Have you ever set up your brand new pair of speakers and wondered how to test them of their quality? Here’s what I do.
1. Test how accurately the speaker can replicate noise
I’m not talking about white noise, but rather, the random sounds of life you experience each and every day. I’m a fan of nature in general, despite my inclination towards electronics, so I opt for the sound of rain or thunder. You can also choose the sound of traffic or other man-made noises you have become familiar with over time. A good speaker should be able to deliver realism to the listener, even if it doesn’t pertain to a musical instrument or song.
2. Test how accurately the speaker can replicate an acoustic instrument
I’m a pianist at heart, so I play Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat major. You’ll have surely heard the piece in commercials or in fancy restaurants, so it’s one I can suggest whole-heartedly. This test is great for musicians who may be very familiar with a particular instrument and can expect a certain sound to come out of their speakers.
3. Test how accurately the speaker can replicate the human voice
Have you ever been to an opera house? It isn’t the sheer volume that these singers can produce that impresses, it is the power and richness that will force you to appreciate their craft and training. In the same way, your speakers should be able to impress without needing to crank out obnoxious amounts of sound. The human voice is actually a composite of different frequencies layered on top of each other, so look out for the thinning or lack of fullness (resonance) in the human voice from cheaper speakers.
4. Test for dynamic range using a movie soundtrack
Most pop music nowadays is compressed in order to reduce their dynamic range. All this means is that the producer has artificially kept the volume consistent throughout the entire song, even if the individual instruments may have been played at different volumes. One workaround is to play a movie soundtrack through your speakers. In a movie theater, the composer often desires dynamic contrast, so their music can serve as a great test for your speaker’s dynamic range. The more convincing the range, the better the speaker.
5. Test for stereo and other effects
The best remixes are able to incorporate some technical tricks in order to breathe life into a song they can’t call their own. These tricks often include stereo effects where the sound will travel from the left and right speaker or a pulsing effect that is becoming a staple in modern music. The more pronounced the effect, the better the speaker.
6. Test for separation with your current jam
Separation in audio terms just refers to the ability to hear all the different instruments in the spatial orientation in which they were recorded. Even if your favorite song is a purely electronic, you should be able to easily distinguish the different instruments comprising the composition. If you don’t have a favorite song or have a difficult time picking one out, I just mean to listen to a song that you are very familiar with. You need to have a reference point in order to determine if the separation is done well. The clearer the separation, the better the speaker.
7. Test for highs, mids, and lows with a rock song
Even if rock songs are not your cup of tea (they aren’t mine), they are great candidates for testing balance in your speakers. This is because they traditionally follow the formula of bass, drums, vocals, and guitars, covering all the coveted frequency areas. In a pair of good speakers, you should be pleased with the lows of the bass kick and bass guitar, the mids of the guitar solo and lead vocalist, and the highs of the snares and hi-hats.