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Does Music Preference Impact Sound Impressions? What is Honest Audiophile Reference Music?

Updated: Jan 23


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Music is all around us and there are so many artists, songs, and genres to choose from; options seem endless.

Everyone listens to different music; we all have preferences in artists and genres.

There is nothing wrong with liking one artist over another or a certain genre over another. But does that impact your sound impressions of gear? Are there certain genres of music or certain songs that reveal more about gear than others?


NOTE: Please keep in mind that I am not a professional sound engineer, producer, musician, or vocalist, etc. I have not done any scientific research, measurements, or in-depth testing of any kind; just my own listening, comparing and internet reading/research. I have limited, real-life experience with recording, mixing and mastering gear. I have been involved since my teenage years with various churches as an amateur sound booth technician.

Please take these thoughts, opinions and reasonings as just that, my honest audiophile thoughts, opinions and reasonings.


The answer is simple, YES! Music preferences impact gear impressions. Here are my thoughts and why!


Orchestral, jazz, and acoustic genres are the best recordings for presenting a natural and realistic reproduction of instruments and vocalists.


Every piece of gear that I review goes through an extensive listening and scrutinizing period. I have several playlists that I use during that time with various genres, artists, and songs.


In every video description there is a list of twenty-one songs and what I am looking for when listening to them. These songs are the final exam of all gear that I review. Each DAC, amplifier, headphone, or earphone are intensely listened to, scrutinized, and compared to my benchmark gear with these twenty-one songs. These twenty-one songs are my benchmark and are the final and defining listening sessions to whether the gear under scrutiny is worthy of a recommendation or not. Do keep in mind that I listen to a lot more songs prior to the final exam and a lot of impressions are already set but the final exam confirms all of it.


Tingvall Trio “Beat” - Beat by Tingvall Trio (songwhip.com)

Sinne Eeg “We’ve Just Begun” - We've Just Begun by Sinne Eeg, The Danish Radio Big Band (songwhip.com)

Molly Johnson “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” - What a Little Moonlight Can Do by Molly Johnson (songwhip.com)

Leslie Odom Jr. “Under Pressure” - Under Pressure by Leslie Odom Jr. (songwhip.com)

Eric Clapton “Change the World” - Change the World by Eric Clapton (songwhip.com)

Yo Yo Ma “Ecstasy of Gold” - Sergio Leone Suite: Ecstasy of Gold from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" by Yo-Yo Ma, Ennio Morricone, Roma Sinfonietta (songwhip.com)

Adam Baldych “Spem in Alium” - Spem in Alium by Adam Baldych (songwhip.com)

Pain of Salvation “Stress” - Stress by Pain of Salvation (songwhip.com)

Michael Buble “When I Fall in Love” - When I Fall in Love by Michael Bublé (songwhip.com)

Patricia Barber “Code Cool” - Code Cool by Patricia Barber (songwhip.com)

Christian Scott “New New Orleans” - New New Orleans (King Adjuah Stomp) by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (songwhip.com)

Tool “Chocolate Chip Trip” - Chocolate Chip Trip by TOOL (songwhip.com)

Hans Zimmer “Why So Serious” - Why so Serious? by Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard (songwhip.com)

Marcus Miller “No Limit” - No Limit by Marcus Miller (songwhip.com)

Dave Holland Quartet “Conference Of The Birds”- Conference Of The Birds by Dave Holland Quartet (songwhip.com)

Ilhan Eshkeri “47 Ronin”- 47 Ronin by Ilan Eshkeri (songwhip.com)

Hans Zimmer “2049” - 2049 by Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch (songwhip.com)

Cher “Believe” - Believe by Cher (songwhip.com)

Stanley Clarke “Passenger 57 main title” - Passenger 57 Main Title by Stanley Clarke (songwhip.com)

Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra “The Pine of the Appian Way” - https://tidal.com/browse/track/12064811

Houston Person “You are my Sunshine” - You Are My Sunshine by Houston Person, Ron Carter (songwhip.com)


Playlist link for Tidal: https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/5bbf80ce-33f3-4222-a1fc-6539a95415d6


There are so many variables that come into play when we scrutinize gear but the most important are quality recordings and neutral, natural, accurate sources. When I am reviewing, I want the most accurate and true reproduction of the music as possible so that I can give the most honest impressions of the gear.

