This is a Test – Music For Appreciating and Evaluating Audio Equipment

A quick intro: Scott Eastlick will be writing for AudioStream moving forward on many things music-related, creating original sonic mixes for our readers to enjoy and to explore, and even scribble the odd hardware review. Please welcome him. His bio is at the bottom of this article.

*SOME TRACKS CONTAIN EXPLICIT LYRICS

While my love for music is as preternatural as my love for sugar, oxygen, and affection, I’ve never considered myself to be a bonafide audiophile.

Even if I have the ear, I don’t have the income; so me wanting to be an audiophile is a bit like a greeter at Walmart having a penchant for single malt scotch.

Though my recent experiences evaluating high-end gear and writing glossaries of audiophile terminology have taught me to truly understand the flaws of my own equipment. It leaves me feeling how Madonna must when she sees an un-airbrushed photograph of her arms.

Reading countless hi-fi reviews and forum threads, I’ve also come to realize the extent to which people use undeniably great equipment to listen to unbelievably bad music.

The refrain is that top-tier equipment reveals details in the music that inferior gear would leave unexposed, and to that gospel I have converted, but a pair of $1,200 headphones isn’t going to make me appreciate Taylor Swift any more than the disposable earbuds they give out on the plane.

This is a Test represents an attempt to cull some of the most impeccably-produced music ever recorded with consideration for those who test, review, or strive to better appreciate audio gear, while also working as a listenable playlist for those who do not.  

Track Listing

  • Circlesquare – All Sleepers (prod by Konrad Black)
  • Massive Attack – Angel
  • The Knife – Silent Shout
  • Isolee – Beau Mot Plage
  • Aphex Twin – Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)
  • Skee Mask feat. Jonas Yamer - Fanta Ocean
  • A$AP Rocky - Hun3rd
  • Kids See Ghosts - Kids See Ghosts
  • Atom TM – I Love U (Like I Love My Drum Machine)
  • Alvo Noto – U_08-1
  • Air – Don’t Be Light
  • Daft Punk - Beyond
  • Perfume Genius - Queen
  • James Blake - Don’t Miss It
  • Steve Miller Band - Fly Like an Eagle
  • Steely Dan – Hey Nineteen
  • Can – Vitamin C
  • Kraftwerk – Antenne
  • Grace Jones - Nightclubbing
  • Tommy Jones & the Shondells - Cellophane Symphony
  • Radiohead – Nude
  • Brian Eno – Bottomliners
  • Sigur Ros – Staralfur
  • Max Richter – On the Nature of Daylight
  • Ella Fitzgerald – Someone to Watch Over Me
  • Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker – Harry and Dolly
  • Donald Byrd - Cristo Redentor
  • Nils Frahm – Fa
  • Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Hand Covers Bruise
  • Boston Acoustics Bass Test
  • Subwoofer Bass Test
  • Plastikman – Disconnect
  • Oneohtrix Point Never – I Only Have Eyes for You
  • The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
  • The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes for You

Scott Eastlick is best known as the mind behind the Electric Adolescence website and radio show, as well as some other writing both for and about the music industry. While his love for music predates his ability to speak, his induction into audiophile culture is more recent.

Scott has been converted to the benefits of high-quality gear, but also believes that while it is essential for an astronomer to use the best possible equipment, their appreciation of the telescope should never supersede their love for the stars.

COMMENTS
Anton's picture

Nicely assembled!

The bass on Nightclubbing does a phase kind of thing that even whomps my inner ear balance settings!

Ortofan's picture

... classical music, are you?
Nevertheless, how many of those recordings feature unamplified, acoustic instruments?

Everclear's picture

Heaven forbid .......... Rap/Hip-Hop could next? :-) ............

FransZappa's picture

+1

sotneb's picture

Why does need to recommend classical or unamplified acoustic music? I quit paying for Stereophile two decades ago due to the music selections used my the majority of the reviewers. I couldn't trust reviewers who listened to and wrote about music that I had no interest in. I'm glad to see a tasteful selection of music more suited to my tastes...the kind of music I want to sound at its best at home.

