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post #1 of 177 Old 02-10-2016, 05:31 PM - Thread Starter
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Top 10 Tracks to Test Your Sound System

Whenever I attend a show that features audio demos—be it CEDIA, CES, or any of the numerous regional audio shows—I make a point of cataloging the tracks I hear. The best demos use music that's carefully selected to highlight one or more desirable attribute of the system, and in that context, it's always a bonus if I am already familiar with the tracks.

Over time, I've developed a list of my favorite tracks that test the mettle of any audio system. It's the music I listen to when I review speakers and audio gear, and it's definitely not the usual selection of audiophile favorites from Diana Krall, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, etc.

Because there is such a wide variety of music—and musical taste—in the world, any list of 10 tracks can't please everyone. For this list, I gravitated toward tracks that I'm intimately familiar with, which makes them useful as tools for subjective speaker and sound-system evaluation. I hope you will post a comment with your own top-10 list of test tracks, which could well be totally different from mine.

On a final note, I'm a big fan of listening to whole albums. All of these cuts come from great albums, so if you get a chance, check out the other tracks. For now, here's my list:

1. Sly & Robbie: "Safe Space" from Free Dub

The brilliance of Sly & Robbie is the way they work in tandem to create infectious dub-reggae rhythms and grooves. Typically, their production is as top-notch as their musicianship—these guys are among the best reggae artists in the world when it comes to playing drums and a bass.

Free Dub is a gift of an album; it's straight-up old-school Sly & Robbie in a modern recording that is immaculate in terms of production. It’s dub heaven, and don't be surprised if you wind up listening to the entire album several times in a row. "Safe Space" is a modern classic, a perfect Sly & Robbie jam, and a killer test track. Listen for judicious use of echo, panning, and reverb that creates the distinctive Jamaican dub vibe—systems that image accurately will have a distinct advantage in getting the best effect out of it.

2. Daft Punk: "Disc Wars" from the Tron: Legacy soundtrack album

A staple of my speaker and subwoofer reviews, "Disc Wars" contains an onslaught of deep bass that has, on occasion, brought beefy amplifiers to their knees. The production is exceptional, blending Daft Punk's electronica with The London Symphony to great effect.

When the bass comes rolling in, it's a beast. My whole room starts to physically vibrate—not rattle, mind you; it's more like a small earthquake. I can literally feel the weight of the air in the room and the power pouring through.

Reproducing reference levels with this track, and rendering it to its full potential (in terms of bass extension and dynamics) requires an extraordinarily stout system. "Disc Wars" is the very definition of a great test track, but its effect is lost on smaller speakers that can't handle the bottommost octave (16 to 32 Hz).

3. Tones on Tail: "Real Life/Rain" from Everything!


Here are two tracks from Tones on Tail's compilation Everything! that together form one 13-minute super-track, so be sure to play them in sequence. I have marveled at the musicianship of Tones on Tail since I first heard the band on my first "serious" stereo system. I hate to keep count, but that was 25 years ago—time sure does fly.

Tones on Tail recorded these two tracks back in 1983, but they were remastered in 1998 for the release of Everything!, and they sound great. These selections are as rock and roll as I'm going to get with this list, featuring some fine distorted electric guitar and bass work. In "Real Life," pay particular attention to the quality of the recording, how the acoustic guitar fills out the edges of the soundstage and frame the vocals. You won’t need a sub to hear these tracks at their best, just a good pair of speakers that don’t get congested in the mid-bass region during challenging segments.

4. John Rutter: "Requiem: Pie Jesu" from Rutter: Requiem, Five Anthems (Turtle Creek Chorale)


While not my cup of tea by any means, this track is a great test for any serious subwoofer or a truly full-range speaker system. Wide dynamic range is the name of the game here, so you'll want to turn the volume way up to feel the full impact of the recording.

The highlight of the track is an exquisitely captured organ that hits 20 Hz four times and 16 Hz once. Mind you, every organ note in the performance is a pleasure to hear, and the singing is heavenly as well. Properly rendered, "Requiem: Pie Jesu" conveys the sense of grandeur and awe that the composition calls for.

5. Snoop Dogg: "California Roll" from Bush

Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams, and Stevie Wonder are great together on "California Roll," a song that features a catchy funk groove and sounds excellent. However, the bass line can easily become bloated when played on a system that doesn't handle low-frequency reproduction well. You need a flat response that also digs deep to experience this track properly—as you'd expect from a Snoop Dogg joint.

