Hi guys - my post was specifically about the recording side, not the playback side. To answer the last post of Csontos - most recording engineers of today do not at all have the same priorities as those of the past. With digital recording, they can make anything sound pretty much however they want to, and they do. There is absolutely no attempt anymore to be faithful to the actual sound, in the actual space it is being performed in. I am speaking here mainly of orchestral recording, done in a hall or large church, though of course in a recording studio they have even more control over the sound.
The other part of it is the miking itself, before it is mixed and edited. Back in the old days, with the great analog recordings, the recording companies would hang just a couple of mikes either out in the hall, or high above the orchestra, ala Mercury. This way they captured the sound of the space as the audience heard it, and were as faithful as possible to it. Conductors were also much more heavily involved in the process back then - the vast majority of them aren't really anymore, as far as how the recording itself goes (they are of course very concerned with the musical side of it). Now, with digital recording, you see at least one mike in every section of the orchestra, as close as they can get it to the musicians, and then they mix it and tweak it however the hell they want later. There are sometimes mikes out in the hall too, but very rarely, and even when there are, they aren't used much in the mix. Almost never does the final result sound like it actually did in the hall, in fact most of them don't even seem to care about recreating the sound of the actual space whatsoever. In other words, they simply don't care about soundstaging. This is a major reason why so many recordings and orchestras sound more and more the same in this day and age - not only are players all over the world sounding more and more the same, and regional differences are being lost, the recordings themselves contribute to this sameness by the way they are miked and edited and mixed.
Another dirty little secret is that to this day, so-called "sound engineers" are by and large not systematically trained, and learn on the job, almost always from someone else who had to do the same, if they have any help at all. There are very few books on the subject, and most recording engineers I have encountered in my career have never read any of them anyway. It is really quite shocking how little most of them actually know about what they are doing. Unfortunately, the fact that it is so easy for pretty much anyone to make and edit a recording now only exacerbates the situation. There are still some good ones out there, but in general, it is really true that most of them really don't know what they are doing.
Audiophiles love to talk about having equipment that is faithful to the recording, and as an audiophile myself I understand where they are coming from; however, as a professional musician, I know that almost all recording done nowadays is NOT faithful to what we actually sound like, particularly in the soundstaging aspects. They are just creating a mix that sounds good to them, and the miking is done so that they can manipulate what happens as much as possible. And again, this is even more true in the recording studios - just ask any orchestral musician that works for the film industry in Hollywood if the movie soundtrack accurately reflects what they actually sound like. They will probably not be able to help laughing in your face. Some audiophiles don't like to hear this kind of talk, but I'm sorry - it's true.