What is nearfield listening?

I had someone "in the industry" who some of you have bought products from tell me that nearfield listening doesn't have to do with actual distance from the speakers, that it refers to whether you are sitting inside or outside a 60 degree angle from the speakers.

Secondly, what are the drawbacks to sitting close to your speakers? I figure that there are advantages like being able to pull your speakers far out from back and side walls and also that the listening seat can also be far from the back wall.
It's when you position your speakers very, very close to you. Sort of like headphones but not, because they are in front of you. I think of it as w/i 4 ft from your seating position - but I'm not an authority.

The idea of 'within the 60 degree angle is 'nearfield' and outside is ?normal listening seems reasonable.
The cutoff point has to be somewhere.
Nearfield is great in a small room. (better than trying to be against the wall!)
Has nothing to do with the angle formed by the speaker. Near field is simply listening close enough such that the direct sound from the speaker is more than the room reflected sound.
Onhwy61 is correct that nearfield mean where direct sound is louder than all of the reflected sound at the listening position. This distance would vary considerably, depending on the speaker, the size of the room, the reflective quality of the room, etc.

The primary drawback is that recordings are mixed, to some degree, to sound their best with "normal" speaker/room/listener arrangements. This means that there is eliance on the room providing more reflected sound in the mix than that provided by nearfield listening. I would expect that, as time goes by, more mixing would be for nearfield listening, given how much more common listening to computer monitors is becoming these days. Unless a speaker is designed for nearfield listening, there are other problems to contend with--e.g., large speakers with spaced out drivers may not have the sound of the drivers properly integrated at close distances; because high frequencies drop off more than low frequencies as distance increases, speakers are balanced for a particular distance that is probably farther away than nearfield.

The best thing about trying nearfield listening is that it is free. Just move your speakers or yourself and try it out. In a typical room, you probably don't have to get closer than say 4-5 feet to get the full effect, and one can back away some to find the best balance of the attributes of nearfield and farfield listening.
Nearfield is listening close to the speakers so that most of the sound reaches your ears directly from the speakers. Its an attempt to take room acoustics and reflected sound out of the equation, much like listening to headphones. SOme speakers are designed for nearfield listening ie to sound "best" listening nearfield. The focus may be more on flat on-axis frequency response along with detail and perhaps also dynamics to some degree. SOund artifacts that require room acoustics and reflected sound to be heard, like imaging, soundstage, and "air" are not a consideration.
I agree with Mapman. Also, nearfield monitors must have drivers close together for proper integration. Floor standing speakers with drivers mounted across the front baffle are not designed for nearfield listening although many people use this type of speaker this way due to small listening rooms. This is a good reason to select the speaker that fits your room.
Most none orchestra recordings are mixed using near field speakers very close to the mixing board. Headphone mixing is even worse, yet seems to be done to often. So, there is nothing "normal" about the speaker/room/listener arrangement present. That is one reason that so much of what we are presented with to hear in recordings is pretty bad. It is the reason things like imaging, soundstage, and "air" are often missing.
YEs, good point. NEarfield listening requires tighter co-location of drivers for proper integration/coherency across the audible sound spectrum as Rrog indicated, although that often helps with imaging, soundstage and detail in non/less nearfield listening configurations as well. Proximity of drivers becomes less important geometrically when listening from a more distant location/perspective.
SOund artifacts that require room acoustics and reflected sound to be heard, like imaging, soundstage, and "air" are not a consideration.
I disagree. Imaging, soundstage and air do not require reflected sound. The can be enhanced by reflected sound, but it is not required.
Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian = nearfield listening at its' best. Of course a little SET action in there will make it as toasty as their three recordings were meant to be. I always move my listening chair a couple of feet closer when these guys are on my rig.
I have tried many configurations in different rooms, and even though my room is 25 feet long and 17 feet wide, I prefer to sit with the speakers along the 17 foot wall, and I sit 9 feet from each speaker. This leaves a lot of space behind me, so there are minimal reflections off the back wall. Is this "nearfield"? It is to me because it takes much of the primary reflections out of the equation. It is easier to set up the speakers and requires little wall treatments at the first reflection. I am curious about the statement that recordings are mixed to "sound their best in a normal room", (implying a large room with reflections?). All of the studio mixing consoles I have seen are in the nearfield. They may be mixed to sound like a large room but the monitors are close to the sound engineer/mixer. How can this be?

True the spatial cues are in the recording, but i'm pretty sure reflected sound and the proper time delays for reflected sound to reach your ears is needed to deliver a big 3-D soundstage from a stereo recording as opposed to just 1 dimension between the two speakers. The proof would be in hooking up a pair of speakers outside with no rear or side walls and see.
The time alignments required to make that happen are not possible imo because it would need a precise and particular room dimension, would it not? I think reflected sound is actually a hindrance. Sit outside on a really humid day with a big system(because that's what it would probably need) and you'd rock the house!
One way to think about near-field listening, sitting 3-5 feet away from your gear.

Proper distance to rear and side walls within certain parameters so that reflected sound does not arrive at your ears too soon, which results in early reflections that smear the sound, is the key.

The general guideline I've read and followed with excellent results is that reflected sound should travel at least 10- 12' further to reach your ears than the direct sound in order for 3-D spatial cues in the recording to be delivered constructively . Particular room dimensions are not required. Of course, there are many other aspects of room acoustics that can come into play as well, so the exact best position will vary based on other considerations from there.

My philosophy is that the 3-D sonic cues exist to various degree in most recordings (including mono recordings). TO not reproduce these correspondingly in a 3-D manner dduring playback represents a form of distortion in that what is in the recording is not reproduced as accurately as possible. Granted that it is a kind of distortion in playback that is not as offensive as certain other kinds most likely, but 1 dimensional stereo or monophonic sound is a distortion nonetheless, pretty much by definition, since sound is a 3-d natural phenomenon.
But how can a recording incorporate sound not yet in existence? Has the reflected sound deliberately been eliminated during mixing in order to reintegrate it during playback? How does speaker response and an-echoic specs relate to this? How do you 'engineer' sound?
"But how can a recording incorporate sound not yet in existence?"

A recording can only capture what was put into it by the producers.

"Has the reflected sound deliberately been eliminated during mixing in order to reintegrate it during playback? "

I would guess not normally. But different amounts of reflected sound in recordings can and will result depending on the specific production techniques used.

How does speaker response and an-echoic specs relate to this?

I think those practically are best determined using electronically produced test signals, which are different, not real recorded music.

How do you 'engineer' sound?

Isn't that exactly what all sound recording engineers and producers do? I believe they typically use near field listening techniques and monitors designed for near-field listening to do this in order to take room acoustics out of the picture in that acoustics will be different in each case where the recording is played back by the customers who buy their product.

SOme labels, like Mapleshade for example, have production techniques specifically designed to optimize soundstage and imaging overall.

Also a lot of early hi-fi recordings, like those from MErcury Living PResence, for example, were made with an emphasis on maxing out sound quality, including soundstage and imaging, when such things were still quite novel and marketable on a relatively large scale (compared to today).
Okay, I'm a little confused now. On the one hand you stated they don't normally eliminate reflected sound, and then that they use near field techniques to take room acoustics out of the picture.
They will often use nearfield listening techniques (or headphones) to take room acoustics out of the playback picture. Most consumers do not care about soundstage and imaging when listening.