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Start with Track 3

Discussing the then-pending eval of the sE Munro Egg monitor system for this issue, PAR editor Strother Bullins asked me, “What are you going to play through them first?” My answer, “Track 3, of course.”

As an alumnus of Masterfonics Studios in Nashville, Strother could be expected to know I meant Track 3 of “The Hidley Disc,” the compilation CD I’ve used as my starting-point reference for years of speaker evaluations. While I loathe attempting to evaluate loudspeakers at trade shows, I usually have a copy of the disc with me for some known frame of reference.

When the room designer for five studios at Masterfonics, Tom Hidley, would commission new speaker installs, or check out existing systems, he had a stack of CDs he’d want to hear tracks from —often just a snippet or intro. Tom had spent days on end listening to these tracks, bandpass selectable level meter in hand, learning the power balance of different elements of the tracks. When evaluating our systems, he’d listen, ask for a new disc or track, repeat — then adjust the crossover, listen more and finally measure to confirm what he was hearing. To save Tom from lugging all those discs, we put together a compilation CD. While I don’t claim to have Tom’s listening acuity, he did share some of what he was listening for on each of these cuts. That, combined with now 15+ years of listening to this disc, has made it my go-to starting point reference.

When reviewing monitors, I’ll begin by letting the disc play for a few days as I work, varying volume, rewinding back when something catches my ear. Auditory memory is fragile, and having a fixed frame of reference is valuable. Where’s that shaker in space on “King Cockroach” by the Chick Corea Elektric Band? Outside the left monitor, down and left? Good. Its ping-pong panned counterbeat? Less outside the right monitor, up and right? Good, one imaging test down. How much snap is there to the percussion on Basia’s “Astrud?” What’s the character of the tape hiss on the intro to the “1812 Overture?” How audible is the subtle chime run in Gerry Niewood’s “Prelude To The Vision?”

Over the years, I maxed out the disc space adding a few tracks. What’s going to rattle in a room and how well can a monitor system handle intense low end? Kevin Gilbert’s “Joy Town” can help you answer that question, followed by the audio limbo (“How low can you go?”) of the Flecktones “Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo.”

Oh, Track 3? George Massenburg’s recording of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” by Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.