If you don't have a wide sweet spot, are you really an audiophile?

Hi, it’s me, professional audio troll. I’ve been thinking about something as my new home listening room comes together:

The glory of having a wide sweet spot.

We focus far too much on the dentist chair type of listener experience. A sound which is truly superb only in one location. Then we try to optimize everything exactly in that virtual shoebox we keep our heads in. How many of us look for and optimize our listening experience to have a wide sweet spot instead?

I am reminded of listening to the Magico S1 Mk II speakers. While not flawless one thing they do exceptionally well is, in a good room, provide a very good, stable stereo image across almost any reasonable listening location. Revel’s also do this. There’s no sudden feeling of the image clicking when you are exactly equidistant from the two speakers. The image is good and very stable. Even directly in front of one speaker you can still get a sense of what is in the center and opposite sides. You don’t really notice a loss of focus when off axis like you can in so many setups.

Compare and contrast this with the opposite extreme, Sanders' ESL’s, which are OK off axis but when you are sitting in the right spot you suddenly feel like you are wearing headphones. The situation is very binary. You are either in the sweet spot or you are not.

From now on I’m declaring that I’m going all-in on wide-sweet spot listening. Being able to relax on one side of the couch or another, or meander around the house while enjoying great sounding music is a luxury we should all attempt to recreate.

Showing 13 responses by ieales

I built stuff for professional recording studios as well. Not one offs either, but production equipment. I have done this in the commercial world, and in the academic world, under proper controlled conditions and with the equipment to know exactly what was happening.
Ditto. So what.
Magico or Paradigm or anything of that ilk, as my pal Bob said, spreads the image like mayonnaise. I'm less kind and call it a bucket of mush.  I want the image to be as I recorded and mixed it. If I have that, then I have a good representation of what anyone else also recorded and mixed. No one ever recorded or mixed a singer or hi-hat with a 10 foot wide image. 

Anyone who comes to listen sits in the sweet spot while I drive from outside the sound field.

If you want a wide spread, listen in mono.
^^ see  ieLogical SubterraneanHomesickBlues for a little insight into integrating subs.

Moving my head over 8-10 inches either side, lost the sweet spot. Standing up? Fugetaboutit! Sounded good as long as I sat completely still. Nah, Not for me.
I doubt I've ever moved my head 8-10 inches either side at a live performance. Or stood up.

Properly set up and integrated, HiFi can do an amazing job at recreating a performance bet it Joe Pass playing acoustic alone, The Who or The London Phil. The trade off, due to physics, is the sweet spot is somewhat constricted.

In a live performance, if one has the ability to wander about, one will find there are gross variations in the sonic field, sometimes in as little as a foot.

It's my experience that a wide sweet spot never elicits comments like "Joe Pass is sitting RIGHT THERE!"
I gather you’re not handed the same, specific seat that says "Reserved to Mr./Ms. [insert name]" as the one and only place to have a proper concert experience, in fact there’s a range seats centered to the stage that will be quite excellent sound-wise.
Actually, our seats are reserved. Took me three years to get them. I've paid stupid money for good seats in the great halls. If we can't get great seats, we don't go.

you could easily move your head about a foot ... it’s hardly relevant with regard to any changes in sound
In my retirement, I'm technical director for a production company. For acoustic music, mostly true. For amplified, not necessarily. Before I became TD, we've moved seats because the phasing of the direct and amplified sound was intolerable.

you’re projecting the head-in-vise experience from your home set-up
Hardly. I attended and played in live concerts before I had a HiFi. As a retired recording engineer, I spent thousands upon thousands of hours trying to recreate as close a facsimile to a live venue as possible. My HiFi is not head in a vice, but it accurately presents what a recording engineer put down. Most people have never heard a HiFi do that. For 40 years, musicians have been telling me that the music is "Right THERE!!"

No domestic set-up I’ve heard has come even fairly close to resembling a live acoustic concert.
Me neither. No one no how ever got the sound through the glass.  However, a well setup system can transport you and make you believe. If Joe Pass is playing a 10 x 5 foot guitar, no one is ever going to even consider him even in the same room.

A surplus in mage specificity, to a certain point, takes away from the holistic experience of music and in turn makes it more about something that’s supposed to impress sonically rather than musically, but that’s also about frequency response and the target curve at play.
There can never be a surplus in image specificity. If one can localize the source, it's a fatal flaw. Frequency response beyond a certain point is irrelevant. Imaging is about PHASE and TIME. Most systems are appalling on those parameters.

Isn’t this the audiophile tendency to miss the forest for the  trees? Just sit down and enjoy the damn music.
Hardly. IMO, more artist are hindered than helped by sound reinforcement. People may not realize why they didn't groove on a favorite artist.

you still get to experience the totality of the event, something your home set-up can’t recreate
One recent visitor, a lifelong classical musician, lover of most music and frequent concert goer, seated next to her hubby & neither with their head in a vice, upon hearing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" queried "Who needs concerts?" 
This is totally not true. Timing is true in the live music world, but for playback, most of our imaging with the exception of specific dual microphone setups rarely used, imaging is primarily volume, and phase does not play into it, not even one little bit as long as the phase response is consistent on each channel.

