Reference/Demo Tracks

And Lo ! It came to pass.

As well as naming the track, please tell us why you find it useful and what you listen for when using it as a reference.

Here’s my number 1 if it comes to check a new system or component:

TEARS FOR FEARS - Woman in Chains (1st press version of the album “Seeds of Love”)
Why? It starts with a nice bass line and drum kicks (Phil Collins), features the great voice of Oleta Adams and then gets louder / fuller.

And here’s my second number 1 :wink:

TEARS FOR FEARS - Bad Man’s Song (same album)
Great voices, very good recording and mastering. Also a good mixture between very few instruments / voices and then the “full package”


I just discovered this one recently :

Diana Ross - I’m Coming Out

it has one of the most realistic drum sounds I’ve ever heard on my system, Nile Rodgers produced…


Glynn Johns production using his famous triangle of mikes around the drum kit. There is a great deal of variation in this song. Sparse passages permitting any noise floor issues to show up through to full blooded hard rocking. The individual instruments have markedly different textures; the distortion of an electric guitar, the percussive drums, the Hammond B3 with Leslie speaker, background vocals and, of course, Steve Marriott being Steve Marriott.

It’s my go to track for listening to various digital filters. How far forward in the soundstage does the organ come ? Do the drums in the intro have a crisp attack with long decaying reverberation ? Can all the instruments be followed in the mix as the various layers stack up ? Do the cymbals in the loud passages retain their crunch ? Where is everyone placed ?

Like any good reference track, I never get tired of listening to it.


Some great suggestions - ones that I’m going to take a listen to now! It would be great if Roon had the ability to share the Tidal link for a track.


This is my reference track:
Basically on bad DACs or poor signal paths it sounds flat. I use it when trying out settings. Get it right and you can hear the air moving with the drums, each bass note, and each string bend on the guitar, each hammer strike on the piano…it transports you to a different place where you’re having a private audience with the artists. It was the track for me that showed the value of Roon and all the possibilities of getting it set up to my liking (and buying some better kit than I had!).

2 Likes my reference. Mengelberg/Bach 1939

And the second part?
“As well as naming the track, please tell us why you find it useful and what you listen for when using it as a reference.”

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I like to use tracks with acoustic instruments to evaluate sound. Having had the good fortune to grow up around a lot of live music, i think I know what these instruments are supposed to sound like, whereas as much as I like a lot of other music, I have no idea what an electric instrument or a synth was made to sound like in the studio and thus what it’s supposed to sound like in my listening room.

I also like to listen to a mix of different genres, instrumentation, and ensemble sizes, since this highlights strengths and weaknesses of the system I’m trying to evaluate. Needless to say, recording quality is an overarching factor in my choices.

Here are a few selections from my “evaluation” playlist:

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Temptation and Black Crow - Diana Krall, Girl in the Other Room hi-res
Temptation demonstrates the punch of tom-toms, the realism/dimensionality of her voice, and the separation, clarity, and percussiveness of the notes on the piano.
Black Crow has a lot of opportunities to hear subtle instrument separation, vocal realism, and soundstage

O Holy Night, Gary Karr
Deep deep acoustic double bass, realism of subtle bowed instrument cues

Electrified, Boris Blank
Good electronic track for dynamic range

Duende, Bozio Levins Stevens
Crazy deep 5-string bass, punchy percussion, and realism/note separation of a fast nylon string guitar

Tomaas, Portia, Miles Davis, Tutu hi-res
Lots going on/very layered, lots of punch, realism of Miles’ horn

Habanera, Fillipa Giordana
Very clear track with a lot of dynamic range in both volume and tonality and punch

Many tracks from Brothers In Arms, first few tracks of Commnique, Dire Straits
Incredibly well recorded, realistic 3D vocals, lots of dynamic range, clarity and large, 3D soundstage

Wooden Ships, See the Changes, CSN
Separation of subtle vocal harmonies and acoustic instruments

Ashes to Ashes, David Bowie
Tons going on at once, many layers, lots of subtle things happening in the background, very punchy/percussive

Strodes Rode, St Thomas, Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus hi-res
Well recorded, realism of the sax/subtle wind instrument cues

Concerto in D K412, Allegro, Lowell Greer and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Mozart Horn Concertos
Incredible recording of a period-authentic horn in a large hall with symphony, for horn realism and separation of symphonic, quickly moving string sections

Some random others I like for general dynamics, musicality, PRAT, soundstage:
Captain Fantastic, Madman Across the Water, Elton John
Furry Sings the Blues, Joni Mitchell
Amalia, Mira, Melody Gardot
Too Darn Hot, Holly Cole
Norah Handley’s Waltz, Adrian Legg


Not a bad idea but it becomes complicated as you attempt to demonstrate different aspects of system performance . " Money for nothing " is good for demoing dynamic range and definitely gets the listener’s attention . I use a cut from The Carpenters for sound stage . It absolutely makes the side walls disappear . There are cuts on the SACD version of Peter,Paul and Mary’s " Album 2700 " that you feel you can walk up on stage with them . I almost always play something from a double DSD file from Quiles&Cloud for pure musicality .

Music on test discs tends to be awful . Music on demo discs not much better . Now reference tracks from music that people actually listen to that demonstrate different elements of system performance would be neat .

This is a great Demo Track because it’s just beautiful and so well produced and recorded. Mixed by Jay Stapley and Mastered by Simon Allen.
The Black Feathers, a superb duo who display amazing harmonies and beautiful acoustic guitar.
Holy water.


Didn’t know The Black Feathers, checked it out (yay Tidal!) and it is a great recording!

This album demos well. Crank up the volume, after seven seconds of silence the violin comes in with stunning purity. Have several recordings of this piece, interesting how different they can be, Tetzlaff is the most heart-wrenching.


Two pieces with female vocal, sax and bass. In both cases, all three instruments are doing distinctive solo parts, no dull accompaniments. (And in both cases, the singer is married to the bassist.) The placement of the musicians is very clear. As is the separation. These satisfy my fetish for clarity.



Yes, that sounded lovely. A lot of texture in the strings…

This album is a duo, Bethany Yarrow on vocals and percussion and Rufus Cappadocia on cello. Multitracked, a complex sound, illustrates again the system’s ability to make sense of the complexity. Plus Cappadocia’s cello work is always a wonder.

(I heard this first on NPR in the car…)

I just came across this album. It’s a 1990 recording and there is no placement, but there is great separation and clarity of the instruments. Peacock and Motian demonstrate that the bass and drums are not passive background to the piano.

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My evaluation music for listening to a system is “Random Play”

When I feel the urge of skipping songs regurlary that’s a sign that there is something fundamentally flawed in the system. Hapoens a lot with system that do sound good on reference recordings.

When all the music that comes buy doesn’t bother me in any sense I’m on a good way.

When the system forces me into the songs and wants me to listen more and more without wanting to skip a single track, even if it’s not my style of music then it does something fundamentally right.

Took me years to get there and to find out what it takes to get there. Would never ever have happpened if I relied on reference recordings.

The most important thing I have learned over the years is my number one rule in system evaluation and that is “Never blame the recording”

Whenever I read “this system sounds so good it makes your bad recordings sound even worse” my alarm bells go off and I can’t think of nothing else then that the system has some fundamental flaws.


Sjef hit the nail😏

Jazz folk might consider Joey Alexander’s “My Favorite Things” and “Countdown” records. Both are bodacious recordings of post-bop piano jazz with killer dynamic range and wide bandwidth up into the high long ride cymbal harmonics. I strongly recommend purchasing the disk (CD or LP) and making your own transfers.