Creating a Test Plan for Reviews

One of my reference CDs for home theater audio testing.

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:

Music

  • 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.

Video

  • 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.

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