3-Dimensional Soundstage

I have appreciated a quite nice separation of instruments in my system's soundstage.  I have read many times about people experiencing depth in their music and have never appreciated this.  I was talking to an audiophile friend this week about it and he brought up the fact that recorded music is a mix of tracks and how could there be any natural depth in this?  If there was a live recording then yes, it is understandable, but from all studio music that is engineered and mixed, where would we get depth?  Are the engineers incorporating delays to create depth?


@cerrot That's a great story Cerrot.  Its awesome when you can "discover" better sound in your own system.  Working on the pro side, a lot of studio mix engineers and mastering engineers LIVE for that!


In my experience, a great sense of depth can be achieved to an impressive degree without the total sound quality being top notch. In other words, you can get it with fairly cheap gear. It is very important to get the the frequency response correct though. I say this because I’ve played a lot with digital EQ, trying all sorts of approaches to see what I could get to happen. I wasn’t expecting to achieve a sense of depth at first. It was a surprise discovery while trying to produce natural tone. Over and over I’ve set up systems that gave me no sense of depth at first. Subtle adjustments to EQ involving both measurements and plenty of listening and experimenting will usually get it to happen so long as the listening setup is decent. It never ceases to amaze and gratify me when the sound all at once transforms because I got the combined frequency response of the room and system components close enough to where they need to be to let my brain change modes and perceive depth. The cheaper the system, the more gratifying it is when it happens. It’s like I broke the rules. This system is not supposed to be able to do this! With a cheap system and EQ I cannot necessarily get a sense of depth and fully natural tone to happen simultaneously unless you’re willing to sit fairly close to the speakers and limit the total output. You can only squeeze so much blood out of a turnip. Lowered volume makes distance effects easier. Lifelike volume and dynamics while maintaining a sense of depth requires some investment. 

One strange thing I notice from going to trade shows where there are sometimes big rooms with the speakers way out from all the walls, is that when a system has plenty of space to create depth, I’m not that impressed by the fact that it does. Of course it should. I can see so much space that I almost can’t imagine how it wouldn’t sound that way. When it can happen in a relatively small room in such a way that your eyes tell you that you shouldn’t be hearing what you’re hearing, but you hear it nonetheless, that impresses and pleases me more. It’s a better magic trick. I guess it’s just the idea that I can have a concert hall in a small space. That’s magic, more magical than a real concert hall. A real concert hall sounds great of course, but I can’t have it in my family room.


The problems created by small rooms are many:

1) small room nearby first reflection points will cancel direct on axis information by arriving late, therefore creating large dips in response you cannot fix with EQ or any kind of DSP.

2) In a small room, a speaker with poor off axis reponse will make imaging almost impossible as the frequency response of the reflection and the frequency response of the direct sound are different, causing dips/cancellations in in multiple places when direct and reflected sound are added together at your ear. The sum of the sound is what the the mic/measurement system looks at. So the room correction DSP corrects the direct sound coming out of the source (which was likely not that wrong to start with) based on what the refelctions are doing. The problem is the direct sound was fine, it was the refelcted sound that was messed up. SO via room correction, you are fixing/repairing/EQing only the direct sound NOT the reflected sound which is the real problem. The reflected sound is still just as different from direct sound as before due to physical room problems (like glass or highly reflective walls or poor speaker off axis). The reflected sound only gets better by boosting or altering the direct sound so the sum comes out better. And this new sum only works for one tiny location- 1 foot that way the reflected sound is different and the "solution" or fix (room correction) would be different. This is why we say you cannot fix room problems with electrical soliutions because the room problem never goes away.

2) small rooms cannot support bass. The lowest note a room can support depends on its dimension: a 32Hz note requires a 35 foot room dimension to exist, a 50 hz note requires a 22 foot long room dimension, a 85Hz note requires a 13 foot dimension! Complaining about bass in a 10x12 room is like arguing that wavelengths dont exist. Expecting much below 100Hz in a 10x10 room will just frustrate you. If you are stuck with a 10x10 room, you are better off letting the dream of great bass go and focusing on great midrange and top end. Headphones can be a workaround. Multiple (4, one on each wall) small subs turned low can also help.

3) highly reflective surfaces such as glass or hard painted walls or ceilings are destructive to mid and top end by reflecting sound in a particular bandwidth. Using absorption to stop the reflection all togther is one countermove; diffusion can change the angle of reflection and randomize it by creating actually more reflections (so none dominate), as major reflections often get stuck between parallel surfaces and keep ringing for a long time. Clap your hands in a room and you’ll likely hear this slap echo and the frequency it emphasizes.




The last two posts were both very good and packed full of info that I agree with. It seems to me that very few people realize how critical specific tonality (represented by a detailed freq response curve) is to soundstage characteristics. It's absolutely primary and critical, and acoustics (timing at listening position), clarity, and dynamics are also factors, but don't matter without the right freq response.

@lonemountain - I agree 100% which is why I went with stats in my 12 X 16 (small) room.  No first order reflections.  Also, as for room size and bass, problem, in my opinion, can only be solved by applying real eq (parametric, not graphic) at, probably 200hz or 250 hz and below.  Bass in a small room will always smudge the lower midrange at any reasonable listening level.