Our favourite records – headphone tracks

We asked Bowers & Wilkins Applied Research Engineer Stuart Nevill to stick his head over the parapet one more time and choose eight tracks that really benefit from being listened to on headphones.

Paul Simon - GracelandPaul Simon: Homeless (from Graceland)

Ok, so he hijacked a Black Mambazo track but it was my introduction into hi-fi by way of headphones; like most kids I couldn’t afford decent speakers or indeed buying the music in the first place so I confess this intro was via a tape recording of my mate’s dad’s vinyl. Beautifully recorded harmonies that opened the doors somewhat to “world” music. A better pair of headphones enables you to pick out individual voices by physical location, at least in the bits without Paul.


Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club BandBeatles: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band

This track sounds terrible on headphones, really! So it is only here to illustrate what headphones can’t do (and encourage you to buy a great pair of speakers too). It starts off nicely enough with the ambiance of the venue but then switches to crass ’60s left and right stereo. On good speakers you get a massively deep and wide sound-stage with the artists around you, on headphones the vocals are painfully one-sided.  We had the pleasure of hearing this track from the original reels at Abbey Road some years ago whilst they were doing the (very faithful) remaster. Perhaps a headphone-friendly mix could be made?


Bjork: There’s more to life than this (recorded live in the  milk bar toilets)

It is really nice that a simple pair of headphones can take you somewhere even if in this case it is a toilet. This isn’t an audiophile track by any stretch of the imagination and in fact it sounds terrible on loudspeakers because although our brains are quite good at filtering the music from the echoes of one listening room, adding a second makes it really difficult. On headphones, however,  we only hear the room it was recorded in so it is intelligible and  the space is very real. The “non-toilet” track was only available on the single.


Roots ManuvaRoots Manuva: Here we go again

There is an incredible industrial bass on this track that almost works better on headphones than it does on domestic speakers. The sound reminds me of the slap echoes I heard in steel walled corridors of Richard Serra’s exhibition at the Guggenheim in Bilbao.



Nirvana - Come as you areNirvana: Come as you are

Worth listening to both the  album version and the “unplugged in New York” version. People think of Nirvana for grunge but the production on both is excellent and on headphones it is great to be able to follow what individual band members are doing.  Never my thing at the time but have come to appreciate them now.


Outkast - SpreadOutkast: Spread

A somewhat underrated and overlooked track in my humble opinion!  A great song with a novel almost machine gun rhythm, beautifully produced and with an added novelty of a few “BBC sound effects library” grade noises, the pinnacle being the stereo unzipping near the end which is amusing on headphones. Be careful that you don’t start singing along to the lyrics in a public space. I think Andre 3000 won the battle with this track.


Aphex twin - Analogue BubblebathAphex twin: Analogue Bubblebath

This time your headphones take you into the heart of old (even at the time) electronic kit. Richard James’ early work is all about textures and if ever a track did exactly what it said on the tin or sleeve, this is it. Great headphone listening, preferably tucked up in bed with the lights off, and although you are at the heart of the machine it really doesn’t sound synthetic.


Diana Krall: Stop this World

Like all of the team at Steyning, I have absolutely no idea of the musical merit of this track. Diana is certainly a good  singer and this is probably a good song but as far as we are concerned this is sadly just a test signal. It is one of the tracks we listen to over and over again because it is very well recorded and has a decent spectrum of challenging frequencies. So if this doesn’t sound well balanced on your Bowers & Wilkins  headphones nothing will.  Obviously this isn’t the ONLY music we listen to to tune them but don’t be jealous if you believed audio design was about listening to great music all day long.

Get listening!

[Please note, the tracks on the player below are MP3 quality and we recommend you purchase the tracks in the highest quality format available to really appreciate them]

Our favourite records – headphone tracks from societyofsound on 8tracks Radio.


  • George Lynn says:

    My favourite album to listen to with my headphones on is Miles Davis Bitches Brew. I love the title track with that strange echo effect at the start which repeats later on. It is strange and otherworldly and dark. It also has the greatest album art of all time.
    What do other people think about album art?

  • Philip Bergman says:

    Agree. The artist, Abdul Mati Klarwein was a friend and wonderfully charismatic person. Also responsible for Miles Davis’ ‘Live Evil’, Santana ‘Abraxas’ cover art amongst many others.

  • Richard says:

    Some Nights – Fun.

    Breath of Life – Florence + The Machine

    Fantastic drums and depth of sound. My P5s set my senses of fire with these songs.

  • Michele says:

    hi george, you are right
    abdul mati klarwein made lots of great covers/paintings

  • MIke says:

    Led Zeppelin No Quarter from the Houses of the Holy album

  • TuneDelicious says:

    Interesting. You can’t skip tracks to sample them all, because it’s “limited by law.” Which law is that, exactly? Well, we don’t all have 45 minutes to spend on a single web page before we go disk shopping, so that’s kind of self-defeating.

  • keith jurow says:

    The Pat Metheny Group’s album “The Way Up” is an absolutely incredible album to listen to through headphones. The music is so dynamic and there are tons of little subtle details all over this thing that you discover something new with each listen. “Imaginary Day” by the PMG is also a good headphone cd.

  • keith jurow says:

    Actually, now I’m curious how these albums would sound in a pair of Bowers & Wilkins headphones?

  • Peter McConville says:

    Have a listen to the orb album adventures beyond the ultra world, in my opinion what headphones were invented for.

  • Luke says:

    Sgt Pepper is , was and will forever be one of the most interesting tracks recorded and mixes . ( in 1967 headphones on Pepper was mind blowing ) If you figure in the amount of time from stereo recordings to its release it is magic in every way . If count back the years from its release to today and then count back from the time of Pepper’s release , there is nothing to compare . Nothing . So that would be 2012 to 1967 , then 1967 to 1920 . In 1920 it was magic just to get sound out of a machine . Pepper was the first of its kind , one of a kind . Sound going from side to side was REALLY WONDERFUL IN ITS DAY , REALLY YOU HAD TO BE THERE , I WAS ! In 2012 we have gone backwards in almost every way . ITUNES , CHEAP MP3 , ETC . I think that is what makes the recordings of B&W so good and rich . Its really to sad that B&W could not get to do the mastering of all the Beatles’ re-releases. But to compare Pepper to anything else is sad . P.S. the first pressings were / are great

  • Andrew says:

    I only play complete albums and a few that I listened to recently that sounded great on headphones –
    1. Quadrophenia – The Who, the 2011 mix
    2. Spectrum – Billy Cobham
    3. One World – John Martyn
    4. All Saints – David Bowie
    5. Sheik Yerbouti – Frank Zappa
    6. Stormcock – Roy Harper

  • Reinhold says:

    1. Don’t know why – Norah Jones (my girl almost started crying when listening to the 44/16 sample using the P5 on AK100 “Walkman”)
    2. Some tracks on the Paris live album by Diana Krall
    3. The Mothership returns – Return to Forever
    4. Some tracks on Twentysomething and Catching Tales by Jamie Cullum
    Also agree with the Bitches Brew album by Miles Davis

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