19 March 2024    |    Music, Shop news

Matt’s March feature: Which music is best for auditioning hi-fi?

Which music is best for auditioning hi-fi?

Following on from my article in last month’s newsletter (How do hi-fi magazines review products and should we follow their recommendations?) I was contacted by the editor of hi-fi+ magazine who explained how his team tests products. I think it is an important read:

‘At hi-fi+, our test methodology relies on a combination of structured and ad hoc listening tests. Our structured tests require the product to be placed in a system of known benchmarks appropriate to the product’s price and position in the market. These tests also use a series of pieces of music chosen specifically to analyse aspects of the device’s performance. These tests place the product’s performance in absolute terms but are often the least helpful part of the test. 

From here, the test is conducted in a more ‘real world’ manner. We try to get the reviewer to ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’. Music lovers don’t all share the same demands; our reviews strive to place a product in that context. For example, while most listeners prefer the overall balance of conventional dynamic loudspeakers, some happily trade dynamic range for detail and choose electrostatic panels. In contrast, others will swap accuracy for the increased dynamic range of horn-loaded designs. Our reviews reflect those differences in listener demands by making the review (and reviewer) get ‘into character.’ This can even include the choice of music played; this isn’t saying devices are ‘good for jazz’ or ‘designed for classical’, but instead reflect the tastes of the prospective listener.

A good review, therefore, is not simply abject praise; it tries to set the tested product in the listening room of the person most likely to enjoy it.’

This clear rationale is the key reason why hi-fi+ is one of my favourite magazines. The point about the ‘choice of music played’ has led me to the theme of my article this week: Which music is best for auditioning hi-fi?

So, here we go.

When auditioning hi-fi equipment, it’s essential to choose music that offers a diverse range of frequencies, dynamics, and instrumentation to fully assess the capabilities of the system. 

Firstly, one should always seek out well-recorded tracks. Look for recordings that are known for their exceptional audio quality. These can include audiophile recordings, remastered classics, or tracks from renowned studios known for their high production values.

Classical music is an excellent way to test a system. Orchestral pieces, chamber music, and solo instrumental performances are great choices as they can feature a wide dynamic range, subtle nuances, and natural timbres. Film scores or classical compositions with expansive orchestral arrangements can challenge the system’s ability to handle dynamic swings, complex instrumentation, and spatial imaging.

Jazz recordings, especially those with small ensembles or solo instruments, can highlight the system’s ability to reproduce the intricate details of individual performances, including the nuances of brass and woodwind instruments. Female and male vocal performances in jazz settings can be particularly revealing, showcasing the natural timbres of the human voice.

Unplugged or acoustic sessions can really reveal a system’s capabilities. Tracks featuring intimate vocal performances accompanied by acoustic instruments can provide a sense of realism and presence that is ideal for evaluating a hi-fi system’s ability to reproduce vocals.

Then there is, of course, classic rock and pop. Well-mastered tracks from iconic artists can provide a familiar reference point for evaluating the system’s ability to reproduce vocals, electric guitars, drums, and other instruments with clarity and impact.

Select tracks from contemporary artists known for their high-quality production values, including genres such as indie, electronic, and dance, to assess the system’s ability to handle modern recording techniques and electronic instrumentation. 

Also, please remember that a bit of metal is a great way to check if a system has the guts to deliver the performance you need. Turn it up!

If you’re looking for specific track recommendations, then I suggest that you check out this link to What Hi-Fi?’s best track section. They have every genre covered.


Lastly, each month, Loud & Clear recommends an album. You can be certain that this will always be a great way to test any hi-fi system. Enjoy!


Matt Tasker (Ammonite Media), March 2024

Who is Matt?

Matt runs Ammonite Media, the PR, marketing and social media agency that we have used for many years. He has been working with the hi-fi industry for nearly two decades and has a unique, and sometimes irreverent, insight into the industry.

Each month, Matt will treat us to his views on what is making the world of speakers, cables, streamers and turntables tick.