Importance of Soundstage/Imaging

Here's an article from the on-line site Audiophilia about designing an audiophile loudspeaker. The author lists eight properties that an audiophile loudspeaker should possess.

In order of importance the properties are:

1 - imaging
2 - openness
3 - coherence
4 - air
5 - detail
6 - timber
7 - bass
8 - dynamics

My question is what is your preference for the order of these properties?

My preference is timber, dynamics, detail, bass, coherence, imaging, openness, air.

My second question is does your system accurately reflect your stated preferences?

One thing I really like about the article is how Michael Levy, the author, gives specific examples of the sound properties. Also, by coincidence, I just watched "Romeo Is Bleeding" this morning.
No can do. They are all important. Doing them all along with coherence in particular can be a challenge. This is where I think the OHM Walsh speakers I tend to prefer excel. They pretty much have it all (when set up well).

I have Dynaudio monitors also. Not quite as coherent but good bass extension for smaller monitors.

I also have Triangle monitors. Excellent coherence! Size is similar to the DYns but bass extension is not as good. They only cost $500 a pair though back in the nineties, a steal.

I also have tiny Realistic Minimus 7s. Even smaller with less bass extension and dynamics, but pretty good all around otherwise.

Each of these have a slightly different timbre. OHMs are most "neutral", perhaps a touch of warmth. Dyns are warmer and can be a touch brighter as well depending on setup. Triangles might be a touch towards the "cold" side. Minimus 7s are somewhere in the realm of the much larger OHMs but with a lot less bass.
I was thinking a speaker should possess the attribute "fun to listen to."

1 - coherence
2 - openness
3 - dynamics
4 - timber
5 - bass
6 - detail
7 - air
8 - imaging

Might be why my speakers are 20+ years old.
IMHO, timbre comes first, the rest are all a distant second. If a piano sounds like a synthesizer, who cares how it images or how much bass, air, dynamics or detail it has?
I think you may be right JM. It seems too much attention has been given in the past decade to imaging at the cost of some of the othe aspects which to me make up music. When I'm listening to real music I cannot "hear" where a specific instrument is. I can make out many of these other aspects and they are important. If I am deaf, so be it. I think I have much good company.

you are absolutely correct.
How would you define coherence?
Jmcgrogan is absolutely correct re: timber. After that I'd rank them
2. Coherence
MID-RANGE- how can you leave out the mids???
3. Openness
4. Dynamics
5. Air
6. Detail
7. Bass
8. Imaging

In terms of practicing what I preach, I will be getting a pair of speakers this weekend known for timber, great mid-range, coherence, and dynamics. Trade off is that I will lose the great imaging I currently have. If this thread is still "alive" next week, I'll let you know what I think.
My preference: coherence, dynamics, detail, timber, openness, imaging, air, bass.

My opinion: The last 2 or 3 can sometimes be remedied by selecting components, adding supertweeter/subwoofer, and room treatment. The middle 2 or 3 are really important for realistic rendering of voice or acoustic instruments. But in the end, coherence and dynamics -- of all the transcients of a note and all of its overtones together -- are critical to conveying the musician's action and phrasing, and the music's rhythm and pulse. They are also the hardest to achieve in concert, whether using multiple drivers or single wide-range drivers. I think this combination of coherence and dynamics is often simply called "speed", "fast bass", "electrostatic transcient response" etc.

My speakers: Monitor Audio Studio series, Quad ESL63, Fostex F120A + electrostatic supertweeters, Lowther PM2A, Goodmans Axiom 80 and many other "projects".

-- William
I strongly agree with those saying that timbre should be no. 1.

Concerning openness, the author defines it differently than I've always thought of it. He refers to removal of veils, for which I think that "transparency" might be a better term. I've always thought of "openness" as akin to "air."

Using the author's definitions, my rankings would be:


As Mapman indicated, though, all are important.
Does your system accurately reflect your stated preferences?
I would say yes, especially with respect to timbre. With respect to the others, it provides a good overall balance without particularly emphasizing any one to the detriment of others.

Best regards,
-- Al
An interesting question, Onhwy61. I asked a similar one in a thread from a couple years ago. My improvised list of attributes was a little different. It included resolution, soundstaging, PRaT, dynamics, tonal balance, harmonic content, accuracy, coherence, frequency extension, and scale.

From the list you provided, my priorities are...

