Pin point imaging isn't for everyone

A subject my posts touch on often is whether pin point imaging is desirable, or natural. While thinking about wide-baffle speakers in another thread I came across this quote, courtesy of Troels Graveson’s DIY speaker site. He quotes famous speaker designer Roy Allison:

I had emphasized dispersion in order to re-create as best as I could the performance-hall ambiance. I don’t want to put up with a sweet spot, and I’d rather have a less dramatically precise imaging with a close simulation of what you hear in a concert hall in terms of envelopment. For that, you need reverberant energy broadcast at very wide angles from the loudspeaker, so the bulk of energy has to do multiple reflections before reaching your ear. I think pin-point imaging has to do with synthetically generated music, not acoustic music - except perhaps for a solo instrument or a solo voice, where you might want fairly sharp localization. For envelopment, you need widespread energy generation.

You can read Troel’s entire post here:

This goes, kind of, with my points before, that you can tweak the frequency response of a speaker, and sometimes cables, to get better imaging, but you are going significantly far from neutral to do so. Older Wilson’s were famous, and had a convenient dip around 2.4 kHz.
Simple test: close eyes, hold still, drop pencil. Notice you can tell where to look by sound alone. Of course humans can locate by sound alone. Not gonna last long if you run towards the growling tiger, snarling wolf, hissing snake. Anyone unable to do this, find another hobby, you suck at this and always will.

So irrefutably it is natural. Next question: is it desirable?

Well now this depends. If you don't care at all about accuracy in any form then its a low priority at best.

Pretty much all recordings however, the whole reason they exist is to let all us who could not be there for the performance share and experience what it was like. Well since we already proved localization is part and parcel of perception then by extension reproducing the performance means capturing and reproducing that location information as well.

As for the Allison quote, he may be a famous speaker designer who knows about speakers but he could maybe stand to learn a little about human hearing. Trying to recreate the sound of a concert hall might make him happy when playing symphony recordings, but that diffuse sound is gonna just ruin any chance of getting palpable presence from one person singing.

So again it depends on what you want. Want to mess around? Then imaging is low priority. Want accuracy, truth, fidelity? Then imaging rules.
I think you missed the point a little, Miller.

How natural is pin point imaging in acoustic music? Roy argued, as do I, that it’s really not.

The second question is whether you want it, and want it more than other features of reproduction.
Can anyone even cite an example of "pinpoint" imaging with sound?  Can' t say I have ever heard that.  
@mapman I only read about it in reviews for $300K speakers and $40K cables.


Can’t say I’ve ever heard pinpoint imaging anywhere including with countless live performances or very good mega systems I’ve heard over the years.

Realistic sounding  imaging and soundstage, yes all the time, No problem.

Any example of pinpoint imaging that occurs either in real life or in any studio recording will suffice. My take is the term is merely hyperbole. Now what vendor in his right mind would ever resort to that?

Closest perhaps is my setup in the basement with a good quality mono recording. Not pinpoint but highly focused and detailed with ambience, like if live. Also it moves to the left as you move to the right and vice versa as it might if the performers were standing there live as you move around. Can anyone guess what the speakers I use to manage this are? Most will not have a prayer reproducing this trick no mattter the cost though there are some that can, perhaps even better.

I hear quite precise imaging in live unamplified sounds.

I was recently in a city park in which a large group of people were playing a variety of percussion instruments, large and small.  Eyes closed, the direction of the instruments were quite well defined.  I could point with good precision to any instrument I chose.

As to "point point imaging" that actually remains a bit too vague.  Just "how pinpoint" would be be talking about?  In one sense it can mean images squeezed to tight they have become miniaturized spots of sound in the soundfield.  "pinpoint sized."  On the other hand it can mean simply "the sound coming from a precisely localized space."  Which to me certainly doesn't sound bad and is actually how I experience most sounds.   So not sure which we are talking about, or if it's somewhere in between.

In any case,  I have come to value precise imaging.  It's not simply due to the visualization effect, but live sound sources to me have the characteristic of density and palpability, not a sense of being diffuse.When a speaker "lines up" the sound sources well, the sonic impression to me is that the instruments take on that added solidity of the real thing.