There's plenty to appreciate in "California Roll," from the superstar vocal talent to Pharrell's truly impeccable production. Listen for Stevie's harmonica, it's a key element of the track.

6. Thievery Corporation: "Samba Tranquille" from The Mirror Conspiracy


I can't count how many times I've heard this track play in the background while dining in a restaurant, and yet "Samba Tranquille" deserves an attentive listen. What I enjoy about it—aside from the chill beat—is the deep, almost ethereal bass line that comes in at the halfway point. If your system is properly dialed in, all the recorded elements of this smooth groove come through in perfect proportion.

There's a lot of delicacy to Thievery's mix, but it does not employ any gimmicks—for example, there's no panning. Listen to the individual elements and then appreciate the whole; it should sound "just right" on a good system.


7. Meat Beat Manifesto: "Chimie Du Son" from Answers Come in Dreams


An absolute speaker-wrecker of a track, "Chimie Du Son" is a top choice for a "turn it up and let the system sort it all out" test of frequency response and plain old power.

No joke, this is likely the most sonically intense track on the list in terms of the sheer energy you feel when it plays. Listening to this track ofn a system with deep bass extension and plenty of dynamic headroom is as much a physical experience as it is aural. If your subs are up to it, you'll marvel at intricate use of deep bass near the end of the composition.

"Chimie Du Son" is filled with swirling sounds and subharmonic rumbles, and the mix expands into a huge, detailed soundfield when using a surround upmixer. It's especially interesting to hear the layering and the synthetic textures contained in the track. If your speakers are top-notch and set up properly, it will totally immerse you.

8. Air: "Run" from Talkie Walkie

I first heard Air's "Run" at the 2014 New York Audio Show. I was demoing a system by Gamut, a Danish company that makes some truly great-sounding speakers as well as the electronics to drive them. I was blown away by what I heard at the show.

When I got home and played the track again, I was struck by how much of what I loved about the Gamut system's sound was actually baked into the song's production—it turns out that most decent (or better) systems will sound great playing "Run."

If your speakers image well, "Run" rewards an attentive listen. Synth pads create an ambient wash that envelops you, while a music-box melody and a few detuned synth notes guide you through the journey. The vocals are a bit robotic, and almost spoken rather than sung; they anchor the track quite well by floating dead center as the rest of the instruments envelop them.

Turn up the volume on a full-range system, and an underlying subharmonic texture will emerge from the bass. It's a great track that is equally intriguing played loud or quiet, and it remains an compelling listen even on speakers with limited bass extension.

9. Boards of Canada: "You Could Feel The Sky" from Geogaddi


Masters of deeply layered psychedelic electronica, Boards of Canada make music that reveals a system's ability to render a detailed and enveloping soundfield. Geogaddi is a super-solid listening experience from beginning to end, but "You Could Feel The Sky" is one of the best tracks from the album.

There's a lot of texture and nuance packed into this piece. It evolves from a mix of glitch, noise, and percussion to an ambient and almost meditative blend of a male chant, an ethereal chorus, and ghostly, almost-subliminal voices. This band knows how to produce music that truly surrounds you—even when it's played through a two-channel system. Moreover, this track demands multiple attentive listening sessions, such is its complexity.

10. Bassnectar: "Science Fiction" from Into the Sun

I saved the best for last, at least as far as what I enjoy hearing when pushing a system to its limits. (Of course, if you don't love electronic music, you probably won't agree with my preference.) It's a downtempo, trip-hop, dubstep jam that offers up a grand soundfield, epic visceral electronic bass, and a wide variety of interesting synthesized musical textures. On a system with robust dynamics, you'll get a body buzz from feeling all those textures.

"Science Fiction" is guaranteed to disturb the neighbors when blasted at maximum volume through a competent surround system. The way to listen to Bassnectar is to turn up the subs, engage the surround upmix, and sit back to enjoy the trip.


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post #2 of 177 Old 02-10-2016, 06:57 PM
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Steely Dan's Gaucho has been my go to album, disc as well as Fagan's Nightfly.
Classical is a lot tougher, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition has some dramatic volume and chords that can challenge a system.
Enya's The Celts is another album that I like to use for a wide sound stage that envelopes the listener.
For extreme dynamics the Telarc sampler is a great disc. It has a wide range of music that has something for everyone.
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post #3 of 177 Old 02-10-2016, 07:47 PM
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Nice Mark,

Air is always on high rotation round my parts - and props to the retro throwback from Tones on Tales as well. I'm surprised you've nothing from Portishead's Dummy on here though - but I guess there's really just so many to choose from.

