Why do some headphones have a bigger 'soundstage' than others?
Jan 9, 2013 at 6:58 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 17

cactus_farmer

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What is actually going on to make some headphones have a larger soundstage than others? I'll admit I have no idea.
 
Does the recession of mids have anything to do with it? For example, the DT880 has slightly recessed mids relative to the bass and highs. It does sound like there is a sense of space because of the 'hole' in the midrange, whereas something like a HD650 fills in that hole and thus sounds more congested...? I'm not sure if the K701 also has a similar 'hole' in the midrange, thus enabling it to sound bigger?
 
Does it have to do with 'instrument separation'? If so, how is instrument separation actually achieved? Is it by increasing the treble, and thus gaining increased transient response and detail?
 
Is it, in fact, as simple as the physical space between your ears and the drivers? The K701, for example, has very thick pads so the drivers are far from your ears, and Grado's have very thin pads so the drivers are right against your ears. No surprise that the K701 has a much larger soundstage than most Grado's, but is it as simple as that? For example, if you could somehow use Grado pads with the K701, and K701 pads with Grado's, would the K701 now have a smaller soundstage than the Grado?
 
Thanks in advance for helping me to understand this!!
 
Jan 9, 2013 at 8:02 AM Post #3 of 17

MalVeauX

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Heya,
 
A lot of it has to do with the combination relationship of the following:
 
Distance of ear to driver.
Angle of the driver (perpendicular to your ear, or at a slight angle).
Frequency response in relation to the above.
Pads material and housing material of the headphone affects the frequency response; therefore can affect sound stage.
Amplifiers on some of these headphones affect sound stage due to how they affect frequency response; therefore again, they can affect sound stage based on the above.
 
All of that together can trick you into thinking there's more distance between things and that the space is larger.
 
It's mostly psychological.
 
Sound stage, sometimes is confused with separation of notes too. That has more to do with speed, recovery, timing, etc, of the drivers.
 
Very best,
 
Jan 9, 2013 at 8:29 AM Post #5 of 17

kookoo

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Quote:
Heya,
 
A lot of it has to do with the combination relationship of the following:
 
Distance of ear to driver.
Angle of the driver (perpendicular to your ear, or at a slight angle).
Frequency response in relation to the above.
Pads material and housing material of the headphone affects the frequency response; therefore can affect sound stage.
Amplifiers on some of these headphones affect sound stage due to how they affect frequency response; therefore again, they can affect sound stage based on the above.
 
All of that together can trick you into thinking there's more distance between things and that the space is larger.
 
It's mostly psychological.
 
Sound stage, sometimes is confused with separation of notes too. That has more to do with speed, recovery, timing, etc, of the drivers.
 
Very best,


Thanks MalVeauX,
I understood all of the above except the part:
"Frequency response in relation to the above."
 
How does the frequency response trick the mind into thinking the headphones has a wide or narrow sound stage.
Also the implication is...if the pads on the headphone start to wear out then I may (to some degree) hear a small change in the way the headphones present the music?
 
Jan 9, 2013 at 8:37 AM Post #6 of 17

MalVeauX

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Quote:
Thanks MalVeauX,
I understood all of the above except the part:
"Frequency response in relation to the above."
 
How does the frequency response trick the mind into thinking the headphones has a wide or narrow sound stage.
Also the implication is...if the pads on the headphone start to wear out then I may (to some degree) hear a small change in the way the headphones present the music?

 
Frequency response can do all kinds of weird things to sound stage. Open up your equalizer. Play around with what happens when you recess or increase the mid-range frequencies and how it affects your idea of sound stage and distance to sound (instruments or vocals are easiest to do this with) and compare it with changes in bass/treble. And yes, as materials change over time, it can slightly change the sound over time due to it's affect on frequency response. Just like how you can completely change the sound of a headphone by changing the pads completely.
 
Very best,
 
Jan 9, 2013 at 8:48 AM Post #7 of 17

obobskivich

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+1 to what Mal said, but I'll add radiation and design of the earcups as key too - for example Ultrasone's S-LOGIC creates a very good soundstage, just as Sony's Auranomic designs do - despite creating very different headphones as a result (and both of these designs are the result of research). Primarily it's enclosure design, driver selection, that sort of thing, as mal said. Essentially the relationship between how the driver (or entire enclosure) radiates and how that wave interacts with the outer ear. The point on speed and recovery is also important - generally clean/fast headphones tend to image and stage better than muddy/slow models. Also remember that the recording or source material will influence this too - for example a videogame with good HRTF processing will create a relatively convincing 3D image (just as will a binaural recording), whereas a mono recording or something with excessive hard-panning will be very unconvincing.

And +1 on the pads thing - if they deform or wear out and change how the cups sit (or seal) on your ears, that will influence the presentation as well (not just soundstaging either).
 
Jan 10, 2013 at 2:37 AM Post #12 of 17

obobskivich

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Resonance is part of, but not the entire answer. There are some headphones that have pretty nasty (comparatively speaking) looking CSDs that offer good sound-staging, and there are some headphones with very clean CSD showings that have terrible sound-staging. Resonance is part of the "attack and decay" component that goes into staging. :)
 
Jan 10, 2013 at 3:06 AM Post #13 of 17

Naim.F.C

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Based on my personal experience, I can think of a few things.
 
 
1. Frequency manipulation or personal signature
 
Most cans or buds are tweaked to give a particular frequency or sound signature. Those that are brighter and less bass emphasised, also tend to have a wider sound stage. I think the basic reason for this is that bass congests the other frequencies, and gives the audio illusion of a more claustrophobic sound, when the reality is that the emphasised bass is just masking the other frequencies somewhat. Equality, if bass is less prominent, the other frequencies are given more of a chance to sing (easier to hear), and as a result sound better spread or more apparent.
 
 
2. Physical design, drivers and resonance.
 
Cans, unlike say with amps or DAC's, also have physical form and design play a part. I.e, wider or larger cups and cans might impact the the nature of the sound's width, because of how much more space they have to spread the sound over. Less so than probably expected since ultimately the sound still travels down a small ear canal, but it's method in getting there could vary.
 
Add to that the shape or design of the physical cups holding the drivers could also have an effect. The way the sound is delivered through the cans, way it's filtered, the way the sound resonates through to the ear etc. Whether the can is open or closed, the shape of the cup, the filter applied to the driver, the type of driver, the size of the driver etc.
 
 
Having said all that, I still feel that there will never be such a thing as a perfect balance in frequency or sound on any headphone suited to all music, only one suited to personal tastes or more so towards particular music genres. But even then it's tricky because different genres are better on different cans, and different music is recorded using different cans. My belief is that if you inject more colour in the bass, you inevitably lose some width and air else where, and if you add more sparkle at the expense of reduced bass, you get the opposite. You can tweak this till you find a balance appropriate to your personal taste, but I don't think there's a de facto ideal due to all the variables in play and the static nature of the actual signal being fed.
 

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