Ortofan's picture

... then what is your reference for "live" sound - the output of some other speaker and amplifier?
You could also use recordings of speech, if you're sufficiently familiar with the sound of the original voice.
So many popular singers have their tracks processed with anything from reverb to auto-tune that you have no idea to what you're listening.

sotneb's picture

There is so much music out there that it is a cop out to pigeonhole anything outside of the realm of classical/acoustic as being processed and auto tuned. The key is listening to what you know and enjoy.

Noteworthy's picture

in classical or acoustic instrument based music? Why? What do you have against music that's created by musicians on actual musical instruments where the recordings are honest and unmolested by the use of special effects, EQ, Audio compression, etc. ? Have you not attended a music appreciation course in school or college where you actually learned how to appreciate many forms of music that's not created to be on some Billboard Pop chart that caters to teenagers easily manipulated by the media and easily brainwashed by DJ's? Too bad. You'r missing out on a lot of music and a lot of honestly talented musicians.

sotneb's picture

You are telling me that if music isn't classical/acoustic based, it is some Billboard pop music manipulated by media and brainwashed by dj's? I think you need to go back to college and take some of those courses that you were talking about because it appears to be a lot of music that you need to discover.

Noteworthy's picture

Take this thread down a notch people. I've edited out the blatant insults.

There's as many ways to appreciate music as there are types of music.

Electronic music is just as important, influential, culture-defining and valuable as any other major genre.

Will it be just as enduring as jazz or classical? I say yes IMHO. For the record, to say you can't listen to electronic music on a high-end stereo is a personal opinion being shared here and not one I share in the least.

–Rafe

You obviously didn't read what I posted very clearly. I just said that you need to widen your music appreciation to include classical and acoustic instrument based music, especially when buying high end audio systems.

Why? Because those recordings are better suited for high end audio systems because the recordings are typically done with acoustic instruments where they are far more difficult to reproduce than a synthesized instrument. Acoustic instrument based recordings, are GENERALLY, recorded where they want to capture a performance event and not molest it with EQ, Audio Compression, Limiting, and all sorts of special effects, etc. which covers up the musical performance which has subtlties that synthesized instruments generally can't do. With acoustic instruments you have almost infinite levels of dynamics, you don't with synthesized recordings, and when you add audio compression, limiting, etc. you pretty much destroy the harmonic structure, and dynamics of the instrument being recorded and a high end system is going to reveal such bad recordings immediately, especially if you have a properly treated room.

The problem I have with most of the modern recordings, is that instead of using the original instrument, (let's say Piano, or B-3, or Fender Rhodes, or Clavinet, or whatever instrument (whether acoustic OR electronic) and in order to save money, a lot of modern recordings are using sampled/modled versions of those instruments. Now, being a musician having performed, and learned, many different styles of music I've been around musicians that were using either the original instrument or the sampled/modeled versions of those instruments and there is a HUGE difference between someone playing a REAL acoustic grand piano vs a Sampled or Modeled version. A HUGE difference. I will ALWAYS prefer the original as it sounds authentic. I can't tell you how many recordings (modern) where they didn't use the original instrument, it was readily noticeable to me and it sounded cheesy and simply not a pleasant experience. Now, if you started to listen to recordings with these REAL instruments and got used to it, you would then go back and listen to modern recordings with a different perspective and maybe feel that same as I.

Now, the other problem with modern music, vocalist have their voices altered with either Melodyne type software or AutoTune software. Sorry, but in most cases, it's just fake, I don't care for it, and it simply tells me that the person singing isn't really a very good singer and I don't wish to support fake vocalists that have a bad sense of pitch as they shouldn't have a recording contract in the first place.

