11 best prog rock tracks to test your hi-fi system

Pink Floyd Division Bell
(Image credit: EMI, Columbia)

Prog rock is a staple genre you’ll hear being played in most hi-fi stores, and for good reason. 

As well as featuring some genuinely epic tracks, the genre is often full of complex interlocking melodies, tight, rhythmically precise drum and bass lines and more than a few “experimental” sounds that test any hi-fi system’s sonic capabilities.

That’s a key reason why our test team often use it when we’re reviewing everything from basic Bluetooth speakers to cutting-edge separates and premium systems.

Here to help you get in on the fun, the What Hi-Fi? team has created this list detailing the best prog tracks we regularly use when testing hi-fi.

Here's why we use prog rock to test hi-fi so often...
Alastair Stevenson What Hi-Fi profile
Here's why we use prog rock to test hi-fi so often...
Alastair Stevenson

Having grown up listening to my dad’s Yes, King Crimson and Peter Gabriel albums, prog rock has been one of my favourite genres of music from a young age. Since I started reviewing audio equipment well over a decade ago, it’s been a staple part of my testing process, as a result. With everything from screaming synths that’ll drive a system to distorted madness to interlinking multi-instrument arrangements, they’re a great way to gauge your system’s performance. 

And I’m far from alone in my love of prog, with more than a few other team members contributing to this list, detailing the prog tracks they default to when testing hi-fi in our dedicated listening rooms. Also remember, this is an evolving list we'll be adding to over time. If you think we've missed any tracks make sure to get in contact with us on social media or in our forums!

Marillion – Lavender 

By Alastair Stevenson 

British legends Marillion are a staple in any prog-rock fans library, and within its vast back catalogue Lavender is probably one of its best-known tracks. It’s the second single from the band’s Misplaced Childhood concept album and the source of one of Top Of The Pops’ most “memorable” performances.

But more importantly, it’s also a fantastic track to test any hi-fi system. The short but sweet track starts with a simple intro played on a grand piano that crescendos into a full-on power ballad including epic vocals, slamming drums and one of the most iconic lead guitar parts ever played. This helps gauge how well your set-up deals with every part of the frequency range and gives a great test of its dynamism. As an added layer of appeal, rather than detailing cosmic battles, the track tells the story of young love on a UK council estate. 

Buy Marillion, Misplaced Childhood on Amazon

King Crimson – 21st Century Schizoid Man

By Harry McMerrell

King Crimson’s 1969 masterpiece In The Court Of The Crimson King stands tall as a classic of the genre, with 21st Century Schizoid Man providing a perfect showcase of the band’s experimental, forward-thinking proclivities. Within this seven-minute epic (not that long for a prog track), there’s a smorgasbord of music textures and effects for your system to unpack, including piercing, brassy horns, scratchy guitars and Greg Lake’s heavily distorted vocal delivery. 

Tracks such as these are perennial testing favourites, mainly because they’re fantastic for elucidating how a system can pick out each instrument’s place and personality, or whether it lets things degenerate into a cacophonous, amorphous muddle. For a real testament to Schizoid Man’s credentials, you only need to see how it’s continued to be sampled and reworked by subsequent artists. The key refrain pops up in Kanye West’s Power, while Bad Religion’s 1990 hit 21st Century (Digital Boy) reworked the track to make a semi-ironic comment on an increasingly meaningless, materialistic age. It’s a belter.

Buy King Crimson, In The Court Of The Crimson King on Amazon

Peter Gabriel – Red Rain

By Alastair Stevenson

Peter Gabriel may be famous to most people as Genesis' original frontman, or for his iconic rock song Sledgehammer, but if prog’s your game, Red Rain is a great track to test your hi-fi system.

It’s the opening track on Gabriel's fifth solo studio album So (1986) and details a recurring dream involving red wine and some weirder items we won't detail here. The heavily percussive track was recorded by two famous drummers – Gabriel’s standard bandmate Jerry Marotta and The Police’s Stewart Copeland. The latter created the song’s rain effect using a drum’s hi-hat. The strong percussion coupled with its attacking scoop bass make it a great song to gauge any hi-fi kit’s rhythmic precision and ability to deliver energetic audio with plenty of gusto.

