Music to Help Set-Up and Understand Your HiFi System

Evaluating your system can be a daunting task. When relying solely on your own ears, a lot of questions may circle around your head and cloud your musical judgement: Am I using the right tracks? How do I know how these songs are intended to sound? What is this piece supposed to tell me about my system? 

At Nordost, we understand your frustration, and we’re here to help!  Below, we will take you through a number of tracks that you can use to help fine-tune your speakers, assess how your components interact, and just see if you are getting the most out of your system. This music has been carefully selected to illuminate specific aspects of system performance and will hopefully prove to be an invaluable tool to further aid you during your system set-up, or to just simply enjoy! 

Yanvalloux — Markus Schwartz and Lakou Brooklyn (Frantz Casseus) — Equinox  

The opening bass line of this track acts as the perfect gauge of bass weight, pace, and pitch. It allows you to instantly hear the impact of changes in speaker position, and shows the balance of bass weight against texture, attack, and articulation. If you listen to the opening bars of this track as you shift the speaker forwards, backward, or sideways, you’ll quickly gain an appreciation for the significance of even the tiniest adjustments. As the track builds, the ability to hear both the shape and rhythmic complexities of the rapidly fingered bass is a sure measure of critical mid-bass clarity. 

From the Soundkeeper Recordings album Equinox (SR1002) by Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn. Production, recording, and mastering by Barry Diament. Copyright Soundkeeper Recordings 2010

Leaves Me Wondering — Eleanor McEvoy — Yola

This is a beautifully recorded and deceptively simple pop song with a minimalist arrangement and a refreshing lack of studio fills. What makes it so revealing of your system’s performance is the relationship between the deep, measured bassline and the clear, focused vocal that drives the song. The key here is the balance between the expressive, emotional immediacy of the voice and the weight and attack in the bass. If the bass is too heavy, it slows the track and trips it as it reaches that upshift; too light and it robs the voice (in fact, the whole song) of presence and impact. Instead, the bassline should be present and bold, but never dominant. It should support the rhythmic shifts and phrasing of the vocal. When you get the immediacy and directness in the voice right, the bass will be just where it should be.  

From the album Yola (Mosco EMCD1) Produced by Eleanor McEvoy and Brian Connor ISRC CODE ISRC-IE-ABB-01-00009 Pub. BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd. (Worldwide except Ireland) E. McEvoy IMRO/MCPS (Ireland) Copyright Blue Dandelion/MOSCO 2001 

Vivaldi – Cello Concerto RV419, 3rd Movement, Allegro — Davide Amadio (Cello), Interpreti Venziani — Vivaldi in Venice 

This small, baroque ensemble is recorded live in the San Vidal Church in Venice. The acoustic is open and very wide, with considerable space on either side of the band, which is placed on a riser, with a dispersive back wall close behind. The result is a clean acoustic, with plenty of air and height, a natural depth perspective that places the harpsichord behind the orchestra, and a real sense of distance between it and the solo cello. However, the real magic in this track lies in the immediacy and energy of the playing, the contrast between the bowed cello and the plucked, pizzicato passages, the range of instrumental colors and textures. Small, but perfectly formed, this is a natural recording that captures the energy, texture, and vibrant harmonics of these acoustic instruments, as well as the verve and precision of the players. The tonal separation of the instruments should be as apparent as their spacing, while the harpsichord should jangle, not grate. 

From the album Vivaldi In Venice (Chasing The Dragon, VALCD008). Recorded and produced by Mike and Francoise Valentine. Copyright Chasing The Dragon 2018 

Cole Porter — Too Darn Hot — Clare Teal with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra — A Tribute To Ella Fitzgerald 

Here we have classic big-band action from the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, supporting Clare Teal in an arrangement of the equally classic Cole Porter number, Too Darn Hot. Double-banked, they let fly with presence, power, and dynamic range to burn. The band plays it straight, beautifully balanced against a vocal that gives just enough of a nod to Ella, without trying to beat her at her own game. Big band is always a stern test of system dynamics and headroom, and this track is a perfect example of that. 

From the album A Tribute To Ella Fitzgerald (Chasing The Dragon, VALCD003). Recorded and produced by Mike and Francoise Valentine. Copyright Chasing The Dragon 2016 

Your Colour — Calypso 

A simply beautiful track captured in a single, unrehearsed take, featuring the fragile vocals and poised playing of the young but outrageously talented Calypso – and yes, that really is her name. The slurred diction (especially on the opening lines), emotive phrasing, and widely spaced piano notes are an acid test of speaker toe-in and rake angle. The voice should be focused and clearly defined in space, even if the words aren’t, while the placement of the piano notes should add to the song, not hold it back. Be prepared to work with both speakers until you get close, at which point tiny angular adjustments of just one speaker will lock the recording in space, giving it an achingly natural sense of pace and flow.

Recorded and produced by Chris Binns/Primary Acoustics – all rights reserved. 

Kote Moun Yo? — Markus Schwartz and Lakou Brooklyn (Trad. Arr, Markus Schwartz & Monvelyno Alexis) — Equinox  

Complex, Haitian-inspired percussion patterns and instruments play against bass, trumpet, and guitar. From the opening conch call to the diverse percussion, the live-looped drum tracks to the sparse guitar and trumpet lines, this is a test of any system’s rhythmic and musical integrity, transparency, and focus. The dense, overlaid drum patterns and upright bass require low-frequency agility and clarity, testing the system’s ability to keep pace with the sharply drawn melodies played on the solo instruments. This track should have an infectious, toe-tapping quality. If it doesn’t, you know there’s something wrong… 

From the Soundkeeper Recordings album Equinox (SR1002) by Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn. Production, recording, and mastering by Barry Diament. Copyright Soundkeeper Recordings 2010 

If You Had A Heart — Eleanor McEvoy and Damon Butcher — Forgotten Dreams 

Here we have Eleanor McEvoy’s familiar voice once again, but this time exposed in a pared-back recording accompanied by guitar and piano.  This is a deeply emotional song and performance that, on the best systems, should have an almost reach-out-and-touch realism to it – a quality that’s even more apparent on the direct-cut LP. 

Jennifer Kimball / Eleanor McEvoy / Henry Priestman pub. EMI Blackwood, From the album Forgotten Dreams (Chasing The Dragon VALCD006). Recorded and produced by Mike and Francoise Valentine. Copyright Chasing The Dragon 2018 

Georges Bizet — Habanera (from Carmen) — Rosie Middleton (Mezzo Soprano), Debbie Wiseman (Cond.), National Symphony Orchestra — España 

Bizet’s most popular opera, and arguably one of opera’s most popular songs— the Habanera from Carmen will be familiar to all. What this track brings is a full orchestra, captured in the large hall at Air Studios, with a well-developed sense of acoustic space. Add in mezzo-soprano Rosie Middleton, standing in the heart of the orchestra, and you have a verifiable test for sound staging and height differentiation. Middleton’s voice should be clearly placed amidst, but above, the surrounding strings, and in front of the winds.

From the album España (Chasing The Dragon VALCD004). Recorded and produced by Mike and Francoise Valentine. Copyright Chasing The Dragon 2017 

You can find these tracks included in Nordost’s System Solution Set-Up and Tuning Disc Set.

To help you get the absolute most from your system set-up, this set also includes:

  • Essential channel and phase checks.
  • Multiple pink and white noise signals for speaker/room diagnostics.
  • Sophisticated LEDR tests to optimize speaker placement.
  • System maintenance tracks (De-Gauss and Burn-In)
  • Low-frequency tones specially designed and configured to map room modes and aid speaker placement or subwoofer positioning and integration.

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