What is an Honest Soundstage to an Audiophile?
Honest - Is the quality of being fair, truthful; free of deceit and untruthfulness.
Soundstage - Ability to accurately portray size, shape and acoustical cues of the original recording with the impression that the instruments and vocals are present.
Depth - Ability to give an impression of the overall size of the stage from front to back.
Width - Ability to give an impression of the overall size of the stage from side to side.
Imaging - Ability to reproduce location and size of instruments and/or vocals within a soundstage.
Layering - Reproduction of the various levels and rows within a soundstage; ability to reproduce the impression of levels, rows or distance between instruments and vocalists.
Natural - Realism; reproduced sound that matches every day, real life audio.
Neutral - Reproduced sound that is free of coloration that is not natural.
Sterile - Reproduced sound that is presented in a tidy, clean, transparent manner but lacks natural reproduction.
Clinical - Pristine clean and clear but uninvolving to the maximum.
NOTE: Please keep in mind that I am not a professional sound engineer, producer, musician or vocalist, etc. I have not done any scientific research, measurements or in-depth testing of any kind; just my own listening and comparing. I have very limited real life experience with recording, mixing and mastering gear. I have been involved since my teenager years with various churches as the sound booth dude. Currently, at my church, we use an Allen & Heath QU-24.
Secondly, this write up is based on impressions from an audiophile who mostly uses headphones and IEM, not speakers.
Please take these thoughts, opinions and reasonings as just that, my honest audiophile thoughts, opinions and reasonings.
One of the most emphasized technical aspects in audio reviews is soundstage, a very subjective topic for sure. If you have watched and read any of my reviews you probably noticed that I place a large emphasis on describing the soundstage width, depth, layering and imaging capabilities of gear. I am very picky when it comes to how a soundstage is presented. Here are my thoughts, opinions and reasonings on what an honest soundstage to an audiophile sounds like.
An honest soundstage reproduces an accurate portrayal of the recording setting. For the majority of recordings, most of us were not present at the time of the recording, we use our imagination to recreate a perceived venue, ie. studio, music hall, auditorium, stadium, outdoors, etc. This helps us to understand the spatial cues and size that are reproduced in the recording.
An honest soundstage is immersive and engaging but is not an excessive sized stage. An audiophile is seeking accurate and natural reproduction, so the stage should be realistic in width and depth. When gear boosts the treble, especially the upper frequencies, to enhance the soundstage; it tends to stretch the soundstage width to unnatural size, causing thinness and smearing of details. Thus a level downslope in the upper treble area will generate a more accurate soundstage width with proper note weight and less smearing of details.
An honest soundstage makes it easy to diagnosis multiple, wide rows of seats of musicians and vocalists. Width of the stage will change with varying recordings when done honestly. Some gear presents a massively wide stage while other gear presents a snug, cramped stage with each recording; neither is accurate or correct each time. Depth of the stage and venue will be portrayed accurately as well. During a concert a lot happens on the stage and in the audience but the main focus is the stage. When you are sitting in your seat and various instruments or vocalist perform from various places on the stage; you can hear it, place it and see it.
An honest soundstage has accurate, spot-on imaging just like you get in person at a live event. Layering of details, vocals and instruments are accurately reproduced just like you would imagine they would be in the live setting.
An honest soundstage can be reproduced from two perspectives. The most common is the listeners seat and the lesser common is from the performers seat. The listeners seat focuses on the overall experience looking forward and into the stage with the music coming at you and enveloping you. The performers seat focuses on specific areas of the frequency response and is small , intimate and detailed; tuned naturally to assist the performer to stay in rhythm and on key.
An honest soundstage is neutral and natural in reproduction not sterile and clinical. If a recording is known to be from a sterile and clinical setting then a neutral and accurate soundstage will be able to reproduce that but a sterile and clinical stage is not able to reproduce a neutral and natural stage. The reason is because sterile and clinical lack natural energy and involvement; as my father always says "Dead people don't wiggle."
An honest soundstage for an audiophile will put the listener in an imaginative seat at the venue, enjoying the show, whether that be on stage or in the audience.
An honest soundstage is important to this audiophile because I believe that an honest audiophile experience is both visual and auditory. You may or may not seek the same experience as I do but what matters the most is that we remember to Enjoy the Music and Honesty is the Best Policy!