The thing we’re most excited about when we give away 96FM’s Real Music Experience is having our winner listen to their fave song on this absolute rig of a home entertainment system for the first time.
It’s probably the first time they’ll hear it exactly the way the artist intended, not just the bare minimum output of a cheap pair of tinny headphones.
Thing is, when you’re testing the capability and limit of speakers, it’s recommended to use music you’re super familiar with.
Reason being is you need that point of reference – you’ll be able to tell immediately if you’re listening to good speakers… or phenomenal speakers.
With that in mind, here’s 10 songs that will test your speakers in all sorts of ways. Some have a strong bass line, some a complex classical string section… others just a face-melting guitar riff.
Eagles – Hotel California (preferably the acoustic one from Hell Freezes Over)
Speakers have absolutely nowhere to run with this track: the guitar picking and percussion in the intro, the acoustic guitar’s high-pitched tones (also at the beginning) and, when those bongos kick-in, a surprising amount of bass.
Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer
Not only was this video clip before its time, Sledgehammer appears regularly on audiophile song lists, one even saying its excellent ear training for aspiring producers or songwriters – which means it’s a cracker for testing speakers. Particularly at the 0:32 mark, when nearly all the instruments kick in – the horns, the synth riff and the rhythm section.
John Williams – A Life in Music (Star Wars Theme)
This is one of the more familiar orchestral scores but had to include it as Williams is such a master of dynamics. This song can be used to test your speakers handling of high and low intensity. The quieter moments in this, particularly at the 1:30 mark, shouldn’t have you rushing to turn it up – it should be soft but not inaudible. Your speakers should be able to handle Williams’ smooth transitions from soft to intense flawlessly.
Toto – Rosanna
Another great all-rounder. According to Lifewire, Rosanna is one of the quickest tests to judge the accuracy of tonal balance “the relative level of bass to midrange to treble.”
They added that just 30 seconds into Rosanna, you’ll be able “to tell whether a product is on the good or bad side of things.”
Mötley Crüe – Kickstart My Heart
This absolute unit of a song has so much dynamic compression that the needle on your amp’s output meter should barely move. This is ideal as the steady level lets you judge their maximum output capabilities of your speakers.
Give It Away – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Likely responsible for a number of speaker blow-outs, this track is a great test for subwoofers.
When it comes to figuring out how your set-up handles low pitch frequencies, you need someone like Flea to be in charge of the bass. While Give It Away is hard and fast, the bassline is fat, low and distinct, I mean, the 1:50 mark is case and point.
But if you want to get heavy, slow and low, may we recommend Walkabout from their One Hot Minute album.
If they’re not your taste, Dreams by Fleetwood Mac would be perfect.
Orinoco Flow – Enya
OK, HEAR ME OUT.
Enya is known for layering her songs and her vocals, giving her work an ethereal quality.
The 1988 hit can be split into three pieces: the marimbas for the highs, the vocals for mids, and the strings for the low end. But Enya’s voice, with that multi-layered lush reverb, should fully fill the space. And those drums. Those drums!
Look, if anything, if you play this track and it doesn’t evoke some sort of other-worldly vibe, not only do you not have a soul, you’re not using the right speakers.
William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini
It’s a 12-mintue symphony that covers a great range – quiet and sombre, then the booming kettle drums and racing strings before the oboe and flute take centre stage. Then, of course, the romping ‘Finale’ where every instrument seems to gallop to the finish line. Great stuff!
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
This song pops up on many speaker test lists but for not the reason you might think.
We’ve talked a lot about the technical side of things, which is important, but the human element is also crucial to testing good speakers.
Play this for the emotional response. If you don’t get an emotional reaction when playing this, something’s wrong.
And if you can only test with one song?
1. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
A cappella singing, soft, melodic piano music, booming bass and sick guitar riffs – and that is just the first half of the epic track.
If you’re listening on really good speakers, every level of the song’s 180 separate overdubs should come through crisp and clear. You should become incredibly aware of the constant changes to the decibels and tempo, as well as continual back-and-forth between the left and right speakers.
And not just the instruments. The chorus of voices pretty much represents the human range.
This is it. This is THE track.