Buying a new set of speakers can be an exciting, if bewildering, time. There is plenty to think about when creating a home audio set-up, and while you may have already considered several options from our best smart speakers, or our best soundbars, guides... chances are you will be given a lot of technical information and little real knowledge about how something sounds on your chosen set of speakers.
To help you bypass tech-talk like frequency response, driver units, nominal output ratio (which you can obviously research on your own, if like), 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 complex classical arrangements, others 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. Just be aware that people will stare if you play Welcome to the Jungle at full volume in Walmart.
Some of our favorite smart speakers like the Sonos Move, the Amazon Echo Studio, and the Apple Homepod will handle these tracks superbly, so they're worth considering if you're looking to get maximum sound quality from a smaller device.
1. 'Welcome to the Jungle' by Guns N' Roses
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. It's a great all-rounder. You could also consider Unforgiven, by Metallica, which offers a similar range of audio, mixing quieter moments with killer riffs and different vocal ranges.
2. 'Caribbean Blue' by Enya
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.
3. 'Brass Monkey' by Beastie Boys
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 ten seconds after this song starts before you crank it up. It starts soft, but it shakes the room shortly after. If you're looking for a more modern bass test, something like Earthquake by Labrinth will do the trick very well.
4. 'Clair de Lune' by Claude Debussy
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.
5. 'All Along the Watchtower' The Jimi Hendrix Experience
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.
6. 'Axel F' by Harold Faltermeyer
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. Listening to this in a music store, however, may get you forcefully ejected into the street.
7. 'William Tell Overture' by Gioachino Rossini
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.
8. 'Hotel California (Live)' by The Eagles
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.
9. 'Baba O' Riley' by The Who
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.
10. 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Queen
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.