Why I don’t write about imaging.

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 into 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 another 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.

4 thoughts on “Why I don’t write about imaging.

  1. I am a qualified electronic technician and my hobby for the last 30 years is
    modifying and building audio equipment.

    In 1987 I took a Sansui AU777 and completely upgraded every component

    but for the transformers.
    I would play the same track after every change.
    After a while I noticed that the soundstage slowly started to go beyond the speakers.

    This continued until the stage filled the whole room up right to the ceiling!!

    I would imagine this also applies to headphones because the reason the soundstage
    gets larger with the speakers is that room reverb gets buried within the music and
    when the amp gets better at amplifying the signal it is given, more room acoutistic
    information reaches the ears.
    I don’t think it matters if its a headset or speakers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I write about imaging I’m writting exactly about that soundstage effect that puts you in front of a orchestra or among the musians. With headphones Stereo becomes a mess, a instrument or voice panned to the right or left will sound artificial on a pair of headphones (even if you usually compensate for it after a while). The only way I ever had a effect near the one loudspeakers reproduce was with binaural and crossfeed. I learned to compensate for imaging when I use headphones but never truly had that amazing stage loudspeakers push beyond the walls of a room. Tks for commenting I appreciate it a lot. Sometimes I feel I’m writing to a void when no one comments.


    • Going the audiophile route soundstage overlaps with imaging.
      Soundstage was mostly used for loudspeakers so to subjectively define the illusion of “space” the loudspeakers could “create”.
      Soundstage is for audiophiles the size and height of a room. A good set of louspeakers should recreate the sound of a cathedral or the warmth of a small recording room on your living room. So if soundstage is the space the loudspeakers can “create”, imaging should be the location of the instruments/singers on the that very same space. That’s why I said they overlap with each other.

      I think stereo imaging includes soundstage but some magazines/audiophiles separate both so they can better reach their readers.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂


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