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Soundstage. What soundstage?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

I don't get it. What is the soundstage people are talking about? I have been a long time speaker listener and I do enjoy  a good sound stage. However, modern recordings have a severe lack of sound stage. Some music like hip pop, there is barely a hint of a soundstage.

 

With headphone, I have never ever had any experience of any sound stage. As I read here in this forum, the sound stage is defined as listening beyond the ears or headstage. I don't understand why the importance or enjoyment on material that has no sound stage at all. In some cases for critical listening, some haedphones with so called large soundstage is really irritating. For example, a drum could span from all the way from the right to the left. The band is sitting on top of one another. I would say a large soundstage is a disadvantage instead of an advantage. But yet, on most reviews here soundstage is always claimed as a major differentiator (especially with cable). And yet nobody ever tried to correct or clarify what they are talking about. Could it be people are reading too many Six Moon review?

post #2 of 14

Yeah i also don't understand soundstage when it comes to music, i don't here much soundstage unless i'm hearing a 3d sound of some kind. BUT when it comes to movies and games, especially online mulitplayer video games (first person shooters) i understand the concept of soundstage very well. My turtle beach x1's gave the best soundstage but it was only meant for that, sound quality listening to music is HORRIBLE. I now have a Sennheiser HD 558 that is suppose to have outstanding sound stage because of the open back design.. about the same if not worse then my x1's when it comes to fps shooter soundstage. Listening to music or movies though the 558's are amazing... while the "gaming" headset excels well at fps sound stage

post #3 of 14

Compress a good classical recording to 256 or even 320 kbps listen to it and, normaly, you will notice that it sounds nearer to you.

When you're listening to classical or even jazz I always find enjoyable to hear a natural soundstage I feel like I'm in the concert hall.

post #4 of 14

except that extremely few individuals can tell compressed from original AB/X at those rates with today's best codec tunings unless listening to "killer samples" - like close miced percussion - which contains sound that never reaches a classical symphony hall's audience seats

 

the most likely audible defect in a compressed, "realistic" classical symphony recording would be the applause - a broadband noise like signal - not the music, especially with the high frequency air propagation loss of any audience seating

 

are you sure you did this with a good codec, recent tuning,  0.1 dB level matching, blind AB/X - care to post clips, foobar ABX plugin scores?

 

lots of defects that could be heard with decade old tunings of MP3 have been improved, and older MP3 made poor use of higher bit rates compared to AAC, Ogg, even WMA


Edited by jcx - 3/17/13 at 6:51am
post #5 of 14

I don't know I did this a while ago, but if you give me some files I can do an ABX.

post #6 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by dvw View Post

I don't get it. What is the soundstage people are talking about? I have been a long time speaker listener and I do enjoy  a good sound stage. However, modern recordings have a severe lack of sound stage. Some music like hip pop, there is barely a hint of a soundstage.

 

With headphone, I have never ever had any experience of any sound stage. As I read here in this forum, the sound stage is defined as listening beyond the ears or headstage. I don't understand why the importance or enjoyment on material that has no sound stage at all. In some cases for critical listening, some haedphones with so called large soundstage is really irritating. For example, a drum could span from all the way from the right to the left. The band is sitting on top of one another. I would say a large soundstage is a disadvantage instead of an advantage. But yet, on most reviews here soundstage is always claimed as a major differentiator (especially with cable). And yet nobody ever tried to correct or clarify what they are talking about. Could it be people are reading too many Six Moon review?

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dvw View Post

However, modern recordings have a severe lack of sound stage. Some music like hip pop, there is barely a hint of a soundstage.

 

 

You might also notice that most people splurging on audiophile gear (particularly the older ones on speakers) aren't listening to hiphop and most other modern music, so yeah all the more will it be very hard to understand soundstage. Also when it comes to hip hop, people will either recommend the Sony enhanced bass headphones, or start bashing Beats.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dvw View Post

I don't get it. What is the soundstage people are talking about? I have been a long time speaker listener and I do enjoy  a good sound stage.

 

...I don't understand why the importance or enjoyment on material that has no sound stage at all.

 

In any case, that might also be why I react with a "huh?" to new songs on the radio. I really don't listen to much new music, although I have to admit soundstage hints are audible with speakers and headphones even on more mainstream music, although by that I don't mean electronics-synthesized music, but more acoustic recordings.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dvw View Post

With headphone, I have never ever had any experience of any sound stage. As I read here in this forum, the sound stage is defined as listening beyond the ears or headstage.

