22 of the best tracks for testing dynamics, rhythm and timing

best tracks for testing dynamics, rhythm and timing

Whether you're auditioning a new piece of equipment or just want to check your music system is sounding its best, we have some choice cuts for you.

This playlist highlights tracks with challenging dynamics, rhythm and timing, which together form a crucial – arguably the most important, actually – part of any piece of music. Whether you're listening on speakers or headphones, a desktop system or full-on hi-fi, if your set-up struggles with one of these elements you may well be underwhelmed by the overall performance.

There's a real spread of styles, and naturally all the tracks here will offer a little bit of everything when it comes to pushing your speakers – even if one particular element is a highlight. You can get a feel for each track with our YouTube links, but to really hear what's going on we'd recommend digging out a better-quality version.

Check out our playlist of all the tracks below on Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal.

Pixies - Tame

Dynamic range is the difference between the loudest and quietest elements of a track – and Tame is a textbook test track. Starting with a simple drum beat, bass line and whispering vocal, before erupting into an attack of guitars and a ferocious vocal, this hugely influential track has been cited by artists such as Nirvana, PJ Harvey and Smashing Pumpkins. It's as well known for its loud/quiet template, which the Pixies truly mastered, as it is for the dramatic Gil Norton production.

View Pixies Doolittle on Amazon

Like this? Try Smashing Pumpkins Mayonaise

Funkadelic - Sexy Ways

Led by the Supreme Maggot Minister of Funkadelia, aka George Clinton, Funkadelic were the sister act to the perhaps better known Parliament. Pioneers of far-out funk music, this is a superb example of the form and a great test of rhythm and timing. We're confident it's nigh-on impossible to listen to this track and keep still, thanks to layer upon layer of percussion, bubbling bass and guitar stabs. Only a touch more organised than a live jam, it will certainly reveal how capable your system is when it comes to controlling complex rhythms.

View Funkadelic Standing on the Verge of Getting It On on Amazon

Like this? Try Sly & The Family Stone I Want to Take You Higher

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - A Thousand Details

Taken from the soundtrack for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this is a brooding and powerful piece that builds to a thunderous crescendo - typical of much of Reznor's work. A delicate piano opening grows into a noise of electric guitars, driven along by a thudding bass line. A sudden pause tests your system's ability to start and stop, before the song reaches a climax of drums and over-driven effects. Towel yourself down at the end and weigh up how well you could decipher the details in that wall of noise.

View Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Amazon

Like this? Try Leftfield Phat Planet

Aphrodite's Child - The Four Horsemen

Did you know Vangelis was in a psychedelic prog rock band with Demis Roussos in the late 60s? 666 was the band's most notable album, and this track builds from a spaced-out, atmospheric intro - reminiscent of some of his later soundtracks - into a wall of shuffling drums, jangly guitar, reverb-laden effects and, finally, a soaring electric guitar riff. There's plenty for your system to think about here, not least in terms of dynamics and timing.

View Aphrodite's Child 666 on Amazon

Like this? Try Tame Impala Let It Happen

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - What a Waste

At first listen this Ian Dury classic seems simple and understated, thanks to the chugging drum beat, monotone vocal delivery and simple guitar stabs. But the meandering bass line livens things up before the track's chorus bursts into life and sets the song racing towards a crescendo. Your system will need a firm grip to keep the various strands in check.

View Ian Dury & The Blockheads What a Waste on Amazon

Like this? Try Tom Robinson Band Power in the Darkness

System of a Down - B.Y.O.B.

This one's quite noisy. But it will also test your system's dynamics - it definitely does the loud bit - as well as how well it handles staccato rhythms. You should be able to hear the variation in drum hits and rolls, as well as the individual layers of guitar, while changes in tempo will test your system's timing.

View System of a Down Mezmerize on Amazon

Like this? Try Rage Against the Machine Killing in the Name

Discrete Circuit - Machine Code

A consistent 4/4 beat is always a good test of timing, especially when some off-kilter stabs or percussion add a little more intricacy to the rhythm. This techno tool should drive along at pace, the bleeping effects and reverb-laden hi-hats adding some colour to the consistency of the kick drum. If your feet aren't tapping, something is amiss.

View Discrete Circuit Machine Code on Amazon

Like this? Try Jeff Mills The Bells

The Dead Weather - 60 Feet Tall

This jangly number from Jack White's The Dead Weather is a great test of dynamics. Not quite as neighbour-unfriendly as System of a Down, it does, however, build to a messy crescendo of splashy drums and a stadium-sized electric guitar riff. And some 'in the red' vocals for good measure.

View The Dead Weather Horehound on Amazon

Like this? Try The Black Keys Gold on the Ceiling

Eminem - The Way I Am

A looping piano riff and trademark head-nodding beats set the tone for one of Eminem's angrier raps, his off-beat delivery making for a more challenging rhythm than it might first appear. If your system doesn't time well, this track just won't flow. There's enough action at either end of the frequency spectrum to ensure your system gets a thorough work-out.

View Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP on Amazon

Like this? Try Dr Dre Still D.R.E.

Lubomyr Melnyk – Pockets of Light

Often it's when using dynamics to drive rhythms that can make products struggle, and tracks where a tuned- or non-percussion instrument is dictating the ebb and flow tend to highlight this. The atmospheric, complex piano of Ukrainian composer Lubomyr Melynk is a fine example. Listen for the sound of the keys hitting, and for how well your system reveals the weight behind each note.

View Lubomyr Melynk Corollaries on Amazon

Like this? Try Arovena Lilies

Radiohead - 15 Step

Almost every Radiohead album has some form of innovation, and the twitchy beats of In Rainbows lend themselves perfectly to testing your system's timing. The excellent production means it's simply a great all-round test track, but those jittery, texture-laden drums will certainly find out how well your speakers or headphones can carry a tune.

