Home theater speakers have taken over my office and dining room, boxes stacked and lining the halls. I’m testing these speakers for a large review and feature for a magazine. It’s a fun job, though all the boxes really get in the way.
When I test any product, I create a test plan. The test plan needs to be consistent for each product in the review, so I can easily compare strengths and weaknesses. I try to find varied music and movie examples that can bring out different elements of a system: vocals, acoustic instruments, amplified instruments, bass, treble, spoken voices, big screaming special effects.
I find the music and movies that make the best samples are the ones I know well — that gives me an immediate point of reference for news systems. But I don’t want to pick something too special to me, because after I watch the same scene 30 times or listen to the same song 30 times, I need a long break before going back to it.
Here’s what I’m using for this review:
- Miles Davis, In Person Saturday Night at the Blackhawk, “If I Were a Bell,” CD.
- Beatles, Love, “Get Back,” “Blackbird/Yesterday,” DVD. Dolby Digital 5.1 audio setting.
- Radiohead, In Rainbows, “Bodysnatchers,” MP3, played through an iPhone 4.
- Beethoven, Sixth Symphony, Movement 1.
- Puccini, Turandot, “Nessun Dorma.” The one sung by Pavarotti.
- The Dark Knight. Ch. 1, Ch. 20, 21. Blu-ray
- Pirates of the Caribbean, Ch. 14. Blu-ray
The highs and lows of home theater testing amuse me — I really get excited when I hear a great system, and I really get depressed when I hear a bad one. The bad ones are the worst. I know from the first notes of “If I Were a Bell” whether the system has promise. If it doesn’t, I have to listen to it for an hour or two more just to be thorough. That’s a drag.
The only thing that’s worse is having to rebox all these test units.