I use Audirvana Studio as my music management program, and have it set to play "bit-perfect" and do not use any of the enhancement options that are available.

I listen at volume levels between 65db and 75db.

I use the Mytek Liberty DAC as my benchmark DAC as it offers the most neutral, natural, and accurate sonics.

I use the HeadAmp GS-X Mini as my benchmark amplifier as it offers the cleanest and most accurate sonics.

Headphones that I use are the MrSpeakers Ether C and the Rosson Audio Design RAD-o as both offer the best neutral, natural and accurate reproductions of sound.

I also use the CTM Da Vinci X, ADV M5-12D and Fearless Audio Roland as IEM benchmarks.

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Let's breakdown each song on my list individually and I will give a more in-depth look as to why I have chosen them and use them as my benchmark songs.


Tingvall Trio “Beat”- https://songwhip.com/tingvalltrio/beat

What to Listen to:

Natural piano tone and timbre

Percussion tone and timbre

Bass tone and timbre


Notes: This song has fantastic piano tonality; you can clearly hear the piano tone with its sharp edges and bite; there is fantastic timbre. You can clearly follow the piano through the track without it getting lost behind the other instruments. If the piano gets swallowed up or sounds recessed and behind in the mix, then your gear has recessed midrange. If the piano is thin and lean sounding, then your gear lacks note weight and density.


Sinne Eeg “We’ve Just Begun” - https://songwhip.com/sinneeeg/weve-just-begun


What to Listen to:

Accurate stage depth, layering and imaging

Female vocalist tone and timbre


Notes:

This is an example of multiple layers in a soundstage and exceptional imaging. There are instruments all over the stage, but you can easily place each one if the gear has quality skills in imaging. If the gear lacks imaging this song will sound boring and three blobbed and the various instruments will meld together and will sound similar or the same.


Molly Johnson “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” - https://songwhip.com/molly-johnson/what-a-little-moonlight-can-do


What to Listen to:

Female vocalist tone and timbre

Piano tone timbre

Accurate stage depth and layering


Notes:

Molly Johnson has a unique, beautiful voice and this track is a splendid example of female vocal tone. She has tremendous control of her breathing and voice inflections and on quality gear you can subtly hear all of them. On gear that struggles with tone and timbre, this song will sound off putting, it will sound boring and flat. Also, instruments will overpower Molly's vocals on gear that is too V-shaped.

Leslie Odom Jr. “Under Pressure” - https://songwhip.com/leslie-odom-jr/under-pressure


What to Listen to:

Male vocalist tone and timbre

Detail retrieval, resolution and control


Notes:

Leslie Odom Jr. has a distinctive male voice that is front and center on this track. Leslie has controlled breathes and voice inflections in the song that are clearly heard on quality gear. If gear struggles with tone and timbre this song will sound flat and lifeless.

V-shaped signatures will overpower this track in the bass and treble and Leslie's vocals will sound distant on the stage.


Eric Clapton “Change the World” - https://songwhip.com/eric-clapton/change-the-world


What to Listen to:

Male vocalist tone and timbre

Imaging, layering and placement


Notes:

This track has a lot going and is a great reference track for many reasons, but I focus on the soundstage, layering and placement aspects. The stage is very well defined, and the placement of the instruments and Eric Clapton are clear as day. Layering is phenomenal on this track and there is no melding or overlapping, nothing is competing for attention, all instruments are audible and easy to follow. If the gear struggles with staging, depth, layering and placement then this track will sound cramped and smushed.


Yo Yo Ma “Ecstasy of Gold” -https://songwhip.com/yo-yo-ma/essential-yo-yo-ma


What to Listen to:

Natural tone and timbre


Notes:

One of the most famous movie theme songs of all time, this track is an accurate reproduction of tone and timbre. Clearly defined timbre of instruments and accurate tone of an orchestra is on full display. If the gear sounds metallic or plasticky or rubbery then it is struggling with tone and timbre.


Adam Baldych “Spem in Alium” - https://songwhip.com/adam-baldych/spem-in-alium


What to Listen to:

Natural tone and timbre

Accurate note weight and density

Percussive impact


Notes:

This track is an accurate reproduction of tone and timbre. All instruments portrayed are exceptionally reproduced with accuracy. Note weight and density is life-like and true. If this track sounds thin, lean or off-putting or very thick and bass prominent then the gear struggles with accuracy in tone and timbre.


Pain of Salvation “Stress” - https://songwhip.com/pain-of-salvation/stress


What to Listen to:

Bass extension

Natural tone and timbre

Control

Percussion balance and cohesion


Note:

A fantastic bass and percussion balance test. There is a very well-defined bass line with this track. This track portrays a balanced approach while being expressive under control.

With V-shaped signature gear this track will be very bass prominent and overly expressive in the upper midrange and lower treble regions. Gear that struggles with resolution/definition will smear this track and it will have one-note percussion strikes and an ill=defined bassline.


Michael Buble “When I Fall in Love” - https://songwhip.com/michael-buble/when-i-fall-in-love


What to Listen to:

Male vocalist tone and timbre

Dynamics throughout the entire frequency response

Soundstage depth, layering


Notes:

Dynamic range is on full display with this track. There are rises and dips throughout this track along with fantastic stage depth and layering. If gear struggles with depth and layering this track will sound like a straight line across the stage in front of you. If gear struggles with dynamic range the track will struggle with energy and emotion and will sound lackluster.


Patricia Barber “Code Cool” - https://songwhip.com/patricia-barber/code-cool (Beware this track is painful on most gear)


What to Listen to:

Sibilance

Hot treble


Notes:

There are many opportunities for sibilance and hot treble with track. Now keep in mind, there is a bit of natural sibilance that occurs with Patricia's voice but starting after the 1;30 mark there is significant amounts of sibilance and hot treble. This track is painful on gear that struggles with sibilance and hot treble, but it is tolerable for gear that has accurate tone, timbre and is elevated to natural levels in the upper mids and treble. If the song is unbearable then the gear is overly elevated and struggles with tone and timbre.


Christian Scott “New New Orleans” - https://songwhip.com/christian-scott-atunde-adjuah/new-new-orleans-king-adjuah-stomp

(Beware this track can be painful on a lot of gear)


What to Listen to:

Forward upper mids/lower treble

Sharpness

Harshness

Lackluster detail resolution


Notes:

This track is aggressive and edgy and can be fatiguing. There is excellent tone and timbre. The resolution/definition is slightly sloppy. The potential for the upper midrange and lower treble to be shouty is very real. On gear that has upper midrange and lower treble that is elevated to natural levels this song will be border-line intense. On gear that is overly elevated this song will be intolerable and will sound like the trumpet bell is centimeters from your ears.


Tool “Chocolate Chip Trip” - https://songwhip.com/tool-2/chocolate-chip-trip


What to Listen to:

Imaging

Precision

Stage width, depth and layering


Notes:

Another classic track that I use as an image test. There are so many elements floating, shuffling, moving about the stage on this track it is crazy, controlled chaos. Depth, layering, and width are on full display and placement is impeccable. Good imaging gear will put you on the drummer stool, this song will bring out the best "air" drummers. Gear that struggles with imaging will portray this track with a three-blob effect and there will be gaps as elements travel around the stage.


Hans Zimmer “Why So Serious” - https://songwhip.com/hans-zimmer/why-so-serious


What to Listen to:

Sub bass extension

Bass punch, slam, impact


Notes:

Another popular track that is a notable example of extension, especially bass extension. As the track builds in suspense, the bass extension grows. Gear that is rolled off in the bass regions will sound less imposing. Gear that lacks extension will not portray a lot of the deeper segments of the song and it will lack detail and definition in those sections of the track.


