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Hifi's obsession w/ imaging...


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Saw two concerts quite recently here in Phila: Norah Jones a week ago at the Mann Music Center and last night I saw Lyle Lovett and His Large Band at The City Winery.  Both were fabulous shows, particuly LL and HLB.

 

The audio at both shows was terrific.  ..Acoustics weren't overly reverberant and the volume was low enough that my ears weren't buzzing by the end.  But in both cases there wasn't a bit of discernible stereo imaging even though my location would lend itself to hearing it.  When I'd close my eyes I couldn't for the life of me place the vocals or instruments - they all seemed to be coming from the same place.  Yet, I thought the sound was fabulous and the performances incredibly compelling.

 

Which leads me to wonder why we so obsess on this particular aspect of audio playback at home??  Seems to me that imaging is mostly a mixing board trick for in-studio recordings that has little relevance to actual music, unless one is listening to a tiny, unamplified ensemble in the tiniest of settings.  Even if both of these artists used un-amplified acoustic instruments, I very much doubt I would be able to locate their instruments/voices w/ my eyes closed at these venues or any other even a fraction of their size.

 

..Just wonderin'

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18 minutes ago, ODS123 said:

Seems to me that imaging is mostly a mixing board trick for in-studio recordings that has little relevance to actual music, unless one is listening to a tiny, unamplified ensemble in the tiniest of settings.

 

My own experience has been that imaging only occurs with unamplified performances. Once loudspeakers are introduced, it seems that the signal is often monophonic and the image is centered.

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A lot depends on the live mix. In the 80s I worked as a stage hand at concerts here in North Rhine-Westphalia during my studies. Dortmund, Cologne, Düsseldorf etc. There were the big shows with even 40 years ago already 60 trucks, Michael Jackson, Prince, Deep Purple, but also smaller venues with Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin etc.. There were also some open air concerts in the stadiums. Some shows delivered very good sound, I think anyway that the sound was better in the past, analog mixed and amplified, but already with Clair Brothers or Turbo Sound speakers. I was during the shows almost always at the mixer as security. It was in most cases a super well mixed stereo image. But rather from left to right. The hall made up the room sound, but there was no 3D staggering and no "stage" in that sense.
It is completely different when I listen to a classical violin concert or similar today. In every way you can think of, a reproduction will never be able to reproduce that, especially in an acoustically good hall.

I have made the experience that the more live concerts I have experienced, the better the reproduction sounds at home. The memory helps with the simulation. And I play instruments myself in the rehearsal room and home, which also helps me for the hifi listening experience.

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Hmm, should be grateful you had good sound at the concert, a little much to expect stereo in large hall, PA system.

 

In the room, imaging is all illusion, elusive. Interesting when it improves, but I struggle to see anything beyond the strong center image, Left, Right, and center left, center right.  Depth is elusive, but sometimes one can hear the hall when audience applauds at end.  Yeah, most imaging is studio trickery, but can be entertaining.

 

Even at the orchestra hall, live I don't see any image.

 

Of course we all see differently....

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Do the the people at the mixing board send different signals to the left and right bank of speakers, with the hopes of creating a stereo image?  ..Or are all speaker fed same signal (w/ perhaps some dividing of frequency ranges via a external crossover, etc.)

 

In any case, it's led me to rethink the importance of imaging.  ...Which is perhaps one of the reasons why I love my Cornwall III's more than others I've had which do a much better job of imaging.  For example, small-ish stand-mounted 2-ways like PSB stratus Minis, and Spica TC-50's.  ..These speakers created incredible images, but ...meh.

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Yes, generally concert sounds seems to be mono, with the exception of Pink Floyd when I saw them at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in 1973.  They used 4-channel sound to great effect, and one of the channels was deep in the audience on the right side of the room, that is, on the right as you’re facing the stage.  It was odd to see an asymmetrical setup, but maybe there were features of the arena that made it necessary to set up like that.  Or maybe that’s just how Pink Floyd wanted it.  That was the concert tour with the airplane crashing onto the stage.  Amazing visual and audio on that event.

