Test tracks: Stereo – Bass

This is a collection of tracks that can be used to show off (and break…) your woofers and/or subwoofer(s). Beware: when I talk about “bass” I mean REAL bass. Not that silly pretend-bass 80 Hz oomph that you hear coming from a souped-up Honda with tinted windows as it drives down your street. I mean stuff an octave or two lower than that – it should make it feel like a giant is squeezing your listening room from the outside.

Link to Tidal Playlist

Link to Spotify Playlist

 

Artist: Paula Cole

Album: This Fire

Track: Tiger

Label: Warner Bros. Records

Comments: This is a great track for “testing” (translation: “breaking”) subwoofers. Then again, if you have a good system – or at least, properly protected one – you shouldn’t be able to break the sub – just go deaf trying… (N.B. I will not be held responsible for you causing your own deafness by trying to break your subwoofer… You’ll have no one to blame but yourself.)

Artist: Aaron Neville

Album: Warm Your Heart

Track: I Bid You Goodnight

Label: A&M

Why: Another great recording from George Massenburg – the kick drum is perfect…

Artist: Marilyn Manson

Album: The Golden Age of Grotesque

Track: This Is The New Shit

Label: Nothing, Interscope

Comments: This is another track that I use for breaking subwoofers. Conveniently, you can simultaneously use this track to break tweeters. Seriously, though… your system should be able to reproduce this track cleanly – there’s a lot of energy across the entire frequency spectrum in this track, so the task is not as easy as it sounds. Interestingly, this track doesn’t suffer from a terribly high-level mastering, which is nice for a change!

Artist: Deadmau5

Track: Ghosts N Stuff

Comments: To be honest, I hate having to recommend that you buy anything by Deadmau5, but this is a good track for testing. The one thing to beware of is that one of the effects in the mix is heavy compressor pumping, so you’ll have to learn to ignore that…

Artist: Nora Jones

Album: Come Away With Me

Track: Turn Me On

Label: Blue Note

Despite the fact that this album has distortion all over the place – particularly on the voice, the low end of the kick drum in this track is worth hearing.

Artist: Pat Methany & Charlie Hayden

Album: Beyond the Missouri Sky

Track: Cinema Paradiso

Label: Verve

Why: This is just a good album – great recording of a great performance…

Artist: Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops

Album: Time Warp

Track: Theme from Battlestar Galactica

Label: Telarc

Comments: Okay, so this isn’t the most challenging piece of music in history, but the low end is nice on this recording.

Artist: The Minnesota Orchestra – Eiji Oue, cond.

Album: Minnesota Orchestra Showcase

Track: The Firebird Suite: Excerpt

Label: Reference Recordings

Comments: The early-80’s 50 kHz Telarc recording of the Firebird (get the SACD version with the better sampling rate conversion if you’re looking for it) is good. But the low end on this recording is better – or at least lower…

Artist: Herbie Hancock, John Legend, P!nk

Album: The Imagine Project

Track: Don’t Give Up

Comments: This whole album is worth buying, if only for the sound. The fact that the performances and the musicians are amazing is a bonus!

Artist: Tower of Power

Album: Souled Out

Track: Diggin’ on James Brown

Artist: Bill Champlin

Album: Mayday (Live)

Track: Bass Solo

Artist: Lady GaGa & Colby O’Donis

Album: The Fame Monster (Deluxe Version)

Track: Just Dance

Artist: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band

Album: XXL

Track: High Maintenance

Comments: Tight band, good (if closely-mic’ed) recording. Punchy mid-bass and, if you’ve got real woofers, REAL low-frequency content.


  1. Geoffe,

    I wonder what you think of “TV Song” by Blue Man Group which is also featured on the CD that B&O released when the BeoLab 5 was launched. Used it numerous times when demonstrating BeoLab 5’s just to show what they are capable of…

    Kind regards,

    Karel.

