Sound-stage, imaging, focus......

I would like to get some facts and opinions about sound-stage, imaging and focus as presented by a system. When I began my system purchasing process, I listened for a sound which came close to a live acoustical performance. For me, that meant instruments sounded real. I was not listening for sound-staging, imaging, etc., because, try as I might, I have not been able to comprehend sound-staging, exact placement of instruments (re: two chairs to the left of the pricipal trumpet), micro-dynamics, etc. at a live performance. That just doesn't happen for me from any position in an auditorium or club. I have never commented after a concert that "the focus and depth were spectacular". Are these descriptions applicable only to reproduced sound or am I missing something?
I don't feel that these descriptive terms are limited only to audio, and feel that what your are hearing at the actual event is more diffuse, because you are further away, further back into the reverberent field than microphones usually are when most recordings are made. Look, if you're really as curious about this as you think you are, you should buy a portable recorder like a DAT, and a one point condensor microphone. You could then ask if you could make your own recording the next time you go to a performance. That way, you could listen to it later on your system, and see what differences there are. You'll never really know until you do this.
This might be a bit tangential, so apologies in advance. Music can be an emotional or energetic experience at the level of the bare, naked soul. It is actually a sort of gentle transformational experience, not unlike deep meditation. This can happen live or with reproduced music, and with any kind of music you are energetically in tune with. The most basic thing is to get the timbre right, because the emotion of the music is hidden in the nuances of timbral richness and shading. In a sense, music is in the space between the notes. Soundstaging can add to the experience or be superfluous - it's more an individual thing. Your heart speaks the language of truth, in music or in anything else. When you listen, take a little time to listen with your heart, and you will be subtly changed by the experience. I get the impression, Rayd, that you already do this.
Soundstaging is an artifact of the recording process and multi-channel reproduction. At real, unamplified, musical events there's little perception of soundstage. Imaging does occur in real life, but it's typically not as starkly defined as via high-end systems. A system's ability to soundstage is indicative of other things being done right. Wide band frequency response, smooth phase and quick transient are some of the things that must be done right in order to have proper soundstaging. An interesting test for stereo systems is to go mono. Very few high end systems sound real when played mono. It eliminates all the soundstage/imaging considerations. It's a very tough test.
I agree with carl. You didn't percieve localization of instuments because it was diffused. Many music halls are made to amplify the sound. so you get diffusing at the same time since there is a lot of echoing going on. But even then your telling me that if say a flute solo came on that you could not pinpoint the exact location of that instument? Or pinpoint where an opera singers voice is? Very often borders book store has musicians and bands play in there store. I can get as close as 5 feet away from them. Even at 20 feet I can clearly tell where each member, voice, and instuments sound is coming from. I can even tell where each guitar string is. Our whole life relies on what we could call imaging and soundstage. When someone is talking to us we know exacly where they are in the room just from their voice alone. If we here a bird but don't see it we know it's in the tree by localizing it's chirping. When a phone rings we can pinpoint exactly where it is from the sound alone. And not just left or right but we also have depth perception. I could go on and on but back to music. It sounds like your listening to a large ansembles. They are meant to combine a large amount of instuments to sound as one. If 10 cellos are playing at once of course you won't here each individual cello and be able to place where the sound of each one is coming from. They are blending like one instument. Even then you should be able to tell that they are coming either from the left side of the stage or right side or middle and how far away they are from you. The whole reason we have two ears is to persieve sounds in stereo so to speak. That is why we have what science calls stereo hearing. It is so we can place sounds relative to where we are located to tell us where they are coming from in the 3 dimentional world we live in. If a stereo system is going to reproduce sound (not just music)and it's emotion Then it must get the soundstage and imaging right. Also bands and conductors go through a lot of trouble to set up the insruments in just the right spot to give the sound they want and so other instuments can be empasized or so others don't get drowned out. This gives you the full emotion they are trying to convey. Even if the timbre is correct if your stereo isn't showing you how the conducter set up his orcastra then it isn't correctly reproducing the sound or emotion that he intended.
