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How do you differentiate between soundstage width and depth and accurate imaging?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by Hazelhart, May 26, 2017.
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  1. Hazelhart
    Soundstage and imaging overlap, so I'm interested in how you tell if it's the soundstage that lacks width or/and depth or if it's the imaging that's inaccurate.
  2. bigshot
    I think soundstage is a term that is totally misused. Imaging is even worse. Both of these things that are created in the mix of the recording itself and in the acoustics of the room you are playing it in. The equipment itself has very little impact at all unless it has problems with phase or channel separation which isn't likely. Headphones don't have soundstage at all. The sound goes like a line down the middle of your head, not on a stage in front of you.

    Frequency response imbalances and distortion can muddy up detail, which will tend to hide secondary distance clues in the mix. But flatter response and low distortion have much bigger benefits than just the resolution of secondary distance cues.
    Kdubbs82 likes this.
  3. castleofargh Contributor
    when music is recorded in the studio, that room affects the sounds in a certain way and what they record is the result. the sound is changed by the acoustic of the room. when you play back the music on your speakers, your own room changes the sound in a certain way and what you get to listen to is the result. unless you use the speakers and the studio where the album was done, it's likely that you're changing a good deal of the music with your speakers and room. so fat chance to get an accurate anything. some parts of the audio chain have great accuracy, but the entire process results in something that most likely won't really be and we tend to lack the reference to tell if something does a better job than something else. people will tend to talk about better soundstage based on the assumption that if it feels bigger then it must be more realistic. but of course they didn't get to hear what the sound engineer heard, maybe he wished for something smaller or not very wide. audiophile feedbacks are wild guesses and personal taste, not much to do with accurate position cues.

    with headphones the problems come from the headphone and our body. my brain only knows of sounds that have been altered by bouncing on my body, my head, and the funny shapes on the ear. with time my brain, which is cleverer than I am, will use anything he can get his hands and eyes on to calibrate the sounds as well as possible. get a sound look what made it and where it is, ok so sounds like that come from that direction. it's something we don't have to think about (lucky us), and over time we get pretty good at guessing where something is just with sound. but that works in real life with all our body involved. and that's one of the problems with headphones, the head and body usually affecting all sounds are just not involved anymore. so our great brain calibration is screwed. the sound that was supposed to be partially blocked by my face so that only some frequencies would reach the other ear after a given delay based on the size of my head, at a given loudness, don't really exist. I'm missing that information.
    the other more troubling problem is that most albums are mastered on and for speakers, where all sounds on the right speaker will reach both ears, and same for the left speaker. with headphones if you do nothing special, the left channel goes only into the left ear. so most perceived positions are wrong.

    we determine where something is, based mainly on the change in loudness between each ear(ILD, interaural level difference), and the time delays between each ears (ITD, interaural time difference). anything changing those will have the ability to affect where we think a sound comes from. other cues are involved but those 2 are really important.
    jgazal likes this.
  4. edstrelow Contributor
    Some of these terms are used differently by different persons, but I would say that you are talking about three different perceptual dimensions.

    Firstly "imaging " is arguably left-right localization, the ability to locate a sound source (e.g. an instrument) on the left right dimension. In normal listening there are three main aspects of the stimulus which contribute to this, differences in sound level of the source between the two ears, time-of-arrival differences, and what is closely related, phase differences in the sound. An source off to the left side will be louder in the left ear than the right because the head acts to block the sound to the right ear. (except for very low frequencies) . Sound waves will also arrive sooner at the left ear than the right. Finally sometimes it makes sense to talk about phase differences detectable between the two ears. For example if you are listening to a sine wave source coming from off-center, the ears will detect different phases of the signal, simply because of the physical separation of the ears.

    The first two interaural differences will give an unambiguous sense of direction to the sound source (eg 30 degrees left). Phase differences are more likely ambiguous but still may contribute something to localization.

    Different people use "soundstage" differently. I think of it as the overall sense of left-right sounds and ambience in a recording That is, are multiple sources such as instruments heard as coming from in different directions?. Is there a sense of ambience to the sound? This is somewhat determined by the amount of channel separation in a recording. Thus if your left and right channels are totally mixed to give monaural sound there will be no left-right dimension, everything will be located in the middle. You may still hear ambience , it will be centered but I can sometimes get a sense of ambience from monuaral recordings even with headphones. But it is not very good.

    I would say that the greater the channel separation in a stereo recording, the better will be both the soundstage and imaging.

    I have read in the psycho-physical literature that distance judgments in hearing are very inaccurate compared to directional judgments. So I am not a great believer in depth perception in recorded sound. What I think happens though is that if you hear good ambience, your brain generates a estimate of the size of the recording venue including both width and depth. You may also hear echoes coming from surfaces behind the original sound source which would be delayed compared to the source and could contribute to a sense of depth of the recording venue.
    AudioThief likes this.
  5. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Easiest way to tell if imaging is inaccurate is if it images the cymbals to the flanks, because Mr. Fantastic is a comic book character and no human can hit drums from the seat in the center while hitting cymbals at the flanks of the stage. This is most prevalent with headphones due to the left ear hears only left driver, right ear hears only right driver problem. That said, it can happen to speakers - bad reflections, not enough toe-in, etc.