Another problem with modern music is the use of Sampling other recordings. My first question is why? That's stealing, whether it's done legally or illegally and it just tells me that the artist/band isn't qualified to create their own music, they have to steal from others. Again, not my cup of tea and I don't want to support that behavior.

Then there is programming music. I understand some people think it's all cool and all, but I can't tell who's programming what, programming music generally lacks the emotion that a musician will put into their performance as a computer is playing the program rather than listening to a skillful musician playing music that incorporates their own emotion.

Songwiteing. I notice that most of today's modern music lacks very good songwriting. I don't care for listening to tracks that are more suited to be played in a Dance Club.

If I want to listen to Dance music, then I'll go to a dance club and listen to it cranked loudly on a PA system. If you listen to Dance techno stuff, then you should be more interested in getting a PA system rather than a High end audio system because Dance/Techno music is actually better suited to be played back on a PA system than a high end stereo. That's what it's meant for.

I don't know how much experience you have in how music recordings are produced, but depending on the music, the artist, the producer, etc. will dictate how the music is mixed and mastered and to what type of system they want it played back on. Most "POP" music in the last 20 to 30 years has been produced to sound good on a low end stereo, which is why most of it was created using NS-10s. But classical recordings, and a lot of the performance based recordings are typically recorded, mixed and mastered using high end speakers which are more consistent to high end audio systems. Obviously there will be exceptions, but those are anomolies.

If you want to be open minded, you should at least have a foundation of appreciation for music forms that are REAL music forms rather than MARKETING music forms.

You seem to now want to listen to performance based music, but would rather listen to production based music. If production based music is your thing, may I suggest you not even look at high end audio systems, but go to your local Guitar Center or Sweetwater and get yourself a PA system, that's probably better suited for the production based music you seem to prefer. But to ignore classical, acoustic based music is just being childish, immature and having musical ignorance. I didn't say you can only listen to classical or acoustic based music, But you should at least appreciate it, listen to it along side other types of music.

FYI, I probably have one of more diverse catalogs of music that I've collected over the years so I'm not ignorant to what is out there, but you obviously are limited in what you listen to and you are the one that should venture out. Most REAL forms of music are based on acoustic instruments and acoustic instruments have been around for thousands of years. Electronic instruments is relatively new and being new doesn't mean it's better. Seriously, you need to go take some music appreciation courses that take you up to the point where you first started listening to music, because everything that came before what you listen to is mostly based on acoustic instruments or non-synthesized instruments.

Noteworthy's picture

I just said that the Billboard music you listen to is manipulate by the media/brainwashing by DJ's. They only want to push what they can sucker kids into listening to since they only care about what they can make MONEY selling.

There's a lot more music you just aren't exposing yourself to. I prefer Performance based music rather than production based music, especially if there is too much programming, sampling involved. Production based music leans too much towards the phony side of the spectrum. Computer based music lack emotion, lacks musicianship because anyone can program a drum beat, even those that have never studied how to play a musical instrument. I don't think that's necessarily good music to consume your life in.

Maybe someday you'll understand what I'm talking about.

sotneb's picture

I completely understand. You aren’t the arbitrator of what constitutes good music, songwriting, musical ability etc...although it appears that you are trying to be. You can believe any generalization about music that you want to make up, but it doesn’t change the fact that the best music to listen to is the music that you enjoy. The best music for your system is the music that you enjoy. Trying to convince somebody else what they should be listening to shows how much you have to learn.

Noteworthy's picture

There's a reason why people will lean towards acoustic based music when they evaluate high end stereos which is what this article and the audiophile magazines are trying to discuss. the better recordings are unmolested, but techno based production recordings simply don't have the harmonic structure like acoustic instruments, especially with recordings of symphony orchestras where you have upwards of 80 or so musicians playing a wide variety of acoustic instruments. That's one of the most difficult to reproduce with dynamics, separation of instruments, etc.

I'm trying to explain why it's good to appreciate music that has musicians performing on musical instruments.

