You might be surprised to learn that when we are reviewing, when it comes to test tracks, we don’t always reach straight for Pink Floyd, Miles Davis and movie scores from the archive of John Williams.
The musical tastes across our crack team of reviewers vary (in some cases wildly) and we are equally at home throwing on some Katy Perry as we are some serious classical. After all, there is no such thing as a perfect test track – music is just a tool that allows us to do our jobs and help recommend a range of products to help you make informed buying decisions.
This is why we thought we would mix things up a bit, with a list of our favourite test tracks from arguably the biggest pop and country act on the planet. Taylor Swift has won no fewer than 12 Grammys, sold more than 114 million albums and shows no sign of slowing down as she continues on her sold out ‘The Eras’ tour.
So for all you Swifties and those who aren’t but might be intrigued to hear what she has to offer, here is our pick of our favourite Taylor Swift test tracks.
Shake It Off - 1989 (2014)
Call us predictable, but If you thought we were going to ignore one of Swift’s classics then you would be wrong. How could we not include the song with the catchiest chorus?
Not only the catchiest chorus but also one of the most peppy, poppy tunes she has released where she pokes fun at her critics. Its lively tempo is a fine test of rhythmic ability and if your feet don’t find themselves automatically tapping along in time, there’s something seriously wrong.
Shake It Off is also a nicely balanced number, punctuated by a looping drum beat that sounds solid and weighty but also keeps enough distance between itself and the rest of the ensemble so it doesn’t intrude. If your headphones tend to overemphasise lower frequencies, you will more than likely hear it overpower the rest of the track. Similarly, if they are on the bright side, there’s plenty of percussion that can catch them out.
Andy Madden, deputy editor
No Body, No Crime (feat. HAIM) - Evermore (2020)
A country murder ballad that packs in suspicion, salacious gossip and a vengeful turn in a song that is moody and playful all at once – it’s one we could play endlessly and never get tired of. Swift’s vocals harmonise beautifully with Haim’s trio of singers, and your wireless headphones or earbuds should be detailed enough to pick out the subtle textures of everyone’s voices.
Those smooth, layered harmonies are coupled with a great sense of rhythmic drive and dynamics that should keep you hooked on every lyric. If you are not entirely engrossed in the storytelling like a good murder podcast, you might want to level up to a more capable pair of headphones that can dig out detail, dynamic expression and spacious atmosphere in a more mature, accomplished way.
This song might sound like a simple composition, but it’s a corker that deserves to be heard – multiple times – with the same sense of drama, excitement and plot twist satisfaction fully intact for the listener.
Kashfia Kabir, hi-fi and audio editor
Maroon - Midnights (2022)
Taken from the album Midnights, Maroon announces itself with a couple of hefty drum hits which sound quite foreboding, but there is plenty of subtlety to this slice of dreamy synthy pop.
Swift’s lyrics paint a vivid picture of a previous relationship and display an array of emotions from sadness to trauma to a tinge of anger. Combine this with a line of instruments that slowly surround her and it all makes for quite an atmosphere. It will take skill and finesse from your headphones to communicate this clearly.
There’s a steady pace to the track but it’s not the bassiest of offerings. There are, however, significant pauses and silences – your headphones will tee up the rhythm but you are left to fill in the gaps, and whether or not you arrive at the next note on time will be down to just how accurately they follow those rhythms.
Andy Madden, deputy editor
Exile - Folklore (2020)
The Folklore album's indie ballad is mostly a piano-and-vocal piece with its narrative of two estranged lovers in pain at its heart. And yet its simplicity makes it a compelling test track, particularly the midrange delivery, with its purposeful piano melody and contrasting vocals of Swift's dulcet delivery and Justin Vernon's baritone.
It will sound particularly lovely through warm-sounding headphones and systems, which will lap up a rich, full production that is indicative of the rest of the album.
A decent dollop of dynamic expression is necessary to rise and fall with the opening piano loop and track the piece's dynamic progression as their call-and-response-style heart-spilling builds to an emotional climax.
The track's subtle atmospheric sonics – Vernon's backdrop vocal, a programmed beat loop, and even a hint of birdsong near the start – should all simmer on the soundstage's horizon if your system is revealing enough, too.
Becky Roberts, managing editor
Ivy - Evermore (2020)
Possibly the ultimate antithesis of Swift's most recognisable pop anthems, Ivy is a stripped-back ballad that slowly swells to a heartfelt and emotional climax. It uses a mix of Taylor's warm and comforting vocals combined with an equally rich string arrangement and backing vocals courtesy of Justin Vernon from Exile collaborator Bon Iver.
Ivy is a great track to help identify low-level dynamics, detail and how natural whatever I am testing sounds, as well as a song I find myself gravitating towards as the Autumn months draw ever closer. The complex building of strings throughout will also test how your system deals with timing, especially as more aspects are introduced as the song progresses.
This balance of stripped-back natural vocals and more complex instrumentals means you can test nearly everything your system has to offer in one song.
Lewis Empson, staff writer
All Too Well - Red (Taylor's Version) (2021)
If you need something a bit longer than the average four-minute song to ponder over your sound system, may we suggest this 10-minute epic that serves as the culmination of Red (Taylor's Version). This song is an odyssey compared with the other tracks on the album, a long and thought-provoking ballad of quiet contemplative verses which ramp up to a series of lively choruses and eventually one of the best bridges in Swift's entire discography.
It's a stellar way to test dynamics, as the song constantly shifts between softer introspective and emotionally explosive moments, as well as giving you plenty of time to mull over how your system handles vocals. It also features an iconic piano motif throughout that requires a balance of richness and subtlety to truly do it justice. If I am ever unsure of how I would review a product's sound performance, I will often use this song as an excuse to spend some extended testing time and consolidate my thoughts.
Lewis Empson, Staff Writer
The 1 - Folklore (2020)
If tracks such as Shake It Off are all a bit too energetic and vibrant for your sensibilities, The 1 (annoying numeric title aside) could be the track for you. A broadly stripped-back affair that places the spotlight on Swift’s breathy vocals, it is naturally a great test of stereo focus, detail and low-level dynamics. If it doesn’t feel as if she is singing directly to your soul, you might need to upgrade your cans.
But there’s more going on here besides the vocal. There are simple piano notes and a crisp beat throughout, and your kit needs subtlety to let the former degrade organically and the latter to snap into and out of life instantly. There’s also a lovely build of instruments and volume as the track progresses, and everything needs to remain composed as it grows.
Finally, don’t be alarmed if you hear an occasional bit of sibilance to Swift’s vocal as that is in the recording – but if it’s too insistent, you might want to consider switching to a smoother set of headphones.
Tom Parsons, TV and AV editor
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