Here's mine: Spotify playlist link: My Top 10 HT tracks


Numb; Portishead:
Spotify Link: https://play.spotify.com/album/3539EbNgIdEDGBKkUf4wno

All is Full of Love; Bjork:
Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/track/3rrtbnOBDzKQfyYKTezEFe

Paradise Circus (Gui Borottao Remix):
Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/track/6rU0dLXyWbXqti69nrQP4H

Winter (Warpaint remix); Daughter:
Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/track/6fhEgxFstF64a8Ud2eOYXB

Shipwreck (feat. Thom York); Modeselektor:
Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/track/4OYatWON6a77QRGwGYZiGJ

Jasmine; Jai Paul:
Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/track/59tpgfXjTc3QR7mWJj8Wln

Sex Born Poison; Air:
(wait for it!)
Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/track/2NVHxR89RDACrAPpckPfkN

Make it Bun Dem; Skrillex & Damian Marley:
Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/track/0mlf3yOGzVnIVxjybDQL3h

Odessa; Caribou:
https://play.spotify.com/track/5K6TfvT7sKAuEatUpHVvPQ

Plague; Crystal Castles:
Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/track/2je5UUEWiLRBk4BZRXz9Ug

The Chauffeur; Warpaint: https://play.spotify.com/track/6QUfedTHo8BZjoEWBgyYnW (No youtube link but if you've Spotify check it out - CRAZY bass after the Madonna-esque intro)

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post #4 of 177 Old 02-10-2016, 07:50 PM
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I am happy to see I already owned 4 of these discs.

The #8 suggestion Air: "Run" from Talkie Walkie, I would change the track to "Alone in Kyoto". I feel that track as a little more to offer. I've often listened to the track and even though I know only my two main speakers are engaged, I am forced to look over at my amps and make sure the surround amps are off because I swear I hear the right side speakers playing. There have even been times I have gotten up and walked to the center channel or one of the surround speaker to find out first hand the speaker isn't playing. The music is different, but entertaining and the entire album is great demo material.

For anyone who likes the Daft Punk "Disc Wars" suggestion, also try "Imagine the Fire" by Hans Zimmer from the Dark Knight Rises soundtrack. Fairly similar.
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post #5 of 177 Old 02-10-2016, 08:54 PM
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OMG, I love this idea. I'm off to put my top10 together. Can this thread become a sticky and everyone put their list up. What an eclectic list that would be, hours of wonderful exploration in listening!!
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post #6 of 177 Old 02-11-2016, 03:21 AM
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Funny that you would mention the John Rutter, Reference Recordings and the pipe organ.


Well, here's another one, but this time with what must be the world's largest tympani. Talk about shaking the house down, but also a superb recording.







Now off to Nils Lofgren and Acoustic Live







Next is Miroslav Vitous - Emergence with what I believe is the best acoustic bass album ever with mind-blowing detail and coherence top to bottom. There's more complexity here than you thought possible from a string bass.







Midnight Sugar - Yamamoto Tsuyoshi Trio. One of the very best jazz recording ever and also very rare is







Now for Harry James - Still Harry After All These Years on Sheffield for the best big band recording I know of with just about perfect sound staging and imaging. Talk about real sounding!





Terrible youtube recording of a fantastic recording, but this is all I could find.






Fast Forward to Sunday for some stunningly well recorded gospel. Not my thing really, but shockingly good sounstaging.







LA Four - Just Friends. Another best jazz album ever - Direct to Disk







Vivaldi Four Seasons - Sir Neville Marriner - 1970 Of the many many Four Seasons that I have, I think I like this one the best. Great for evaluation what massed strings sound like on a system. Relatively few do it well. This was originally a London blue back, but was remastered about 20 years ago on Super Analoque Disk. LP only as far as I know.




I think this is the same recoding








A bunch of other stuff on Michael Fremer's page using one of the best turntables in the world using (generally) the Lyra Atlas cart.


https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCq...mz86juWwzFVSNA

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post #7 of 177 Old 02-11-2016, 05:10 AM
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ok.... Ill play!

These are in no particular order...