Now, here's a video that I highly suggest you watch as it discusses a lot of differences in the more modern pop music than music from decades ago. It's definitely a video you could learn a lot from.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVME_l4IwII&t=1009s&frags=pl%2Cwn

But you are being VERY narrow minded in not wanting to listen to classical music or music performed with acoustic instruments.

Um, a real drum set, or a real piano is much different sounding than a synthesized version. Synthesized instruments that are trying to emulate an actual acoustic instrument or the analog instrument sounds vastly different. IF you can't hear the differences, then that's a hearing or listening skill you haven't developed.

Oh, as far as what music is good to listen to? There are psychologists that have been conducting studies for many years on the effects of different types of music and whether or not they are positive for people in elevating their brain activity. It's been tested that classical music, or improvisational based music (jazz and classical Indian are two prominant music forms that have a lot of improvisation), promote brain activity and it's positive for people to listen to those forms because it helps with learning, comprehending more complex subject matter. Some music like Rap, Death Metal/Thrash metal has been studied by psychologists to not be a positive influence on people because there is a lot of anger, hatred and other negative emotions involved. I don't know what things you've read, but in the prison system, they are using music therapy to help convicts in prison to not be so inclined to commit crimes and they are finding that the music they listen to has a definite impact on what music is more likely going to influence someone to commit a crime. I even watched an interview of a convict that has gone through one of these music therapy courses they are putting inmates in and he simply said that when he got out of prison and exposed himself to the same music he was used to listening to, it would trigger criminal behavior and he eventually got caught up in the drug scene and committing crimes and he now doesn't listen to that type fo music and he claims it helps tremendously to not get caught up in drugs and he feels a lot better and has more control over his behavior to not go back to the lifestyle that got him incarcerated in the first place.

FYI, I used to work at a music store that sold records back in the 70's and I was verocious about finding obscure music that wasn't being played on the radio and I would turn on my friends to the recordings I had and I had many friends that would always come to me asking what new recordings I found and they always thank me for turning them on to music they wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. Even one friend came to me 30 years later and he became a producer that worked with various famous artists and he thanked me because he said that without my influencing him to what kind of music to listen to, he doesn't think he could have gone into the music industry and become a producer. So obviously, I can help people turn them onto music that most people simply don't get exposed to. I will listen to others that try to turn me on to music but in the 50 years that I've been buying and listening to music, I can wholeheardely say that I'm not finding that many people that have turned me on to anything that I didn't already know about or anything that I find interesting enough to buy and enjoy. I will say that when it comes to classical music, I'm a novice as I haven't dived into Classical music on a serious level because there is simply too many composers and pieces of work, but I try to at least find something new when I can, so I am slowly adding to my classical catalog. part of the reason is I play a musical instrument that's is used in contemporary music rather than classical, so I stick to mostly the music that I can actually play and get gigs performing, but my first private instructor was a classically trained from Julliard, and he played with various symphony orchestras, but he also played jazz and rock at that time as he played many different instruments that I never learned how to play. So, I still have a lot of respect for classical music and I think it's absolutely ridiculous to ignore it, put it down and to not at least learn to appreciate it and spend time with it. To ignore is is just ridiculous for ANYONE that's serious about listening to music. You'd be surprised how many rock, jazz, R&B, etc. musicians that have studied classical music and actually listen to it when they aren't performing their own. There's something to be said about compositions that have lasted HUNDREDS of years and they still attract high level musicians that keep it alive because they obviously feel it's worth being involved with.

You just made some really immature statements about classical music and that comes from your own immaturity, ignorance and simply lack of respect for a form of music that has lasted the test of time and it's just some fad music meant to sell records to teenagers.