Ill go along with "precise" imaging.  Just not "pinpoint".    But if people use the term I know what they mean so not a problem practically, just not an appropriately  descriptive term. 

When I’m in a small club, with no mics on the drumset or guitar/bass amps---just the vocal mics, yes, the location of each instrument is very concrete. But what does that have to do with reproducing the imaging contained in any given recording? Nothing!

Expecting a loudspeaker to recreate the ambience and instrumental/vocal imaging heard in any given space---whether a concert hall or Jazz/Blues/Folk/whatever club---is folly. That’s one reason the Bose 901 sucks!

Recording engineers choose their mics, the locations of those mics in relation to the performers, how the numerous mic signals are mixed, in order to create a "sound field"---a sonic picture. It is the loudspeaker’s job to reproduce that recording, not to create the sound of a concert hall, small club, etc. If the recording contains pinpoint images, the loudspeaker should recreate them. If the recording contains diffused image locations, that's what it should sound like when played on your loudspeakers. Duh.

Well in some acoustic environments you can certainly hear precisely where each instrument and voice is located .I agree that is not what you hear in large concert halls but in smaller performance spaces playing smaller scale music you certainly can.And for many of us creating that sort of sound in our system is what we aspire towards.And perhaps we can even get it better than the real thing.Just like a well filmed,lit and edited film might be better than a live play because it uses techniques to intensify ,focus and enhance the subject.


A subject my posts touch on often is whether pin point imaging is desirable, or natural. 



 of course!


  many factors affect  that out come.

imaging intimates a couple things, first off is harmonic integrity and thereafter geographical identification  of the musicians within the sound field/venue, and for some, the atmosphere or physical attributes  of the venue itself.  

Which version of imaging is being taken to task here? geographic localization, or harmonic  integrity?

I’ll presume the former.

precise = marked by exactness and accuracy of expression and detail.

pin point adj.  to fix, determine or identify with precision

although these definitions are  not  the whole shooting match when the job of speakers is concerned, it does  define   their basic criterion during their performance. 

recreating localized imaging as has been said already is the predominate result of how the venue was miked and or how the studio demo was thereafter processed or mixed down.

speakers is ignert, but they ain’t stupid! you can’t fix stupid but you can fix ignert, .

the electrical signal educates the speakers to what ever level the speaker’s aptitude will allow.

many though not all  speakers can demonstrate very good imaging IF the upstream components and room are well accomplished.

this is why I profess spending more on the electronics than on the speakers usually. especially when the ‘ducket’ bucket only has so many frog skins  in it.

sit in the front few rows of any acoustic show/concert, and if you can not distinguish who and where singers or musicians are on the stage, then save your concert going money  and stay home.

alternatively if you are at the rear of the venue/hall, it becomes a tuffer task, unless of course you can actually see the performers. together, the visual and audible information locates ‘precisely’ the artists.

at school or church you can pick out your kids voice, or some other’s in the choir or on the stage, can’t you?

even with orchestras one can readily fix where the strings, brass, reeds, etc., are set.

I suppose at WoodStock 50 years ago this week, if you were standing or stumbling way on back from the stage, it was all a mono affair.

 so why can’t we expect speakers to do the same provided we’ve done our jobs and thoughtfully considered for our speakers, their room, positioning, their electronics, and of course, the media itself?

the design philosophy of any loudspeaker build should be to create a system which emmulates as closely as possible harmonic integrity, instrument localization, as given by the source, and the chosen media and dependant on the mixing process when it was mastered in as listenable a fashion as possible.

that said, I’ve yet to hear or own a system which I can undeniably state that from listening to a recording, I can ‘precisely’ locate everything within the concert including what material is making up the venue’s walls, curtains, width and or depth of the stage, etc., as some reviewers seem to enjoy accounting from time to time.  

perhaps the only way to actually gain such insight is to be there during that recording, and hopefully have a perfect auditory and otherwise, memory along with an outstanding uber performing audio rig. 

imaging, both localized and harmonic,  is the thread which connects the demonstration together propelling it to greater heights of enjoyment for many in this hobby.  when a recording combines positioning information, and tonal accuracy the depiction is considered excellent, but it all lives or dies with the recording itself and how much attention and effort went into its production.

how the recorded media content  is going to be conveyed is another crucial responsibility for the speaker system designer to develop.   