Back in college in an astronomy class, we had this portable mini-planetarium demonstration. It was a half sphere "tent" about 15 feet diameter, kept smoothly inflated with air. All of us students sat around the circular edge, where the dome met the floor. In that tiny domed space, I could hear the girls all around me whispering all sorts of interesting things, and wasn't thinking about astronomy very much, heh heh. The interesting thing was, I couldn't tell what direction their voices were coming from! Were they beside me? Across from me? I didn't know. Sometimes it seemed to come from all around me at once, and sometimes it sounded like she/they were speaking from inside my own head! IT WAS THE WEIRDEST (and most fun) non-audio sonic experience of my life...and I'm sorry all of you good old boys missed it...well, not really.
Tend to agree with the Onhwy61. IMHO good soundstaging is two things - 1. A good proxy measure of a systems accuracy and resolving ability, and 2. An audio means of making up for the fact that at a live concert you literally see the players - precise imaging allows you to more easily imagine the same experience (have you ever noticed how drummers seem to have extraordinarily long arms - must scrape the ground when they walk - no offence drumsgreg).
An large orchestral recording is a tough call for the playback system to reproduce. I really love those CD's (jazz ones!)that have technical information printed in the pamphlets for the actual recording session itself. Whether close-mike technique or other description on how the other mikes are used, great stuff. With that true audiophiles can really hear (feel?)how the systems measure up. I call on all recording companies should look into that sort of marketing method and also benefit all audiophiles.Phil.
Hi Rayd, From your post, you look like a music lover. You did the right thing going after realism, instead of hifi. You're right, there is no etched pin point imaging in real music. Neither is there any tight artificial bass, in real life. I guess most people have never heard a stand up bass to know how fat and loose it really is, neither does it image very well. Natural, realistic, musical presentation is what's important in a music system for a music lover, all the other hifi artifacts are for audiophiles. rgds, david k.
Dkarmaeli, I resent your implication that audiophiles don't love music too. We do, it's just they we enjoy BOTH aspects in a recording, where "music lovers" don't really care what they're actually hearing their music on...could even be a boombox.
Yes most recordings have imaging and sound stage that is "Hi-Fi". However, live large scale orchestral music CAN have very distinct imaging if the hall is dry and the instrumentalist is playing to stand out from the section. For example, the violin at the end of the third movement of the Brahms First or in Sheherazade. However, usually the music calls for bowing or intonation such that the sound is as a choir of instruments. You can easily locate the position of the section but it is hard to pick out the individual instrumentalist. I have heard the Chicago Symphony in Orchestra Hall from the first balcony hundreds of times. With your eyes closed you could pick out a soloist with accuracy approaching + or - two chairs. You can also clearly hear the relative depth of woodwinds, horns, trumpets. In Orchestra Hall the imaging is worse on the main floor. From the conductor's podium (I got there twice during Solti recording sessions) the imaging pin points to how the players are holding their instruments! At the opera with the pit and a greater degree of reverberation, imaging is blurrier but relative left to right and depth is still pretty clear. The early Reiner recordings do an excellent job of capturing the true sound and layout of the CSO in Orchestra Hall from a relatively close audience seat. Try Zarathustra or the Bartok recordings. It is VERY difficult to get your system to reproduce the imaging but it can be done. If you can't hear the clear and consistent sound stage with these recordings you have a system problem because it's not subtle. Since these are available on premium vinyl and CD they are excellent for checking out both your sources. The Solti recordings with the CSO used many spot mikes and Decca reording tricks plus most weren't made in Orchestra Hall. These recordings sound like the CSO, namely you can tell it's still Herseth on trumpet, but they don't have a consistent natural sound stage. BTW in addition to electronics, room acoustics and speaker placement is absolutely critical. If you can't close to point image in mono your system won't image in stereo. re dkarmeli, Maybe in jazz the double bass is always fat and loose. However, played live, in the opening and final movement of the Mahler 2nd, the Rite of Spring or Wotan's Spear motive, the bite of the double basses of the Chicago Symphony will rip your scalp off (the composers wanted it that way). If on a recording I can't get that, as a music lover, I have been cheated of the composer's intentions.