 

Not necessarily - it just means those headphones get that much closer to speakers.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dvw View Post

In some cases for critical listening, some haedphones with so called large soundstage is really irritating. For example, a drum could span from all the way from the right to the left. The band is sitting on top of one another.

 

I had a similar experience when I used a K701 with my DAC-AH and Little Dot MkII. This system basically put the orchestra in Epica's The Classical Conspiracy in front and below the band, like they were performing in the Kodak Theater with the band in the pit ahead and below the stage. To date I have not listened to the K701 doing anything as weird as that.

On the other hand, yes headphones do have a lot of inherent weaknesses compared to speakers and that's exacerbated by younger people who have to get into (serious) headphones for one reason or another before (serious) speakers (technically a lot of us started with head/earphones given we grow up in our parents' house first, etc) reading what people listening to music with soundstage say then expecting to hear it in badly recorded modern music (whether they think they hear it or actually do is up for debate).

 

But that's also why the size of the soundstage is less critical than all the other characteristics. For one, even with speakers you are not reproducing the same soundstage even the best recording engineers hope to simulate in the recording - you are reproducing it to scale. That means a band of whatever musical inclination recorded to simulate their space in a small bar for example isn't going to be reproduced in the same size unless your room was around the same size, because even if you can control reflections, you're still restricted by how far the speakers are from each other. For a headphone, it's more around the size of those table top band toys that start moving/"performing" when you hear music, if you were watching it with your face close to it. The important thing is how accurate it is within that space, not the size out of one's head.

Which leads to another set of disadvantages with headphones. Speakers are usually set to a toe-in angle, especially if you aren't far enough from them. The other is that with speakers, your left ear can hear the right speaker and vice versa, which allows for simulating the spatial cues better. By default a very basic headphone system isn't going to get either, however technology tries to improve on things. As for the angle, some headphones have the chassis (like the cups) or the earpads set the drivers at an angle and maybe slightly forward your face from the ear hole, simulating a speaker toe-in and the more "in your face (head)"* sound that comes naturally when the sound source is right outside one's ears. My HD600 doesn't have either but I wear it in such a way that the earpads produce a wear pattern similar to the default shape of K701 pads, that is, more wear on the side of the pads forward of the face, simulating the same toe-in. I went further and wear it with the rear pad pushing my earlobes slightly forward.

 

As for hearing the the other side, there's crossfeed, which is basically like the headphone equivalent of time alignment, particularly in a car where more serious systems can set customized time delays for each tweeter, midrange, midwoofer and the subwoofer so the driver can hear a more normal soundstage on the dashboard as per IASCA and EMMA rules (ie, vocalist dead center and as high up as possible, all other instruments in the same height spread out and with distinct sources along that plane, etc). However the difference here is that you're not just delaying sound but deliberately feeding some freqs across the channels. Depending on how purist one is about not fiddling around with the sound, that may be a problem. On my end though teh built in crossfeed on my amplifier helps to keep the drum roll span realistically. What some people think is congested is, again, to scale. Guitars on left and right, bass guitar and vocals in the middle, all percussion somewhere between the guitars and preferably behind the vocals.

Some sources however are just bad at this with headphones. With a NAD C545, the drum rolls don't only span from one side to the next, they actually have a 'crescent' shape - however as much as that may seem like what a real drum set is like around the drummer, the problem is it happens above and around my head on some of the CDs I tried. The Marantz CD5003 does this worse. The Cambridge 340C puts all percussion forward of the entire band. Obviously with more affordable CDPs realistic soundstage isn't only down on the list of priorities, these are also very likely not tested with headphones (or not extensively) by the engineers.

 

*Like how cymbals always seem to be at the extreme left and right, EQ can only tame its fatiguing qualities but not exactly reposition it

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dvw View Post

But yet, on most reviews here soundstage is always claimed as a major differentiator (especially with cable). And yet nobody ever tried to correct or clarify what they are talking about. Could it be people are reading too many Six Moon review?

 

 

Well, here's one problem - try to correct a strong belief and see what reactions you get. Like how a $4,000 cable is a good investment for $4,000 or even just $1,000 components being bridged by said cable, or telling Kansas, Texas and England that T-Rex died 65 million years ago and Noah didn't save the Stegosaurus.