    Not everyone understands this, and to make matters worse, people think that cymbals off to the flanks equates to "wide soundstage" and, for those on headphone systems, Crossfeed just flats out makes everything too narrow, when what it's doing is making the cymbals more proportional to the scaled down size of the stage and actually adds imaging depth.
  6. bigshot
    Don't sound mixers deliberately mix high frequency stuff to the extreme right and left to emphasize the stereo effect?
  7. gunwale
    Sound stage do exist in headphone with proper recordings.

    For example movies have good sound stage and youtube recording like AGT (america got talent) do have nice sound stage.

    We have like near field speakers (monitor) as well as speakers they are room filling.

    We also have iem which is good at monitoring background sounds and headphones which actually gives you a proper surround sound.

    A good headphone will give you a very constant soundstage at any volume.

    At lower volume you will feel that you are sitting far away and at higher volume, you will hear that you are sitting at the front row. (you can hear sound coming from behind and not loud and cramp sound)

    At super high volume you will actually feel the voice is in your head and you are the one who is singing.

    So sound stage is the total stage of the sound and imagining is how accurately the sound are positioned in the sound stage.
  8. pinnahertz
    1. Soundstage is almost entirely dependent on the recording.

    2. Your examples of "good" an "nice" soundstage are just opinion. Nothing you've cited was mixed for headphones, so what you're hearing in headphones is not the intended "soundstage".

    3. Those are opposites.

    4. No headphone presents proper surround sound perspective without serious external processing, or an intentionally binaural recording.

    5. Your statement contains conflicting ideas. Soundstage is either constant or not, it can't be both. Perception of ambience is level dependent and contributes to the general soundstage, so soundstage is not exactly constant at any level, any form of reproduction. A vocal panned dead center will always image dead center in your head regardless of volume.

    6. Your definition is interesting, but soundstage as a term is not universally understood, and remains more than a little ambiguous. Hateful term, wish it used never been coined.
    N00bAudiophile likes this.
  9. bigshot
    Soundstage exists, but only with speakers. One of the first recordings to experiment with the idea of soundstage was John Culshaw's production of Wagner's Ring cycle. There was a physical stage in front of the microphones. He set up a grid on the floor with letters and told the singers to stand on the square pencilled into their score. They followed the blocking for entrances and exits and moving around the stage with the acting. With a good speaker system, the placement and perspective of the voices are uncanny. But with headphones it's just a straight line through the middle of the ears.


    You can see the stage with the grid right between the orchestra and chorus. On the boom above it is the famous Decca "tree" microphone arrangement. It captured the action on the stage with perfect placement to recreate the soundstage in stereo.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2017
  10. pinnahertz
    Since there's no clear and universally accepted definition of "soundstage" I don't see how it can exist with either speakers or headphones.
    Uncanny, perhaps…but inaccurate. There is no way to reproduce the horizontal original position of a sound source accurately with two speakers and no knowledge of the original mix monitoring system, room, and mix position, much less replicate the original acoustic event.
  11. bigshot
    I'm sure everyone here has heard Culshaw's production of the Ring since it's one of the greatest recordings of the 20th century. If you've heard it, you know Culshaw wasn't about simply representing reality. He created entire sound worlds in the space between two speakers. His experimentations paved the way for modern recording techniques (i.e.: Sgt Pepper) and foreshadowed the impact motion picture soundtracks would have. He was probably the greatest record producer of all time. He was the one who defined what soundstage is in a recording. You can't talk about sound stage without talking about Culshaw.

    Last edited: Aug 10, 2017
  12. gunwale
    Given a good pair of headphone and proper recorsing, the sound stage and imagining doesnt change.

    What changes is the prespective of the sound /listener (cant find a word for it)

    Try watching this https://www.google.com.sg/url?sa=t&...CCMwAA&usg=AFQjCNF1sHlk2z9QIx28jtvfnGP_UlkifA

    So in this example the soundstage is the stadium and the imagining is how correctly you tell the position of the contestant relative to the judge and audience at different level of volume.

    At low volume you are the audience for away listening.

    At middle volume you are the judge and the audience is behind you. (when the contastent is singing)

    At higher volume you are the contestant (when the contestant is singing not when the judge is talking)

    Basically a very good headphone will teleport you into the location of the recordoing.
    N00bAudiophile likes this.
  13. bigshot
    You're talking about secondary depth cues, and those are created by the positioning of the microphones and are part of the recording. A pair of headphones won't enhance that. It's baked into the recording. With speakers, the sound stage is a plane of sound physically in front of the listener. The depth is real. Headphones can't do that because the sound in headphones go straight into your ear... no depth.

    Headphones can produce sound with a balanced frequency response, accurate dynamics and inaudible levels of distortion. They can't create depth.
  14. gunwale
    The sound stage and depth of a speaker and headphone is not the same but they can be simulated. (yes it is baked into the recording)

    So the depth in a headphone can be simulated with volume. Bad headphone system will probably fail simulate depth because at loud volume, it sounds shouty, sibilant and distorted.

    A good headphone system will have alot of control even at very high volume.

    As for speakers, imagine that you are actually sitting in front of only 2 speakers and not moving around. You can only change the volume. This will simulate the 2nd depth thing.

    So phones have speakers too. If you use your phone (iphone/android) to listen to that youtube video, you probably wont get much 2nd depth.

    For me, the primary/physical depth /sound stage or the field / range of sound of speakers is the weakness of a speaker. Depending on the room and setup it will actually change the 2nd depth which is the true depth of the recording.
    N00bAudiophile likes this.
  15. bigshot
    I honestly don't know what you're talking about, but I suspect it's a language thing. Do you know of any websites that talk about what you're trying to explain?
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