What is Stereo Imaging?November 02, 2018
A subject of endless debate among audiophiles is the question of, “What is great sound?” At SVS, we believe great sound is an audio experience that is convincing enough to make a listener believe the artists or instrumentalists are right there in the room, allowing them to form an emotional and visceral connection to the music and what the artist or producer intended. One way we do this is through stereo imaging.
What is stereo imaging? One way to explain it - the ability of your speakers and system to create a seamless soundstage as opposed to sound that’s coming from two boxes in front of you. With precise stereo imaging, the two speaker boxes should disappear acoustically, and instead, the notes coming from a drummer, guitarist, vocalist or other musician should appear between, to the sides of, in front of, behind and all around where the speakers are set up, like the sounds are coming from specific points in space.
Loudspeakers can only achieve proper stereo imaging if they are accurate since accuracy creates synchronization, which is critical to rendering a rock-solid stereo image. Not only must speakers be faithful to the source material in terms of tonal accuracy, the drivers and crossovers must also play in perfect unison with each other to give the illusion of a seamless soundstage with no gaps. Without pinpoint accuracy, the soundstage can seem distorted and the location of voices and instruments muddied together.
Speaker placement is another important factor in achieving proper stereo imaging. This includes distance from the walls and the main listening position, both of which can alter the way a stereo image is perceived. A pair of speakers working together in perfect unison with optimized placement on the front stage is almost magical in the way it presents sounds coming from different points in space with varying degrees of impact. (For more info on loudspeaker placement in stereo and home theater set-ups, check out our blog, The Art of Speaker Placement.)
Experiencing a speaker system with pinpoint stereo imaging can be quite revelatory. When SVS hosts consumer and trade events around the world, we often spend hours tweaking our demo systems to achieve precise stereo imaging, often in conditions that are far from ideal. Why go to these extremes? Because SVS is making a point about how immersive and exciting audio can be and we’re trying to get people as close to “being there” as possible. And frankly, many people have never really ever heard the magic of a true stereo image.
In music production, creating a stereo image is a combination of science and artistry. When audio engineers mix a music track in stereo; instrumentals and vocals are layered at different output levels to the left and right channels to create a sense of width, depth and even height. When mastered well, the sound from stereo speakers or headphones transports us onstage, in the studio, or sitting front row at a packed house.
In a high-performance 2-channel system, the left and right speakers render the layers of instrumentals, vocals and sound effects individually at precise and varying volume levels. Accurate and properly placed loudspeakers reveal the exact location of different instruments and voices providing a sense of placement in the soundstage as the recording engineer intended, and this really brings in the artistry.
High-performance loudspeakers configured correctly will present every instrument and voice so it’s easily discernible with crisp, well-defined dynamics and accurate frequency response so the sound remains transparent without over-emphasizing the low end “boomy” or the high frequencies “bright”.
Left and right speaker channels should render balanced output for a broad and generous listening “Sweet Spot.” There should also be a natural ambience around each instrument where dynamics can develop making them sound more realistic and full-bodied. Ultimately, all layers of sound should blend seamlessly and cohesively to the point where it’s so immersive, we forget loudspeakers are even playing.
In a post for audio enthusiast site, AudiophileReview, Paul WIlson sums up his thoughts on stereo imaging in a post titled, “Is Stereo Imaging Overrated?”, stating:
“When I listen to my system, one of my measures of importance, and probably the first one that grabs my attention, is the specific placement of instruments in the soundstage. I consider imaging equally, if not more important as bass response, dynamics and clarity.
Imaging has the ability to make music more interesting. Hearing a musical presentation made in a realistic fashion may transport the listener to a time remembered - maybe a favorite concert, or some memorable past event. Imaging is considerably responsible for the emotional connection we make to the music we hear on our systems. And while a reproduced sound will never be the sonic equivalent of a live presentation, coming somewhere close is a profoundly more enjoyable way of listening to music.”
Hardcore audiophiles aren’t the only ones who can appreciate precise stereo imaging since home theater audio also benefits. Hearing action pan across the front stage or sound effects coming from specific points in space draws a viewer into what’s onscreen in a truly unique and thrilling way, much more so than a soundbar or TV speakers.
Many loudspeakers, especially Bluetooth and powered wireless speakers, use a single (mono) cabinet with a virtual approach to stereo imaging that relies on DSP adjustments to “fool” the brain into thinking stereo sound is coming from a single speaker. This approach is useful when lifestyle factors are a priority but not for optimal sound quality and creating the experiences described above since it’s impossible to create a true stereo image from a single speaker.
All SVS loudspeakers deliver pinpoint accurate frequency response and the ability to convey a precise stereo image with all kinds of audio content. Prime Wireless Speaker System is one of the first powered wireless smart speakers to provide all the acoustic benefits of true stereo imaging because it actually consists of two speakers with robust drivers and an active digital crossover that optimizes power delivery for bold and explosive sound with unerring accuracy, all of which are critically important to rendering a convincing stereo image.
Ready for a more convincing and immersive audio experience through the magic of stereo imaging? Browse all award-winning SVS speakers below.