Is Imaging Worth Chasing?

Man, am I going to be torn apart for this. But I says what I says and I mean what I says.

Here’s a long term trend I’ve noticed in the audio press. Specs that used to be front and center in equipment reviews have essentially disappeared. Total harmonic distortion, for instance. Twenty years ago, THD was the start and end of the evaluation of any amplifier. Well, maybe power, first. Then THD. Armed with those two numbers, shopping was safe and easy.

The explanation for the disappearance is not hard to figure. Designers got so good in those categories that the numbers became meaningless. Today, most every amp on the shelf has disappearingly low distortion. Comparing .00001 to .000001 is a fool’s errand and both the writers and the readers know it. Power got cheap, even before Class D came along to make it even cheaper. Anyone who tries bragging about his 100 watts will be laughed out of the audio club.

Stereophile still needed to fill it’s pages and audiophiles still needed things to argue about so, into the void, stepped imaging. Reviewers go on and on about imaging. And within the umbrella of imaging, they write separately about the images height, width, and depth. “I closed my eyes and I could see a rock solid picture of the violas behind the violins.” “The soundstage extended far beyond the width of the speakers.” And on and on.

Now, most everyone who will read this knows more about audio equipment than me. But I know music. I know how to listen. And the number of times that I’ve seen imaging, that I’ve seen an imaginary soundstage before me, can be counted on my fingers. Maybe the fingers of one hand.

My speakers are 5-6 feet apart. I don’t have a listening chair qua listening chair but I’m usually 8-9 feet back. (This configuration is driven by many variables but sound quality is probably third on the list.) Not a terrible set-up, is my guess from reading lots of speaker placement articles. And God knows that, within the limited space available to me, I have spent enough time on getting those speakers just right. Plus, my LS50s are supposed to be imaging demons.

I’ve talked to people about this, including some people who work at high-end audio stores. Most of them commiserate. It’s a problem, they said. “It usually only happens with acoustic music,” most of them said. Strike one. My diet of indie rock and contemporary jazz doesn’t have much of that. “You’ve got to have your chair set up just right. And you’ve got to hold your head in just the right place.” Strike two. Who wants to do that?

(Most of the people reading this forum, probably. But I can’t think of any time or purpose for which I’ve held my head in a vise-like grip like that.)

It happens, every now and then. For some reason, I was once right up next to my speakers. Lots of direct sound, less reflections. “The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads” was playing. And I literally gave a start because David Byrne was standing on the coffee table. Cool.

But, generally speaking, imaging is something I only read about. And if that little bit of imaging is the dividend of dropping more money into my system, I’m not sure that I want to deposit into that account.

I think that I still have a few steps to take that will pay benefits other than imaging. But maybe the high-end is not for me.


My Cornwall 4’s fronted by a good system were imaging well, but lately I have taken the leap into brass spike coupling with brass retaining cups and have been very impressed with the "tweak." These additions can make everything very articulate but a tad bright or "plinky" a times, so I found that placing a padded puck(s) atop equipment to counter this makes for perfect overall balance with great articulation overall and is infinitely adjustable for warmth vs articulation. First component to get the supports was the DAC and then the CD transport both sitting in a typical wood and threaded rod rack.

Of course, this is an age-old subject with audiophiles; but I thought it appropriate to run it through the wringer again.

Not shilling for this vendor, but their site has a good explanation for why coupling can sometime better isolation. Now I get it.


I totally love the exaggerated, totally fabricated, trickster imaging of more than a few pop releases. I love the out-of-phase stuff. I love listening to an instrument zoom around the room. It’s just plain entertaining.

By the same token, if I’m largely in the middle of a venue and anywhere closer than maybe a third of the way from the stage at a classical concert that features an orchestra, I’ll both hear and appreciate the positions of the various instrumental sections. For me, it’s part of the concert experience.

Finally, I’m sure I’ve mentioned this several times, but you truly hear the positioning of the instruments at small club, a restaurant, or the living room where you’re getting together for a session with your musician friends.

Back to your original query...Yes, imaging is definitely worth chasing.  When you have it, you will never want it to go away!

And finally, what is between your speakers?  This is something I recently discovered by accident. I formerly had cabinet (sideboard) btw the speakers that was approx 30” high - had decent imaging. But we got a new lower cabinet (18” high) AND ITS BEEN GAME CHANGING.

I see a lot of systems with the area between the speakers loaded with gear, furniture, and sometimes a TV.  Get that area cleared out, I guarantee an improvement.

      Whenever imaging or soundstage are mentioned, I like to remind people about these resources: The following provide tests, with which one may determine whether their system actually images, or reproduces a soundstage, as recorded. ie: On the Chesky sampler/test CD; David explains in detail, his position on the stage and distance from the mics, as he strikes a tambourine(Depth Test). The LEDR test tells what to expect, if your system performs well, before each segment.

         Online test:

         Chesky CD:

      The shape of your ears’ pinnae is also a variable, regarding your ability to perceive images/locate sounds. A Stereophile article, that explains the LEDR test: