Editor's Note: This article last updated September 21, 2015.
When it comes to buying new speakers, the person selling the speakers to you will discuss things like the response bandwidth, the signal-to-noise ratio, driver units, nominal output power and the magnet type. These specs are all fine and dandy, but when you are buying a new speaker set, you want to know how it sounds. But how do you know the speakers you are buying are good ones?
We scoured the music scene and found ten songs that will test the limits of your speakers. Some of these songs feature a strong bass line, others feature face-melting guitar riffs. Regardless of your style of music, if you take these songs to your local electronics store and play each one at high volume, you'll know whether you want to take those speakers home.
While you're pondering what kind of speakers are best for you, be sure to check out our Portable Speaker review to find out what speakers are best for taking your music out and about. There you will find small speakers, like the X-mini MAX II, the Altec Lansing Orbit MP3 IM237 and the iHome iHM79, that pack a powerful punch, and can handle the rigors of the songs found in this list.
Now, let's get this speaker test started:
#10 Welcome to the Jungle - Guns N' Roses
Background: Originally released in 1987 on the Appetite for Destruction Album, Welcome to the Jungle led the pack of other iconic hard rock anthems such as Paradise City and Sweet Child o' Mine. This song was co-written by Axl Rose and Slash and it reflects the harsh environment of the big city.
Why It Works for a Speaker Test: Axl's voice. The screeching screaming combined with the occasional high-pitched "uh!" will make sure your tweeters are doing what they're supposed to. Also, the memorable opening with the echoing guitar riff (and screeching) is a prime way to test your speakers. Plus, when the drums and bass guitar kick in, you can make sure you have the subwoofer power that you want and need.
#9 Caribbean Blue - Enya
Background: This song came from Enya's meditation-inducing album Shepherd Moons. Enya was quite involved with this song, doing the percussion, keyboards, piano and, of course, the vocals. The album was released in 1991, and Caribbean Blue reached No. 13 on the UK Singles chart. Although you can't tell what she's saying most of the time, Enya does mention the names of several Greek wind gods during this song.
Why It Works for a Speaker Test: Before you get after us for putting any new age music on this list, please note that the Irish-born Enya is known for layering her songs. She'll put multiple audio tracks over one another to create an ethereal and other-worldly feel. Caribbean Blue creates a twirling, swirling, enveloping sound that makes you feel like you're floating on water in a tropical sea. If this song doesn't evoke strong feelings of serenity in your mind, then you're not using the right speakers.
#8 Brass Monkey - Beastie Boys
Background: Straight out of Brooklyn, the Beastie Boys have been creating memorable rhymes and bass lines since 1979, believe it or not. Originally a hardcore punk group, Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock found success in 1986 with their rap/hip-hop hybrid album, Licensed to Ill. Brass Monkey, named after an alcoholic drink, takes its musical background music from the song Bring it Here, by a band called Wild Sugar.
Why It Works for a Speaker Test: One word: Bass! While other songs on the Licensed to Ill album, like Fight For Your Right and Girls, may have received more radio play, Brass Monkey is the acid test of a good subwoofer. This song is likely responsible for a number of blown-out speakers from people who didn't realize how much boom this song was going to produce. Here's a tip: wait 10 seconds after this song starts before you crank it up. It starts soft, but it shakes the room shortly after.
#7 Clair de Lune - Claude Debussy
Background: Clair de Lune is the third movement from Claude Debussy's piano piece, The Suite Bergamasque. Debussy took 15 years to complete all four movements. The phrase, "clair de lune," is French for "moonlight." You'll probably recognize this song from the numerous times it has been used in TV and film. From Ocean's 11 to The Simpsons, this serene piano number is usually played during contemplative media moments.
Why It Works for a Speaker Test: Speakers need to produce silence as much as they need to produce sound. Clair de Lune takes its time and allows for pauses and rests. If your speakers have a high sensitivity rating, then you should not hear a hissing or buzzing during these quiet times. Crank the speakers up and listen to the beautiful high-pitched melody, as well as what's behind the piano notes.
#6 All Along the Watchtower - The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Background: This song was originally written by Bob Dylan in 1967. The Jimi Hendrix Experience saw the value of this protest song and covered it a year later. Hendrix's version had a slower tempo and more guitar distortion, but it kept the same haunting feel as the original. Some say that the enigmatic lyrics echo passages from the Bible, but one can only speculate what Mr. Dylan or Mr. Hendrix were trying to say.
Why It Works for a Speaker Test: Though the lyrics of the song get a lot of attention, the real test of your speakers comes in between the lyrics. From the beginning, with the short guitar riffs and sharp percussion, to the final moments when "the wind [begins] to howl" this song is constantly testing the limits of high and low frequencies and left to right balance. Listening to this song on a good set of speakers will, inevitably, cause you to play air guitar along with Jimi. It may also cause hallucinations.
