Part of my day job at TONEAudio Magazine deals with evaluating equipment from numerous manufacturers. The Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamonds happen to be one of my reference tools of choice to get the job done.
Here are some tracks that I always use when “at work” to pass judgement on others speakers. Precious few are audiophile standards, because I feel that a great speaker performs well with any kind of music – not just the stuff they play at hifi shows.
Sure this has been on the charts since I was in the 9th grade, but rather than going
for the bass grunt via the opening heartbeat, I prefer the myriad layers of alarm clocks
in this track. A mediocre crossover will muffle the overtones in the alarms, making
them sound brittle. This track is also rather good to determine if your room is sorted
acoustically. Listen closely for things bouncing around the room more than they should.
Hip Hop to judge speaker performance? You bet. If your speakers have high resolution
and great dispersion, when the fly girls in the background coo, “Oh yeaaaah” they should
be sounding like they are giving you a lap dance. If they are back in the same plane as
your speakers, something is not quite right.
The synth bass at the beginning of this track is a little loose to begin with, so crank
it up and see if your speakers pass muster. The riff should grab you straight in the gut,
with plenty of foundations and overtone without getting too boomy. Secure the fine
china before getting too crazy with the volume control. For a similar effect, try
“Moments in Love” from Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise?
A somewhat compressed recording, this one is easy to dismiss as a victim of the “loudness wars,” but a highly resolving speaker will unravel the wall of sound present here, revealing the distinct layers between lead singer Chris Cornell’s screams and Tom Morello’s screaming guitar.
While this is also another great bass record, it has so many layers of texture, with sounds floating all around the soundstage, it should sound like your listening chair is in the middle of a gigantic pair of headphones. Very trippy.
This sparsely recorded track is all midrange. Forget about Diana Krall in Paris, playing this back on the Diamonds sounds so real, it feels like Cash is right there in the room, fussing over his six shooter, getting ready to kill you – as it should. This track also works well to fine tune speaker placement. Go for the biggest, baddest Johnny Cash you can achieve.
This is bop at its best – and perfect for checking dynamics. The horns should be in your face, the drums shouldn’t have to work to fight their way through the mix and the piano should hold its own.
You didn’t think I just listened to metal and Snoop Dogg, did you? I find the piano one of the most difficult instruments to get right and the violin even tougher. When it’s wrong, it’s usually really wrong – i.e. screechy and harsh. The closer your speakers get to sounding like a real violin the better you are. Exquisitely recorded.
Just turn this up as loud as it can go. You’ll see why this track is awesome.
Jeff Dorgay, Editor Tone Audio