TIME is arrival time. Ignoring Xover phase, a flat baffle box with a 8" woofer and dome tweeter has a driver arrival delta of about 500µS or about 2kHz. In a 2 way system, the kick beater will arrive ahead of the fundamental. In a multi woofer system, the direct arrival is at multiple times, PLUS first reflections varying in both time and intensity. Imaging suffers.

PHASE is the synchronicity between fundamental and harmonics. If harmonics arrive asynchronously to fundamental, imaging suffers.

A system with TIME wrong cannot get PHASE coherent.

Most systems make no attempt to get TIME or PHASE coherent.

Imaging is NOT level (volume). Imaging is when the speakers disappear and one can walk into the stage! Most systems fail miserably. Ditto rooms.
The only arrival time that matters is differential arrival time, i.e. the time difference between the time a sound reaches each ear.
Arrival time is how we localize sound in the world.

Phase coherence is how we tell if it's live or Memorex.

Unfortunately, many tests are performed on the unwashed. Just as some can't tell if a piano is in tune, some can tell you how much it's out, how much it's stretched and the reference A.

If time delay is inaudible, why would manufacturers bother? Spica, Vandersteen, Wilson. Marketing hype? Methinks not.

Today, it's trivial to use DSP to remove displacement delay in multi-amplifier systems. One can model up the analog crossover, make direct driver connections and calculate the driver offset. Next create two presets with and without offset compensation. Switch between them. Let us know.
I built stuff for professional recording and movie studios.

I did 'research' into time/phase vs frequency. One can 'fix' frequency response with an equalizer. We preferred aligned drivers.

We are talking about the time/phase of ONE speaker used in stereo pairs. Waveform coherence is not L/R time delta.
time delay = phase shift
I feel that there are at least 2 speaker brands which prove you can have really good imaging and a really wide sweet spot, given a wide enough room.

Revel and Magico.

Don't these two brands prove that great imaging in the center and very good off axis listening is not mutually exclusive??

We must have divergent views on what constitutes imaging. Magico S7 give a very wide & expansive presentation. However, they lack focus and create their own 'space'. Nebulous and homogenized is how I hear them.

Of course, it is possible that everything else in the $400,000 system was at fault.

Also, the problems with their imaging is not so much that they don't image, it's' that they need so much width or extremely well treated rooms.
The room where I heard them had treated walls, carpeted floors and seemed very well behaved. There was as much room outside the speakers as between.

While quite enjoyable, not all boxes were ticked for yhs. [I do consider that my perspective may be suspect vis a vis non-professionals.]
Skip trying to perfect a grossly inadequate number of speakers (i.e 2) for the ultimate music listening experience and go to 5.2.2 atmos setup powered by a good surround processor and amp. Some very smart guys declared that you need a lot more than 2 channels to make it work and they were not wrong.
Horse puckey.

5.2.2 Atmos is nebulous beyond extreme. One may be enveloped in sound but no-one no-how nowhere gets an image such an engineer captured or created. Listening to well recorded 2 channel music, either actual space or studio synthesized, with good ambience on 5.2.2 is almost nauseating.
I worked for dts 20 years ago. I could have gotten product for free and took none. I detested the multichannel stuff we produced.

Some of my much smarter pals worked for Warner and Universal writing processing code. Not one of them ever thought the processed sound was superior to 2 channel.

Processed sound is just that. It 's processed. More than once I've asked a host to either turn off their sonic wallpaper or I'll have to leave because the constant image shifting makes me nauseous.

Adding speakers and $10 software is no panacea. Cost is no arbiter of how much a system will engage the listener. Processing cannot solve room problems.

see  ieLogical Lossy for a bit on how processing messes up signal integrity
Every recording you ever listened to in life went through a whole lotta "processing" before you bought it. Any DAC you've got is "processing". Your turntable setup is immensely colored. If you don't like processing, forget multichannel gear, you should toss all your recordings/2 channel gear as well and go watch live unplugged performances in a good venue (or start singing by yourself like a lark).
No it is not processed. What is intended in 2 channel from start to finish is a simacrulum of a performance, either live or simulated.

Multi-channel and processed [i.e. bandwidth limited] sound screws with the audio signal to the extent that the original image NO LONGER EXISTS.

I once castigated a friend doing an FM Motown retrospective because he ripped all the material rather than playing the discs. I told him that while I loved the music and his show, I could not listen due to the lack of focus. This was over FM which is not a patch on the true system fidelity.

He said he had no idea what I was talking about, so I asked him to bring the original CDs and the rips over and we would sync them up and listen. He said he was astounded at how badly the 192k rips compared, BUT I was the only one who complained!

while some drink CharBux, no serious cafficianado would ever mistake it for coffee. Ditto 5.2.2 Atmos for HiFi.