Listening References/Reference Track Discussion

This is a super fun, cool subject I’m super excited about. As a full time audio engineer, I have been building my reference playlist up for forever, and I’ve thought a lot about this, and what approach I should take with it.

I feel there’s two sides to the reference playlist coin: There are the songs/albums that were produced by God herself, and are perfect in every way: from the recording stage to the final mastering stage. Then there are the not great produced songs you have been listening to your whole life because you love them. Listening to God’s best productions is impressive on an almost any system, but I think it’s equally, if not more important to know the songs you love on every system so you know what that impressive system can do to a song/album you love.

Killer Queen by Queen, Get Lucky by Daft Punk, Make Me Lovely by Laura Mvula and that one orchestra, Lover You Should Have Come Over by Jeff Buckley, Blue in Green by Miles Davis, Look at Miss Ohio by Gillian Welch are those amazingly recorded and mixed songs are some of my go to references.

But… Death Letter by the White Stripes, Infinity Guitars by Sleigh Bells, Surf Wax America by Weezer, The Weight by the Band, Blue Eyes by Middle Brother, Caring is Creepy by The Shins are maybe not the best recorded or mixed songs, but they evoke emotion for me, and I’ve heard them a hundreds of times on hundreds of rigs.

I sat my 55ish year old father in law in front of my mixing rig with JBL LSR305s, and was like pick a great song you know sounds awesome. He spent young in the 70s/80s, and he picked Creep by Radiohead. And that’s totally fine, it’s not a great sounding record, but he loves that song, and it makes him feel. It caught me super off guard though, and made me kind of rethink what I thought about reference tracks.

When working on records, I listen to my mixes in my studio, at home on my pair of Bose Companion 2 series 1 (I think that’s what those are?), on multiple headphones, my car, my friends’ cars, at venues I work at, at my parents’ place, and recently IEMs. Then I put my reference track/tracks on to see what I’m doing wrong or right. Those “reference systems” all sound different, but I know how they all sound, whether perfect or imperfect. When doing live sound on an unfamiliar system, I use two really mediocrely mixed songs and one really amazing mix for reference, and those garbage productions almost tell me more about the system than the amazingly mixed song.

Long story short: I think it’s important to understand what is objectively amazing productions, but also know and trust the songs that made you turn up those speakers or headphones in the first place.

Rant over. Hopefully this post does the potential conversations and arguments justice.

What’s everyone opinion on the topic? What’s your reference songs?

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When testing gear this is my personal go to as a gamer imaging separation and soundstage is really important to me and
Around 1 minute and 28 seconds in there is a great part where 2 voices rap around your head in like 2 opposite sides of a circle weaving from side to side almost feels like they are rapping around you while your sitting still. Also a modern hip hop song that not plagued by really heavy bass and 808s and instead you get a clean beat with jazz samples

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for bass, I use the Decaf remix of White Clouds by Ludovico Enaudi.

also for bass, but also for just the pure pleasure of it, I use this orchestral cover of Path II by Apocalyptica.

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