 

Anyway, as I see it, a concert has two information channels for us:  the visual and the aural.  When we’re there, we can see how the musicians are placed around the stage, even if the sound is in mono.  However, when we’re at home listening to a recording, unless it has the video component, like with a DVD, Blu-ray, etc, we have only the aural part.  Accordingly, this is where the stereo imaging comes in:  it enables us to visualize the stage and all the performers on it.  With some recordings, you can even get some sense of the performance space, like is it big or small, reverberant or hushed, etc.  One visitor who was listening to my system commented that she could tell that the pianist was facing us, because the bass notes came from near centre stage, while the treble notes came from a little further to the left, toward the edge of the stage.  The piano didn’t seem to be unnaturally wide, just the width of an 88-key keyboard.  That certainly added to the realism of the listening experience.

 

Since the purpose of sound recordings is to give the feeling that you’re at the concert, the imaging is a crucial part of that.  If you can close your eyes and visualize the singer at the centre, and maybe walking around it (okay, that one could be a challenge), with the drummer behind and maybe a bit to one side, the bassist at one side and the guitarist on the other side, to give a generic example, your listening experience can be enriched.  Then a bit of surrealism can be added, like with drums that seem to be able to travel across the stage and back.  In the days of psychedelia, with Jimi Hendrix, for example, you might hear the guitar part leaping from the left speaker to the right speaker and back again.

 

Sure, you probably wouldn’t (but just maybe you would) have heard that at the concert, but it enhances the experience of listening to the recording, or at least Jimi thought so, and who are we to argue with Jimi?  And that’s my opinion.

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The imaging may be the difference between "you are there" and "they are here". Absent the imaging, your brain might conclude that you are in the concert hall, where all of the sound seems to come from a "wall of sound" as @YK Thom described it. With the imaging, your brain might conclude that the performers are in your listening room, where you are so close that you can perceive the placement of individual instruments and vocalists.

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"Saw" the Grateful Dead in 1983 at Manor Downs near Austin and still recall that during the Drums/Space portion of the show the sound was swirling above the stage rather than from PA system left and right.  Of course, I may not have been a reliable observer at that point....

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I remember a bunch of discussion here years ago about live vs recorded and it went on and on.  Amplified and mixed music.  The 'live sound' reference is an orchestra where you hear the imaging and micro-details.  Or maybe a piano and accoustic guitar and percussion.  Not an amplified concert. 

 

And yes, you were lucky to have good sound at all. 

 

Imaging is what really adds the special sauce to an audio system.  Try Rudy and Crime of the Century by Supertramp or The Chain and Gold Dust Woman by Fleetwood Mac on a great system that images well and you will have your answer as to why it matters so much. 

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4 hours ago, Islander said:

Yes, generally concert sounds seems to be mono, with the exception of Pink Floyd when I saw them at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in 1973.  They used 4-channel sound to great effect, and one of the channels was deep in the audience on the right side of the room, that is, on the right as you’re facing the stage.  It was odd to see an asymmetrical setup, but maybe there were features of the arena that made it necessary to set up like that.  Or maybe that’s just how Pink Floyd wanted it.  That was the concert tour with the airplane crashing onto the stage.  Amazing visual and audio on that event.

 

Anyway, as I see it, a concert has two information channels for us:  the visual and the aural.  When we’re there, we can see how the musicians are placed around the stage, even if the sound is in mono.  However, when we’re at home listening to a recording, unless it has the video component, like with a DVD, Blu-ray, etc, we have only the aural part.  Accordingly, this is where the stereo imaging comes in:  it enables us to visualize the stage and all the performers on it.  With some recordings, you can even get some sense of the performance space, like is it big or small, reverberant or hushed, etc.  One visitor who was listening to my system commented that she could tell that the pianist was facing us, because the bass notes came from near centre stage, while the treble notes came from a little further to the left, toward the edge of the stage.  The piano didn’t seem to be unnaturally wide, just the width of an 88-key keyboard.  That certainly added to the realism of the listening experience.