RE Mr. Allison

sounds to me like Mr. Allison is making an argument  for how he has chosen to build speakers or for his own philosophy for listening to them. His  position is a more relaxed perspective on designing speakers as it seems to lower the bar for the build.

physically locating the components of any musical production is part and parcel a result. how well it was rendered depends on numerous concerns, yet the source media is the primary  ‘person of interest’ in unraveling the   soundstage’  conundrum. 

if a system does not image well,  on both sides of that coin, I lose interest quickly

I think you missed the point a little, Miller.

How natural is pin point imaging in acoustic music? Roy argued, as do I, that it’s really not.

Well, let's see. So Bruce is sitting right in front of me playing his acoustic guitar and singing. My eyes are closed but I can tell for certain right where he is. He's not some vague diffuse disembodied blob somewhere either. I can tell with my eyes closed to within a few inches exactly where he is. I can tell the guitar is just below his chest. I can tell all this with the same precision as when I drop a pencil and know where to look by sound alone.

I think you missed the point a little Squires. Might want to go read my post again. Pinpoint imaging is every bit as natural in music as it possibly can be because pinpoint imaging is part and parcel of reality. Deal with it.

The second question is whether you want it, and want it more than other features of reproduction.

Now here again it will help to go back and read again this time maybe with a little more comprehension. Since pinpoint imaging is inextricably interwoven in the reality of the original performance then it follows irrefutably that accurately reproducing that performance must necessarily entail replicating that information. Otherwise either your recording is crap, or your playback is crap.

Now granted you may have hit on the one thing that matters: some people, instead of wanting to hear what was recorded come what may, they prefer to impose their own preconceived notions on how their music should sound. They mess with it.

Or maybe they just don't care as much for accuracy, fidelity and realism as they let on.

Well, whatever floats your boat. 
For starters, images shouldn’t necessarily be points. There can also have size to the voices, instruments. A piano 🎹  should probably not appear as a point. It should have size. Especially a concert grand. The trick is to reproduce the correct size of whatever. 
Point taken, geoff.

I think a lot of that is in the reverb too, so there's something to be said for speakers with rear facing drivers.


In many things audio, tradeoffs are inevitable.

There is a tradeoff relationship between imaging precision on the one hand, and envelopment/immersion on the other. The tradeoff has to do with how much energy is in the reverberant field.

Imo a reverberant field "done right" benefits timbre, soundstage depth, and a sense of being immersed in the acoustic space on the recording (as opposed to being immersed in the acoustic signature of a small listening room).

Imo the way to minimize the detriment to imaging precision from having a well-energized reverberant field is to minimize the amount of energy that goes into the early reflections, as these are the ones that have the most effect on imaging precision.

Erik wrote: "I think a lot of that is in the reverb too, so there’s something to be said for speakers with rear facing drivers."

I agree, which is rather predictable, since I’ve been using rear-firing drivers for years, along with relatively narrow-pattern front-firing drivers (which minimize early reflections). Still, I would have to concede that achieving the most pinpoint imaging would call for minimizing all reflections.


Adding extended and articulate deep bass to my system did indeed improve the sense of envelopment. Not by extending the sound stage per se, but by increasing the feeling of being in the room. The main performance is still up front with every instrument palpably positioned, especially bass and drums which are now even more palpably real than before. But there is now an additional sensation of deep bass that just feels like you are in the room. Even though the meat of the performance is still up front, its more like you are in it now.
Great Thread!
In my opinion, it really depends upon the overall impression the speaker makes.

GK brings up an interesting point, but it's more complicated than that.  On many good piano recordings you can tell from what vantage point the piano has been recorded, the two most frequent perspectives being from the side (lid open to mikes), and from the front, looking at the pianist.  Notice in this second case in how many recordings treble register appears more to the left of the sound picture and bass to the right.  Is that pinpoint? Accurate? Close?  Too close?
Sweating size of intruments in a recording is a noble effort but practically a waste of time since what you hear is more about how things were recorded than how big the intrument is/was.  