Marcus Miller “No Limit” - https://songwhip.com/marcus-miller/no-limit


What to Listen to:

Bass tone, timbre, and control


Notes:

Controlled bass is what I look for on this track. The bassline is defined clearly, and the instruments are reproduced with accurate tone and timbre. Gear that is not elevated correctly, or is bloated, or muddy will struggle with this track as the bassline will become one-note and thick or will be too thin and lean.


Dave Holland Quartet “Conference Of The Birds”- https://songwhip.com/dave-holland-quartet/conferenceofthebirds


What to Listen to:

Natural tone and timbre

Realistic stage width, depth and layering

Detail retrieval and resolution


Notes:

There is a lot going on within this track and it all should flow easily and cohesively.

A different approach to controlled bass on this track as it is more about the tone, timbre, note weight and density. Also, this track is exceptional for stage width, depth, layering and imaging. Every element of this track is easily identified and can be followed throughout the track. If gear struggles with tone and timbre this track will reveal it. If gear struggles with imaging, depth, layering and width this track will sound compressed and muddled.


Ilhan Eshkeri “47 Ronin”-https://songwhip.com/ilan-eshkeri/47-ronin


What to Listen to:

Dynamic range

Percussion impact

Instrumentation

Tone and timbre

Realistic stage width, depth and layering


Notes:

A track that has an orchestra in full throat with dynamic range and overall dynamic punch and slam. This track is a perfect example of tone and timbre of an orchestra with the peddle to the metal. There is exemplary control and resolution on this track. The soundstage portrays the size of a music hall and there is great depth and layering. Instrument separation is natural and accurate. On gear that struggles with tone and timbre there will be dullness and inability to differentiate between instruments and melding will occur. Gear that struggles with detail retrieval and resolution will make this track sound one-note. Gear that struggles with staging, layering and separation will cause this track to sound compressed.


Hans Zimmer “2049” - https://songwhip.com/hans-zimmer/2049


What to Listen to:

Sub bass extension

Sibilance

Percussive impact

Upper mids/lower treble forwardness

Stage width

Imaging


Notes:

This track has two main things that are checked, sub bass presence and sibilance. Most noticeable is the sub bass presence throughout. But there is upper midrange elevation that is prone to sibilance as well. This track will sound either too thick and muddy or thin and lean in the bass on gear that isn't properly portraying sub bass. Sibilance is part of this track, but it will be overly intense on gear that is elevated to improper levels.


Cher “Believe” - https://songwhip.com/cher/believe

(Beware this track is painful on most gear)


What to Listen to:

Sibilance

Hot treble

Distortion


Note:

Notoriously known as a sibilance test track and rightly so but this track is also a reference for hearing distortion. Keep in mind this track has some natural sibilance, but it shouldn't be annoyingly intense. Gear that struggles with detail retrieval will not portray the distortion that is in this track, most noticeable during the chorus. Gear that is overly elevated to unnatural levels in the upper midrange section will sound intensely sibilant and shouty with this track.


Stanley Clarke “Passenger 57 main title” - https://songwhip.com/stanley-clarke/passenger-57-main-title


What to Listen to:

Bass extension

Bass control

Percussive impact

Imaging

Placement


Notes:

This track is an example of imaging, separation and placement in bass and percussion. Gear that is boosted in the bass will cause this track to sound too thick, muddy, and sluggish. Gear that struggles with detail retrieval, resolution, imaging, separation, and placement will portray this track with a narrow and compressed stage that lacks details.


Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra “The Pine of the Appian Way” -https://songwhip.com/slovak-radio-symphony-orchestra/famous-symphonic-poems-vol-2


What to Listen to:

Realistic soundstage width, depth, and layering

Instrumentation

Separation

Natural tone and timbre


Notes:

This track is excellent for checking the soundstage, imaging, separation, dynamic range as the entire orchestra is on display. As the track builds in intensity there is a defined bass line, various sections of instruments to check for tone and timbe and then as the conclusion nears the stage width and depth and then details and resolution/definition all get tested. There is consistent separation throughout, imaging is spectacular as you can place all the instruments and follow them through the track. And the dynamic range from low to high and everything in-between. Gear that struggles with detail retrieval will sound bland. Gear that struggles with resolution/definition will sound smeared and blurred. Gear that struggles with tone and timbre will throe off the entire tonality of this track. Gear that does not image well will cause this track to sound muddled. Gear that struggles with stage width, depth and layering will cause this track to sound compressed and lifeless.


