12 Tracks that will test your System

Curated by Steve Crowe

I was talking to Terry about ideas for his brand-new website and thought it would be a great idea to produce a Tidal playlist for a dozen of the tracks I use for HiFi system sound quality evaluation. These are some tracks that I play when listening to new components, upgrades, or other peoples’ systems and at HiFi shows, not that the last two have been possible over the last twelve months.

I’ve tried to avoid the obvious ‘HiFi Show clichés, well maybe not all of them. I have not only picked tracks I like, but also ones which will test your system’s ability to play both sound and music. After listening to these tracks, you may conclude that I like female singers, and you would be right. You may agree or disagree with my choices, which is great that is one of the best bits about the love of music and HiFi.


Audio Evaluation

Tidal Playlist 01
Qobuz Playlist 01 (N.B. The Ani DiFranco Track is not available on Qobuz)

If you are not in the UK, for copyright reasons, some tracks may not be available to you.
All album covers have links. Clicking on the link will take you to a YouTube video of the track

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Blue, Blue, Joni Mitchell

I have used this excellent recording for years. The piano is very well recorded, and Joni’s voice is crisp and clear. So crisp, in fact, it can tip over into sibilance if the system is too bright. On a good system there will still be some sibilance, but it will be well-controlled and sound natural.

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Ain’t No Sunshine, Nightbird, Eva Cassidy

This is a beautiful song sung by a lady with a beautiful voice. It was a one-take recording on the second night of a two-night residence at the Blues Alley Jazz Club in Washington DC in 1996 and not released until 2015, 19 years after her tragic early death, not long after the recording was completed.

If you get a chance to read the back story it is good reading. The recording was meant to take place over the two nights, but an unrecoverable tape biasing error was found after the first day. My copy is a 2 X CD + 1 X DVD box set. The film on the DVD is an amateur recording, perfectly synced with the professional audio recording made on the night. This is a collection of individual artists at the top of their game. It’s a very atmospheric recording full of life and depth.

Eva is a singer who can slip from genre to genre without missing a beat. I loved this so much I bought the 4 LP box set.

Buy the CD and Vinyl  The Door, The Door, Keb’ Mo’

I always associate Keb’ Mo’ with a happy, light blues, style of music. This is a first class recording which shows off his talents perfectly. This should get you smiling. From an audio evaluation viewpoint this is exceptionally well recorded, and has great positioning within the soundstage.

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Swing (Album Version), Swing Set, Ani DiFranco

This track will delight your ears and should sparkle on your system. It is from the Swing Set EP. The instrumentation and Ani’s vocals have crystal clarity. Give your ears and system a treat!
Please note, this track is not available on the Qobuz playlist.

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Soothing, Semper Femina, Laura Marling

Laura Marling is like a modern Joni Mitchell, with less words, if you know what I mean. All her albums are well recorded. The start of this track has some heavy bass which makes my lounge door buzz in sympathy. It is a terrific recording for system evaluation. The YouTube link is to a performance by Laura and her band live at Glastonbury in 2019.

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Lady of The Dancing Water, Lizard, King Crimson

I have been a lover of King Crimson’s work since the early days. Some tracks are a little harsh on my ears but this one is beautiful and delicate. It should be musically involving with voices and instruments perfectly positioned in the soundstage.

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Sort of Revolution, Wheels Turn Beneath My Feet, Fink

Fink had already released a few albums before I heard this track at a HiFi Show about six years ago. It deserves to be turned up loud to provide a realistic atmosphere of a live recording. When the bass kicks in you should feel it in your stomach. I have caught many friends out with this one

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Electrified, Electrified, Boris Blank

As one half of Yello, Boris Blank has not produced much solo work. However, this double CD showcases his talent and use of electronics. It’s only short but has a driving beat.

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Black Shoes, Dark Days Exit, Felix Laband

This track was first played to me in a HiFi dealer’s demo room. Felix Laband uses sampling in a very inventive way. This is trippy, in a good way, and will make your room bounce. Give the whole album a try. If you are not familiar with Felix, it is like nothing you have heard before

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Miss You, Some Girls, The Rolling Stones

This is a short track which explodes straight into the main tune, no intro here. If your foot isn’t tapping with this one, there is something wrong with your system, or your foot.before

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Beyond the Firing Line, Late Night Laments (bonus disc), Tim Bowness

Tim Bowness is not a particularly well-known artist, although he has collaborated with Steven Wilson as part of No-Man. This track is actually on the bonus disc of Late Night Laments which is titled Cheerleader for The Damned. From a trumpet and trumpet opening it becomes quite atmospheric before the bass guitar and drums come in. I think that it is a good introduction to the artist. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Buy the CD and Vinyl  Pneuma, Fear Inoculum, Tool

For many, Tool are a marmite band, you either love them or hate them. I used to hate them until, after a thirteen-year hiatus in the band’s output, the album Fear Inoculum was released. This track, in particular, led me to understanding what the band is about and to subsequently buy all their albums. Their lyrics are deep, time signatures all over the place, and musicianship is superb. Tool’s music is not background music, it is visceral, in a way few bands can achieve. It should be played LOUD and your system should deliver undistorted power into your listening room. If you have not heard Tool before, listen to this and, like them or not, you will not forget them.

The video is a live version of the track focussing on Danny Carey’s drumming, which is a thing of wonder.

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