Why I don’t write about imaging.

Photo by Manuel Nägeli on Unsplash

Someone asked me about the soundstage of the BGVP – DMG, I was expecting that question for a while, these days I don’t specifically write about soundstage on headphones mostly because I feel there isn’t much to write about, if you take in to account the way I write my reviews.

Let me try to explain, first what some call “soundstage” I call imaging.
Headphones are not loudspeakers and unless you are using some kind of crossfeed or head-related transfer function (HRTF) what you are getting from a normal headphone (there are some exceptions like the AKG K1000) are two audio channels which don’t interact with your room and ears like a pair of stereo loudspeakers.

The imaging on a headphone will be always something which divides enthusiasts, I personally think you need a crossfeed/DSP to at least reach a decent level of “natural” imaging compared with the what loudspeakers achieve.

Don’t get me wrong, I do know there is a stereo image with headphones but with some exceptions it will sound “unnatural” and “inside” the head, the illusion of multi-directional audible perspective (thank you wikipedia) will not sound like a pair of loudspeakers which with the correct stereo material can give you the idea of positioning of instruments and room size in a very realistic way.

Tyll Hertsens wrote about imaging on his innerfidelity article “Comparing World-Class Headphones”:

…a sense of breadth and depth, with tightly focused placements of the instruments in the soundstage. With very good fidelity, and ample listening experience to accustom your brain to the sound, a good sense of space can be achieved with headphones.

When I write my reviews on sound quality, I try to explain the best I can if something subjectively sounds good or not, imaging in my opinion depended greatly on the song and it scales with the quality of the headphones and above all the recording.
If the recording is well mastered or at least done in Binaural or using some kind of HRTF, the headphones should output all those space cues as long as the frequency response and right/left channel are not butchered.

I never heard a bad sounding headphone with good imaging, from my experience bad headphones will have bad imaging. Exceptions to that are hardware flaws that can pan the sound left or right, in that case a headphone can sound amazing but that flaw will ruin everything related with the stereo effect.

The best way I can explain this is by saying that when I talk about bass, mids and treble I already include imaging. It’s rather impossible to say that a “taiko” drum sounds spacious if some kind of imaging isn’t present.
Instead of writing about the unnatural stereo effect of all headphones I prefer to write about the sound quality in general, it’s my way of doing things and sure enough I might talk about instrument separation, space cues of a song if necessary to make my point come across to you.

To write about imaging I would need a song like “Michael Jackson – Black or White“, or maybe some good live recordings.
It’s my blog, so if you dislike the way I write my stuff feel free to find other place more suited to your needs. Just because others write about “soundstage” I’m not forced to follow their path.

To the ones that stay I promise that I will always try to improve the way I write, so I can make my opinions come across the best way possible.

Curious fact “soundstage” doesn’t appear on the AES Pro Audio Reference, it’s probably another audiophile word just like “headstage”.

On AES Pro Audio Reference you have this:

Imaging or stereo imaging Acoustics. Usually refers to the localization of sounds in a two-channel (normally) stereo sound system, i.e., left-to-right (or vice versa) apparent performer positions.

Even so, if you really must read about “soundstage” feel free to read this old article by Roh Soh.

14 Oct 2018 Corrected “Kodo” drum” to “taiko” drum with a link to Wikipedia.