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Paul McGowan's favorite test music tracks

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Paul McGowan's favorite test music tracks

Post by DrWho on Thu Jul 13, 2017 4:24 pm

Paul McGowan of PS Audio shared some of his favorite music tracks for testing his Hifi system. I have combined his 3 days postings, as below. Enjoy.

My Music
I suppose we all have our favorite music selections. The ones we show off our system with, those we cherish for the performance, the others we treasure for their sonic splendor.
In my case, the list is long for a reason. When designing or upgrading a product Music Room One has to serve as the ultimate test. Not only does it help us discover how close concepts, circuits, and parts sound compared to live music, but it also serves as a reference standard.
There are no perfect recordings. My collection is by no means perfect, but it is varied enough that we can pretty easily find consistent traits in designs. If every track we play has bloated bass or sizzley highs, we’re pretty confident it’s a function of the gear under test.
Over the next few days, I’ll share some of my lists and offer insights as to why these are on Paul’s top tracks serving as our reference for design.
Mahler 3 San Francisco Symphony This is one hell of a good recording, though it’s been mentioned the bass is a bit shy. But, from a naturalness of the instruments and a soundstage that is to die for, this track sets the standard.
Le temps passe, Michel Jonasz. This rare album La Fabuleuse Histoire De Mr Swing by French artists Michel Jonasz is a killer track I use for a couple of tests. Bass and space. It’s a live recording and a good one. Getting the bottom end right on this track is tough.

Voodoo,  Sonny Clark Memorial. Great music, not a great recording and really tough to reproduce properly. A challenge for any circuit.

Dwelling Place of the Radiant Mind, Inlakesh. Weird music, ethereal sounding stuff, good for seeing how wide the soundstage is and how well speakers disappear.

In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,  The Allman Brothers Band. Need I say more?

Stimela, Hugh Masekela. This classic chestnut has to be used to check on dynamics. Turned up to the proper level, it all sounds great until Masekela’s horn blares in. If everything’s not just right, it’ll cut right through you.

Brothers in Arms,  Mark Knopfler. What a great track. When everything working just right, this is a good one to go to make sure it sounds live.

Beethoven String Trio in C Minor, Janaki String Trio. A terrific recording with natural string sounds as if they were playing in the room. Listen closely to the harmonics of the bowing on the strings if you want to know how well your system reproduces those precious overtones without loss.

A case of you,  Diana Krall Live in Paris. Few albums I own are this well recorded but you have to be careful on this one because they don’t all sound the same. Different mastering, perhaps.

In yesterday’s post, I shared with you some of my playlist I use to design and verify equipment performance. That list continues today.
San Jacinto, Peter Gabriel, New Blood. It’s Peter Gabriel and it’s a great recording. Not a lot more need be shared.

Haydn Sonata 49, Lois Shapiro. Good luck finding this gem. I’ve linked it to a used copy and perhaps there’s others to find as well. Piano is rendered nearly perfect and the music of Haydn, well, superb.

Summer Wind, David Elias. Terrific recording of this gentle man’s music. Elias is an audiophile like the rest of us and cares a great deal about the quality of his music.

Keith Don’t go, Nils Lofgren, Acoustic Live. After about the fiftieth play of this at audio shows I swore to God I would never play it again, yet there are great reasons to do so. The quality of the guitar tells me a great deal about circuitry.

How’s your mother in law, Red Norvo, The Forward Look. If memory serves me correctly this was Keith Johnson’s first live recording. But right or wrong, few live recordings capture the essence of live jazz as well as this one and if you can’t hear the musician’s footfalls on the wooden floor you need a subwoofer or new electronics.

Cymbeline, Loreena McKennitt, Live in Paris and Toronto. Who knew? A harpist that attracts thousands to her concerts? And good recordings too? This track was one of the main references used to voice the Torrey’s update. Getting the plucks and harmonics just right is near-impossible.

Going Home, Junior Wells. Best of luck finding this gem, but if you do, grab it. It’s tough to reproduce correctly because it’s not recorded well, but good systems separate themselves from the poor recording and then it’s wonderful to enjoy.

Black Night, Doug Macleod, There’s a time. This lovely Reference Recording has all the trappings of a live album, with the control and precision of a studio version. On less than perfect equipment, this can sound unpleasant. But get it right and you’re in heaven.

Thanks To You, Boz Scaggs. A must have if you’re interested in seeing if your system has bass. Most don’t. Very few systems I know of can reproduce the last note of the electric piano as full and properly as the others. Most people don’t even know the note is there because they haven’t the bass response to bring it to them.
There are nearly fifty tracks in my reference library and my head hurts trying to link all these. I’ll do one more round tomorrow. More at a later date.

Over the last two days, I’ve shared with you some of my favorite tracks so you can not only see what it is I use for audio testing, but why. You probably have a few of these, but if not, it might help to grab a few.
We continue today.
Beethoven Violin Sonata #7 in C minor Op 30/2, Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy. Oh, my, my, I have to say this is a fine older recording but I included for its sheer musical joy and it’s Beethoven. Two wonderful artists dueling it out in a track that lights the system on fire. Get it.

Gaia, James Taylor, Hourglass. Jeez Louise. I f you can score and then play the SACD version of this classic treasure you’ll thank me. I use it to see if the bass can be reproduced properly (it often cannot) but every time I listen to it I am entranced by the music and cannot stop.

Take Five, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out DSD rip. In my library, I only have this as a rip from somewhere. If you have a DMP or the means to play the SACD, grab this jewel. If not, sorry, the CD ain’t bad either.

Just a little lovin’, Shelby Lynne. Analog tape made this album a great classic – and the mastering’s great too. It only takes me about 15 seconds of listening to the opening cymbals to know if a circuit can separate out all the elements buried inside that metal. On many products, it just sounds like a cymbal. Ho hum. But on the good stuff, it’s possible to tell just what kind of metal is being struck and how. Extraordinary.

Sugar free, Swing out sister, Live in Tokyo. A decent live recording. I include it because it can sound so ordinary on some equipment. But given the right stuff, it can occasionally shine.

Vincent, David Roth, High-End show, Hong Kong. Wow. Not only is this my favorite cover of Don McClean’s classic, it’s beautifully recorded. If you want to see if your speakers can get David’s voice right, this is a great test. I think there may be an SACD version from Stockfish but that’s only rumor. I got it as part of an anthology at the Hong Kong High-end show. Worth every penny.

Sacrifice, Sinead Oconnor, Two Rooms: Celebrating the song. This compilation of Elton John songs by various artists is pretty good and I am not certain it’s good enough just for this one gem, but it’s a wonderful piece to listen to.
Fallin’, Alicia Keys. Man, can this gal sing. Good recording, punchy, excellent for checking to make sure there are no tubby sounds to her voice.

Zweite Szene Was sinnt nun Wotan so wild, Wagner Das Rheingold, Solti Vienna Philharmonic. Want to challenge your system? This ancient recording is about as bright and digital as they come – only, on just the right setup it can be powerful and magical. I have had times when the system sounded so damned good I put this on in hopes of scoring and bam! The power of Vikings rumbles through the music room.
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