I usually bring music material. Something I am very farmiliar with and have heard in a number of setups, so I know what to expect and can better evaluate performance. I also believe a variety is good (classical, rock, etc...).
Need something to bring to the local store with me tomorrow
The following are general comments and observations from my experience. Bring:
1) Your ears. :>) This may seem like a smarta** comment, but if you have been exposed to loud sound just before your speaker audition and your ears are still "ringing", the results will not be too good. And in general, try to be well rested and in a good frame of mind, so you can objectively evaluate what you are hearing without having to "filter out" the effects of fatigue or anger over something completely unrelated. Our "hearing" (our listening, our ability to concentrate and evaluate, anyway) is affected by things like that.
2) Your previous listening experience. "Brainstorm" in advance what you have like and disliked about previous listening experiences and make a note (either mental note or, even better, a jotted down checklist) of the qualities you are looking for and then see how the auditioned speakers compare to this template. And don't go in so hung over or lacking of rest that you can't even remember the last time you listened to music. :>) (I've tried it and it doesn't work.) :>)
3) Source material with which you are already familiar. If you have a few favorite recordings that you have played on a variety of systems, they are the ones to start with. They don't even have to be the "best" recordings or "demo-quality" blockbusters, as long as you are familiar with what they sound like -- as a fair baseline for comparison with what the new speakers sound like. Do the new speakers overly emphasize some parts of the frequency range, or have a good balance to reproduce these selections they way they should be heard?
Of course, it is good to have a variety of material of different musical genres with different instrumental combinations and at least some vocal music (preferably acoustical rather than electronically enhanced for a real test of how well the speakers render life-like sound), but if all you listen to at home is acid rock, or Tibetan temple bells, then that is what you should take to the demo.
4) A sound pressure level meter. Salesmen know that whatever they play louder will typically register as "better" so if you are comparing speakers, the only way you can know for sure is to set the volume at the same level. Before you go, play the demo material at home at your accustomed volume and note the sound pressure level (SPL). Then at the demo, set the volume for the same SPL. And if they switch to another set of speakers, check SPL and set SPL to match again. And for heaven's sake, don't let them "break your eardrums" with music play WAY too loud -- the SPL meter will help determine that too, because a really high quality system can play at dangerous levels without showing signs of distortion or strain that would otherwise warn us to "turn it down". BTW -- if the salesman insists on keeping control of the demo to the point he won't let you set the volume levels, walk out. Get a different salesman, or go somewhere else.
5) Notepad and pen. Our aural memory isn't the only thing that has short duration. Your SPL readings, for example are better written down than "remembered". And especially jot down your immediate impressions of what you hear -- bright, muffled, warm, balanced, lacking dynamics, too much noise, or whatever -- for each speaker, and perhaps even the various demo tracks. Remember though that while this is an analysis project, not a concert, you still need to pay enough attention to the music (rather than be buried in your notes) to have something to write about! Having the notepad and pen handy will also be useful for jotting down prices, etcetera.
6)An empty DayPlanner Not really the "book" itself, but an uncrowded schedule. Plan on taking plenty of time to do the auditioning, not having to rush in and out between other appointments. I've seen other folks sweep in, listen to about 10 soundbites of about five seconds each and then dash out -- and that was it for their speaker "audition". While some characteristics of speakers can be determined with short bursts of the "right" sounds, overall listenability and musicality will only be apparent with more extended listening.
In addition to the above good advice, you may want to listen to a really bad system and a really big buck system and then see how few bucks you need to spend to get close to the big buck system. You may be surprised at how few that can be. Try and listen to speakers using comparable equipent
In addition to you favorite music, very good solo piano and guitar music will show up the faults and good points in speakers.
A soprano like Kathleen Battle singing "Je suis Titania" (Deutche Grammophon 44711-2) will just shred a bad system and speakers. This is my acid speaker test
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