My 1st post on this forum having just found it.
With regard to reference material stuff. CD's I always take along when listening to a new system are as follows:
Stuff that I use to judge a system (based on my own intimate knowledge of the CD's in question) but which doesnt necessarily sound stunning, even on the best systems are:
1) The Blessing (CD title The Prince of Deep Waters) particularly tracks 3 and 7 (Hurricane Room and I Want You), neither is recorded asbolutely well but they are great complex pieces of music and only really good systems can keep the instruments separated and not become strident when all the instruments/voices are going full bore.
2) Yello (CD title Motion Picture) great test of a system's bass response especially tracks 1 and 5 and 6. Great example of good synthisized music which is well recorded. The couch should shake before you lose the "space or ambience of the music" or you hear any hint of distortion!
3) Dave Mathews (CD title Under the Table and Dreaming). Especially track 11 for voice and stringed instruments.
4) Mary Black (Babes in the Wood). OK this is an old reference, but is still probably the best recording of any female voice I have ever heard. Only good systems can really give you all her vocal power without distorting or loosing the texture of her voice, especially tracks 5 and 9.
5) The Gene Harris Quartet (Its the Real Soul), any track. This is good recording that needs a good system to really bring out the fragile nuances of the piano especially.
6) ZZ Top (Rythmeen), track 11, if your system can do justice to this at high volume without the soundstage collapsing into a ball of diffuse blurry noise, your amp at least is worth the money!
Stuff that just sounds good and is a test of just how good, good hifi can be is:
1) Lucky Peterson (I'm Ready) track 5 (Who's been Talking) and track 12
2) Lynard Skynard (Endangered Species), tracks 2 (Heartbreak Hotel), 4 especially
3) Renee Olstead (no title), track one "Summer Time" is simply awesome!
4) Diana Krall, (The Girl in the Other Room) track 3 (Temptation) is probably my favourite from her.
5) Juniour Wells (Keep on Steppin), tracks 1 but especially 2 (Sweet Sixteen) and 3