1. timbre
2. coherence
3. dynamics
4. bass
5. detail
6. openness
7. imaging
8. air

OK, I'm convinced by the timbre arguments, so I think I was wrong. Almarg's ranking looks right to me now.
"Does your system accurately reflect your stated preferences?"

I would say yes.

I have no problem listing timbre as # 1. I tend to prefer "neutral" whatever that means but I am also able to enjoy certain variations from that. I like having multiple speakers running in multiple rooms to enable some variation in timbre mainly. It helps keep my ears trained and tuned to hear differences, even tose that matter less to me.

My large OHM 5s come closest to doing all very well. Others trail somewhat in various areas as I described above.
The article is nice theory but of marginal value in helping to establish fine audio systems.
The author of the article put together an arbitrary list of properties he values. An obvious omission is any mention of rhythmic quality. Ultimately all of these properties are important and there's no real right prioritization of them. What I found interesting is how imaging/transparency/detail where at the top and timber and dynamics where at the bottom. This is a complete reversal of what high fidelity playback originally meant. In the 1950s through 60s the big Altec/AR/Tannoy/Klipsch/EV loudspeakers were all about timber and dynamics. I guess it can be argued that imaging/transparency/detail school is an accurate depiction of what audiophile, as opposed to high fidelity, playback has evolved into. I don't see that as a bad thing, but only if the loudspeaker doesn't noticeably sacrifice timber/dynamics.
" In the 1950s through 60s the big Altec/AR/Tannoy/Klipsch/EV loudspeakers were all about timber and dynamics. I guess it can be argued that imaging/transparency/detail school is an accurate depiction of what audiophile, as opposed to high fidelity, playback has evolved into."

imaging/transparency/detail are all advanced things that have become more achievable over time as technology has improved.

Yes, early on, timbre and dynamics were the key attributes that most gear was judged on solely almost perhaps.

Coherency started to be realized more somewhere in the middle, I believe, perhaps in the late 60s, early seventies with the advent of the OHM A and F, one if not the first very wide range, highly dynamic, single driver, cross-overless designs, based on Lincoln Walsh's work up to that time.
I would agree with what Onhwy61 says about the old horn speakers he mentions in particular. Timbre and dynamics are of extreme importance to musicians when they evaluate what a speaker sounds like, with our reference being what live acoustically produced music sounds like, or what HP like to term "the absolute sound." This is why a great many of us still prefer those horns to this day. And by the way, dynamics does NOT merely mean the ability to play music loudly!! The opposite end of the spectrum is equally important - and horns also excel at the extreme soft end of the dynamic spectrum, as well as having all the other essential qualities on these lists. Many of the more modern speaker types do indeed greatly sacrifice timbre in particular for what they call more "detail." IMO, and the opinions of many fellow musicians, this is losing the forest for the trees, and the wrong trees at that! As one of my teachers said in a master class once - "if you don't have a good sound, nobody cares how well you play otherwise." Likewise, I don't care how "detailed" a speaker is if it doesn't get my timbre (and that of every other instrument in the orchestra or opera or what have you) very well in the first place.
This is really interesting – mostly to unpack how I’ve been subconsciously thinking about this sort of stuff. Which is to say, I don’t really agree with the categories or the order (I think).

I think I’m with the original author that I think imaging (writ large) is the most important thing. But, as I see it, that encompasses a lot of, virtually all of, the other stuff. To explain: a good “image” requires “coherence.” If, as the author defines it, fricative pluck of a finger on a bass string, the initial attack of it vibrating, and the decay as it winds down arrive at different times, from audibly different drivers, from different places within the soundscape – you’ve blown your imaging. Can’t have imaging without coherence. “Imaging” requires “air.” In fact, would say they’re almost synonymous. The point of good imaging is to recreate a sense of place, to hear the space between a horn and a clink of a glass in the audience, a murmur from the other side of the room. As for “bass,” I would say that the key(s) is/are coherence and speed. Back to the bass string, bass is of course an important element – but if it’s not coherent enough to get to your ears at the same time and perceived place as the other sound elements of a finger plucking a string, then you’ve (again) blown your image. As for “detail” and “dynamics,” I’ve thought of them as sides of the same coin, macro- and micro- dynamics, if you will. Hearing crickets through a window behind two folks playing guitar, while listening to their breathing, I’ve always considered a feat of imaging, but certainly not possible without a great deal of “detail.” Similarly, if there’s isn’t a monumental difference in size, volume, placement and sheer energy between a single flute off to the side and when the rest of the orchestra kicks in, your dynamics aren’t up to the task of creating a realistic image of, well, either. So, with the caveat that I consider “imaging” to require all of these things, I would argue that imaging is more important to me.