Not that practicality ever stands in the way of a dedicated audiophile.   Carry on.......  
Good topic for a rainy day. Mapman made a simple point. Play low spark of high heeled boys then play any of the Pearl Jam bootlegs. The studio recording sounds so real it’s spooky and the ‘live’ recording sounds anything but. The whole point of stereo is imaging and I think the term pinpoint in this context means accurate or precise, not pin sized or pin like. Chuckle, never can tell how the net interprets. Ive had hi end speakers that image but not sound stage and I think thats where the bass comes in, just a thought.
Especially for some producers.
 I hear it on the bandstand playing acoustic or electric. Keep in mind front of house sound and live recording are usually different. 
How natural is pin point imaging in acoustic music?
Varies by program, venue, instrument and seat.

so there’s something to be said for speakers with rear facing drivers
All that can be said is "Don’t use them." Bose 901’s et al are an ’instrument’ in their own right as they are incapable of presenting, and only mess up, what’s on the recording. Unlistenable.

If the recording is mixed to precisely localize, the system must. If it can’t, then more nebulous recordings become a gigantic bucket of mush.
The 901’s had a great run and when you consider the selection at highland electronics superstore the Bose imaged as well as the big cerwin vega or the rest of the midfi stuff of the day.
@bdp24, I agree that if you are interested in a system that is accurate to what was recorded then the system should reproduce the soundstage as the studio mix intended you to hear it even though it may not be accurate to how the performers were actually arranged. That is if you have the ability to place your speakers in your room ideally. If it is a live field recording then it is how the performers were mic'd and then mixed. In both instances the soundstage could run the full gamut from pin point to diffuse. The question is do you like pinpoint positioning of the performers when listening or do you like to be washed in sound? Purchase and place your components so that they enhance your sound stage preference. Either way you still can purchase equipment / speakers that reproduce sound accurately. Accurate sound and soundstage in my opinion are two different variables that one considers when setting up a system which also must take into account the room in which you will be listening, in particular speaker positioning in regards to the room's boundaries.
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. The Chesky CD contains a number of tests, in addition to the LEDR. ( ) An online resource: ( ) BTW; The shape of your ears’ pinnae is also a variable, regarding your ability to perceive images/locate sounds. An old article, from Stereophile, regarding the LEDR test: ( ) That article also mentions some other possible impediments, to a system’s imaging abilities. Of course; all that’s only for those interested in finding out, if their systems(and/or ears/brains) are up to the task.
I prefer a system "editorialize" as little as possible. The recording contains the imaging (and the instrumental and vocal timbres, etc.); the hi-fi system's (including and especially the loudspeaker’s) job is to reproduce the recording as is, not to create imaging that isn’t contained in the recording. That’s anarchy!
I am afraid Mr Allison is OTL or as Eric Dolphy would say, "out to lunch."
The information that provides the ambient characteristic of the room/hall the recording was made in is in the recording not in the room you are playing it back in. All your Hi Fi room can do is add distortion. Most experts like Earl Geddes believe the best way to deal with this is to limit the dispersion of the speakers to limit room reflections instead of burying yourself in room treatments. Omni directional speakers are passe. 
I also think Mr. Allison is a bit off base.

I have had several speakers with ’pinpoint’ (precise) imaging, without a strict sweet spot. I have a pretty broad listening area, with precise imaging.

When it comes to accuracy, in almost every way (timbre, dynamics, detail, attack and decay, etc), I am all on board.

But if pinpoint or precise imaging, is considered inaccurate, I have no problems with that sort of inaccuracy. I am not willing to give up accuracy in those other aspects, for more precise imaging, but that does not seem necessary with many speakers. 

