Grab your earphones or earbuds and dig into a playlist custom-crafted for maximum immersion, full of classic tracks and new favorites from a variety of genres.
Something special happens when you put on a pair of quality headphones and take a deep listen to a good song. It’s even more special with a pair of quality in-ears and a curated playlist full of songs that make full use of the stereo spectrum for maximum immersion.
This is that playlist.
“Journey in Satchidananda” - Alice Coltrane
Harp and Indian instruments in jazz music? Yes and yes. It can be argued that Alice Coltrane did more to innovate in the genre than her husband or any of his contemporaries, and the 1971 album Journey in Satchidananda (featuring Pharaoh Sanders) makes quite a convincing argument.
While the bass sets up an ostinato groove to anchor the album’s title track, the hypnotizing drone of a tanpura creeps into your right ear, accompanied by jangling, bell-like percussion. Once the stage is set, the harp erupts from the left and is joined by the drums, kicking this psychedelic jam into full swing. By the time the sax comes in, it feels like it has sprouted naturally out of this lush garden of sound.
“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” - Wilco
The opening track from Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is also one of the most adventurous songs on the record, and it’s a real treat to listen to with some quality in-ears.
The tune starts off with a solid 45 seconds of ear candy, setting the mood with a wash of stereo organ, drums, piano, mallet percussion and sound effects. Just before it becomes too self-indulgent, doubled acoustic guitars start strumming on the left and right and the song takes more of a traditional shape.
Throughout the tune, various percussion, chimes, keyboards and other sweeteners come in and out, providing lots of engaging ear candy. The final two minutes envelop you in a cacophony of sound, distorted and dissonant yet utterly beautiful.
“10-20-40” - Rina Sawayama
While not as experimental as some of the other songs on this list, “10-20-40” has a huge, lush soundscape full of intricate details that make the song come to life when you hear it up close and personal.
Just beneath the gnarly guitar and punchy drums, arpeggiated stereo mallet percussion anchors the song and gives it a sense of width, while sparkling chimes and throwback synth sounds keep things interesting. In the chorus, the lines “10, 20, 40 / happy, sad, crazy” alternate to the left and right with different voices. Toward the end, after an over-the-top guitar solo, stereo backup vocals join in for an epic pop crescendo.
“The Fairy-feller’s Master Stroke” - Queen
Queen is the only band that could make a song about fairies rock this hard. Like the painting it’s inspired by, the lyrics of “The Fairy-Feller’s Master Stroke” describe a fantastical scene full of unique characters and tons of little details.
With the combined songwriting genius of Freddie Mercury and production wizardry of Brian May, Queen were experts at crafting complex arrangements that bordered on progressive rock without losing their pop sensibility. The incredible detail of the painting and the whimsy of the lyrics are mirrored in the production, with vocal harmonies, guitar licks, piano overdubs and sound effects flying all over the place. There’s so much going on in this song that it’s hard to believe it’s all over in under three minutes.
“Green Lake” - Sundae Crush
Sundae Crush may not be as well-known as some of the other artists on this list, but they craft superb psychedelic rock and pop songs with detailed production that rewards a close listen.
“Green Lake” starts off with lush stereo backup vocals before the band comes in, accented by a dreamy flute trill that occasionally floats from left to right. The guitar alternates between a dry, clean tone on the right and reverb-soaked licks on the left, while backup singers on each side give the mix a sense of balance. Plus, there’s a sax solo. What’s not to like?
“Minha Ciranda” - Fabiano Do Nascimento
Panning the main vocal all the way to the right throughout an entire song is a bold move. Uncommon in contemporary productions, this style of mixing risks making the song sound unbalanced, but it works perfectly in this track. The intricate percussion on the left balances the vocal, elevating it to equal importance, while the guitar holds down the middle.
Though the arrangement is fairly simple, “Minha Ciranda” has a few surprises in store that make it a delight to hear through in-ears. To accent the lyrics in a few select moments, the vocal suddenly widens to take up the full stereo space with a lush reverb added.
Halfway through, another guitar seamlessly takes the place of the vocals on the right for a solo, as if it were just another vocalist singing in a different language. A psychedelic delay takes over the vocals at the end, before the song concludes with a final guitar flourish.
“Parallelograms” - Linda Perhacs
Now regarded as a landmark work of psychedelic folk, Linda Perhacs’ debut album was criminally underrated when it came out in 1970. After decades without a follow-up, a reissue of Parallelograms brought renewed interest in the songwriter, leading her to pick up her music career and release two more albums in 2014 and 2017.
The title track of that first album puts the “psych” in “psych-folk,” with hypnotic, interlocking acoustic guitars and lush, layered vocals that fill the stereo spectrum with trippy lyrics about shapes and spirals.
Things really get interesting just before the two-minute mark, when the song abruptly shifts to a soundscape of ethereal bell textures and vocals that seem to swirl around your head. Finally, the familiar refrain returns to perfectly resolve the song.
“Infatuation” - SOPHIE
The late, great SOPHIE was a genius when it came to crafting immersive, synth-laden pop tracks. “Infatuation” is a slow burner that starts off with a simple, tranquil melody and eerie pitch-shifted vocals and gradually evolves into an epic, emotional crescendo.
Layers of vocals build throughout the track, including whispers that swirl around, delay effects that cascade off to the left and right and powerful main vocals double-tracked in stereo for extra impact. The song ends as tranquilly as it started, with the words “I wanna know” decaying into the background as the childlike pitch-shifted vocals return.
“Expanding Electricity (Single Edit)” - Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Formerly a neo-folk songwriter with the band Ever Isles, Berklee grad Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith took a sharp turn into electronic music after discovering the sonic possibilities of modular synthesizers.
Though the full version of “Expanding Electricity” stretches past 10 minutes, even the truncated single edit takes you on a journey through a wonderland of sounds that almost demands to be heard in headphones or in-ears. Marimba patterns reminiscent of Steve Reich dance amid an ocean of stereo synths, while the layered vocals surround you with feel-good vibes.
“Autobahn” - Kraftwerk
Kraftwerk were innovators in so many ways, and “Autobahn” is a shining example of how they pushed the boundaries of both electronic music and stereo technology. The first thing you hear is the sound of a car starting, driving from right to left and honking before fading into the distance. When the groove kicks in, it’s anchored by Kraftwerk’s trademark electronic percussion and a variety of synth sounds arranged in stereo.
Around the nine-minute mark, synthesized vehicle-like sounds pan from side to side, making you feel like you’re in the drivers’ seat of the Kraftwerk-mobile, cruising down the highway. Settle in for the ride and enjoy this 22 minutes and 47 seconds of stereo heaven.
“African Alphabet” - Sesame Street Feat. Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Kermit The Frog
If you made it through all 22 minutes of “Autobahn,” congratulations—you’ve reached the secret track! And yes, you read that title right. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the South African choral group that famously collaborated with Paul Simon on Graceland, has an even bigger collaboration to brag about: Kermit the Frog.
On this track, the voices of the Ladysmith singers blend together in a rich, full chorus, yet you can still pick out individual voices as if they were standing right in front of you. When Kermit joins in, he’s accompanied by percussion instruments to the left, right and center that sound like they’re right next to your ear. The intricate interplay of Kermit, the chorus and the percussion gives this tune a degree of sophistication far beyond what you’d expect from a children’s song.