If you don't expose yourself to what's out there, then how do you know if you enjoy it or not? I have spent time trying to like a lot of modern music and I find most of it sounds phony, no real talent, no real composition talent, etc. Daft Punk is a band that plays Techno disco music. it's pretty mindless to me. Not much sophistication with it, and nothing about it inspires me to want to play it. Sorry, I've been to a couple of Raves that played that stuff and I found techno music to be annoying and since they don't use musicians for the most part, and I have no desire to get involved with that crowd, I purposely ignore it. Plus, that music is better suited to be listened to with a PA system as that's what it's created for.

People enjoy what they grow up listening to and it's obvious you didn't grow up in a time period where you were exposed to or taught how to appreciate music forms that require musicians performing and you got sucked into technology based music.

FYI, there are famous producers that have gone public more than once trying to explain why most modern pop music sucks and why most of what's being put on the market is short term fad music and that for pop music, the best time period was that in the 50's, 60's and 70's and it started to go down his in the 80's, but progressively gotten worse in the 90's and the 2000's. What the cause of it is? There re various reasons some of these producers have mentioned and it has to do with people relying on computers, musicians not mastering foundation based music such as blues, classical, and other older music forms that serve as a foundation for great songwriting. I tend to agree with them. Music can have a positive or negative impact on people.

You are just really narrow minded on older forms of music that you simply weren't exposed to and I think ti has to do with that you simply don't understand it. That's typical when someone is being exposed to something they don't understand. Instead of taking some time trying to understand it, they ignore it, put it down. I did that when I was a teenager, but learned to not do it. So I don't ignore modern music because I haven't exposed myself to it, the thing is that I have exposed myself to it, but I also tried to learn what it is and what is isn't before I make up my mind. So I am not putting modern music down until after I spent some time listening to it and understanding WHY I don't like it. I have found a couple of bands or recordings that I like that are modern music. Zero 7 is one modern band that I enjoy. It's a combination of musicians performing music with real instruments, but it also has a techno quality to it. I think there albums are interesting and worth checking out, but I haven't run into much other bands that have great songwriting.

Seriously, you are more closed minded than I and you should learn to appreciate music that has been around for many years that have influenced some of the best songwriters, and musicians of today.

Even singers like Steven Tyler grew up listening to classical music and he still listens to it, even though he's not a classically trained singer, he at least appreciates it, loves it, and that's diametrically apposed to what he performs and makes a living doing. Most of the top producers over the years are classically trained musicians, People like George Martin that helped the Beatles create classic recordings has a lot of influences from classical music. To ignore classical music is to be musically ignorant.

Noteworthy's picture

You sound like a VERY immature person that simply doesn't respect musicians, you prefer listening to music programmed on a computer and that's the difference. You just exposed yourself to something you can relate to because it doesn't sound to me as you even studied how to play a musical instrument learning how to play actual music forms that has music theory which defines the music form.

sotneb's picture

...is somebody who enjoyed seeing an author who gave us a list of songs that I can appreciate.

88kHz's picture

FWIW I created Apple Music playlist with as many of the tracks as I could find.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/playlist/audiostream-this-is-a-test/pl.u-8dZ...
Or search for AudioStream "This Is a Test"
(Couldn't find these: Skee Mask feat. Jonas Yamer - Fanta Ocean and Oneohtrix Point Never – I Only Have Eyes for You)

Jonahsdad's picture

I actually like unamplified acoustic music, but I also like electronic, pop, rock, r&b. It's refreshing to see something different from the usual audiophile drek.

Christian Goergen's picture

for not adding Sarah K. and Diana Krall.
For reproducing a small scale set with a handful of musicians using acoustical instruments you need hifi gear and well set up loudspeakers in a room.
To appreciate and love modern sounds and music based on the electronically generation of sounds you need not. But it helps a lot.
For symphonies, operas and choir works there is no substitute of live events. Nor for dance music.

Christian Goergen's picture

I made my own playlist on amazon unlimited. Can sounds contemporary. Wow. Really surprising. Kids see ghosts is fantastic. That's why I'm reading audio sites, for music.

X