  2. Hi Karel,

    I’m not a big fan of that track for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is some clipping in the track (you can see this if you open the track on a DAW) – so, on a decent loudspeaker, you’ll hear the distortion. It sounds to me like microphone or mic preamp overload rather than a digital clip, but that’s just a guess. (You can hear a similar kind of distortion on the voice in Norah Jones’s “Turn Me On”.) Secondly, there isn’t a lot of distance (and therefore depth) information in the track. It’s very much a panned-mono recording with some reverb behind it, so all of the direct sound from the “instruments” (mostly PVC pipes) is very forward in the mix, and there’s not much to speak of behind it. On the other hand, the latter section of the track (during the guitar solo) has a pretty low crest factor without being completely squashed, so it sounds loud without being worrisome – which is part of the reason why it makes an impressive demo track – it’s big, but not scary, because you don’t feel like the mix is uncontrolled. Finally, since it’s generally a fairly dark mix (the high end really only comes from the transients on the PVC pipe attacks – there isn’t much high frequency content apart from that) it tends to be a little dangerous with respect to exciting room modes. Of course, since the ABC in a BeoLAb 5 compensates for the most problematic modes, this is not only less of a concern when demo’ing that particular loudspeaker, it’s actually a good demo for the benefits of ABC.

    cheers
    -geoff

  3. Hi Geoff,
    What do you think of the telarc thaikofsky 1812 recording?
    In my opinion one of the only REAL subwoofer tests with his 90db dynamic range and a bottom end that extends down to 8hz.
    In fact one of the cannon shots produces a 38hz tone considerably louder than the maximum recording level of a cd!

    Personaly one of my favorite tracks for testing the full range frequency response and resolution of a hi-end stereo system is: jupiter by Gustav Holst.

    Kind regards
    Bart

  4. Sorry i spelled the artist name of the 1812 song wrong, of course it had to be tchaikovsky and not thaikofsky.

    kind regards
    Bart

  5. Hi Bart,

    The Telarc recording is good for an early digital recording – but I would disagree that it’s the only REAL subwoofer test. There are lots of recordings out there that have low frequency content in them.

    Also, I would disagree with your statement that the cannon shots is louder than the maximum recording level of a CD. If this is true, then Jack Renner (if memory serves me correctly, then it was he who engineered that recording…) didn’t set his microphone preamp gains correctly.

    Finally, I have to point out that there are LOTS of recordings of Holst’s Planets. So, I’m curious as to exactly which recording is your favourite.

    Cheers
    -geoff

  6. Hi Geoff,
    Thank you for your reply.
    The holst planets recording i’m referring to is: http://www.amazon.com/Holst-The-Planets-Gustav/dp/B000003CU0
    As you probably guessed it, i’m a big telarc fan because they almost don’t use loudness or dynamic range compression and make sure that their releases are wel recorded, mixed and mastered.
    Personally i’m almost always disappointed nowadays by the big and popular recording company’s. They release so much beautiful music by super good artists but the managers of the record company make the mastering engineers master the music so loud and compressed that even a square wave would complain if it could speak.
    And that is in my humble opinion one of the big reasons why cd’s sadly don’t sell well anymore. All an artifact of the loudness war.

    Again thanks for the reply and keep up the good work

    Kind regards
    Bart

  7. Hi Bart,

    Thanks for the link – I’ve got that one in the collection at work. :-)

    Telarc was certainly (usually) trustworthy when it came to doing things “cleanly” without dynamic range compression or EQ – but there are lots of other labels that follow this “purist” philosophy. Pentatone is a good example of this – they typically used to (and I assume still do…) put up 5 omni mic’s that are unprocessed. I was surfing a lot of potentially good recordings on http://www.dacapo-records.dk/ yesterday – I bought one of them (a multichannel SACH). Can’t wait to hear the real thing…

    However, I am the last person to say “dynamic compression is bad” – Dynamic compression is great, if it’s appropriate and done well. It depends on the purpose and the implementation.

    But I would agree with you that it is difficult to find a good recording of a good artist. Typically it’s a bad recording of a good performance or a good recording of a bad one. And, to be honest, given the choice, I’d rather listen to the good performance.

    Cheers
    -geoff

  8. Hi Geoff,
    Thanks for the record company’s, i will certainly check these out.
    I agree that compression can be used to enhance a song but nowadays most record company’s use it just to make a cd as loud as possible which hurts the music, here is an example: http://youtu.be/3Gmex_4hreQ

    Kind regards
    Bart

  9. What about Thanks to you from the album Dig with Boz Scaggs? It contains a lot of bass. Is it challenging to the system and/or the room?
    Best regards,
    Jan

  10. David Keener says:

    Regarding the comments made for “TV Song” by Blue Man Group, I agree with Geoff’s comments.

