Few things are as sacred as an audiophile’s playlist. A diverse selection of songs are mandatory if one is to wrangle the secrets from a cagey sound system. Typically, a playlist would feature a fair bit of rock music. It isn’t surprising, considering how most rock songs employ a broad range instruments. This allows the listener to assess the overall soundstage of the device and how well it reproduces certain frequencies. The vocal-driven nature of pop songs, however, should not be discounted.
Far from the brash genre that is rock, pop songs tend to allow certain subtleties of a sound system to shine through. Personally, I find that I’m better able to assess “breath”. That is, the bloom and decay of a note. While the following list of songs is suitably subjective, I find that they’re a good starting point for those who wish to build a playlist that’s a little more easy on the ears. For reference, I put the new Sonos Move and Klipsch T5 True Wireless through their paces with these pop songs.
Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
If you ever wanted a track that measures a sound system’s ability to deliver on the vocal midrange, I can’t think of a better song than this. Jeff Buckley may not have the broadest range, but his voice has an incredible depth and texture to it. Aside from that, Hallelujah also works as an atmospheric piece. A decent sound system should be able to reproduce the cavernous dynamics of the song. Aural ambience is rarely assessed with today’s audiophiles, which is honestly a crying shame.
New York State Of Mind – Billy Joel
This was the song that sold the Sonos Move on me. Billy Joel’s voice is legendary, and this song rightly lists as one of his top 10 best songs. There’s great instrumentation on the track, with keys, strings, woodwind and percussion making appearances. You should be able to get a measure of the size of Billy Joel’s vocals – something which the Move delivered with aplomb. There is a fair amount of mid-frequency emphasis with most pop songs, which you can use to get a good feel of your sound system’s calibre. Having defined bass notes and clear trebles may be fancy, but your mids are your meat and potatoes.
Smooth Criminal – Michael Jackson
The thing I like about Smooth Criminal is that it’s a great departure from the production style of the previous two listed songs. It’s incredibly busy and aggressive with its gated synth bass notes and triggered drums. Between that and MJ’s vocals, you’ve got a good amount of space in your soundstage covered. There’s no real break in this song, which allows me to use ear fatigue as a measurement of quality. Play it loud (but not painfully so) and maybe have it repeat once – see how your ears respond. For earphones and headphones, I find this to be a great tie-breaker.
Baby Let’s Dance – Shane Filan
Probably the most well-balanced song in this lineup, production-wise. Instruments are very well-balanced and it certainly falls within the definition of “easy listening”. The good thing is that assessing the soundstage is very straightforward in this instance due to the clarity and definition present. The drawback is that you don’t get a good sense of your sound system’s ability to project warmth and character. I would say that if you have a set of balanced armature drivers on your hand, this would be a good track to start things off to.
2 Become 1 – Spice Girls
I’m sure this entry comes as a shocker to most of you. To be frank, I’m also quite surprised that I chose to feature this song. Then again, it’s the only entry in this list that features multiple vocals. The fact that you have five different voices contributing to the track makes 2 Become 1 a good song for assessing basic dynamics. I find that most earphones struggle with this due to the use of smaller drivers. However, the Klipsch T5 handled this beautifully.