Massive Attack - Angel
Portishead - Wandering Star
Nirvana - About a Girl (Live Acoustic)
Kryptic Minds - One of Us
Delilah - Breathe (Emkay Remix)
Automatic Loveletter - Heart Song
Birdy - Wings (nu:Logic Remix)
Aphex Twin - Windowlicker
Delerium - Sky
Alanis Morriset - Uninvited
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post #8 of 177 Old 02-11-2016, 05:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

"...as you'd expect from a Snoop Dogg joint."


I see what you did there.
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post #9 of 177 Old 02-11-2016, 06:39 AM
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Love all these suggestions and I own a lot of them! Recently I have been collecting soundtracks on vinyl and the two that sound really dynamic is Oblivion OST and Interstellar OST. I forgot to add if anybody loves retro synth pop of the 80's/early 90's Turbo Kid OST, music by Le Matos is really good.
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post #10 of 177 Old 02-11-2016, 07:44 AM
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If only we could link to actual CD quality versions of the songs instead of garbage YouTube quality...
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Whoa! Helpful thread...especially, since I just signed up for Spotify trial.

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post #12 of 177 Old 02-11-2016, 07:53 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emcdade View Post
If only we could link to actual CD quality versions of the songs instead of garbage YouTube quality...
It's not free, but all the tracks in my list are available on Tidal. However, I can't speak for the subsequent posts in the comments. Free, legal CD-quality streaming of popular music? Sounds like it would be awesome, but I imagine that's years away.
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post #13 of 177 Old 02-11-2016, 07:58 AM
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Just a little FYI regarding the Air track: though there are female vox elsewhere on the album, this track is sung by one of the Air duo. His voice is very... well, effeminate?

http://www.discogs.com/AIR-Talkie-Wa...elease/1783223
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post #14 of 177 Old 02-11-2016, 08:08 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thrak76 View Post
Just a little FYI regarding the Air track: though there are female vox elsewhere on the album, this track is sung by one of the Air duo. His voice is very... well, effeminate?

http://www.discogs.com/AIR-Talkie-Wa...elease/1783223
Thx, did not know that, fixed.

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post #15 of 177 Old 02-11-2016, 08:12 AM
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I'm a pretty big fan of Audiomachine and Two Steps From Hell, and others that are similar.

Two Steps From Hell - Heart of Courage is pretty fun to just let rip.


Probably my favorite goes to Japanese Wallpaper - Waves (feat. Pepe Knight)
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You forgot Apocalypso by National Health.

Actually, it's all you need.

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post #17 of 177 Old 02-11-2016, 10:45 AM
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Great thread , brilliant suggestions!

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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
It's not free, but all the tracks in my list are available on Tidal. However, I can't speak for the subsequent posts in the comments. Free, legal CD-quality streaming of popular music? Sounds like it would be awesome, but I imagine that's years away.
I've found all but two on Tidal.
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There is only one CD I use for testing of audio equipment. "Moodfood" by the group Moodswings which was released in 1992. I have owned it since then and this has been my go-to for any critical listening for any audio equipment.

Packing a lot of sound into a small room.
268 square feet/2144 cubic feet
7.2 surround sound.
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This album really shines on a good sound system.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by BornSlippyZ View Post
I forgot to add if anybody loves retro synth pop of the 80's/early 90's Turbo Kid OST, music by Le Matos is really good.
Power Glove's OST for Blood Dragon is also really great.


You probably already know about New Retro Wave, but just in case not here is their channel dedicated to this style.

https://www.youtube.com/user/NewRetroWave
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post #23 of 177 Old 02-12-2016, 06:13 AM
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Top 10 Tracks to Test Your Sound System

Quote:
Originally Posted by EvLee View Post
Power Glove's OST for Blood Dragon is also really great.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QZzmMEOedk

You probably already know about New Retro Wave, but just in case not here is their channel dedicated to this style.

https://www.youtube.com/user/NewRetroWave

Yeah thanks! I love that channel and even though I DL the Turbo Kid digitally, I was shocked on how well it sounded on my system! Plus for the price you get 40 plus tracks that is well worth the money.

I forgot to add a track.

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post #24 of 177 Old 02-12-2016, 01:39 PM
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Here's a few of mine:




Wanted to use the studio cut, but couldn't find any HQ's of it on YT, so...

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post #25 of 177 Old 02-12-2016, 03:23 PM
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I largely listen to film scores and one track that I always like to show off my towers is Zoom B, from the Mission: Impossible score by Danny Elfman. It's very busy and chaotic and features some potent bass.

