Testing Tracks: What tracks do we use for testing and why do we use them?
By Nicholas Clarke – Senior Director, Global Engineering, Harman Luxury Audio Group
Despite the extensive bench testing and measurement verification that is carried out by the engineering team before any product is released, we are ultimately still making products that reproduce audio, so it is only natural that part of the testing process is to listen to the equipment. To do that consistently requires a list of tracks that each exercises a different aspect of the listening experience. While not by any means an exclusive list, what follows are some of the tracks I use for testing as well as demonstrations, and the reasons for choosing each of those tracks.
First up is a female vocal, which is often regarded as the acid test for any audio product. My immediate go-to here is “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush from The Sensual World. This is a fabulous track for testing as well as for demonstration. You are listening for the vocals to remain crisp and clean as the track progresses, getting ever more complex. Another tip here for testing is to pick a track that grows on you after a few listens. You are going to be hearing the same track an awful lot when doing listening tests, so it’s important not to ruin a favourite track by turning it into something you will end up disliking!
My next choice would be “Déjà Vu” by Roger Waters from Is This The Life We Really Wanted? This is classic Roger Waters, stunningly well produced with supreme technical accuracy. Here we are listening for all the micro-details and sound effects that are present and easily lost in products that are not working as they should. Also, for me you can actually hear the age in his voice compared to earlier works, along with the emotion the artist has clearly put into his work.
Finally (at least in this list!) I would pick a live track. To end on something a little up-beat, I often use “Nine In The Afternoon” by Panic! At The Disco from Live in Chicago… Here, we’re listening for the ability of the product to capture the full essence of the live experience. It’s often said that beauty is in the imperfection, and there’s a ton of “beauty” in this track, with a multitude of timing errors throughout the performance, but the point is that you’re listening to the audio and not the product you are testing/demonstrating.
I hope this article has given some insight into a key part of the product development process and that it might prompt you to go listen to these tracks critically on your system! For more information on the thought processes that go into track selection, check out this podcast where I joined Simon Freethy of Cyrus Audio for a conversation on exactly that.