Why Energize the Whole Room/Virtual Reality Audio?

Nearly all high quality loudspeakers are designed to fill, or at least attempt to fill, an entire room with sound. Why haven't more manufacturers and listeners taken an alternative path towards a more localized and individually oriented sound reproduction paradigm? I'm inspired by the concept of virtual reality video glass where the moving picture image is placed so close to the eye that the viewer is totally immersed in the image. Why not place the speakers within inches of the listener's head? Since you're not trying to fill a room with sound the speakers could be physically smaller (and cheaper) and the drivers should have less travel (and lower distortion) than traditional loudspeakers setups. Soundstaging and imaging should be greatly enhanced and the negative effects of the listening room should be greatly minimized. Except for the social aspect of sharing music with friends or it's impracticality for listening to music in the background, maximum extreme nearfield listening (MENL, pronouced MEN-L) should have enormous appeal for the serious listener. Or, am I missing something? I've never actually tried those virtual reality glasses, so I really don't know if they work let alone this idea inspired by the VR glasses.

On a practical note, this concept would probably require a single cone or planar type speaker in order to maintain coherence and proper sound integration which is probably not a bad thing. If anybody reading this has a pair of those mini Gallo balls, try placing them free field six inches in front of your head and let us know how they sound.

The obvious question is, why not just use headphones? Unless the music was recorded for headphone playback you'll get that sound in the middle of your head effect. I'm looking for a properly placed soundfield.
Stax used to make electrostatic headphones called "earspeakers" with the sound emanating from in front of the ear and not piped directly into the ear canal. They actually looked like two little speakers on a headband. I don't think those are made anymore and I have always wondered why.
Seems like an okay idea for ultimate playback of music, but then you would be trying to introduce something new into the audiophile world, we all know how well that goes over. On top of that, you're taking away one part on an audiophile's system. The room. It's no longer a tweakable item. It's almost like taking the pre/power amp away from the separates guy and making him use an integrated.
The "sound in the middle of your head effect" happens with a mono signal. Not with stereo.

All the comments about low distortion and wide frequency response with headphones are true. In some focused listening situations they are ideal, but most of the time we want to be free to walk around, and even to talk with others while the music plays.
Thinking outside the box always is the impetus for positive change. Bravo, Onhwy61!!!

While I don't find anything interested in virtual reality - I prefer the REAL THING - your thinking here is more than interesting. I kind of follow along with what you are getting at, though I fall down in the "Maximum Extreme" aspect. My friend accuses me of basically sitting on top of my speakers, but if you look at Mapleshade's tips on getting good sound, over time, I have more or less evolved into everything they espouse, sans sitting on the floor. While my way may be too bright, upfront, and downright LOUD for most, I feel rewarded with exceptional imaging, good bass response, and total immersion in the in your face sound. While the sweet sound is not the largest, it defines sweet. When guests are over, I let them sit in it, telling them to enjoy it, don't worry - I'm in it 99.9999% of the time, and that audio is not a team sport - you have to go for your own.
S7horton, I'm not sure I understand or agree with your comments. On one hand you say MENL might be the ultimate form of music playback, but you don't think audiophile will be interested. What does that say about the wisdom of audiophiles? As far as I'm concerned removing the room from the playback equation is one of the Holy Grails of audio. The room does nothing but degrade playback sound quality. So it removes an element of tweaking, but do you want to tweak or do you want to listen to music?

Pbb, I think AKG also makes such a headphone.

Stereo or not, headphones create a soundstage in your head... a very small one. Instead of having a large stage in front of you which can create the live experience better. But, if you get past that headphones are great.

Onhwy is right, the room degrades the sound, which is a big benefit for headphones. But, the room is necessary to get the ambiance and soundstage on natural recordings.
Onhwy61, audiophiles are rarely interested in new technologies to own themselves. They may show interest in reading about it or having it demonstrated. How many audiophiles own SACD's? A fair amount, but I guarantee the number that can play only redbook far outweighs SACD, even though it offers better performance. As far as the room only degrading the sound, I disagree. It's a personal preference. I happen to like what my room does to a sound system.
Its called near or close field listening many have done this.I do for monitoring but large loudspeakers in big space sound more like real music.You dont get the image in the head sound when you do this.
Johnk, it's not near field listening. A typical near field listening setup has a speaker 4-6 feet from the listener. Even in a studio environment, where near field listening was first employed, the speaker is still 2 to 4 feet away. I'm talking about placing the speaker 4 to six INCHES from the listener's head. It is clearly related to, but really is a different concept than near field listening.
Robm321...Maybe my earphones (that I no longer use) were better than average, or perhaps my head is bigger than yours, but the soundstage I experienced when I closed my eyes was as real (and expansive) as it gets. Of course all this soundstage stuff is in the head (or mind), regardless of how the air vibrations reach the ears.