Depth perception in headphones
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Vertigo-1

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Some of the things I've been hearing the past few nights have been rather ear opening to put things mildly. But to understand what I'm hearing (the fun part!) I'll need some help with the idea of depth perception in headphones.

For the longest time in using headphones, I don't think I've ever experienced depth perception...until now (yes this alludes to new equipment but I'll leave that out of this...I mean who cares
). I've always heard things in a very single layered fashion. To some degree I could tell something was maybe playing a tad farther away from something else, but it was always still a relatively straight beeline...I could pratically connect all the instruments playing in a virtual half circular line from the extreme left side of my ear to the front, to the right. Of course I've just now discovered that the headphone itself can have a profound influence on this...so far I've discovered the Etymotics are actually quite poor at casting a sense of depth. They are exceptional and darn near unbeaten in the dynamic headphone real at the seperation and imaging of instruments however.

Now I've had no problems at all hearing different instruments playing, and this got better and better as my equipment got better and better. But within the headphone realm, I have never experienced a true positioning of each individual instrument in its own space. Until now.

My question now is if you can hear each instrument distinctly playing, that's good seperation. But if you can distinctly hear each instrument playing, and also hear where it is located in a recording/the recording venue, and it contains a space of its very own, is that good seperation and depth? Or is this still just good seperation? Does it take depth perception to be able to localize instruments in their own space?

This is a phenomenon I've never heard in headphones, and also never believed was possible in a headphone until now. And now that I've heard it, it's one of those things that make you want to go back through each CD you own, particularly the ones made up of orchestras or different musical instruments playing together.

Another thing that's boggled me with this discovery is just where are we, as the listener, relative to the recording venue? i.e. in one Keiko Matsui track, I heard drums playing up close , and a saxophone playing farther away. But such an arrangement makes no sense to me, since normally drum kits are positioned in the back of a group. And when I watched the Keiko Matsui DVD, the guy playing the saxophone played in front of the drum kit. Does this mean that through the recording, I'm actually at the back of the stage looking outward at the audience, and listening as such? Or is this simply the way instruments can be arranged around a mic? I mean, what is the "listening position" here? Normally I assume I'm part of an audience with the orchestra or playing group arrayed in front of me on a stage, and yes I've heard recordings where this indeed happens. Most recordings are like this I think. But now I'm wondering if there's actually a different positioning perspective to some recordings.
 
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andrzejpw

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I'm in a very similar situation. . .

I love listening to older jazz recordings. As I'm getting more and more into this hobby, I begin to imagine where the instruments are coming from. . . Sort of like "left, over there, slightly behind everyone."

But what I've also noticed is that my hd580s make things sound like they are behind me. I'm not sure what to make of it. Maybe I like it, maybe not.


Anyone know what I'm talking about? Maybe I should just go mow the lawn. . .
 
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Vertigo-1

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That sound you're hearing behind you is the sound of your dad telling you from behind to go mow the lawn.


Umm seriously though, now that's a phenomenon I've never experienced through stereo recordings. I've heard it in binaural, in Aureal's Vortex 2 soundcard doing A3D rendering of in-game sounds on the PC, and in good solid movie theaters playing those THX demo tracks. But never in stereo. The closest thing I've heard to hearing instruments playing behind anything was a demonstration I heard on an XLO CD where a guy walked around a room, with a mic in the room with him. He demonstrated how the mic could be used wrongly be stepping behind the mic...the sensation was such that if he were normally talking around level with my nose and a couple of feet away, it suddenly felt as if he was talking around where my chin would be, and very very close to me. At that point I totally lost focus of his voice as he moved around the back area of the mic...I found it impossible to pinpoint his voice.
 
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andrzejpw

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LOL vertigo!

I've noticed that that happens to me on a TON of things. The sound is coming from slightly behind my ears. Is that "laid back?"
 