 

On the other hand, frequency peaks (or lack thereof) does affect soundstage. Bias it on the vocal range and voices seem more forward, for example. What some people describe as "weak bass" but is adequate for others is usually perceived by the latter as a deeper soundstage on some headphones, because that also puts all percussion but especially the bass drum (and guitar) behind the vocals which is normally recorded straight from the singer into the mic, no 'wall of sound' or any other phase involved, whereas you have the mics a bit away from the drums (but not necessarily in "front row"), guitars' amps placed on one side of a room (or the engineer just biases it in the mixing), etc.

 

In any case, if you can get your hands on an EMMA or IASCA test/demo/competition disc, they have recordings of some person babbling about the competition or what soundstage means while walking around a room relative to a mic (or a pair of them), so you can see how he pans from one side to the next, and from front to back, to demonstrate how its possible with speakers. Since this is recorded particularly to show this (unlike, again, most current music), it's easy to get soundstage cues off this even on headphones.

 

In any case I'm not a fan of Six Moons either. Some info on there does serve as a good guide but I'd be one of the first to not buy it lock stock and barrel (I take to every review like that generally, but of course a bit of a guide is never a bad thing - it's how much faith some people put in them regardless of who wrote them that I find problematic.)

 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by joshwalnut View Post

Yeah i also don't understand soundstage when it comes to music, i don't here much soundstage unless i'm hearing a 3d sound of some kind. BUT when it comes to movies and games, especially online mulitplayer video games (first person shooters) i understand the concept of soundstage very well. My turtle beach x1's gave the best soundstage but it was only meant for that, sound quality listening to music is HORRIBLE. I now have a Sennheiser HD 558 that is suppose to have outstanding sound stage because of the open back design.. about the same if not worse then my x1's when it comes to fps shooter soundstage. Listening to music or movies though the 558's are amazing... while the "gaming" headset excels well at fps sound stage

 

Well, in those cases, they're a surround format, so off the bat, on a home theater system you do have speakers all around you to simulate that. By contrast in music, not even 5-channel concert videos or SACDs have all five channels where the individual instruments are. In movies and games you have speakers around you to show how the sparks off Darth Sidious' lightning and Mace Windu's lightsaber are all over the place, or an Urukhai exhaling around you when the camera is right there among them outside of the Hornburg, or if some Nazi is shooting at you from wherever his foxhole is as youmake your way through Normandy's hedgerows in Call of Duty. By contrast in music you don't get a center channel in front for vocals, another behind that for bass guitar, monitors for guitars, then another stereo pair for the drums behind those; or an array of speakers spread out to simulate the location of every section of an orchestra. Recording music like that is too anal-retentively specific to be commercially viable, although I must admit I have tried to borrow five CDPs, the CDs of individual tracks (instruments, not songs) before they're put together on the normal 2ch recording, then hook up each source to active monitors. Needless to say, even if get around to setting this up, the question is whether all five CDPs will play simultaneously off of one universal remote where I hit play.

 

Going back to the IASCA and EMMA demo disc I mentioned above, though, it is possible to simulate this if  the recording was done in such a way as to use the recordings mics to simulate distance. But of course that's not exactly anywhere near the top of the list for engineers nowadays, more so when your clients have one or a handful of guys rapping at the same time, the drums don't roll from one side to the next along with a guitar riff, and the bass comes from a synth extending the rumble off a bass drum hit or just generating the windshield-shattering bass outright. Yep, of course they probably record with a Hummer on Dubbz sporting Audiobahns in mind a lot more than a speaker system at home. (This is an extreme example and yes even rock bands nowadays just tend to absolutely suck at soundstage recording too)

post #7 of 14
Thread Starter 

I have a few Chesky disks and their test CD. These are by far the best recording I have for demonstrating sound stage. I can pin point where every single instrument is. But they are basically non-effective on headphones.

 

Somehow, I think equipment today are better to read about than listen to. My audio education originally came from the listening room. I remembered after spending two hours in a listening room and just about ready to make a purchase. The salesman would go; " Hey, we haven't listened to this album yet". And then, he suggested a loaner before the actual purchase because the speakers need to sit almost in the middle of the living room. I haven't seen any properly set up listening room for a long time. And the thing is the "high end" stuffs are not expensive by today's standard even with inflation adjusted.

 

So if I discount the so called sound stage of headphone (per the reviewer), there is really not a whole lot of difference between a good affordable headphone and a super expensive phone. I am listening more on my headphones these days because of the convenience. I just bought an IPOD nano for travelling and exercising. Instead of trying to find the right phones for my music, I guessed I should just pick the right music for the phones.

