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What creates soundstage in headphones??

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by noobiiee, Apr 29, 2010.
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  1. bigshot
    The easiest way to understand it is to think in terms of dimensions. Headphones are one dimensional- a straight line left to right through the middle of your head. Speakers are two dimensional- a picture frame around a performance 8 to 12 feet in front of you. 5.1 is halfway to three dimensionsl- a clear soundstage up front and a sound field in the shape of a plane extending forward and behind. Dolby Atmos completes the third dimension with a three dimensional box of sound all around you- the sound field extends left/right, front/back and up/down.
    Headphones - Headstage
    Speakers - Soundstage
    5.1 - Surround
    Dolby Atmos - Immersion
    I think the misuse of the term "soundstage" pertaining to headphones has led people to think that timing errors and waterfall plots are more important than they actually are. The real difference between open and closed sounding headstages is related to the mechanical aspects of the fit of the headphones, not the performance of the drivers. Just about any headphone can present phase and timing properly. That's what headphones do better than speakers.
    (I almost always proofread and edit after I post to try to clarify. My brain doesn't always spit the idea out the way I want it the first pass!)
    Music Alchemist likes this.
  2. castleofargh Contributor
    I'm all ears for a vocabulary replacement. but the fact that it isn't like speakers doesn't have to make the words meaningless with headphones. if you feel like another term would be better to explain the feeling of size and the positioning of instruments in space, I really don't care how to call it, as long as everybody understands what I mean. when I say soundstage or imaging, I think people get what I'm talking about. just like "microphonics" isn't the right word for cable noise from friction, but we all used it wrongly for years, so now it has kind of become the right word in effect ^_^.
  3. bigshot
    People use PRaT and veil to describe sound and understand it too. It doesn't make the use of the terms correct though.
    Positioning in space when it comes to headphones is almost entirely a function of the recording. It's the phase between the left and right channel the way they sound mixer created it in the mix. If you say, "These headphones have good positioning in space." you are saying more about the particular CD you are playing than the headphones themselves. However, if you say the frequency response is balanced and provides clear sound without masking muddling up the separation of the instruments... or that the sound is free of distortion making it sound clear and not like mush... then you are actually commenting on the headphones themselves.
  4. money4me247 Contributor
    I do agree that the majority of perceived positioning is dependent on the source, but from my experience certain headphones do translate positional cues better in direct comparisons against each other. From my personal direct listening comparisons, the K550 over the MDR-1R, M100, Momentum, then the Q701 over the HE-400, and finally my HE-560 over the M50x.
    However, even with a HE-560 vs M50x comparison, the differences in 'sound stage' is not that extreme. Positional cues in the recording is still audible with both pairs of headphones.
  5. bigshot
    If one headphone renders positional cues better, you would want to know why, right? What aspect of sound reproduction is better?
  6. money4me247 Contributor
    yea, i would be curious. i do not know enough about this to really speculate intelligently about this though.
    my initial thoughts were simply the open vs closed design that allows the sound waves to diffuse naturally or the actual earcup size that may cause dimensions to appear different.
    I do think that frequency response tuning may have an effect on this as generally the brighter or more-neutral headphones appear to "image" better from my experience. However, I have experienced some colored/bass-heavy headphones with decent "sound stage." Hard for me to really say as I have not too many straight comparisons on this specific sonic attribute or too much research on the subject.
    I do remember that during one direct comparison test I did a few years back, the differences in sound stage was extremely difficult to tell apart despite what reviewers around here were saying. So I do really agree that the source is probably the biggest factor with 'perceived sound stage' and our unreliable acoustic memory. I did straight 5-10 second comparisons focusing on the 'sound stage' and the variations of how headphones render positional cues were much more subtle than how it reads sometimes around here.
  7. bigshot
    Does anyone know two sets of cans which are generally accepted to be extreme examples of no headstage and big headstage? If we had something to compare, perhaps we could look at the specs and figure out what makes headstage work.
  8. Strangelove424
    The Grado SR-80 vs. AKG K701 would probably represent two extremes. The problem is I'm not sure it would be fair to compare an on-ear with over-ear design due to driver distance from the ear and the ability of the over-ear design to use atleast some elements of the pinna to reflect sound. The on-ear headphones are the ones known for this limitation, I can't think of an over-ear design with infamously small headstage.
  9. castleofargh Contributor
    one cue is very simple, it's sub bass. I never heard something with a strong bass roll off that felt immersing and wide. 
    what headphones .... most cheap grados as no space feeling, and hd800 as the "too much is more than enough"?
  10. Strangelove424
    Yes, Grados have a very steep sub-bass roll off, but all their headphones are also on-ear designs. Even the RS1 is known for having the same sub-bass rolloff and diminutive headstage. Sub-bass is a non directional wave, so that might explain the increase in headstage. My DT880s have a healthy amount of sub bass and sometimes you can feel it all over your head. There are still some headphones out there with some sub-bass roll off that still manage to have a fairly large headstage though (k702 for example).
  11. bigshot
    So IEM is more apt to have greatly reduced head stage than over ear... are there any IEMs that have very open head stage?
    And what are the narrowest and widest over ear cans?
  12. money4me247 Contributor

