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In this article, you will learn the difference between soundstage and imaging so you can upgrade your music or gaming experience.
Soundstage is the interpretation of how far the sound is coming from in terms of the depth, width, and height of the imaginary stage (e.g an auditorium) where the music performance is being performed. Imaging on the other hand is about direction and separation or the accuracy of the placement of musical instruments so you can tell the exact musical instruments from which the sound is coming e.g a guitar string or piano.
What are Soundstage and Imaging?
In the audio world, it’s common to hear the words soundstage and imaging used interchangeably, often to refer to an immersive audio experience.
While they both determine the quality of sound you get from an audio source, there’s a distinct difference between the two terms.
Let’s dive in and learn the difference:
Passive Soundstage Meaning
Soundstage is perceived as a three-dimensional space projected when sound is produced by high-fidelity audio equipment such as passive stereo speaker systems or headphones. Think of it like how far and wide the sound extends.
To the listener, a good soundstage makes it seem like a surround sound — it feels like the sound is coming from different sources.
What is Soundstage in Speakers?
Speakers come in different sizes, so the sound produced will vary. The overall quality of a soundstage will depend on how the sound travels from the speakers and diffuses into the open space giving a natural and well-balanced sound.
So to get a good soundstage, you need to think of:
- The dimensions of the speakers
- The distance between the speakers
- The distance to the listener and surrounding walls
All this boils down to determining the best speaker placement in a room to get a good soundstage for optimal listening.
Also, it’s important to note that passive speakers (ones that come with separate amplification) offer a better soundstage than active speakers, which don’t require extra amplification to work.
What is Soundstage in Headphones?
Unlike speaker systems that you can move around to improve the soundstage, headphones come with an already-defined soundstage. The quality of the soundstage depends on the type of headphones you have.
There are two types of headphones. Open-back and closed-back designs. Open-back headphones offer a better soundstage as the open design allows soundwaves to travel more efficiently around your ears.
In contrast, headphones with a closed-back design only keep the music contained so there’s limited space for sound waves to travel.
What is Imaging in Audio?
After carefully describing sound staging, let us now break down imaging. Imaging describes how accurately an audio source can identify the direction of individual sounds. It helps you create a better picture of the types of instruments used in the music and the position of the vocalist.
You will notice this whenever you listen to music. If your audio source has accurate imaging, it will be easy to tell where the sound from each instrument is coming from. Soundstaging is important for correct imaging. This is probably why both terms are often confused.
What is Speaker Imaging?
When it comes to sound imaging in speakers, you will notice that the instruments seem to float between one speaker and another.
This makes it easy to identify and visualize the content of the music for a better listening experience. Accurate speaker imaging can help you recreate a concert-like experience in your home.
Besides having a quality set of speakers, speaker imaging can be improved by:
- Adjusting the speaker/ your listening position
- Soundproofing the listening room
- Listening to audio with accurate imaging information
A quality set of headphones can also help offer precise imaging. You will notice that the sounds may switch from the left earcup to the right one depending on the instrument being played. If you are keen, you can also tell how far the instruments are from each other.
Despite having the music only around your ears, it can make you feel like you are in an actual concert hall. Gamers can also benefit from accurate headphone imaging since it can make it easier to pinpoint the position of other players in the game. This can give you a competitive edge.
Soundstage and Imaging Test
It’s easy to determine the quality of soundstage or imaging of your audio source. Whether it’s your headphones or speaker system, the process of testing both elements is quite the same. You just need to find a good listening room and any modern or well-recorded track.
Once you are in a quiet room, play the track but start out with the volume low. Then, gradually pick it up as you listen to the beats. Repeat this several times with different tracks.
If you are doing this with a portable speaker system, you should adjust the speaker position while you listen for the optimal speaker position. Also, note if the instruments shift between the speakers to test for accurate imaging.
As for your headphones, the process will be more straightforward since you only have to play the track and listen for depth. You should also be keen on the imaging and try to notice how the beats shift between the earcups.
It won’t take you long to determine if you have a quality set of headphones or not.
Here is a list of songs you can play on your headphones to test the soundstage and imaging:
- Finding Hope- Paths (feat. Nevve)
- Yosi Horikawa- Bubbles
- Michael Jackson-Thriller
- David Guetta- Titanium
- Seven Nation Army- The White Stripes
Also, Spotify’s list of ‘Songs to Test Headphones With’ won’t let you down.
Best Recording to Test Stereo Soundstage
Here’s a list of popular recordings that can help you test your Stereo’s soundstage quality:
- Willy Deville- Assasion of Love
- Sarah Vaughan- After Hours
- Metallica- Enter Sandman (the original)
- Arthur Blythe- Night Song
- Chicago Pro Musica- Three Penny Opera Suite
- Ben E. King- Spanish Harlem
There you have it, folks! Just think of soundstage as a 3-D environment where sound exists and imaging as an accurate depiction of where each sound is coming from within the soundstage environment.
However, if you listen to older music (before ’60s) soundstage and imaging may be somewhat hard to identify — audio engineers then didn’t utilize these features to bring out the best in music. The music just seemed to originate from one position. Dead center.
Currently, almost all songs come with accurate imaging information. You just need to get a decent audio source to bring it out.