 

Since the purpose of sound recordings is to give the feeling that you’re at the concert, the imaging is a crucial part of that.  If you can close your eyes and visualize the singer at the centre, and maybe walking around it (okay, that one could be a challenge), with the drummer behind and maybe a bit to one side, the bassist at one side and the guitarist on the other side, to give a generic example, your listening experience can be enriched.  Then a bit of surrealism can be added, like with drums that seem to be able to travel across the stage and back.  In the days of psychedelia, with Jimi Hendrix, for example, you might hear the guitar part leaping from the left speaker to the right speaker and back again.

 

Sure, you probably wouldn’t (but just maybe you would) have heard that at the concert, but it enhances the experience of listening to the recording, or at least Jimi thought so, and who are we to argue with Jimi?  And that’s my opinion.

Saw The Dark Side of The Moon tour at Merriwether Post Pavillion in Columbia MD. An outdoor venue with 3 large stacks and the stage array. The concert began about dark when they turned off the lighting under the pavillion. Nick Mason struck a gong and fire erupted from the gong's hanger. They then played ( I think) Obscured by Clouds. An amazing show. Can't say I recall the exact sound but it was far better than anything else I'd seen.

 

And a photo I found online.......until I found the photo I'd forgotten all about the fog. Made the flames that much more striking.

Pink Floyd Merriwether.jpg

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From close seats (row 10, 9, 8, etc.) with a full sized symphony orchestra, and no audio, there can be "good" imaging.  From distant seats, certain instruments (like orchestra bells) are still pretty localizable, but most are not.

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I'll agree on all of the above BUT to me the "secret sauce" is "perception" by the person listening.  Perfect example is that OTHER guy.  :)  

 

My brother in law was Mr Cool singin in some dime-store band back in 1969.  So he bought a pair and became the BMOC here in Duckburg.  I wasn't home much during that time but yup he STILL had those things until about 6 months ago.  He decided to go w/a home theater system and asked me so I told him.  I told him to stop over and listen to my LS so he showed.  Yup, plopped in the driver's seat and I took him to the river for about an hour.  Best feeling I've had in a long time.  Inside I was dying laffin.  😂

 

Thing is, he "perceived" that other guy had the best on the planet, as the others who owned them then and today.

 

In OUR case PWK?  Seriously? His thoughts, facts, just ALL of it is sheer genius

 

My brother-in-law told me he bought a full compliment of something and they sounded fantastic.  No doubt he wrote the check for the BMOC series!  :)

 

Wait!  Did I tell ya about the Bose tent @ Sweetwater a few years ago?  I hooked up w/a friend there and roamed over to that tent.  Two of their employees stopped us before we could get in.  He asked why and the guy pointed to my Klipsch hat.  He said they don't debate the issue as to who's best.  We looked at each other and laffed in their faces.  He just said, "Well there we go just like always.  Guess, I mosey down there and sign a few more autographs.  Should have seen the look on their faces.  hahahaha

 

Nothing to see or perceive here.  Move along and crank it up!  :)

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I feel like it only matters in home audio simply because it can only be accomplished in home audio.  But does it really contribute much to the visceral enjoyment of music?  ..Not so much, imho.

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6 minutes ago, Racer X said:

Beee-atles: Purist mono or fake stereo ?

 

I'll take the former, thanks.  ...Hearing vocals only from one channel and guitar only from the the other is totally redic.  ..Not realistic at all.

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There has been a few times over the years when I've listened to bands live and thought my stereo sounds much better than this-- just like watching videos on Youtube live recordings versus studio produced some live recordings are very good a lot are not. Seeing musicians live is a different experience than listening at home, both are enjoyable but if I'm striving for real life replication in my home I'm going after studio recordings not stage performances unless they are really well done, just my opinion. 

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I've been blown away by the quality of some of the phone videos posted on the YouTube and some really memorable performances and unique moments are now very well documented. 

 

When I think back to the live bootleg recordings from the 70s and 80s ( King Biscuit Flour Hour anyone ? ) and my attempts at same with a Walkman recorder, the contrast is striking.

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