What is Stereo Imaging (and How is it Used?)

What is Stereo Imaging

Stereo Imaging can be explained in detail by beginning with understanding we have two ears. Just like having two eyes gives us stereoscopic visuals and depth perception, having two ears lets us hear in stereo. This means that our brains can process audio from both the left ear and the right ear simultaneously.

Stereo allows us to hear sound spatially. If the sound is louder or quieter in one ear than the other, then the brain will interpret that it is coming from the right.

How loud something is in one ear and how loud it is in the other ear will tell us where it’s coming from. If the sounding is coming directly from us, it will reach our ears equally. Then our brains will inform us that it’s center.

While width is not the same thing, it’s important to know that we can also perceive depth by using leveling, special effects, or making tonal adjustments. A louder track will feel closer to you, while a quieter track will be considered background. Reverb can make something seem distant. Also, tracks with brighter reverb will sound more distant. Tracks with higher-end elements will seem closer to us.

What is Stereo Imaging?

Stereo imaging refers to the manipulation of a signal within a 180-degree stereo field for the purpose of creating a sense or locality within that field. Stereo imaging can be used for tracking, mixing, mastering, and other purposes.

Stereo imaging can be used to make the speaker boxes disappear acoustically. Instead, the sounds coming from a drummer/guitarist/vocalist should appear between, to and behind the speakers.

Some headphones may not have accurate imaging. When you listen to a song carefully, you can hear the sound localization and know exactly where the instruments are located and how far apart they are.

How do headphones know the location of a sound?

Like many things in audio engineering, the decision to place the sound is made inside the studio. Audio engineers make the final mix, determine how the soundstage will be used, and decide where to place an element on a stage.

Listening to old music from 60’s and earlier might lead you to hear sounds coming in the middle and all over the place. This is because stereo sound systems began replacing the mono sound system. To improve the listening experience, sound engineers needed some experimentation with stereo imaging, but didn’t know what to do.

Today’s mixing techniques are much more accurate, which means that nearly all songs you listen to now have accurate imaging information. But, how accurately you hear that information will depend on the quality of your headphones.

Stereo Imaging vs Soundstage – What’s the Difference?

The soundstage indicates the distance to the sound. The imaging is the sound’s location. You first know how far away a particular violin is. But sound localization lets you pinpoint exactly where it’s coming.

One important difference between the terms stereo imaging and soundstage is that the sound engineer determines the soundstage. The headphones will need to create the latter either by designing, tuning or using software’s assistance (virtual surrounding sound).

The soundstage, which is three-dimensional space surrounding you where instruments are located, is called the soundstage.

A small stereo field on a headphone gives you the feeling of instruments playing in your head. In busy tracks, like orchestra recordings, instruments can be muddled together because they are too close to each other.  Conversely, headphones with a large soundstage can help you place instruments far away. This gives you the feeling of being in a concert hall.

Imaging tells the sound its direction, or the route it’s taking. Your brain will combine both information, location and direction later, creating a three-dimensional audio experience that is more real.

How Headphones are Made Using Stereo Imaging

Sound engineers use tricks to fool the brain into believing that a sound comes from a particular direction. They employ basic psychoacoustic principles such as audio delay.

Let’s examine a human head in order to understand how a delay helps pinpoint a place. Our ears are positioned so that they can pick up noises from both left and right. When someone speaks to you from the right, the sound hits your right ear first and our left ear gets it with a slight delay. Our brains can calculate this delay in real time to tell us from which angle the sound came.

Sound engineers use this technique to move instruments around on the soundstage. This gives them an exact location. The sound engineers are changing track channels by applying frequency, phase, or amplitude mismatch carefully. Later, our headphones will need that information to reproduce the artist’s intent, giving us the exact sound experience.

How Headphones Influence Imaging?

Many headphones lack good imaging. It has to do with the high-frequency response. High-frequency articulate response means instruments can be presented in greater detail. This is why they make a statement in the mix.

High-quality imaging is a common feature of headphones with sharp treble. The Beyerdynamic closed-back headphones, which are known for their brilliant sound signature, offer superior imaging. However, wearing headphones while driving can lead to listening fatigue.

The position and accuracy of the drivers could also be affected. The speakers must be angled at 30 degrees to match the stereo room speakers. You can only then fully experience the speaker’s imaging potential.

In headphones, you can also see the same type of angled drivers. In-ear monitors aren’t affected by the same problem because they fit directly into your ear canal.  In-ears can create a small soundstage due to their in-ear design, which is a benefit for imaging. In the next section, we’ll discuss this.

Drawbacks of Perfect Imaging

Many headphones that have excellent imaging are quite small and lack a soundstage. This is because songs cannot be mixed together to create an incredibly large soundstage. Because headphones have to make the latter, imaging accuracy can become slightly blurred.

You have to choose between precise imaging and a huge soundstage. You can find headphones that provide a bit of both.

Stereo Imaging: FAQ’s

Are You Concerned About Accuracy in Imaging?

The way you enjoy your daily content will greatly affect the accuracy of headphone imaging.  Both sound engineers and headphone lovers place accuracy as their top priority. For sound engineers, accuracy is a top priority since quality of final product will depend on headphones’ accuracy.

Competitive gamers are another group who want excellent sound localization. Imaging can be used to pinpoint the enemies of a player’s enemy, and a large soundstage will give you a better gaming environment. This will allow you to gain an edge over your rivals.

However, this shouldn’t be a problem if you’re more casual. If you are only listening to music, most headphones will provide adequate imaging.

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