Are you troubled by the imaging of a symphony orchestra?

I don’t listen to orchestra LPs much because there are very few that correctly image the placement of the instruments. I have changed ICs. The SQ is good but it is troublesome the not hear the violin section on the left, the violas and celli on the right, etc. Pre Covid, I frequently enjoyed going to the Symphony and sitting close.
It is hard to get that picture out of my mind.
I only have a few classical recordings but everyone is sitting in the correct place. 
Orchestral imaging has always been problematic in my experience. How many mikes were employed? Overdubs? Was the venue truly good enough, or did the producers have to make due? Were the producers pressured by the label (or the conductor) into doing some prestidigitation? "Kind Sir, how ’bout upping the reverb a tad?" And oh yes, as orchestras evolved, sections would get switched around.
I frequently enjoyed going to the Symphony and sitting close.
It is hard to get that picture out of my mind.

Indeed. Hardly anyone does recordings the way it would take to recreate that sound. All the classical orchestra recordings I ever heard seem intended to recreate the sound from at least about a third of the way back. Since the records are made that way anything you do to try and recreate that sound will lead to nothing but problems.

Sad to say you are just going to have to come to terms with the fact that your front row seating is for live events only, and get used to the sound from the cheap seats when you are at home. 

I agree that few get it right. I listen exclusively to classical and jazz and like you love live orchestra concerts. And I feel the same way as you regarding lack of imaging. 
For that very reason I veered into multi channel audio—some recordings really do it well. Others are just gimmicks. 
The Living Stereo 3-channel SACD reissues come quite close. They were originally recorded with a center mic which got mixed into the left and right channels for the LPs. But Analogue Productions has been rereleasing them in multi channel SACD. 
Also Pentatone has released many of the Phillips quadraphonic recordings from the 70s in SACD form.  (The Pentatone founders came from Phillips.)

And of course, there are very well imaged modern recordings, but again multi channel. 

 Sorry, no real LP suggestions here. 
Some labels get imaging right; Decca, Philips, Chandos, RCA Red Seal, to name a few. Telarc, excellent sonics but has the 2/3 back seating and an unnatural hall ambience (but I kind of like it). DG does not get it, with it’s overmic’d unrealistic presentation. It’s not even first row, it’s a wall of sound. And Karajan’s meddling ruined some of his great performances. Post 2000 they’ve gotten much better.

Many recordings offer an up front listening position using a close multi-mic setup. You hear the different sections without much space between them and a less 3 dimensional presentation.

I like being half way back in a lively hall, instruments in their proper place with a sense of space. A good recording will have the horns behind the strings. Many engineers can’t mic and mix horns correctly, the end product has the trumpet and trombone in the string section.
And yes, I was regularly going to hear live classical before Covid. No recording captures that experience. Some of the smaller labels using proper minimal mic techniques can get somewhat close.

The SQ is good but it is troublesome the not hear the violin section on the left, the violas and celli on the right, etc.
Are you referring to older recordings where minimal mic's don't pick up the instruments evenly? There were the three mic recordings, then later 10 to 12 mic's were employed, making for more realistic imaging.

The answer is a big fat NO.

Enjoy the music.
Or not.

The OP seems to only enoy binaural from the third row.


As far as the “problem” that you describe, the vast majority of my Decca, EMI, Lyrita, RCA LS, Mercury LP, and some others have no problem placing strings in their traditional places on the soundstage. 
but it is troublesome the not hear the violin section on the left, the violas and celli on the right, etc.
Can you explain, where are these instruments located when listening?
 I always hear string sections on the left and right. In a resolving system you can hear when strings form a semicircle in front of the conductor.

Recording engineer Lewis Layton got it right with the RCA Living Stereo LPs. So did Donald Fine with the Mercury Living Presence LPs. John Culshaw's Ring Cycle with Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic on Decca remains a monument to recorded sound! 
Mike,  Part of the issue here is that when attending live performances there is a great deal of diversity in what one hears as a function of where one sits.  If one sits fairly close to the stage on the main floor, what you hear is really very different than what you hear if you are seated in the dress circle.   Sitting close you usually have a pretty good idea of instrument location, but from the dress circle in most halls you will hear a very blended symphony.  Symphony, after all, means sound together.

Recording engineers have to make a decision about what kind of orchestral presentation they are trying to emulate.  Very often, one will hear this bizarre blend of close vs distant mic position in the same recording.  But if you are used to a main floor center row 6 listening perspective, you will look long and hard to find recordings that are single mic near center recordings.  If you have been in attendance at performances that are being recorded, you will see microphones all over the hall and above the stage.

All that said, if you are hearing major orchestral sections out of place, something is not quite right.  Assuming normal orchestral seating where 1st and 2nd violins are both on the left, you ought to be able to at least have that sense at home, given the quality of your gear.  Now, if the orchestra is set up in a 1st violin left 2nd violin right configuration, then you are going to hear violins all the way across the stage.   Celli and violas occupy center positions in that arrangement. 
mglik, something for you to consider that hasn’t been mentioned.

Have you attended concerts by different orchestras and not mostly just one? I ask because not all orchestras arrange the strings with all violins hard left and violas, cello and basses to the right.

Some orchestras situate violas spread across the center, left to right; others to the right. Still others place the celli on the left and to the right of the first violins with the second violins hard right. Sometimes the basses are situated left and rear. There are still other preferred seating arrangements and they are at the discretion of the hometown conductor; seldom the guest conductor.