Houston Person - “You are my Sunshine” - https://songwhip.com/houston-person/you-are-my-sunshine


What to Listen to:

Natural tone and timbre

Realistic detail retrieval and resolution


Notes:

My personal favorite acoustical track and my go to tone and timbre track. This track should sound like you have the bass in your hands. This track has the most accurate note weight and density and purest reproduction of tone and timbre. If the bass doesn't sound realistic or you can't differentiate that then the gear struggles with tone and timbre.

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You more than likely noticed that I don't have a lot of diversity in my final, reference playlist. Do not fret! I listen to all sorts of music; if you are curious, I can link you to some playlists from Tidal or individual songs with Songwhip.com.

Why do I choose to feature these songs? Orchestral, jazz, and acoustic genres are the best recordings for presenting a natural and realistic reproduction of instruments and vocalists. I added in a few other genres that I feel add in different elements of music that are important to test gear.

I use these tracks and these genres because they include the most important aspects of music in natural tone, timbre, accurate soundstage width, depth, layering and reproduce accurate imaging, placement with excellent details and resolution.

To understand if gear has good tone and timbre, the music must use acoustical instruments. Natural and accurate levels of reproduction is what an audiophile seeks and that isn't obtained by gear that is boosted, elevated, and enhanced.

To utterly understand the capabilities of gear you need reference music that is reproduced in a natural and accurate way.

If gear can accurately portray a tonally correct piece of music, it can portray anything accurately.

Starting with a neutral and natural DAC and amp and an honest, tonally correct track; you can determine if a headphone, earphone, or speaker is struggling in any way of sonic reproduction.


In all honesty, music preference has nothing to do with testing gear. The truth of the matter is that it is the actual recording, what instruments and how they are recorded, that matters the most. Limiting your test material to one or a few genres will limit your impression of the gear. By expanding your test tracks list to cover a variety of genres, you will expand the opportunities to find out more capabilities or disabilities that your gear has. Also, being extremely familiar with the test tracks and source gear is important so that you can determine when something isn't being reproduced properly.


So, does your music preference impact your sound impressions? YES, yes it does! If you understand what you are seeking for your music preference and what the reviewer is listening to and how the reviewer explains it all; then you can find the gear, you are seeking. But if you don't understand what the reviewer listens to for reviews and what they mean with terms and definitions then you may be in for a frustrating search. It is particularly important in my humble opinion that you get to know your reviewer as best as possible, understand their terms, definitions, music preferences, gear used;

Watch the "Get to know the Honest Audiophile" playlist on YouTube:

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFpndZVz25TJfPKx-OLMpovQP-QeNatDh


Remember to Enjoy the Music and Honesty is the Best Policy!


Bonus tracks:


Diana Krall - "Singing in the Rain" - https://songwhip.com/diana-krall/singing-in-the-rain


Listen for:

Natural tone and timbre

Separation

Female vocalist tone and timbre


40 Fingers - "Last of the Mohicans" - https://songwhip.com/40fingers/last-of-the-mohicans-live


Listen for:

Natural tone and timbre

Separation

Realistic detail retrieval and resolution


David Phelps - "America the Beautiful/God Bless America Medley" - https://songwhip.com/david-phelps/america-the-beautiful-god-bless-america-medley


Listen for:

Male vocalist tone and timbre

Natural tone and timbre

Separation

Layering


Remember to Enjoy the Music and Honesty is the Best Policy!


