Demonstration Compact Discs (Redbook CD's)

By Chuck Hawks

Listed below are some of the CD's I use to demo my stereo system and that I take with me when auditioning components. Most of the demo record lists I see are too long and larded with LP's and SA-CD's that most folks are not interested in owning and may not even be able to play. Here are some of my favorite demo tracks in standard "Red Book" audio CD format that can be played on any CD player.

Most of them will not be in your local audio store's CD collection, as they mostly sell speaker stand mounted loudspeakers and these recordings contain enough bass content to reveal the shortcomings of small loudspeakers. These are not only good demo tracks, they are on CD's that are worth listening to in their entirety. I think you will enjoy listening to them as much as I do.

If you have an SPL meter, I suggest initially auditioning these recordings at an average level of 80db (SLOW response, "A" weighted) at your listening position. The peak excursions will, of course, be much louder. From that starting point, you can adjust the volume to your taste.


  • Erich Kunzel / Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture - track 1 (Telarc): "Caution! Digital Cannons" is printed on the cover and it is advice you should heed. Tchaikovsky wrote the ultimate battle of the bands piece with his 1812 Overture and the Telarc version, digitally recorded with real church bells and cannons, will give your loudspeakers a serious, full range, workout. To the best of my knowledge, Tchaikovsky's 1812 remains the loudest, punchiest composition of all time. Awesome bass and the ultimate classical crescendo. Best played through big loudspeakers. Recorded using Telarc's audiophile pure digital technique.
  • Robert Shaw / Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Carmina Burana - track 1, Introduction; "Fortune, Empress of the World" (Telarc): Carl Orff's classic choral piece presented with a serious bass drum. Impressive and sounds great. Recorded using Telarc's audiophile pure digital technique.


  • Jennifer Warnes, Famous Blue Raincoat - track 2, "Bird On A Wire" (Shout, 20th Anniversary Edition): An excellent recording with deep bass, clean guitar, interesting percussion and a definitive female voice. This high definition recording has been a popular demo disc for stereos of all sizes for 20 years.
  • Erich Kunzel - Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Time Warp - track 1, "Ascent" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra," (Telarc): The new-agey, but super punchy, "Ascent" fades into "Also Sprach Zarathustra," connected by a recording of an atom bomb blast. No foolin'! The latter fades between tracks, but not completely. See if you can hear the continuation of the extremely low frequency, which requires speakers with good low frequency extension and output. "Also Sprach Zarathustra" is, of course, a demo classic. The entry to track 2, "Star Trek, Main Theme" is an assault on your senses, be sure to play it. Best played through big loudspeakers. Recorded using Telarc's audiophile pure digital technique.


  • Emerson Lake and Palmer, Emerson Lake & Palmer - track 5, "Tank" (Shout, Remasters): A track infamous in LP record days as the "speaker destroyer." Some audio shops would not play it! At the end of the excellent drum solo in "Tank" comes a synthesized bass drum hit that will open the pores of your loudspeakers.
  • Nightwish, Once - track 8, "Romanticide" (Roadrunner Records): A one CD wonder, the band Nightwish imbued "Romanticide" with an extreme amount of low frequency information. Pretentious and grungy, but definitely demonstrates your speakers' low frequency extension. Best played through big loudspeakers.
  • Papa Doo Run Run, California Project - track 4, "California Girls" (Telarc): Papa Doo Run Run covers Beach Boys songs in Telarc pure digital style. Clear vocals, a very deep base drum and a great melody. The better your system, the better it sounds.

New Country

  • Sugarland, Love on the Inside - track 16, "Life in a Northern Town" (Mercury Nashville): Turn it up! Performed live in concert by Sugarland, Little Big Town and Jake Owen, this cover of the Dream Academy's hit song is one of the few live recordings that actually conveys the experience of live music. Includes a deep bass guitar and a punchy bass drum with some of new country music's best voices singing the lead and harmony parts.
  • Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride - track 4, "Just A Dream" (Arista): Every track on this CD is a pleasure to hear. "Just a Dream" has a particularly deep and solid bass line that effectively counterpoints Ms. Underwood's awesome voice. It will make your loudspeakers sound good.

New Age

  • George Winston, Winter Into Spring (Windham Hill): For those who think a piano is the only true test of high-fidelity, pick any track you like; this entire CD is piano solos by George Winston. I kind of like track 5, "Rain," but then I live in western Oregon. Well recorded and, of course, well played original piano compositions.
  • Patrick O'Hearn, Ancient Dreams - "Unusual Climate" (Private Music): Interesting percussion effects that will give your tweeters a test, with enough mid-bass to keep things interesting. Punchier than most new age music with more dynamic range. My version of this piece is track 2 on the compilation CD The World of Private Music, which includes a variety of artists (Yanni, Lucia Hwong, Sanford Ponder, Leo Kottke, Eddie Jobson and Jerry Goodman). Several of the tracks on this demo disc are interesting.

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Copyright 2011, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.