Folk often talk about upgrades bringing improved ”soundstage”, what exactly is that?

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For me, I use the term soundscape - where the music fulls the room, rather than “coming from the speakers’. Also, individual instruments and voices becoming more discrete as elements.

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Well, each musician and performer occupies their own space relative to the position of the listener or, in the case of recorded music, the microphone. Put simply, a stereophonic recording mimics the stereophonic nature of human hearing with two ears. The playback system naturally has two channels and two loudspeakers.

Done properly, an illusion is created - or should I say, the original stage on which the performers are located, is recreated - to create what is, in effect, the soundstage.

There are a number of problems which can blur that illusion: phase disturbances, timing and smearing can destroy a sound stage. In general, a properly set up hi fi system will be able to reproduce the stereo recording accurately, setting out a virtual soundstage directly in front of you.

When I got converted into Naim-Head by my local Naim dealer (at Chicago Pro Musica) he switched Naim amp for BAT amp and all of a sudden there was this SOUNDSTAGE filling the whole room plus some, all players in front of us… that was Awesome!!! Then we went back to Naim, soundstage collapsed but there was something else, I called it Naim Magic…

To me it is the image that is created in the air before me. With my speakers and room it is wider than the speakers, and with Dave DAC it is three dimensional.

It is not something. Crave, but a good soundstage adds something to the experience. The ultimate would be being able to pick out the location of all the instruments in an orchestra in their three-dimensional place, just like sitting in the 3rd row in front of an orchestra. Reality is mostly a bit different,but that may well be down to microphone technique and mixing with an orchestra, while much of the otherr music to which I listen has been assembled ‘artificially’ in a studio.

A sound stage in a recording starts in a recording studio and during the mixing and production stages.

All recorded music has some sort of sound-stage. How well it captures what happened in the studio or what the recording engineer had envisaged, is down to the mixing and mastering engineers.

A well resolved source and pre-power amp + speakers will help to recreate some of the magic captured during the recording / mixing / mastering. How well it does that is, to me, a sign of an egaging music playback system.

Naim is often cricised for a rather shallow sound-stage. I actually found that it takes me back to the recording studio’s desk (having spent countless hours in a recording studio myself, recording my own music).

So in that sense I’m biased - I like what Naim does :slight_smile:


Agreed, Adam. Some engineers/ producers deliberately try to avoid the obsessively discrete separation of instruments that gets so many audio nuts rummaging excitedly in their trousers.

I can’t remember ever being at any sort of performance where I even vaguely noticed the sort of instrumental separation happening that we’re talking about. Nonetheless, I do like it on my system when I can hear a new bit of instrumentation in a familiar track. Call me inconsistent if you like.


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For orchestral or simple acoustic music I do find the placement of instruments in space of more importance, for other music less so - although it can be disconcerting when some recordings seem to present an instrument in both channels such that it appears that they are in two places at once! This might imply that for a particular recording I could do with dynamically moving the speakers - perhaps closer together. We tend to worry about speaker placement but don’t consider that different recordings might ideally need different speaker placement depending on the way they were recorded…


Even basic good quality hifi will give a soundstage, as you upgrade there should be more delineation within it.
It’s a personal preference thing I believe. As one makes a choice of upgrades a type of presentation might be favourable over another. Taking into account enjoying the music.
Some will demand it full range immersive and deep while others it fairly narrow but forward.
I like scale in my soundstage and find it more engaging as a vertical portrait sense rather than a horizontal landscape. When that lead solo is cracked I like it to soar rather than be behind my head somewhere.
Bass that both rumbles across the floor and floats surrounded by a palpable sense of air. :star_struck:

Don’t think that’s inconsistent at all. Hearing an extra sound or layer is great. I’ve no great desire for it to be so precisely located it has any significance to me at all. Soundstage is a completely false construct as regards almost all, modern recordings. You pan left or right and you position one sound ahead of another using a range of effects that have nothing to do with where a musician was in a recording studio. As a measure of accuracy as regards anything it is simply irrelevant.

It is alleged that this is somehow different for classical, jazz or shall ensemble recordings. Er, no. The overwhelming majority of such recordings involve exactly the same processes so what you’re potentially talking about is the extent to which an illusion has been created. People would be shocked if they understood the extent to which modern classical recordings use compression, EQ, reverb and even tape saturation effects to achieve the illusion of placement.

As for the people who claim that the aim of hifi ought to be to create the live experience I can only observe that I’ve been to enough classical concerts to know that such impressions are vague at best. At other gigs? Nah, don’t think so.

The real aspiration here should be to have a soundstage to the extent that the sound largely doesn’t sound like its coming from your speakers; extends slightly outside of the speakers and has no hole in the sound between the speakers. The illusion of height helps far more than depth but even then it’s as well to remember that it’s an illusion. I’d rather go for a balance of timbral and temporal accuracy and good old enjoyment than soundstage.

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