    However, have you heard it in surround sound on the DVD-A? It sounds much better on that than on the CD.

    This leads me to my next question: do the producers remove “constraints” when they make recordings available on DVD-A and SACD? By “constraints,” I’m referring to rolling off the low bass, compressing the dynamic range, etc.?

    As two other possible 2-channel test CDs for bass, how about “Zooma” by John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin, Them Crooked Vultures) and Peter Gabriel’s “Birdy” soundtrack (on RealWorld label)?

    David

    David

  11. Hi David,

    Sorry it’s taken a while to respond to your comment – been pretty busy lately…

    I’ll check out the tracks you mentioned. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Regarding the DVD-A / SACD vs.CD, the answer is yes and no… I once chaired a panel discussion at an AES Conference on Multichannel Audio in Banff, Alberta where the topic of mastering of 2.0 vs. multichannel came up. Everyone on the panel (Jim Anderson, Florian Camerer, Akira Fudada, Jean Marie Geijsen, Bob Ludwig, and George Massenburg – see http://www.aes.org/events/reports/24thConference.pdf) agreed that multichannel recording, mixing and mastering required less control (in the sense of “control freak”) of dynamics than 2.0 because you don’t need to “steer” listener’s attention. For example, in a 2.0 orchestra recording, it helps to have spot mic’s to assist the balance according to what’s needed by the music. Bring up the flute for the flute solo line for 4 bars, then bring it back to let the viola’s take over… In multichannel, you get more spatial information, which gives the listener the opportunity to more easily decide what to listen to. If you have the spatial separation between the flute and the violas, then you can choose where your attention goes – and you don’t need a mixing engineer to help.

    If the SACD/DVD-A and the CD are both 2.0, then it’s just a question of what the record label and mastering engineer(s) decided to do for the releases. It could be that more dynamic range was allowed in one mastering than the other (if the different formats are from different masters) – but this is not always the case. It may be that the BMG recording on DVD-A is a different mastering than the CD, and therefore doesn’t suffer from the same issues.

    Finally, it’s worth stating that this difference in mastering is likely/possibly the reason some people prefer vinyl over CD’s/digital. You can’t state that one is better or worse than the other if you’re listening to two different masters on two different formats…

    Cheers
    -geoff

  12. Hi Geoff,

    I occasionally use Tracks of Yello – mostly of their release The Eye – to test the bass response of a system (and more the room reacting to it).

    An also very nice one is “Grandma’s Hands” found on Chesky records samplers. It is a nice gospel track which would have no bass at all, wouldn’t there be someone slightly stomping on the wooden floor of the church it was recorded in. Luckily they did not filter that out :)

    As I luckily have speakers which neither have a lack of base but also no chance to be destroyed its fun at home :) (two custom built towers with 6 vifa plw 21 adding low end to my electrostatic speakers. They usually just move a bit as I don’t listen loud. It’s just for the line source.)

  13. Alex Symeonides says:

    Hi Geoff,

    First of all, thank you for this invaluable page that you’ve got here. As I’m currently a Tonmeister-in-the-making at Surrey University I’ve found all of this to be very useful in “learning how to listen to the big picture”. These are my go to tracks for checking bass:

    Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells III – The source of secrets/Far above the clouds

    Daft Punk – Random Access Memories. The bass on this album is just enormous. Mick Guzauski did an incredible job mixing this album in my opinion.

    Would love to hear your opinion on these.

    All the best,

    Alex

  14. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the suggestions – I’ll check them out. My kids like listening to Daft Punk on Beolab 90’s…

    Cheers
    -geoff

  15. Hi, Geoff,

    I believe the track Theme from Battlestar Galactica is from album “Time Warp” and not “Star Tracks”, is that correct?

    Best regards,
    Allan

  16. Hi Geoff. I m well into my second year if BL90 appreciation. Might I make a suggestion of another test track / album for demonstrating low frequency music. The title track of a pretty good album.
    Fight of the Cosmic Hippo by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. According to a musician friend of mine the double bass was specially tuned and modified to get the low tones. The recording seems good to my ear, but Im still learning.

  17. Hi Scott,

    Great to hear that you’re still happy with them! I’ll check out the Cosmic Hippo track – thanks for the suggestion.

    Cheers
    -geoff

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