Imaging and the first violin(s)


If there’s one gremlin in my listening for decades, it has been a certain instability in the image in certain circumstances. I listen to a lot of chamber music, and I’ve noticed that the first violin’s place in the image can get less defined, particularly when the instrument is playing fortissimo. I’ve also noticed it in orchestral music, and sometimes in different ranges of piano recordings - moving from left to right.

I wonder if it is my setup - I’m along the long wall of the room, and while there is lots of space on either side of the speakers, it is not exactly symmetrical. However, I just moved last year, and the shorter and harder side switched from right to left, yet I get the same thing. Three different sets of speakers have exhibited this, and I’ve noticed it auditioning music in dealer showrooms as well (btw, don’t all those speakers standing around play havoc with near term reflections??). I haven’t done enough controlled experimentation, but I do think toe-in ameliorates it a little, but not all together.

I wonder sometimes whether the violins are able to, essentially, cut into the right-aimed microphone at certain levels. Or, I suppose, it could be a frequency-based imbalance in my own right and left ear hearing.

Anybody else notice this sort of thing?
ahofer
Yes I have, especially with piano in either an orchestral arrangement or jazz trio, where location seems to fade between a hard lock and floating. I've non-chalantly attributed this to either an outcome of the final mixdown (maybe the engineer is trying to even out dynamics?), or same deficiency in my gear/room/ear interface.

I will say that I notice this distinctly less with DSD files from Native DSD. Could be coincidence.

Do you have any particular tracks where this effect is pronounced? I'd like to give them a try and see if we hesr the same thing.
Room acoustic treatments???


Usually I find that bad imaging is from poor room treatment and speaker placement.

Speakers:
Experiment with width and toe-in. If you point your speakers directly at your head, try pointing them straight, or having them cross in front of you. Latter is best for being near side walls.


Room acoustics:
The plane (x, y or z) in which you are suffering is the place to improve room acoustics. Height issues, add below and above (ruugs, ceiling). Width? Left and right. Depth? Front and back.  It may help to put a diffusor between the speakers, and try as experiments carpets or rugs / blankets behind and between your speakers, especially if that's where your rack is.
I agree on the importance of room treatments. My listening is comprised of about 90% classical (all types). I’ve never experienced the first violin or any individual instrument moving in the soundstage. Less defined, yes, depending on the mix.

Room treatments will define and shape the soundstage. I agree with Erik on all points.
In addition to position and toe-in, I’ll include rake angle of the speakers to help focus the image and position the soundstage.
In my room, using two absorbion panels on the front wall centered behind the speakers will lock-in the position of the instruments.


Can we assume you established a frame of reference by attending live performances of chamber music?
Well, in general I'm really happy with imaging in my set up  This is a specific problem, and it has persisted through different setups and other systems.  Nonetheless, it could certainly be the room, or aggravated by the room - I have limited scope for treatment as I maintain peace with my wife who, while a musician, has limited patience for visual concessions to audio.

I'm traveling now, but from memory, the Sequoia Quartet's recording of the Ravel Quartet.  Try the second movement (Assez Vif; Tres Rythme).  Lots of dynamics from all the pizzicato. The violin seems to come from the right channel periodically.  I think this is on both Qobuz and TIdal.

With quartets I never have trouble deciding whether the cello is on the outside or inside (they set up both ways) and most of the time I hear the violins on the left. It's just certain passages, often characterized by pizzicato or fortissimo playing.

Bill Charlap Trio - West Side Story.  Typically, and much like the rest of the jazz world) Bill sets up on the left, bass in the middle, and for trio drums on the right (as you face the stage, and yes I've seen him live a bunch of times).  The Piano seems to be in somewhat different places based on where he's playing in the registers. I get the same thing with some Joey Alexander recordings (whom I've also seen live set up the same way). 

The problem with studio creations is they could just as easily multi-miked the piano and centered it, which would create this effect, so it's harder to know what the intention was. Whereas quartets are usually in a performance space, although I've seen setups with both near-field mics and the typical double mic suspended above.

Thanks for the suggestions.
Incidentally, I’ve been in some concert halls that had disturbing reflections from near the stage. If you go to Carnegie to hear a pianist, don’t sit on the tiers on the left side towards the stage. Even down on the floor, if you are too far left, you get a reflection off of the stage wall that is disconcerting.

Not exactly the same thing, although I've wondered whether having some live surfaces around the stage might contribute to this effect in some recordings.
I have a pretty decent CD collection of string quartets, quintets, trios and the sound of individual instruments has always been properly placed on the soundstage.

Sometimes with piano, I'll notice that the sound has moved slightly left or right but then returns to the proper position. I find this disturbing, but realise that it's a mic'ing and/or mixing occurrence.

I'll check the tracks you listed on Qobuz and see what happens.


@ahofer The Ravel is a beautiful piece. And on the 2nd movement I do hear the first violin moving from left side to left center during the early pizzicato.
I checked a YouTube video and both violins plus the viola are performing pizzicato throughout the movement. On the Qobuz recording I think I heard the cello move from right side toward the middle.

These instruments are wonderfully mic’d and recorded. I think what’s happening is since the mics are above the group and not dedicated to each instrument, the mix engineer is playing with the balance to fill the soundstage with music. This isn’t my cup of tea, I’d rather the performance be an accurate reproduction of the live event.

But it is a masterful performance with excellent sonics. It's a great listen.

On second listen, there’s no doubt that the violin is at full gain in both speakers.
My guess is they are using omni-directional mic’s which have a wide pickup patten. This, combined with the mixing of the performance to fill the soundstage would be my explanation.

I can’t explain why you hear this effect on other string quartets, except that you need to focus the image by adding some absorbion or diffusion on the wall behind the speakers.

@gs5556  yes, I attend live chamber music about once every two weeks, and every month or so my wife plays with friends in our home (she is a violist).  I have a Steinway "M" which was in my living room for 28 yrs until last year, and I went to Music School for several semesters while getting my bachelor's elsewhere. Concert halls do have their vagaries, as I suggest above, but this seems to be a stereo reproduction thing  
@lowrider57 I suspect this mic bleed is fairly common. It is fair to say that the chamber music I have on my server is older recordings like this, which may be a factor. Right now I’m listening to a 2009 Guarnieri recording of the Mendelssohn opus 13 [oops it's a remastering] that is pretty solid, even in the more strident passages of the final movement.

I’ve always loved that movement of the Ravel, and I love how dynamic that recording is on a good system.
It really is a fantastic recording. But to be clear, it's not mic bleed. The purpose of an omni-directional mic is to pick up sound from all directions, 360°. This is minimal mic'ing and it's intended to sound more realistic by picking up ambience and more than one instrument. It's basic music recording. Much better than modern close-mic and muti-mic techniques.


Just listening to the Orpheus Quartet  playing a Bargiel String Quartet.  

https://www.amazon.com/Bargiel-String-Quartets-Nos-Octet/dp/B07KLGPDD6

Try track 4.  I think it's a reflection in the venue, but higher/louder passages also deliver violin in the right channel.
See/hear also the 2018 Doric Quartet versions of the Mendelssohn quartets, Chandos.
@ahofer,
Sorry for not getting back to you and I'll check out those links.

Regarding the Ravel 2nd movement, may I suggest that the viola is tuned-up a semi tone and is one of the instruments playing a pizzicato. Mozart uses this technique in his Sinfonia concertante.
 I'm listening to this and it is confusing how the two violins play pizzicato and melody while pizzicato can be heard away from the violins.

Just a guess.