Buy Peter Gabriel, So on Amazon

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

By Alastair Stevenson

Maggot Brain is the titular track on the third studio album of American funk rock legends Funkadelic. Released in 1971, it’s a haunting track that was recorded while guitarist Eddie Hazel was heavily under the influence of LSD and producer George Clinton told him “to play like his mother had died”. 

While the LSD led to some interest swells in the guitar’s timing and rhythm, it also helped create one of the most iconic prog guitar solos of all time. Featuring swooping wah and haunting tape delay effects that are extenuated by screaming guitar parts, it's a great prog rock song to gauge the character and soul of any hi-fi system. Which is why it’s a staple entry in the What Hi-Fi? team’s test track arsenal. Just make sure you get the full-fat recording, not the reduced EP version. It’s worth the extra time, trust us.

Buy Funkadelic, Maggot Brain on Amazon

Pink Floyd – High Hopes (The Division Bell, 1994)

By Harry McMerrell

Our list of the best British rock test tracks saw Pink Floyd’s melancholic epic Time earn its place within that only slightly jingoistic rundown, so we thought it would be nice to mix things up here and opt for a similarly heart-tugging anthem in the shape of High Hopes from 1994’s The Division Bell. That seemingly optimistic title belies High Hopes’ more piercing explorations of regret, disillusionment and the loss of a sort of bucolic idyll. 

Nice and cheery it ain’t, but there’s something captivating about how the track builds from a brooding, tentative outset to a rolling, disenchanted crescendo that just makes it ideal for testing out dynamics, tone and what I’m going to term “full emotional transparency”. Vocals, too, need real conviction and clarity, especially Dave Gilmour’s mournful, yearning chorus refrain of “the grass was greener, the light was brighter, with friends surrounded, the nights of wonder”. Feel that nostalgic lump in your throat choke you up as you remember simpler days…

Buy Pink Floyd, The Division Bell on Amazon

Yes – Changes

By Alastair Stevenson

Changes is one of the best-known tracks from prog legends Yes’ 1983 masterpiece 90125. While it may not get the same airtime and attention as Yes’ even better-known Owner Of A Lonely Heart, which is also a common track you’ll hear blasting out of our test rooms, it’s a fantastic song that tests any system's ability to deliver dynamic, detailed audio. Starting with a basic xylophone intro, the track builds into an incredibly complex ballad full of shimmering guitar sections, weeping synths and haunting vocals detailing the feelings of alienation and melancholy resulting from a failed relationship. If you want a classic prog track to holistically test your system, this is a great place to start.

Buy Yes, 90125 on Amazon

Rush – Tom Sawyer

By Becky Roberts

An album opener to rival The Who's Baba O’Riley and Led Zep's Whole Lotta Love, Tom Sawyer from Rush's 1981 Moving Pictures is a lyrical, musical, anthemic riot – "the quintessential Rush song", in the words of frontman Geddy Lee. And to think it nearly didn't make the album! There's plenty of percussive stomp for your system to put its authority on, and drum grooves and fills to flex its dynamic and rhythmic skills, but how those spacey electric guitars and iconic, track-defining synths fizz and sweep through the soundstage – that's what will really hold the mirror up to a system's rendition.

Buy Rush, Moving Pictures on Amazon

Dream Theater – Metropolis - Part 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper

By Alastair Stevenson

Dream Theater is one of the world's most technically accomplished progressive metal bands, featuring an all-star line of virtuosos that have delighted prog fans for over 30 years. And in their vast library of epic ballads, there are plenty of great test tracks. But the one our test team keeps going back to is Metropolis - Part 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper. This is the fifth track on the band's break-out album, Images And Words.

The epic is a rhythmically complex arrangement with rapid time signature changes and incredibly tight intertwining parts that test a system’s precision. Additionally, the complex layered arrangement makes it a great gauge to see how the system handles every part of the frequency range. Only the best set-ups will do justice to the band's insanely tight playing and overt virtuosity.

