Audiophile or not, we all like to visualize how an orchestra is playing or how the singers are performing at a live event. We could be sitting at home, on a bus, or at the office desk. We want more than flat music playing in our ears. But how can you “see” music when you are not watching a live performance? The answer lies in “soundstaging.”
We are talking about creating an imaginary image in the mind’s eye by reproducing music that’s as close to the real version as it is possible. Soundstaging is also known as speaker image. It lets you perceive where an instrument is located based on how the sound is played.
We can call it the spatial sound image that’s presented to the listener to enhance the listening experience. Audiophile headphones and earbuds come with sound staging to replicate the real-life experience. The sound staging is created rather than reproduced to deliver the desired results.
In this post, we’ll read more about sound staging, its importance, and how you can test whether your headphones have a soundstage or not.
What is Soundstaging in Headphones?
Soundstaging in headphones is the process of creating an acoustic image of the setting. It is not limited to musical events or stage performances.
Imagine you are playing an online game. Your virtual avatar is on a war field and surrounded by enemies. You can see the players on the front. But what about the ones behind your avatar? Soundstaging will help identify the positions of other players as they make sounds during the game. You’ll know whether the sound came from the left, right, back, or front.
Similarly, when you are watching action and sci-fi movies, using audiophile headphones with sound staging will make you feel as if you are a part of the movie. It’s pretty much like watching a 3D movie, except that the sound effects are in 3D.
So what kinds of headphones have better soundstage?
Open-back headphones are high-end models that allow air to pass through the ear cups. This results in lesser resonance and more clarity. The sounds produced will be natural and thus create a better soundstage effect. Even though these headphones are prone to sound leakage, they are better with spatial sound imaging.
What is Soundstaging in Earphones?
Theoretically, soundstaging in earphones is the same as the one in headphones. The aim is to provide the listeners with a wonderful listening experience. However, soundstaging in earbuds is difficult to achieve.
Expensive earphones with high-end audio clarity can deliver worthy soundstaging effects. That said, many earphones are not as capable as headphones when it comes to the sound stage. This is why avid audiophiles prefer headphones to listen to their favorite music tracks. Even if it is recorded music, audiophiles need it to play like a live performance.
How do Audio Engineers Create Excellent Quality Soundstage?
Creating an excellent quality soundstage is an art indeed. Various factors affect the soundstage created, and these change based on whether the sound stage is being set for speakers or headphones. After all, the specifications and uses of these output devices are different.
The following are the major factors that influence the quality of soundstage and determine how you enjoy music.
Soundstaging’s creation relies on how the original audio has been recorded. If the microphone and other equipment used for recording the live music are not good, the final results will be less than impressive. The initial capturing has to be of high quality for a better soundstage that is demanded in the audiophile world.
The recording process and equipment provide ambient cues that add the much-needed imaginary three-dimensional space and atmosphere to the audio. If the textural detail is high, the sound will appear closer to the listener and vice versa. Elements like toning the soundtracks and panning them for each instrument also play a role in enhancing or diminishing the 3D sound image.
Room reflections help listeners identify where a particular instrument could have been located. Here, room effects relate to the location of the output devices, i.e., speakers and headphones.
For stereos and speakers, you can visualize whether the instrument is on the front, back, or the side from where you are sitting.
For headphones, the room environment is your ears. The sounds will play at varying distances from your ears. However, this can be affected by the type of headphones you are using.
Position of Speakers and Sound Source
Quality soundstage demands proper speaker placement. If you own a surround sound home theater set, you’ll know that the position of each speaker is crucial. You need to follow the instructions to create the perfect sound imaging. The speakers’ distance, the type of stereo speaker system, etc. are important.
Design of the Amplifier and Speakers
Amplifier design and the driver materials used in the speakers are other factors that affect the quality of the sound stage image. Crossover components, cabinet designs and materials used, power amp components, sound field, preamps, speaker size, transformers, and other such materials influence the creation of the sound stage.
Rather, speaker and amplifier design are given priority by audiophiles so much that they are highly specific about bipolar speakers and dipolar speakers. Bipolar speakers are great at diffusing sound when they are close to the wall. If speaker placement is a problem where you live, opt for these speakers.
Why is Soundstaging Important?
Before we answer this query, let’s ask you another one. Is soundstaging important? What happens to the audio if the sound stage is not created?
You already know that less expensive headphones and earbuds do not have sound staging. Still, several people use them. That’s because not everyone needs hi-fi audio. Earphones with decent sound quality are also enough.
