Listening Guide: the CL2 Planar Playlist

With the release of the CL2 Planar, we collected together some of the RHA testing tracks to show how we make a good testing playlist, and what a good headphone is able to showcase.

To judge to the quality of any headphone, you need a good playlist. This should balance several elements:

  • Firstly, the music should showcase a range of instruments and disciplines. A track which offers highs and harmonics as well as deep sub-bass with a detailed mid-range is going to save you a lot of time.
  • Test your headphones using a range of genres. There is little point in a headphone that is only good for classical, acoustic or hip-hop. Get you a headphone that can do more.
  • It really helps if the music you are listening to is well-mastered. Not only is this nicer to listen to, but a lot more likely to put equipment through its paces.
  • Tracks with quirks will uncover the true merit of any headphone. The deep sub-bass of a Massive Attack intro; a brass trill from a full orchestra; clicks and hits that seem to move around your head. All of these things are dulled or lost by lesser equipment or shabby streaming; this makes them the things to look for from good headphones and equipment.
  • It may seem obvious, but it really helps if you listen to music that you like. There are few things more tedious than testing using tracks you've heard a billion times that you don't really like. Music is made to move people; headphones are made to help with that. If something makes you happy, check if listening to it through the headphone makes you happy. The goosebump test is a cliche, but any good audio equipment has the ability to make you smile, make you tense up, or make you cry.

So, here is a selection of our favourite testing tracks:

Burn the Witch
Radiohead
A powerful and eerie song from Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. The string section defines this song: starting with energetic pizzicato, ending in a harsh, urgent screech. However, below that lies a cool, dynamic and modern electronic bass riff that can be easy to miss without headphones.

Dead & Born & Grown (Live)
The Staves
A great version of a beautiful track; there’s just acoustic guitar and harmonised female vocals here. A test on mids and trebles, of silence and impact.

I Got The… (Remastered)
Labi Siffre
A rare example of the perfect song: it starts with the stage by stage introduction of each instrument; bass, strings, percussion, guitar, organ; each playing a riff oozing with craft and funk. Then Siffre’s amazing voice cuts in, and never misses a beat. Add to that the riff from the song’s second part that delivers a powerful nostalgia hit to anyone alive during 1999. Listen again and again; focus on each individual part, and what it contributes to one of the coolest tracks of all time.

Firefly
Mura Musa, Nao
A punchy track with a lot of momentum. A good test of soundstage as the ‘snap’ that keeps time moves around your head like a fly.

Outside
Childish Gambino
From 2011’s Camp, a balanced and emotional mishmash of hiphop and gospel that doubles as Donald Glover's origin story. A catch-all track that showcases spoken word, male and choir vocals, the thump and slap of a hiphop beat, and sudden transitions from full instrumental backing to simple silence. 

The Copper Top
Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat
A great track from one of the Glasgow music scene's most famous sons. Stripped and simple: most of this is just piano and muttered, sullen vocals. Nowhere to hide. 
The hi-res recording of this is stunning.

Every1’s a Winner
Ty Segall
A crashing, triumphant cover of an iconic soul track. The high-treble guitar harmonics should almost make you wince, but each is a breath taken before a heavy guitar version of a brilliant riff. At first listen, this sounds like a fun cover, but listen again and you can pick out details that betray a clever, masterfully-produced track in its own right.

Concerto for Violin & Orchestra II: Second Movement
Philip Glass; Adela Anthony, Takuo Yuasa, Ulster Orchestra
This is a beautiful, emotional piece of music, brilliantly played and recorded. During the second and third minutes, the violin sections subtly come forward to join the soloist - it's something you'll miss if you're immersed in the sound overall, but balance and discipline are really on display.

Cup & Ring Cycle
Other Lands
A one-man operation from Edinburgh. Layered, driving electronica that experiments across the dynamic range. At 2:59 he introduces a sub-bass thump you can feel in your throat. 

Ramble On
Led Zeppelin
This may be the best Led Zeppelin song. There's a lot to look for here; the percussion slap in the intro is a good test of timbre and harmonics; one of John Paul Jones’ more complex bass riffs weaves in and out of Robert Plant’s vocals; the acoustic guitar riff hidden in the right channel; the vocal track that flits around your head at the end.

Listen the extended playlist here:

What do you listen to? What do you think of our playlist? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.