Buy Dream Theater, Images And Words on Amazon

Kansas – Dust In The Wind

By Kashfia Kabir

It’s all about the fingerpicking. There are no wildly hilarious or overly complex arrangements here, just a beautiful melody, meditative and emotively sung lyrics about mortality, and one of the more technically adept examples of guitar-plucking that aims more for the heart than the head. 

This is still a prog rock band so you get an electric violin thrown in, but the best system – whether desktop, hi-fi or headphones – should fully convey the intimate, tactile nature of fingers plucking at guitar strings. There should be depth and detail to the resonance and shape of each note, the subtle dynamics should flow fluidly and hold your attention and emotions throughout, and it’s a terrific test of your audio system’s rhythmic agility, too. It may be a more hummable tune than other prog tracks, but such an easy-flowing melody isn’t easily done – it’s more intricate the more you listen.

Buy Kansas, Point Of No Return on Amazon

Porcupine Tree – Arriving Somewhere But Not Here

By Alastair Stevenson

Porcupine Tree’s Arriving Somewhere But Not Here is a haunting track originally released on the English prog legends’ 2005 album Deadwing. The track’s a slow burner that starts with haunting synthesised organs, and moody sound effects that create a wonderfully immersive layer of ambience as the instrumental layers build. Like a lot of prog songs, it completely switches gears partway through turning into a full-on metal song with rocking palm-muted guitars and high-gain solos. The heavily interlocked guitar parts created a textured sound that tests any system’s detail. All too often cheaper systems will lose entire sections of the song’s heavily textured interlocking guitar parts making it a great test track for any audio fan looking to put their set-up through its paces.

Buy Porcupine Tree, Deadwing on Amazon

Coheed And Cambria – In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3

By Tom Parsons

In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 is the 8-minute second track from the album of the same name, which is Coheed And Cambria’s second album, which serves as the third part of an epic sci-fi story called The Amory Wars, which is also a series of comics and graphic novels. No wonder Coheed’s frontman and the creator of the overarching story, Claudio Sanchez, is considered the poster child for the New Prog genre that emerged in the 2000s.

Twenty years later, this track is still epic. A story within a story, it is essentially Coheed’s Battle of Helm’s Deep, describing a huge clash in The Amory Wars. The chorus is in fact a yelled, rousing shout from a general to his troops: “Man your own Jackhammer! Man your battle stations!”

As with most Coheed And Cambria tracks, In Keeping Secrets… is in many moments a heady mix of chugging guitar riffs, noodly embellishments, hammered drums and Sanchez’s Geddy Lee-inspired vocals. But, like a battle, it also has many phases, with the ‘action’ waxing and waning over the course of the track. While the recording is more compressed than it should be (a remaster would be very welcome), it still provides a decent test of a hi-fi system's detail and dynamic range – but how it rhythmically organises the track’s most chaotic moments is the real challenge. 

Buy Coheed And Cambria, In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 on Amazon

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Alastair Stevenson
Editor in Chief

Alastair is What Hi-Fi?’s editor in chief. He has well over a decade’s experience as a journalist working in both B2C and B2B press. During this time he’s covered everything from the launch of the first Amazon Echo to government cyber security policy. Prior to joining What Hi-Fi? he served as Trusted Reviews’ editor-in-chief. Outside of tech, he has a Masters from King’s College London in Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion, is an enthusiastic, but untalented, guitar player and runs a webcomic in his spare time. 

With contributions from
  • manicm
    Please make Spotify playlist
    Reply
  • RegisterS
    Nice playlist, thank you! UFO's 'Flying' would fit in here very well too I think.
    Reply
  • AntonyM
    manicm said:
    Please make Spotify playlist
    Here you go...
    playlist:3Bm2JqF1rv5aNmLTxIL4PPView: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3Bm2JqF1rv5aNmLTxIL4PP?si=2f4c9def460c4135
    Reply
  • Anon Ymous
    Just to note that the Kansas album from which 'Dust in the Wind' is taken is Point of Know Return (i.e. 'Know' not 'No'). Pedant's eye and all that!
    Reply