This, of course, leaves out “timbre”—which I don’t mean to leave out. But I do consider it a different animal than “imaging” (and all of its component bits). I’ve always thought of “timbre” (or tonality, or warmth or similar stuff) as less quantifiable than imaging. Also, as less something than you can fuss with. Put differently, little changes in positioning, room treatment, isolation, cabling can make huge differences in imaging. But the timbre and tonality of a given set of speakers seems, to me, to be more signature and consistent. “Rearrange” the image by moving stuff (including yourself), and the timbre seems to remain more or less the same. Another take, “imaging” seems more fragile, more context-dependent, while timbre is, in my experience, more resilient. I’ve never met a pair of speakers where I could not hear the difference between a synthesizer and a piano, that’s just info that gets through to me. Same time, I’ve never heard – or at least never been able to process – the distinction between one make of violin and another (which is certainly a wetware issue with the stuff between my ears, not gear-dependent, but anyway). This I guess reinforces my belief that timbre is likely more subjective. I’ve spent years at a time acquiring software and hardware during which timbre was the ONLY thing that mattered to me. While “imaging” may make you say “gee wiz” and light up all the audiophilia markers, timbre either soothes and makes you smile or it doesn’t. It’s better to smile. So, anyway, I seem to own the stuff I do due to timbre, and then spend much time fussing over it, monkeying with the soundstaging. Which is more important? Neither…? But I would say those are the two things (not eight…).

Make any sense? Or am I just nuts?
I agree with mezmo that many of these attributes are interdependant on each other. ALl speaker setups have a timbre for example, good or bad, liked or not. ALl the rest are a bit more elusive and happen perhaps more in perceivable degrees, whereas differences between timbres are inherently much more complex. Plus factor in the complex effects of room acoustics and on/off axis listening for example.

Phew!! Its a wonder any of us know a good speaker when we see one although we'll know whether we like it or not more quickly once heard.
1. Coherence
2. Timbre
3. Detail
3. Openness
3. Bass
3. Dynamics
4. Imaging
5. Air

At first I had considered timbre most important, but I've heard incoherent speakers before and they bothered me so much I didn't even notice if they had proper timbre. The coherence anomaly was far too distracting to notice any of the other attributes. So for me, coherence tops the list. Big tie up for third place.
1-Timbre 2-Coherence 3-Imaging/Soundstage 4-Dynamics 5-Bass 6-Detail 7-Openness 8-Air. I added Soundstage with imaging because IMO there intertwined. Detail/Openness and Air are Hi-Fi terms not what you hear when at a live performance. If you get the first 3 right the perception of Air/Openness will be there provided you have a capable tweeter. Lastly I associate resolution much more with Timbre then Detail.
I'm getting very tired of being aware of two large floor standing boxes in our living room. My goal is to find speakers that present a sort of “curtain of music” as close as possible to live performances. I don't want to be thinking of any of the things on your list. I simply want to listen to MUSIC! When I attend a symphony concert or listen to a jazz combo in a club, or hear a rock or country group live in a club, all I'm hearing is the music.

I never think of “audiophile” terminology, thank goodness.

The only thing that's a problem for me is if the music in a given venue is TOO LOUD!

The last few rock concerts I attended, Springsteen, Dylan, and Kings of Leon pretty much blew my eardrums out. I cannot afford that any more. :)

My quest is for the speaker of my dreams, coupled to the audio components which will realize this dream. The dream is to have a system which makes me forget all the audiophile buzz words and criteria.

Tubes, SS, I don't really care at this point. All I want is the MUSIC!

After about 30 years of audiophile neurosis, please, just give me the music.

Thank you.
Ps, you sound like a candidate for Ohm's.

FWIW, I was at a home recently where the owner had a pr of Bose 901's set up with the front a few feet from the wall with the one driver at the back pointing at his listening chair.
Actually did not sound bad.
Real audiophiles don't use OHM or Bose. :^)

Way too easy.....
I've actually considered OHM's and exchanged a few emails with John. We'll see.

Mapman, that's funny. "way too easy!" I'd have to turn in my audiophile man card wouldn't I? :)
Ohms, yes, I've considered them and have exchanged emails with John.

Mapman, your comments are very funny! "way too easy…" Yeah, I'd have to turn in my audiophile man card.
I have 3 pair all bought or refurbed in recent years. My fate is sealed. :^)