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post #26 of 177 Old 02-12-2016, 04:46 PM
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I listened to Bassnectar's Science Fiction as recommended and it sounds really good. I like a lot of his stuff, but this one might overtake my favorite, "Expanded".

Going to have to give the rest inn this thread a shot. I don't have Spotify yet, does its broadcast through a Chromecast give high quality playback?
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post #27 of 177 Old 02-12-2016, 05:18 PM
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I'll have a go at this.

Rush - La Villa Strangiato (from Hemispheres)
Spoiler!

Libera - I Am The Day (from Angel Voices: Libera In Concert)
Spoiler!

Dire Straits - Private Investigations (from Love Over Gold)
Prelude - After The Goldrush (single)
Spoiler!

Rick Wakeman - Merlin The Magician (from King Arthur)
Spoiler!

Wagner - Ride Of The Valkyries (from DG Classic Gold)
Spoiler!

U2 - With Or Without You (from The Best Of 1980-1990)
Spoiler!

Yes - Awaken (from Going For The One)
Spoiler!

Pink Floyd - A Great Day For Freedom (from The Division Bell)
Spoiler!

Sarah Brightman - A Question Of Honour (from Voce: Beautiful Songs)
Spoiler!
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Spoiler!

Last edited by KJSteward; 02-14-2016 at 06:59 AM. Reason: added YouTube links
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post #28 of 177 Old 02-13-2016, 01:48 PM
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@imagic - Look at what you've caused! Got thur your list and it is ALL new listening for me. I don't know what to say as a LoFi equipped listener, yet even in such a technoLo environment, this post is truly a rainmaker.
@Sean Spamilton - Working my way down your list.. I like seeing my ceiling mounted wind chimes dance.
@Scotth3886 Midnight Sugar.. Ahhhhah... That is so Good!
@Scotth3886 Finished up your list over supper and got my soul fed and my body nourished all at the same time. Thank you for all of you choices.
@ghanley Apocalypso by National Health. Does anybody really make it through all 6:52 minutes of that.. well I did :0
@wiyosaya I know from the first 45 seconds of the first selection that I'm into your 7 selections by default. Thanks for your choices.

@EvLee That was sharp! I put some couch time in on that long track and closed my eyes. wiyosaya's last video had me afraid to blink for a full 5:36 minutes. I needed that 'Into Deep" RnR cause I feel into deep on Madonna blue eyes. You guys need to be AV/DJ's.
@christoofar I listen to Ben Harper over and over and over.. bjork is a no go here so I skipped her.
@Scotth3886 Fixed.. Text file attached below. Go to post.. Edit.. Ctrl A, Delete.. go to downloade text file, Ctrl A, copy, back to empty edit box.. Paste ~ save. Just in case, not necessary!
@KJSteward Rush - La Villa Strangiato starts out slow.. but then.., from Angel Voices "ello, i've a wad of cotton in me ear~" , Ride Of The Valkyries ~ pretending my coffee cup was a helicopter and flew.. thucka... thucka... thucka... thucka..into the kitchen get gobs of sugar preparing for the rest..~ U2 who can't listen to them.. Yes!!!
Spoiler!

@ShoutingMan 30 secs in and then straight to the playlist.. Thanks.

Still moving down the list guys...


Keep em coming, and thanks for the listed audio/visuals everyone.

Last edited by Woobieizer; 06-17-2016 at 01:32 PM.
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post #29 of 177 Old 02-13-2016, 02:07 PM
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Suggestion

If I may be so forthcoming. It would benefit this Thread if the Youtube video links were wrapped in spoilers to help prevent mighty long page loads and browser crashes. I've died twice opening this thread. Save a life, be a friend!
@Scotth3886 @Sean Spamilton @wiyosaya @EvLee @BornSlippyZ @christoofar @QuiGonJosh @ghanley

Example of what I did in Test Post Area
Spoiler!


Thank you again for sharing.
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Last edited by Woobieizer; 06-17-2016 at 01:32 PM.
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post #30 of 177 Old 02-13-2016, 05:15 PM
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When speaker shopping I found George Winston's "Linus & Lucy" helpful. It won't explode subwoofers or destroy your neighbor's house. But the clear, solo piano reveals the difference between bookshelf and full range speakers, and the between good and great full range speakers.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...F0IchVRnX_qZZx

All the songs are good, but the first track, a slower one, was my go-to track.
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