There is a tendency in hi-fi circles to stick to the same old genres, and even use specific tracks consistently for decades when demoing a system or piece of kit.
Go to any hi-fi show and within the first hour you'll have heard Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hotel California enough to last a lifetime. (Well, imagine working there all weekend!)
We strongly believe you need to test hi-fi with the music to which you actually like to listen. And yes, that's still true if you're a rocker or metalhead.
We'd always recommend you put together a playlist of your own favourites, but if you're looking for a selection of rock and metal tracks that will give your system a top-to-bottom workout, we've got you covered here.
Below, you'll find a collection of heavy music that runs from the compressed and grungy to the epic and lavishly produced. (There's no such thing as a bad test track!) Every track will thoroughly test your system in at least a couple of regards, as well as give you a great excuse to rock out.
If you'd like to skip our individual recommendations and reasoning, and get straight to the music itself, you'll find the complete playlists here on Spotify (opens in new tab) and Tidal (opens in new tab).
Spit It Out by Slipknot
Slipknot's debut album is simply relentless, and Spit It Out is one of the most intense of its 15 (16 if you count Frail Limb Nursery separately) tracks. That intensity and its explicit lyrics made Spit It Out a bold choice as a single release, but it clearly did the band no harm.
At a time when hard rock music was populated almost exclusively with bands fronted by that creepy older guy who shared booze with teens at the skatepark, the Iowa nine-piece came along with a baseball bat to cave in his head and scare the kids away. Entrenched in hardcore and punk as much as it is metal, Spit It Out is terrifyingly loud even on mute and cannot be surpassed for its aggressive energy.
Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin
Whole Lotta Love might be an obvious choice, but it's also completely essential; just imagine the uproar if it had been missing from this list. For starters, the soundstage is ginormous, and your hi-fi system should be able to reproduce the space and place each instrument (and its echo) precisely, tracking the movement from speaker to speaker where appropriate.
Listening to Whole Lotta Love played through a well organised system is a dizzying thrill, the likes of which is very rare. Stop reading and do it right now (but then come back and read the rest of this page).
In Bloom by Nirvana
Grunge has still yet really to recover its reputation from the hordes of cheap imitators who flooded the airwaves in Nirvana's wake, but Nevermind still sounds as bitingly hostile as it did 30 years ago – a testament to the genius of Kurt Cobain and the band's undeniable place at guitar music's top table.
It's an album full of stand-out tracks, but it's In Bloom that we turn to most readily when testing on account of its clearly defined instrumentation, screeching solo and layered vocals.
Minerva by Deftones
Deftones' self-titled fourth album saw the Californian alt-metal band really begin to spread its wings in terms of musical style, introducing more electronic and synthesized sounds while also borrowing elements from disparate genres such as trip-hop and shoegaze.
Lead single Minerva is the most clearly shoegaze-influenced track on the album, blending an airy guitar drone with a particularly ethereal delivery from vocalist Chino Moreno. At the same time, this is a fantastically heavy track that will reward systems with plenty of weight and dynamic range.
Báthory Erzsébet by Sunn O)))
Báthory Erzsébet previously appeared in our list of albums recorded in strange places due to the fact that the vocals were recorded by Xasthur frontman Malefic while he was locked inside a coffin – but it's also a hauntingly fantastic track for giving your system a thorough workout.
The drawn-out intro combines ringing bells that should sound distant and authentic with Sun O)))'s trademark hum and nastily deep bass. When the voice kicks in around the halfway point of the track's 16-minute runtime, it's all about the aridly dry vocal track cutting through filthy guitar drones like a rusty knife through butter.
It’s an unnerving sonic juxtaposition that sits uneasy on the ears, and near drags you into the casket – as long as your system's doing its job right.
Then Comes Dudley by The Jesus Lizard
Although the band eventually signed with Capitol Records in the mid-90s, The Jesus Lizard's following always remained more cult than commercial at a time when alternative rock was edging ever closer to the latter. Listening to the Texan noise outfit's willfully abrasive second album Goat suggests the group were perhaps never destined for the mainstream, but to remain significant long after many of their contemporaries had been found out.
Opening track Then Comes Dudley is a brilliant combination of crisp drums, jangly guitars and fuzzy vocals, and your system's doing well if it can make sense of it – particularly towards the busy crescendo.
Killing In The Name by Rage Against The Machine
Rage Against The Machine's brutal debut will forever sit among the rock and metal albums at your local record store, but in many ways it is more a hip-hop record with guitars. Its political conscience is one shared with acts such as Public Enemy and N.W.A, while Tom Morello's guitar is made to squeal like a scratched record within riffs that could easily be used by such artists with alternative instrumentation. Either way, Zack de la Rocha's spat lines are painfully poignant even three decades on.
While it's always tempting when putting together a list such as this to avoid the most famous tracks in favour of a less well-known gem, Killing in the Name simply can't be passed over – particularly if you want to test or tweak your system's stereo imaging.
