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Choosing Reference Music: Source Data To Organize The Assets Of A Sound System

The Steely Dan cut can make any old sound system sound OK, which is why it is used by so many loudspeaker manufacturers for client presentations. The Jackson cut has a lot of snap in the LF – also useful for generating good feelings about the performance of a sound system. Reference discs reveal system performance.

By Jack Alexander May 31, 2011

"My various reference discs change from time to time – after a while you get sick of playing the same thing over and over."

When we move from the living room to the job site, things get more complex.

For me, the real reference, as I have noted before, is my voice through an open mic. Anything less than that is a compromise.

But live sound is about compromise – a full voice tweak does not always fall within logistical (or political) reality. Also, most voices don’t reveal much low-pass 125 Hz. For that we must go to “reference” discs.

My ideal FOH tweak is a full voice tweak above 125 Hz, and a sequence of reference discs to organize the rest. Which mic – that’s the next article, though there are several that have proven themselves over the years.

The only time I might use a disc in a monitor situation is in class, where students must get a vocal mic to cut over something like AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” run at an insane volume.

In optimum FOH situations, where I have done a voice tweak high-pass 125 Hz, I will run reference LF discs to sort out everything low-pass 125 Hz. Though not all things audiophile translate to live situations, the series of LF tweak discs I have identified for home use also works live.

Back in the sound company years it was “Highway to Hell,” Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” and the Tubes’ “She’s A Beauty.”

Later on, for the loudspeaker demos, AC/DC still worked, but not for all the clientele. Robbie Robertson’s “Storyville” (cut three) was great for getting the LF tight without scaring or offending the locals.

These days it is the aforementioned AC/DC “Who Made Who” disc, and either Art Pepper “+ 11” or Duke Ellington “Jazz Party.”

Even that combination won’t answer everything – in dance club or hip-hop situations I need something from that genre to make sure those LF frequency spectra are resolved. Like many geezers, I ain’t a great fan of most of the content in those styles, though there are some exceptions.

As I deal (constantly) with 20-year-olds, I have been made aware of what is considered cool in that corner of the music industry, i.e., The Roots, and they were OK, but the sound wasn’t good enough to help me resolve issues low-pass 125 Hz.

When I found something, and played it for the students, it definitely gave me what I needed to sort out hip-hop LF issues, but I caught hell for presuming that the Black Eyed Peas were real hip-hop. Too bad – the Peas stuff is incredibly well-produced and provides a wealth of LF information that may not have the street cred of the Roots or other similar acts, but has the tech cred that allows me to finalize the LF tweak.


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