    for overears, i wld say the vmoda m100 wld be one of the narrowest w their focus on sleek style: earcup depth is abt <14mm and extremely tight clampin force. the sony mdr1r may b one of the widest portable that ive tried w the deepest part of the angled earcups at 22mm though the beyers dt990s look pretty wide. there is an earcup measurement thread called size matters.
  13. Strangelove424
    Yes, they don't even have the entire ear canal to work with. I'm not familiar with the IEM market, maybe Castleofargh can chime in. 
    In my limited personal experience, the Beyer DT880s have a wide head stage and also have a very wide/deep housing that pushes the driver pretty far from the ear. But they sort of sit on the top of the outer ear. The HD600 have a taller headstage, and are able to encapsulate my entire outer ear. The HD600s do not sound like they have the depth of the DT880s, but the sound stage to me is more natural, perhaps due to the height and the fact it can use more of the outer ear for acoustics. Oh, and I once tried a K702 a long time ago, and remember an extremely spaced out headstage left and right, almost unnaturally so, but I can't remember at all what the housing size was like or how they fit on my ears. 
    This is a fascinating issue. In whatever way possible, it seems to me the best headphones somehow figure out how to use the ear as part of the acoustic environment. The HD800, for instance, has a large low-resonance housing but it's drivers are a bit forward and angled toward the ear. I believe that the HD800's claimed imaging ability is actually caused by the ability for soundwaves to reflect off more portions of the outer ear, instead of the sound waves entering from a diagonal angle to the ear canal with less reflection. To borrow basketball terms, it's the difference between a bank shot and a swish. It's the refractory nature of the sound that must account for the HD800's more natural (though still artificial) headstage. It's not the headphone separating instruments, it's your outer ear/auricle/pinna that's actually doing it. It's still artificial because head movements don't translate to localization changes, so your brain has no real way of creating a 3d sound stage. Head movement is important to the naturalness of speaker listening. I've always thought that headphones induce fatigue quicker because of that stale 3d space and inability to move around it. It's a static experience, though that can be beneficial for consistency. What you said earlier about not being able to tell if sounds were localized forward or backward rings true for psychoacoustics. Sometime in school, I can't remember when, we were taught (and experienced through experiments) the human inability to localize sound forward or backward if it is perfectly in front or in back of the head. This has something to do with the fact there are no timing or refraction differences. As soon as the sound moves to an angle, you can read its direction again. This makes sense again for stereo speaker placement (and the fact that the HD800s to mimic this with an angled driver) because the sound is best localized (and staged) from 45 degree angles. The old K1000, which is said to have the greatest headstage of all, included drivers that could be angled up to 45 degrees. 
  14. Claritas
    If soundstage or headstage were entirely a product of the recording, I wouldn't hear the effect(s) with only some headphones but not others. Obviously, certain headphones are doing something. The ones I have in mind are almost all open over ear dynamics with larger drivers and pads, preferably angled drivers or pads.

    This is only a sketch, not an explanation: Open and large gives air and sense of space. Pads fulfill a similar function for headphones as a room does for speakers. Angling directs the sound.

    Bigshot, what do you think of HD800?
  15. bigshot
    That is a good hypothesis. We're working now on proving or disproving it and isolating exactly what creates what people describe as head stage.
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