After all, I’m sitting a smallish sound room, that is almost impossible to recreate an orchestra, or jazz quartet, rock band, etc, with completely accurate scale or power, so a little extra exaggerated imaging helps fill in the gaps for me. It servers to help suck me into the performance just a bit deeper.
The information that provides the ambient characteristic of the room/hall the recording was made in is in the recording not in the room you are playing it back in. All your Hi Fi room can do is add distortion ...
That might be true if you were referring to a binaural recording intended to be heard on headphones. Or it might be true for a recording intended to be heard in an anechoic chamber. But a conventional recording is intended to be played in some sort of acoustic environment, so your claim makes no sense. And that is all part of what makes our hi-fi hobby so tricky because, of course, those making the recording can't possibly know in what sort of environment it will ultimately be heard.
Cleeds you have to be kidding me. Can somebody help me out here?
What you just said is my living room is symphony hall. But, then it is Skuller's (a jazz club) and next it is an open amphitheater. It morphs into anything that is on the record label. Wow am I impressed. How the hell did I design a living room like that. Must be a genius. 

Pin point imaging isn't for everyone

Really! this bs from owners of horns ect types, that have speakers that don't image. 

Why do we go to concerts to "see" the real thing, our systems if imaging well give us the next best thing to "seeing" them live. 

So pinpointing recording hall ambience is desired over musician placement? It's kind of hard to localize a moving target. Approximate, maybe, but going for an accurate gestalt of a room or venue and replicate it in your own room?

I'll take musician placement for 500, Alex.

All the best,
If your system can't let you see movement of artists, especialy with Reference Recordings like Douge McCloud where you can even see left and right head movements while he sings/talks, then you don't have a good imaging system and should not even coment on this subject.
There is a point when listening to music becomes "more"than simply an auditory experience.When you can see the event as well as hear it,suspension of disbelief becomes easy & we are transported into the event..For example a live Rush recording where 2 guys who whistle REALLY loud interact from what appears to be about 300’ apart.Or a bootleg recording of a Janis Joplin demo tape where a secretary madly types away about 25’ behind Janis as she belts out "I Need A Man".Or even an obscure recording of Mozart’s Gran Partita,from a small church in Germany with a U shape,multi level layout that has the Woodwinds & horns moving back & forth over a 3’ height difference with about 50’ between the sections.
If the truest representation of the recorded event,weather live or studio is the eventual goal of our hobby then sound staging & pinpoint imaging are critical to a complete "picture"of the musical event.
Call it pinpoint, realistic sounding  imaging and soundstage or any other fancy name, the bottom line is that when we sit and listen to the music, we want it to sound as natural as possible. Rarely that is the case, due to the many limitations we have to deal with, from (1) the recording environment, (2) the recording engineer/equipment, (3) equipment used to reproduce and (4) the listening environment. Some (item 3-4) we can influence, others not. Forums like this are mainly established to address the items 3-4, as there are many ways to come closer to the desired end product, and certainly not always money related. For those who say it is not that important to them, they can save themselves some money, as you only need to buy one speaker ;)
Yes the "Decca Tree" technique was a three mic boom (left centre right) over the orcheschra which captured those early Decca recording imaging properties when listen to with good speakers like Quad 57’s, but sadly the image got splashed all over the place, with things like Klipsch Horns ect.
And it’s still used today in live recordings, but with more mics in between the main three to get even better imaging.

Cheers George
Speaking of 3 mike recordings, for those of you with a multi-channel setup, I strongly suggest you try the Neo6 music mode if you can. It’s really pretty good.

Neo6 music mode
now there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one. [I worked for dts]

Multichannel processor playback is only suitable for phase mangled mp3, AAC et al. when out of the room or otherwise disinterested as in background in a noisy party. Otherwise the image wander and egregious level and phase distortion forces me to ask that it be turned off or I must leave the room. I literally feel ill with continued exposure.

Hi @ieasles,
I also worked in theater sound equipment.

I find your statement a little hard to read.

My experience with Neo6 and classical or Jazz was that it did a really good job of filling in the center, an area where traditional 2 channel playback is lacking, but we are so conditioned to hearing it we don't notice.

