There comes a time in a budding audiophile's life when he'll look down at his hands and realize that his white Apple-issue earbuds just aren't cutting it. But before you head out to the headphone store (Is that what they're called? We're going with it...), there are three different tracks you'll want loaded onto your iPod. Each one can help even an audio novice determine which set of cans are giving you the best sound.
Sync up your MP3 player before you head out shopping for new headphones. Even if you're an audio novice who thinks frequency response is a way to measure your dating streak, you'll be able to weed out the good 'buds from the bad ones with these three tracks:
Multimedia Loudspeaker Test
OK, we're already cheating our list, because this is actually a handful of tracks. But Eminent Technology's Speaker Test is the most technical way to make sure you're hearing good sound from your headphones (or speakers, it works for speakers too).
Head to this page and download these 11 .wav files, then bookmark the link in your phone's browser (It's simple text, so it should even be easy to navigate on a dumb phone). As you're testing out the offerings at the headphone store, play the tracks and compare what you hear to what Eminent Technology's descriptions say you should hear. For example, the Pink Noise track should sound like rain on a rooftop and the Left Sine Wave should only play from the left can.
A Well-Known Classical Piece
Tech blog Tested, which turned us on to the loudspeaker test, offers up the suggestion that you might want to test out another file before you buy headphones: Something that's a well-known piece of classical music.
Since you won't be listening to sine waves on a day-to-day basis, you can throw all the "technical specs" out the window if you find you prefer hearing music from one set of headphones over another. So test out those cans with a well-recorded song that features a range of qualities and instrument sounds. Classical music fits the bill, but so does a lot of jazz and some classic rock. If you want specific song suggestions, check out this thread on Head-Fi.
Your Favorite Song
Yeah, your favorite song. The song you've listened to so many times that you can beat out the drum solo on a subway seat while you wheeze the guitar riff under your breath.
You've heard it played through your earbuds, your car stereo and the sound system at the Knicks game, so bring it along when you test out new headphones. Play it once, and you should already be able to identify which sound qualities are present and which aren't. It's probably the best way to make sure that you'll come home happy from the headphone store with a pair of headphones you like listening to.
(Images: Flickr member Drakh licensed for use under Creative Commons, Flickr member pierofix licensed for use under Creative Commons)