View Radiohead In Rainbows on Amazon

Like this? Try Flying Lotus Never Catch Me

Shimon & Andy C - Body Rock

Body Rock broke the mould of drum 'n' bass in the early 2000s, using a swing beat effect to stand apart from the standard breakbeat template of the genre. A deep, sliding bass line adds an extra hook, and will test your system's handling of lower frequencies. But the rhythm of the drums make it really interesting.

View Shimon & Andy C Body Rock on Amazon

Like this? Try John B All Night

The National - Sea of Love

As much of a workout for Bryan Devendorf, drummer in The National, as it is for your system – the rhythms and fast rolling drums will figure out whether your system times as well as it should.

View The National Trouble Will Find Me on Amazon

Like this? Try The Walkmen The Rat

Heather Woods Broderick - Wyoming

An echo delay with a long decay can be useful for testing timing, and this dreamy track is laden with lush, reverberating layers of vocals and guitar. You may wish to get lost in Wyoming, but if your system can't keep a grip on the track's various elements, it will just sound a bit lost.

View Heather Woods Broderick Glider on Amazon

Like this? Try Warpaint Undertow

Soulwax - Is It Always Binary

There's nothing like a proper percussion workout to test a system's all-round ability. Soulwax provides just that, complete with some crazy synths and vocal FX for good measure. And the video shows you how it's done.

View Soulwax From Deewee on Amazon

Like this? Try Mr Scruff Jazz Potato

John Martyn - Small Hours

Testing dynamics doesn't have to involve great walls of sound. The simple guitar swells that run throughout the track offer quickfire tests of how well your system can go from quiet to loud. Despite the delicacy of the song, you need punch and a hint of sharpness to each strum for the full effect.

View John Martyn One World on Amazon

Like this? Try Ricky Eat Acid Inside Your House; It Will Swallow Us Too

James Horner - Ripley's Rescue

Whether you're watching the film or listening to the soundtrack, there are plenty of testing moments in the Aliens soundtrack. This scene has drum rolls, soaring strings, and plenty of dynamic reach to push your speakers.

View James Horner Aliens OST on Amazon

Like this? Try Hans Zimmer Inception OST

Planetary Assault Systems - Desert Races

English techno producer Luke Slater has been at the top of his game for over 30 years, delivering captivating, complex rhythms from steady grooves of layered instruments. Synth peaks and troughs will test your system's dynamics, while solid timing is necessary to keep the momentum.

View Planetary Assault Systems on Amazon

Like this? Try Anna Hidden Beauties

The Mars Volta - Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt

Excellent production doesn't have to mean shimmer and sheen. This Mars Volta track certainly sounds rough around the edges – a test in itself – but there's plenty of bottom-end grunt hidden beneath the edgy higher frequencies. We're really including it here for the unorthodox rhythms, though – your system should be prepared for the full-on assault around the four-minute mark.

View The Mars Volta De-loused in the Comatorium on Amazon

Like this? Try At the Drive In One Armed Scissor

Kate Bush - Watching You Without Me

The reciprocating synths, metronomic drums and bent pizzicato double bass notes of Watching You Without Me interlink to create a delicately textured rhythmic gauze ideal for testing your system's timing and rhythmic knack. But it’s the dynamics of this track that are truly illuminating, with acres of reverberant space and tonal shade. While recounting lyrics about struggling to communicate, Kate Bush switches between soft crooning, softer whispers and murmured ‘secret messages’ with words sung backwards. From the studio musicians muttering in opening bars to the wide-pan delayed morse code spelling out ‘S.O.S’ there’s plenty of detail for your system to decipher at the very extremities of audibility.

View Kate Bush Hounds Of Love on Amazon

Like this? Try FKA twigs Cellophane

SBTRKT - Trials Of The Past

With producer SBTRKT known for his remixes and instrumentals, it's no surprise that his debut album is so tightly honed. Defined by jittery, stuttery beats and wobbly synths, Trials of the Past is arranged with such meticulous poise that each sound cleanly slices the track’s airy ambience with surgical precision. Without care, it can become mired in agitated incoherence, but if your system is up to the task, then each beat should flit past your ears with understated ease.

View SBTRKT Trials Of The Past on Amazon

Like this? Try Solange Losing You

Massive Attack - Paradise Circus

The ominous tip-toeing dub bassline and soaring strings of Paradise Circus will be instantly recognisable to viewers of the TV show Luther, while the title should be equally familiar to fans of Birmingham city centre. As hushed, winding layers of claps, kit and vibes build in density, this track can become disjointed and slippery; however, with the right set up, it should continue to envelop you with luscious, airy transients.

View Massive Attack Heligoland on Amazon

Like this? Try Björk Army of Me


Joe Cox
Content Director

Joe is Content Director for T3 and What Hi-Fi?, having previously been the Global Editor-in-Chief of What Hi-Fi?. He has worked on What Hi-Fi? across the print magazine and website for more than 15 years, writing news, reviews and features on everything from turntables to TVs, headphones to hi-fi separates. He has covered product launch events across the world, from Apple to Technics, Sony and Samsung; reported from CES, the Bristol Show, and Munich High End for many years; and written for sites such as the BBC, Stuff, and the Guardian. In his spare time, he enjoys expanding his vinyl collection and cycling (not at the same time).

  • Shadowfax
    I suppose you're right, but all 22 of these (to me) are just plain old drek that will never touch my speakers, headphones, or ears. You're only playing to one crowd, and it's not the big spender one.
  • 12th Monkey
    Looks like there's quite a bit of variety in the second half.
  • The End
    Where is Frank Zappa? You'll find everything there, nothing else needed. Over 100 albums to listen too. He is still before his time.