Bruma by Møl
Certain to be the most divisive entry on this list, Bruma is the standout track from Jord, the first full album from Danish blackgaze band Møl. "Blackgaze?", we hear you ask. Why, it's the melding of black metal and shoegaze, of course.
That might sound like a mismatch of smoked salmon ice cream proportions, but approach Bruma with an open mind and we think you'll find the combination of shoegazey dreamscape, thudding drums and screeching vocals rather exciting. Or perhaps it's just us. Either way, your system's going to be tested like it never has been before.
Nothing Else Matters (Live S&M recording) by Metallica
We've no doubt that many metal fans will be furious that out of Metallica's vast back catalogue we've picked this relatively gentle live rendition of Nothing Else Matters. For testing, though, there really is no better track.
It's legendarily hard for hi-fi kit to make crowd noise sound real and authentic. If your system gets it right, you'll be immediately transported to The Berkeley Community Theatre.
The collaboration between Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra might smooth out some of the former's rough edges, but this is a performance of epic scale and atmosphere, with the juxtaposition of metal and orchestral resulting in a real challenge for even the most high-end of setups.
The Pot by Tool
It's so hard to pick just one Tool track for a list such as this, such is the overwhelming strength and suitability of the band's back catalogue. Indeed, 2019's 13-years-in-the-making Fear Inoculum is packed with lavishly produced and exotically layered tracks that reward those who've spent the time and money putting together a hi-fi system of genuine quality.
In the end, though, The Pot from 2006's 10,000 Days proves irresistible on account of its relative immediacy, rapacious pace and thundering attack. Your system needs to be weighty and spritely in almost equal measure in order to keep up with this one. Best buckle up.
Dry Fantasy by Mogwai
We could create a whole list of only Mogwai tracks for testing your system (and perhaps we will one day) but for this feature we're going with Dry Fantasy from the Scottish post-rockers' most recent album.
Said album, As the Love Continues, is arguably Mogwai's best since 2006's Mr. Beast, blending the band's enhanced knack for epic and emotive soundtrack-style soundscapes with its eternal instinct for driving rock, and no other track typifies that better than lead single Dry Fantasy.
Reducer by Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
Despite the band's moniker, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs's approach is far more elephantine as mammoth riffs tear through the speaker cone and plant their feet square in your gut.
Playfully eccentric as much as it is colossal, 2020's Viscerals shares a Sabbath-like nous for using rhythm and pace as much as pure noise to achieve a truly British style of heaviness, and opening track Reducer gets things off to a rip-roaring start.
Burning by Fugazi
13 Songs is effectively a compilation formed of Fugazi’s first two EPs – Fugazi and Margin Walker – that has spent the past 30 years providing a huge influence on alternative rock music.
Its post-hardcore arrangements are sometimes eerily sparse, which often only accentuates their brutality, and beg a sharp performance from your speakers. Burning is a great example that also boasts a chuggingly deep bass line.
Abandon Ship by Gallows
It can be easy to dismiss quite compressed-sounding records, such as Gallows' Orchestra Of Wolves, as simply not being 'hi-fi' enough. But to do so would be to deprive yourself of one of the most frantic and frenzied hardcore punk albums in existence.
What's more, while the album sounds rather closed in and claustrophobic, rather like it's been recorded from the sweaty mosh pit of a pub basement, it's a stern test of your system's sense of rhythm. Play Abandon Ship and if your toe isn't tapping maniacally, it's time to look into a tweak or upgrade.
Hey by Pixies
Producer Gil Norton cleaned up Pixies’ sound somewhat for their second album Doolittle, accentuating the shifts from loud to soft and making one of the band’s most popular sets of songs more accessible for worldwide consumption.
As influential on the landscape of alternative rock as Fugazi’s 13 Songs, Doolittle has been regularly imitated but never surpassed, and the stripped-back arrangement of Hey makes it possible to really enjoy all of the detail and texture of the recording – assuming your system is as insightful as it should be.
Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath
Like applause, heavy rain is a surprisingly tricky sound for a stereo system to reproduce, so the downpour at the very beginning of Black Sabbath, from the album of the same name and by the band of the same name, immediately sets the cat amongst the pigeons, sonically speaking.
From that awesomely atmospheric start emerges that stunningly unsubtle riff, followed by a stark, stripped back verse. Every stage of the song is its own challenge, and on the right system, it sounds superb from start to finish. It's hard to believe this album is now more than 50 years old.
Aftermath by Rolo Tomassi
On 2018's Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It, experimental rock outfit Rolo Tomassi regularly switch at a moment's notice between gentle introspection and breaks heavier than a carb-loaded elephant.
Aftermath is comfortably the most accessible track, boasting fairly indie-pop verses with gentle vocals. But the complex rhythmic pattern underneath hints at the band's penchant for technical structures, giving the timing of your system a real workout, and its sparkling, thumping chorus requires decent dynamic range and punchy bass.