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dhwilkin

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Nothing new to me. Lovely, palpable depth perception is one of the prime benefits of balanced power. Hmm... Anyway, I do hear some things coming from behind me (not always drums), but I just accept it as an oddity of using headphones, doesn't bother me.
Quote:

Vertigo-1 said...

Does it take depth perception to be able to localize instruments in their own space?


Yes, if you're talking about a 3D space.
 
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dvw

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Soundstage in headphone is very different from speakers. In addition a lot of music are not recorded for 3D.

To check out the difference in soundstage, try listening to Roger Water's Amused to death. In the beginning, there is a barking dog. On speakers, it will sound like the dog in your backyard (distant right corner). But on headphone, it's somewhere in the middle of the head distant. There is very little 3D soundstage to speak of.

Different recording will have different effect of course. Chesky usually have better soundstage recording. Try them out and see the difference.
 
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Audio-Me

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How the hell can you get depth from earphones?
 
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Duncan

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Quite easily A&M...

But, I think that you can only notice this when you step up the quality of your source...

I can often notice perceived depth, and have a sense of 'front to back' with my set up... I'd love to hear just how much more 'airyness' you can get from a really expensive setup...
 
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Audio-Me

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What like an inch or two? A foot radius soundfield around my head would be too weird for me, lol, and completely sealed off environment with lights off, dude that is freaky.
 
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depth,or the perception of depth is a product of the recording.I will add that only high quality equipment can accurately reproduce that depth or "soundstage" prescence as recorded.While I don't think that headphones can accurately reproduce a 3D soundstage they can reproduce a soundstage as good as most speakers can.On the live recording of Particia Barber's "Companion" on the track "Use Me" every instrument can be placed in each spot on the stage.there is a depth to the soundstage and instrument seperation is tack-sharp.I have heard this on most SACD recordings as well.Headphone sonics can be accurately described in terms of soundstage but a consideration has to be made for the difference between a loudspeaker type soundstage and that of a headphone system.
 
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Duncan

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One to try...

Bjork ~ Venus as a boy...

I'm not too hot with instruments, but - it sounds like you have a bass drum rear left... and a snare drum rear right... a glochenspiel straight ahead, vocals... localised, some kind of wind instrument front left, and a tambourine front right...

kinda spooky, but in a way it detracts from the music, because I was more interested in the positioning than the music... ho-hum

worth a try anyway
 
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Xander

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Finally, a somewhat interesting discussion.

I think this mostly depends on the recording. Most usually come across as being in a straight line, with some recordings being mixed hard left and right things appearing behind slightly. There are instances with many recordings however, when I sense actual depth, and feel as though an instrument isnt along the others in a straight line, but rather down above or far away. The only example of this I can think of off the top of my head, is Pink Floyd's "High Hopes." The beginning starts off with some sortof bell thing in the distance.. Which is clearly in the distance, not in front of me with the rest of the instruments. I can sense depth around it, and sense it's distance clearly.
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by Xander
Finally, a somewhat interesting discussion.

The only example of this I can think of off the top of my head, is Pink Floyd's "High Hopes." The beginning starts off with some sortof bell thing in the distance.. Which is clearly in the distance, not in front of me with the rest of the instruments. I can sense depth around it, and sense it's distance clearly.


Another mark of a great system, as well as the perception of where the bell is, is if you can hear that bell throughout the WHOLE track... it IS possible on some really high-end systems, but I can sadly admit that there are still two or three times that it disappears on mine
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by Duncan


Another mark of a great system, as well as the perception of where the bell is, is if you can hear that bell throughout the WHOLE track... it IS possible on some really high-end systems, but I can sadly admit that there are still two or three times that it disappears on mine


Indeed.
 
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kerelybonto

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Quote:

Finally, a somewhat interesting discussion.


Haha, no!, you can't be bored by all the amazing goings-on at Head-Fi!

In my limitted experience, I've found that instrument positioning is definitely skewed in headphone listening. How many of you are using crossfeed? That could probably have a major impact, too, though I'm not sure if it would be good or bad. ...

kerelybonto
 
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