People say there is no pinpoint imaging in a big concert hall. But if you were standing at the conductor’s place, you would hear pinpoint imaging and soundstage depth. That’s where the microphones often are too, a bit behind the conductor, above his/her head.
filling in the center, an area where traditional 2 channel playback is lacking

A friend once said "It's like Joe Pass is sitting right there." No system I've ever owned or used in the studio had a center hole.

If there is a hole in 2 channel play back, it's improperly set up or the speakers are deficient.

I don't recall the track, but I when I first heard Neo:6, I left the demo. IMO, it's unbearable on music I know and downright annoying on music I don't.

it did a really good job of filling in the center, an area where traditional 2 channel playback is lacking, but we are so conditioned to hearing it we don't notice.

@erik_squires   Can you explain? This statement is a head-scratcher for me at the surface. Thanks. 

[Emphasis on "filling in the center, an area where traditional 2 channel playback is lacking"]
Hi David.

Listen for a while to your 2 channel. Even with very good imaging I notice the following:

Instruments are always louder at the sides than in the center.

A horn playing hard left will get softer when it is in the center. Neo6 seems to really help that, and I never heard anything negative using it.

However, lets be clear, I don’t have a HT processor right now, and I’m not going to sit and bang a drum for it. :D :D

I was just pointing out that even with the best systems, the center instruments seem lower in volume than the sides. Neo6 corrects this and you notice it when it’s gone.

I repeat: This isn't about imaging, it is about relative volume. We're so used to it we don't notice it.


@erik_squires   Erik, I'm glad you clarified you were referring to volume vs. a centre image as I thought you meant 'image.'

Off memory (and even as I'm listening right now) this isn't the case (re. volume falling off in the center) BUT I will pay attention to it!!!

Appreciate your response and take on the topic.

As I evaluate, I have an additional question for you and others:

Do differentials in volume guide perception of distance (of the performer) relative to the listening position? Thank you.
Instruments are always louder at the sides than in the center
In the few [under 5] times I've listened to compressed music, I would agree there is a hole in the center. On well recorded material on my systems, never.

Most music, live or recorded is pretty static.

Can you give an example of uncompressed material where a horn on the side is quieter in the center?

I’m going to have to listen for a while, in most recordings they don’t actually move around.

Probably going to have to find some choral works. :)

There is by the way quite a body of work on HRTF and how the phantom center can’t compensate for it, which is related to what I’m discussing, and I think a lot of people will have trouble hearing it if they’ve spent decades listening to 2 channel stereo. You don’t notice it until it’s gone.

Kind of like recording a room of people talking. You listen with headphones on and suddenly the acoustics of the room become glaringly obvious.

But again, please put this along with geek curiosities. I'm not going to bang a drum that we must all do something differently. I'm an apartment dweller living happily with 2-channel for now. I learned all of this while having a HT set up and listening to the difference between a real center speaker and phantom, and listening to music with and without a center. It's curious and interesting, but not worth upending how we enjoy music.

@david_ten poses a very interesting question:

"Do differentials in volume guide perception of distance (of the performer) relative to the listening position?."

Volume plays a role, but it is my understanding is that reflections play the primary role in the perception of distance. Two of my kids are amateur musicians and on their recordings they often manipulate the perceived distance of a voice or instrument by adding the appropriate reverberation. When done right, timbre is enhanced as well.

So we have the reflections on the recording, and then we have the reflections of the recording within the listening room.

Unfortunately the speaker/room interaction usually results in "small room signature" cues which tend to be dominant, and which overlay or degrade the soundstage depth that was on the recording.

If the setup does not superimpose a strong "small room signature" atop the the recording we are more likely to hear its inherent soundstage well, including distance of the performers (depth).

At the risk of over-generalizing, early reflections are the ones most responsible for a "small room signature" which (among other things) degrades soundstage depth. And it seems that the ear is able to extract beneficial depth and ambience information present on the recording from relatively late reflections, so apparently late reflections do not convey a dominant "small room signature".

Managing the room reflections well (a complex topic, and something easier said than done) can allow you to readily hear the different soundscapes from one recording to the next, giving you a good excuse to rediscover your music collection, and giving you new appreciation for really good recordings.

Imo, ime, ymmv, etc.