Next-Gen Reference Tracks: 12 Top Engineers Share Their Essential Reference Mixes

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Other acoustics projects include Swiss Federal Parliament Building, Bern Switzerland; Maracanâ Stadium, Rio de Janeiro Brazil; Nordstern Club, Basel Switzerland

What He Listens For: My reference tracks usually have one or more of the following three goals:

1) I use the reference tracks to get to know the system—consisting of both the room and the loudspeaker system.

To achieve this, I listen simultaneously and in no particular order for width of frequency range, frequency response evenness, phasing anomalies, stereo stage and panorama, depth of field, phantom center, transient response, crossover characteristics, coupling of loudspeaker with the room, resonances, reflections, standing waves/modal behavior, decay of sound at various frequency ranges, dynamics, distortion, and probably a whole lot of other aspects that don’t really have a technical name.

I guess I am trying to get a “feeling” for the loudspeaker and the room and the interaction of the two.

2) This is often a quite seamless transition from first to second goal. I use the reference track to analyze causes and effects in a loudspeaker/room system. I change one parameter (e.g. the crossover frequency) and listen to the same track (usually a specific excerpt) repeatedly while changing that particular parameter.

Usually, I will make a determination whether what’s the optimal setting for the particular parameter and leave it at that unless further down the line that particular parameter needs readdressing.

I need to mention that although I rely on my ears—which are always the top criteria. I also heavily rely on acoustical measurement technology in both frequency and time domains as I can learn quantitatively from the measurement results.

The listening experience and the measurements in combination generate a complete picture in my head of a many-parameter system and its optimization potential. When in a session where I am actually asked to modify the loudspeakers and/or the room, that’s the moment where I will really dig in and start playing the parameters such as crossover points, equalizer settings, gain and phase—but not before I have made sure that the system is setup in a physically correct manner. (Height, angles, mechanical mounting, airspaces, vibrations etc.).

I tend to change back and forth between measuring and listening mode quite frequently, maybe every 15 minutes over a two-hour calibration session. The goal of the calibration session is to leave the room in better sounding shape than before and that usually is precisely what is achieved.

3) The simple and pure enjoyment of a great sounding loudspeaker/room system by listening to wonderfully performed, recorded and produced music. Probably not surprisingly, this is the part that I enjoy the most.

Next-Gen Reference Track #1: “Hey Now” by London Grammar, from the 2013 album If You Wait.

Great buildup, great production, wide dynamic range, well balanced mix, great female voice, and good depth.

Next-Gen Reference Track #2: Partition by “Beyoncé”, single from the 2013 Beyoncé album, recorded at Jungle City Studios (WSDG design).

This track has massive low frequency content and prominently exhibits a downward sweep almost down to the limit of human hearing.

If I can A ) hear the bass going all the way down and B ) hear a smooth (non-bumpy) sweep, I know that the loudspeaker/room system is in very good shape concerning low frequencies, which often is the most critical domain to get it right.

Classic Reference Track: It’s got to be Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”  In smaller to medium setups, including recording studios, this is always the very first and the very last track that I use.

On larger systems in larger spaces such as performing arts centers (theaters, concert halls) I often use “Parce Mihi Domine” by The Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek.  And, on special occasions, Puccini’s “La Bohème.”


Hank Shocklee

Hank Shocklee

Role in the Studio: Sonic architect. Creator of Public Enemy, inventor of the Bomb Squad.

Credit Highlights: Fear of a Black Planet,
Public Enemy; The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Slick Rick; Juice—The Soundtrack, American Gangster—The Soundtrack. Forthcoming: Honeymoon on Mars, The Pop Group; Technocracy: The Introduction to Quantum Entanglement, SHOCKLEE.

What He Listens For: What I listen for in reference tracks are:

1. Frequency response: How the frequency spectrum is covered from top to bottom.
2. Frequency spectrum: How much of the frequency spectrum is used from right to left.
3. Frequency dynamics: How the frequency spectrum is used from back to front
3. EQ = emotional quotient: How frequencies are used to determine an emotional response from the listener
4. Frequency heat ratio: How frequencies are used to reflect the color spectrum of our environment.
5. Vibrational energy: How rhythms are presented and how it communicates to the soul of the listener

Next-Gen Reference Track #1: “Gyre” [Original Mix] by Brian Sanhaji

Next-Gen Reference Track #2: “Unforeseen” [Live Version] by Terence Fixmer

Classic Reference Track: Rubber Soul [Album] by The Beatles

Christos Tsantilis

Role in the Studio: Producing, tracking, editing mixing, mastering, room tuning and acoustic design.

(l-r) Alissia Benveniste with Christos Tsantilis

Credit Highlights: Currently mixing Ian Lloyd album BTB, Room tuning for Tribe Called Quest, room design and build for both Mix Engineer Duro and funky bass player Alissia Benveniste, producing and mixing a new single project titled NOSUGA- HotGirl.

What He Listens For: I listen for clarity, stereo imaging, uniformity of frequency response, accurate balance between left and right speaker, and if there are any peaks or dips in mono. There are other reasons as well such as vibe, loudness matching, colorization, and harmonic distortion to name few!

Reference tracks help to motivate me so that I have a goal in mind while I work on a project. Acclimating to a room can make or break your project. I also determine what my reference tracks will be according to the project that I am working on and whether it’s a male lead singer or female.

Let me first mention that my reference tracks change all the time, because I have learned that in order to keep up with rapid changes in styles of music one must listen to all new material released and work accordingly.

I carry with me about 100 songs. The following songs are what I’m focused on at the moment:

Next-Gen Reference Track #1: Female singer:  Adele — “Hello”; or Male singer: Mark Ronson — “Uptown Funk” ft. Bruno Mars.

Next-Gen Reference Track #2: Female singer: Taylor Swift: “Shake It Off”; or Male singer Justin Bieber: “Sorry”. (Purpose: The Movement).

Next-Gen Reference Track #3: Female singer:  Shakira — “Can’t Remember to Forget You” ft. Rihanna; or Male singer Wiz Khalifa — “See You Again” ft. Charlie Puth.

Classic Reference Track:  Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg— “Nothin’ But a G Thang


Rob Seifert Gage, Audio Evidence Mobile

Role in the Studio: Mobile recording, tracking, mixing, mastering, production, musician, wiring and maintenance engineer.

Credit Highlights: Angels Cut “Calling You”, produced within the mobile recording van with the singers living room. The song went to #4 on the DigitalRadio Rock Charts. Archived the past seven “Reggae on the River” festivals. Past Credits include Porno For Pyros, Chuckii Booker, eels, NPK, k38, Nintendo, The Modeens, MIMUR, Orphan in the Afterlife, The SoHum Girls.

What He Listens For: I bust out a reference track into my ears when I’m looking for validation that I am in a genre specific range of tones and levels.

Of course I stretch past the genres after I am in the zone.  Often times I will listen to a variety of songs that I know so well in many different ways to evaluate a PA system’s speakers and effects sends on the console.

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  • Fliz Kayce

    I’m in shock that someone would use “Shake It Off” as a reference track.

    Side by side with “Thriller”, it sounds laughably flat.

    For reference quality production in the last 5 years, Jamie XX’s “In Colour” is fantastic and so is The xx’s “I See You”.

    “Vehl” by Kidnap Kid is right on the edge of “Next-Gen” but it’s fantastic. On a good system, it should really fill the room.

  • Michael Murray

    There is no “Wallflower” album by Alison Krauss & Union Station as far as I can find?