Discord: https://discord.gg/kuHQQRS5qB

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/B4LG7Kqp_7f/?igshid=1pj7fm78gz0h2

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TalkDbs @TalkDbs

Website: https://www.thehonestaudiophile.com

Patreon : https://www.patreon.com/theHonestAudiophile

YouTube membership: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgMj7xJ1SDxGqqxZ5l3g_jg/join

The Honest Audiophile research/review process: https://youtu.be/UkSnoZZNyYc

Tierlist:https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1nRHnsP_4vLg9DlD9kwJ6gQuEQFqhTR0lnrkxXo3AMG8/edit?usp=sharing

Audio Terms/Definitions: https://www.thehonestaudiophile.com/post/the-honest-audiophile-s-terms-and-definitions-guide


Recommended Gear:

Rosson Audio Design RAD-0: http://www.rossonaudiodesign.com/

Meze Empyrean: https://mezeaudio.com/products/meze-empyrean

Hifiman Ananda: https://hifiman.com/products/detail/290

Sennheiser HD600: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/best-audio-headphones-high-end-stereo-hifi-hd-600

Sennheiser HD660s: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/hd-660-s

MrSpeakers Ether C (non flow version) https://danclarkaudio.com/

(similar to:) https://drop.com/buy/drop-mrspeakers-ether-cx-closed-headphones?utm_source=linkshare&referer=FTSS2S

Aueze LCD 2 Closed: LCD-2 Closed Back (audeze.com)

ADV. M5-12D: https://www.adv-sound.com/collections/pro-audio/products/m5-12d-universal

Empire Ears ESR: https://empireears.com/products/esr-b-stock

Tin Hifi T3 Plus:TINHIFI T3 PLUS 10mm LCP Diaphragm Hi-Fi Earphone – Linsoul Audio

Tin Hifi T2: https://www.linsoul.com/products/tinhifi-t2?_pos=1&_sid=7cddd72dc&_ss=r&variant=34447375302811

Moondrop SSR: https://www.moondroplab.com/ssr

Sony NW-A105: https://electronics.sony.com/audio/walkman-digital-recorders/walkman-mp3-players/p/nwa105-b

Sony NW-WM-1a: https://electronics.sony.com/audio/walkman-digital-recorders/walkman-mp3-players/p/nwwm1a

Mytek Liberty: https://mytekdigital.com/hifi/products/liberty-dac/

HeadAmp GSX-Mini: https://www.headamp.com/products/gs-x-mini

Soekris DAC1421: https://soekris.modhouseaudio.com/soekris-audiophile-line/dac-1421

Tor Audio Roger: https://toraudio.com/main.html#

Schiit Auido BiFrost 2: https://schiit.com/products/bi-frost-1

Massdrop THX AAA 789:

https://drop.com/buy/drop-thx-aaa-789-linear-amplifier?utm_source=linkshare&referer=FTSS2S

Massdrop THX AAA One Linear: https://drop.com/buy/drop-thx-aaa-one-linear-amplifier?utm_source=linkshare&referer=FTSS2S

Massdrop Grace Design SDAC-B: https://drop.com/buy/drop-grace-design-standard-dac-balanced?utm_source=linkshare&referer=FTSS2S


If you like the content of this channel and want to see more like this in the future, please consider donating. All funds donated to the channel will be used to purchase headphones and audio gear for the channel.

Paypal: https://www.paypal.me/dbsylvia

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If you would like to contact the channel please send an email to: dbstechtalk@gmail.com


Affiliate links:

Drop: https://massdrop.7eer.net/VXvyJ

Apos Audio: https://apos.audio?sca_ref=45218.8XN5h6dArS

ADV-Sound: https://adv-sound.com/?mct=8ENJK5lB promo code: DavidS10

Gestalt Audio: https://gestalt.audio promo code: DBS

HifGo: https://hifigo.com/?rfsn=5772588.cbfbb66

Linsoul: https://www.linsoul.com?sca_ref=910677.dpweP21PzL





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A question I get asked often is, what gear do I use to review and compare? In most reviews, I mention what gear I used but I don't always mention what is my benchmark gear. Below is a list of gear th