 

I think I'm done with my rant now.

post #8 of 14
I myself don't find as much value in a pair of headphones as a pair of speakers with proper positioning and listening environment. The only real reason I use headphones is so I don't disturb people at night, and because I'm still in high school so I can't afford planar magnetic or electrostatic speakers. I completely agree that sound stage on headphones isn't great, then again some exceptions exist such as the Sennheiser HD 800. They are phenomenal and the high-end AKG's are supposed to be similar in imaging quality. But there is much more than just sound stage than music. Frequency response, attack and decay, smoothness, wet or dry, warm or cold, and accuracy or musicality are much more important. It is the sound signature that people typically pay for. Headphones are a much more intimate experience, and therefore they can have more detail than speakers. An expensive headphone with proper amplification, synergy, and source could crush a pair of speakers that cost triple the price simply because they are not as close to the ear and we cannot pick up on as much of the quiet sounds. Headphones are certainly a different experience than speakers, but I wouldn't say that they are any less good. The presentation of sound stage is certainly no where near as good, because how can we force our brains to perceive sound coming from in front or behind, and above or below when it really is only coming from beside us. It is a difficult task, where as speakers are already in front of us and can easily emulate a band/performer in a live environment.
Edited by ToddTheMetalGod - 3/17/13 at 2:30pm
post #9 of 14

I guess this has turned more into headphones vs speakers than about soundstage, which is fine ofcourse.

 

But yeah, speakers are probably the superior option. There's a reason people want a 'speaker like' presentation from headphones while nobody really wants the opposite from speakers. However, if you really care about music but do not have the option of listening to speakers all day then you can get a very satisfying experience with a good headphone setup. This does require ofcourse you getting the 'its not as good as speakers' thing out of your head and being able to enjoy the music through headphones as is. If you do, there are some very good headphones with great sound signatures out there for you to appreciate.

Soundstage is definitely not something I really relate to headphones, but I do appreciate being able to discern instruments with ease.

post #10 of 14

I always point to the SVS Realizer system in headphone sound stage discussions

they do a unbelievably good job of giving the sound of those speakers out there in this room sound when the complete calibration with head tracking is done

you really have to have the full demo/personal calibration to understand

post #11 of 14

I thought OP mentioned hip pop which I took to be modern pop music but if it is supposed to be hip-hop, soundstage is not at all important. That genre was originally really meant to be a focus on lyrics, everything else can be minimally musical and still have a strong impact on listener, sort of like how a preacher delivers a message. Anyway hip-hop doesn't really deserve to be mentioned for soundstage.

 

I agree with protegemaniac that not a lot of people here listen to hip-hop and or they barely understands its nature. At its roots, it takes cues from funk, soul, blues and jazz. Now the mainstream aspects basically has zero cues from its roots which mostly sound digital and bloated with bass so people associate that genre to be bass heavy.

 

As for soundstage in headphones, it was the main turning point for me to get into openback headphones especially for artist I know and trust to have intricacies in their music recording. Not for hip-hop artist though lol, in-ears are more than enough to fully appreciate hip-hop

post #12 of 14

Hiphop isn't my thing at all, but what I have listened to impressed me as not having much separation...in other words, a rather narrow sound stage.  I thought this to be deliberate because the engineer would know that when he got both left and right playing basically the same thing, particularly bass, it has the ability for much higher total energy because all drivers are working together. Better punch, bass, etc. Seemed to make sense for the genre. 

post #13 of 14

I for one have bad soundstage judgement. Once while listening to music, a cat with a bell on her collar shook her head. I thought the ringing came from inside the headphones.

 

Hence; outside of headphones or inside of headphones mean jack s*** to me.

post #14 of 14

Well soundstage is a bit ambiguous...

 

For a lot of people it means simply how "big" the sound is. Whether it extends way out of the sides of your head or not. And for others it means being able to separate the instruments and point out where each band member is playing.

 

I think the differences between both of these things doesn't vary to that large of an extent with headphones, at least no where near the amount that a lot of head-fi'ers claim. Even when comparing IEM's and open back headphones.

 

But it seems most bands have drums playing on both sides, not just hip-hop. I mean generally the drummer is in the middle of the stage. There is hip-hop that has great soundstage though, granted it's generally artificial... But for example Surrounded by Tipper is a trip-hop album that is mixed in 5.1.

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