from Shostakovich to Skrillex. The choices are usually completely different to the music you’ll find on their iPods – these are chosen for deep bass, crisp high ends and peerless production values which test response and reveal a room’s hidden rattles.
Here are some of our favourites. Note that Youtube videos won’t give you the same fidelity as the original recordings, so if you’re testing a system for yourself you should use a lossless format like CDs, or FLAC.
The Eagles: Hotel California
Okay, let’s get this one out of the way early. It may be fairly middle-of-the-road dad rock, but Hotel California is a favourite piece to test response thanks to a strong, driving beat, clear sound separation and breadth of dynamic range – particularly during the opening bars of the arguably over-epic guitar solo.
Jimi Hendrix: All along the Watchtower
Jimi Hendrix’s fondness for overdubs transforms Bob Dylan’s sparse original into a rich and textured psychedelic soundscape, complete with reverb-drenched castanets and 12-string guitar, thundering bass and super-condensed drums. The slow panning of Jimi’s famous backwards slide solo will test balance and if you aren’t hallucinating by that point, you’re probably not doing it right.
Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture
There’s perhaps no bigger and more famous crescendo in the whole of music than Tchaikovsky’s rousing 1812 overture. Listen out for the clarity of crashing cymbals, and carillon bells, accompanied by immense booming of 16 real cannon as the piece reaches its thrilling climax.
Steely Dan: FM
“No static at all…” croons Donald Fagan in Steely Dan’s FM – the funky soundtrack to the film of the same name, which won a 1979 Grammy for best engineered album, with engineers Roger Nichols and Al Schmitt taking home the award for their crystal production work.
Dire Straits: Money for Nothing
Our second dad-rock entry takes a while to get going, giving the engineer an opportunity to centre the layered synths before the famous guitar line kicks in, pushing mid-range response to its absolute mullet-sporting limit.
Beastie Boys: Paul Revere
The Beastie Boys’ backwards bass line in Paul Revere is one of hip-hop’s most fortuitous accidents. Turning this up to full volume will tell you where a room is likely to rattle, whilst giving sub-woofers a serious workout.
Miles Davis: So What
See how early you can spot Paul Chambers’ lazy double bass line as it slowly fades in to introduce one of the most famous jazz pieces in history. On a good system, you should hear it straight away. By the time Jimmy Cobb’s laconic ride-splash announces Miles’ opening solo, you should be able to feel the room turning a sultry kind of blue.
Eminem: My Name Is
Eminem took Labi Siffire’s, I Got The… and added enough bass to shake your entire collection of spirits from the top shelf. Be sure to play the radio-friendly version when warming up for a family party!
Pink Floyd: Money
It would be possible to pick a track from almost any one of Pink Floyd’s albums, but Money’s wandering bass line really gives subwoofers a workout and layers of reverb create a rich texture. Cash register sound effects and the ringing of loose change seem to shift around the room, particularly in the later quadrophonic mix.
Created by the same kind of Low Frequency Oscillator from which the band takes its name, the distinctive bass line in this self-titled dance classic has been sampled time and again. Whilst it may seem rather tame in comparison to today’s artists like Skrillex, the warbling sub tones still pack a punch and the oscillator’s familiar texture is distinctive enough for an engineer to lock on to and fine-tune.