If you are used to hearing what you describe, recordings by orchestras which use a different seating arrangement may account for your reaction.
Large Jazz Band

I saw the Hot Sardines live, wide stage, trumpet far left (behind the christmas tree actually), horns moving in, bass, drums, to piano far right. Up front, tap dancer left of center, singer right of center. 

bought this album, awesome recording

"This live album was recorded in two originative bursts at their regular haunt, Joe's Pub, in New York and Koerner Hall in Toronto."

but, the imaging was opposite of what I saw/heard live???

turns out, Donna was at that show at Joe's Pub, smaller stage, and the piano was on the left.

Still, my mind was expecting the opposite. Oh yeah, the McIntosh mode switch has 'stereo reverse'. Bingo, nirvana.
One of the reasons I have wheels on my heavy speakers is so I can adjust toe-in, for single listener, for wider center for 2 listeners, content with too much separation, or content with not enough separation.

I also chose a cartridge with both wide channel separation and tight channel balance, a big part of imaging success.

Next, you need the tools and skills to align the cartridge. Once physical alignments are correct, anti-skate is critical to imaging.

I use both the CD and Vinyl versions of this to first tweak my system balance with the CD, then twerk my anti-skate on LP version

side 2, tracks 2 and 3: CD proves system balance is correct, then LP, adjust anti-skate to get the imaging of the 3 guitarists right.

Then, it's about content with great: recording techniques, engineering, mixing, pressing ... Many awesome recordings are out there, but you cannot buy any '1812' you need to do some research, find the ones done right.

Since I can get carried away with Bach, Brahms, Haydn etc in my car with about 20$ worth of speakers not something I worry about .
If you go to symphonies and "sit close," then you are certainly aware that that symphony ('sound-stage'?) will be completely different when you sit somewhere else.  (e.g., as in Disney--you can sit 'close' in front, behind [for 1/10 the price], close on the side, close on the side balcony, first row, tenth row).  Since the instrument location will be different from each one of those seats, there is no possible way a recording can "correctly" image that.
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Harry Pearson once wrote that correct imaging is more important on recordings than in person, as with recordings you have no visual clues.

That being said, IMO there is no reason not to have pretty perfect left to right imaging of instruments. I think the only thing that can get in the way of that are loudspeaker resonances which may be present more than some think. Front to back is a different matter as that is where the recording art is (or is not) at its finest. Much multi-miking, for example, erases front to back imaging. The 3 mike techniques used in the early days by Everest, Mercury, RCA and Decca probably did it best. Credit Everest’s Bert Whyte for its early development.

A small exception is that in the earliest stereo days, notably at RCA, they recorded a full orchestra with only two microphones (before the stereo disk and initially headed for open reel tape) and a resolving system may reveal the so-called hole in the middle. And so they added the third microphone.

Orchestras, of course may have different seating arrangements even for different pieces. Split L-R violins, sometimes cellos in front on right, sometimes violas. Basses sometimes at extreme left, etc. Percussion can be anywhere.

PS: The Mercury Records engineer was C. Robert "Bob" Fine, not Donald.
In recent years, I have loved to hear the Oregon Symphony. A truly world class organization. I
have preferred to sit in the first 3-4 rows on the far left. There is the best way to watch the conductor, Carlos Kamar. And the soloists. And feel the violins.
My memory of sitting many rows back I still seemed to be aware of section placement. Especially watching the conductor as they notify cues all around. Interesting to see the link of the different orchestra arrangements. I believe I remember “standard arrangements” in several different symphonies. I will try to listen to symphonic works as a blend but it clearly, for example, I always hear trumpets on the back right.
+1 @melm 

My memory of sitting many rows back I still seemed to be aware of section placement. Especially watching the conductor as they notify cues all around.
This is why I like mid hall seating. I hear the proper placement of instruments, yet the orchestra presents a cohesive sound.

Can you describe the image that you hear on recordings?
Are these older or modern recording techniques?

I listen to orchestral music very often. On most all my recordings, the musicians are where they should be. It is very important to me that they are. But, the quality and method of the recording is also very important in making one recording being better than another.

If this is happening on all your orchestral recordings, I would have to assume something else is amiss. Perhaps start with checking speaker placement, room treatments, etc.
I have heard several halls where it makes little difference whether you 
sit in the front row or the last in balcony, acoustics are  that good .

Of course they are VERY rare .
My experience with concert halls is, sadly, limited to US venues.  Severance Hall in Cleveland comes to mind as a venue where I have yet to sit in a compromised acoustic.   The first row at Severance is way further back than is usual.

Another US venue that I have found to be superb is the Palladium in Indy.  It is a new hall, and benefited from a very careful and deliberate design to ensure superb acoustics. 

Other halls have exhibited a wide range of diversity, and there have been a few that are badly compromised no matter where you sit.

It is my understanding that there is not a direct correlation between halls that are good for listening being also good for recording.   I've not generally found the Cleveland recordings in Severance to be of similar quality to the old days in the Masonic Hall. 
Please share.  Which halls are these?

In New York the worst hall is Philharmonic Hall.  No one has ever said anything good about it.   They have redone it at least 4 times, never with much success.  They had recently planned to do a total tear out of the present hall and re-do it in a modern format (no proscenium and no seat very far from the stage) but they ditched that as they could not find a temporary alternative.  So it seems they will go forward with another half a-- fix, which is mostly ripping out the first few rows and moving the orchestra forward.

Carnegie is the world's most overrated hall IMO.  It has large balcony overhangs where the sound goes to die.  The hall also has many curved surfaces that focus the sound towards the middle seats and to the upper balcony.  Better sound there means compromised sound elsewhere.  There are those who think the center of the uppermost balcony contains the best seats in the house.   And at 3671 seats it is just too large.

The general acoustic state of concert halls in the US is not very encouraging--though there are exceptions.  Creating a great sounding concert hall should not be very difficult, really.  Just find one somewhere in the world that sounds great and copy it brick for brick.  But that's not something that adventurous architects and their civic promoters seem to want to do.