However, if you want better sound quality with an unparalleled listening experience that competes with one in the real world (live performance), the soundstage is necessary. Good soundstage creates a unique immersive sound that helps you listen to the different instruments used in the audio. What previously blended into the background will now be highlighted and clear.
High accuracy is the core, important reason to create soundstage. For example, the singer is standing at center stage, and the orchestra performs around the singer. Would you prefer to listen to the audio that helps you imagine where the singer and instruments are or would you like to listen to music that sounds like it’s coming from a cassette, aka artificial-sounding music?
Definitely, the one that’s more close to the original, right? You want to experience the virtual 3D effect of your favorite audio.
What is the Difference Between Soundstage and Imaging?
Soundstage and imaging appear as if they are the same thing. However, there is a slight difference that separates one from the other. A section of audiophiles believes that imaging is more important while the other section claims sound staging is a priority.
As we mentioned earlier, the soundstage is created and is not an integral part of the original audio. A soundstage is the width, depth, and height of the recorded audio. It can be played through stereo speakers or headphones.
When you listen to music with soundstage and close your eyes, the speakers should be replaced by three-dimensional spatial cues that resemble the original setup when the audio was recorded. A good sound stage offers a lot of “space” to portray the music.
Imaging is the ability of the speakers or headphones to project and portray where each sound is coming from within the soundstage. If you can “see” the singer and the orchestra perform their instruments in your mind’s eye, then the imaging is perfect. If you can feel the spaciousness of the stage around you, then the soundstage is excellent.
In short, sound staging is the stage, and imaging is the recreation of the artists and instruments in your environment. Both together deliver the best musical experience.
What is the Role of Soundstaging in Audiophile Headphones?
Just as how sound staging and imaging vary among different speakers, the sound stage is different in audiophile headphones. Headphones deliver the sound output directly into the ears. The sound waves do not clash against various items in the room before reaching you. This prevents the imaging from being distorted.
For example, the stereo imaging could make it appear as if the piano is being played behind you, even if it was to the side. This could be due to the presence of an obstacle (a pillar, couch, shelf, vase, etc.) that interfered with the sound waves before they reached your ears.
Soundstage in the best audiophile headphones mimics the sound sources from the real world and plays them the same way (i.e., left, right, center, near, or far). That said, the soundstage of headphones is different for different models and types.
A Peek into the Soundstage of Different Types of Headphones
We’ve said in the previous sections that open-back headphones are best suited for soundstage, as they allow air to flow and reduce resonance.
Wide Soundstage With Open Back Headphones
Open-back headphones offer a wide and spacious sound stage that delivers a complete audio experience. It is particularly great for gamers, as they will not miss even a single sound. The sound output is pure, authentic, and clear.
Good Soundstage With Closed Back Headphones
While closed-back headphones reduce ambient noise, they do offer a decent sound stage. While there will be some resonance, you will also experience a much crisper sound as outside noise is blocked by the headphones. Closed-back headphones can be bass-heavy, though they do play mids equally well.
Wide Soundstage With Earphones
Now, these are hard to find. Earphones are again different from headphones. However, you need to invest in high-end models to experience a wide soundstage with earphones.
How to Test the Soundstage of Your Headphones?
The best way to test the soundstage of any pair of headphones is to play a track on it. Yeah! Sounds more like an anticlimax, isn’t it? Well, how are you going to test your headphones otherwise?
An audiophile might be able to easily identify the sound stage by listening to any track. That’s not the case with all of us. That’s where the internet comes to our rescue. Videos have been created to make things easier. When you connect the headphones and play the video, you’ll listen to individual voices mention their position on the stage/ in the room.
If the imaging of the headphones corresponds with the position mentioned by the voice, it proves that the headphones have good soundstaging. If you want to play music tracks, hop over to the search engine and grab the list of the best tracks to test your headphones.
Soundstaging makes audio more natural, real-like, and authentic. You don’t have to be satisfied with an output that is flat and lifeless. Obviously, you have to invest more money to buy headphones, earphones, and speakers with excellent soundstaging.
In addition to this, you need to arrange the speakers as instructed to enhance the sound stage and sound imaging. With headphones, you have to do nothing but plug and play.
Luckily for us, even the entry-level and mid-range headphones offer good sound quality and a decent sound stage. Since soundstaging is something music lovers and audiophiles are more concerned about, you need not worry about your purchase breaking the bank.