#5 Axel F - Harold Faltermeyer
Background: This immediately recognizable instrumental song was used as the theme song for the 1984 film, Beverly Hills Cop. The main character of that film, played by Eddy Murphy, was named Axel Foley and so his theme was entitled, logically, Axel F. Three different synthesizers and a drum machine were used to create this iconic 80's tune.
Why It Works for a Speaker Test: Axel F has been remixed and remade multiple times, but the original piece is the one you want to test your speakers. There are also moments of silence and moments of full sound. Make sure to listen closely to see if you can hear the crisp clicking noise in the background. It is mostly high tones, but Axel F is constantly moving around in a way that no traditional instrumental piece can.
#4 William Tell Overture - Gioachino Rossini
Background: The William Tell Overture is more than just the "ba-da-dum ba-da-dum ba-da-dum-dum-dum" theme song from The Lone Ranger TV series. The entire overture is around 12 minutes long and features a number of familiar melodies. Various Merrie Melodies and Silly Symphonies used pieces from this introduction to Gioachino Rossini's opera. It is in four parts: Prelude, Storm, Ranz de Vaches and the Finale.
Why It Works for a Speaker Test: At 12 minutes long, this musical masterpiece will take some time, but it has an impressive range of sound. "Prelude" is quiet and somber, testing how quiet your speakers can really be. "Storm" is a raging, full-blown sound tempest, with booming kettle drums and racing violin chords. In "Ranz de Vaches," a serene oboe and flute take the lead with minimal accompaniment. Finally, in the romping "Finale," the trumpets blare and all the instruments begin to gallop into a cavalcade of sound. This purely symphonic tale can prove if you made the right speaker choice.
#3 Hotel California (Live) - The Eagles
Background: Hotel California was released in 1977 on The Eagle's album of the same name. Almost 20 years later The Eagles released another album, called Hell Freezes Over, featuring a live, and enhanced, version of Hotel California. Don Henley, lead vocals for The Eagles, once stated that this song was their "interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles." It insinuates that, while everything may look fine on the surface, there is a darker side to all the money and fame.
Why It Works for a Speaker Test: While the original song is musically complex enough, the live version brings a whole new level of audio testing to the table. We have actually heard professional sound engineers use this track to test the high and low levels of their equipment. In particular, the acoustic guitar solo at the beginning showcases clear high-pitched tones, and a surprising amount of bass comes out when the bongo drums kick in. This live version of Hotel California is sure to get an approving nod from anyone watching you test the speakers.
#2 Baba O' Riley - The Who
Background: Incorrectly called "Teenage Wasteland" by some, Baba O' Riley was released by The Who in 1971 on the album Who's Next. The title comes from the people who influenced The Who to compose this song: Meher Baba and Terry Riley. An experiment in sound, this song combines heavily synthesized music with traditional instruments. An altered version of this song is the theme for CSI: New York.
Why It Works for a Speaker Test: If the beginning of this song doesn't make you dizzy, you're not listening to the right speakers. The constant left to right motion of the intro is a great way to test each speaker for high-fidelity. The intro eventually gains piano chords, followed by crashing drums, rhythmic guitar and, finally Roger Daltrey's defiant voice. If that weren't enough of a variety of sound, a violin solo just over four minutes in leads into a frantic Irish jig that boils into a frenzied finale. WARNING: Using this song as a speaker test may cause exhaustion.
#1 Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
Background: Bohemian Rhapsody was originally released on the 1975 Queen album, A Night at the Opera. It took three weeks to record, and it was created in five different studios. This rock opera can be split up into six different sections: intro, ballad, guitar solo, opera, hard rock and outro. It did quite well in the 70s, staying at the top of the UK Singles chart for nine weeks. However, it climbed the charts again almost 20 years later, after it was featured in the movie Wayne's World. It is possibly the most complex rock song you will ever hear. With no real repeating chorus, no continuous melody and bizarre, nonsense lyrics, this song was a musical experiment that could have failed - but it didn't.
Why It Works for a Speaker Test: It has every speaker test imaginable. Bohemian Rhapsody features a cappella singing, soft, melodic piano music, booming bass and face-melting guitar riffs - and that is just the first half of the song. There are over 180 separate overdubs in this song. Each level of sound should come through crisp and clear if you're listening to really good speakers. The chorus of voices, led by Freddy Mercury depicts the range of the human voice. There are constant changes to the decibel level and the tempo, as well as continual back-and-forth between the left and right speaker outputs. In short, if the salesperson, who keeps mentioning the input impedance of the speakers, only lets you test one song on the speakers you're looking to buy, make it Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
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