This is part of a FAQ series! Please share and comment if you found any of these articles helpful 🙂
- What is Soundstage? (You are here)
- What is Latency?
- What is Timbre?
- What is MIDI?
- What is XLR?
- What is SPL?
- What does Sibilant mean?
- What is the Sennheiser Veil?
- Do Headphones Need to be Burned In?
- How Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work?
Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!
What is Soundstage?
That’s a great question. Before we get into it, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
I’m Here to Help!!
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What I will bring you in this article
Today I’m going to attempt to dissect this question from as many angles as possible.
By the time you’re finished reading, you should have a clear idea of what it is, why it’s important, and some headphones that do the best job of providing it!
With that, let’s get rolling shall we!?
A Brief History
The answer pertains specifically to headphones. But we’re going to start at the origin of it all.
From a young age, we used headphones to listen to music in a lot of circumstances.
they were of sub-par quality or just downright bad.
Convenience over quality was the motto.
Most of the time this meant a cheap set of earbuds or a $20 pair of Sonys.
Not that this was a bad thing, but many of the factory-grade headphones found in drug stores and retail stores back then just weren’t any good.
Over time they broke down in many ways. One ear might go out, you may have dropped them and they broke, or you might have accidentally slept with them the wrong way.
I remember back when I got the Sony Disc-man.
You remember that little device, don’t you?
It came with the world’s worst headphones. The “ear cup” padding (if you can even call it that) tore if you even so much as farted in the wrong direction. I remember scotch-taping those things back together as if my life depended on it.
Of course, Soundstage was the furthest thing from my mind at that point. I was just happy listening to music at summer camp during lunch breaks.
Later on in life, I upgraded to a pair of Sony MDR-V150s.
I remember these as my very first “serious” pair of headphones, long before my first true set of reference cans in the form of the MDR-7506.
If you’ve never tried a pair of 7506s, you’re really missing out.
I remember thinking to myself “Wow, so this is what music is supposed to sound like.”
It was incredible; as if a blanket had been lifted off of the sound and it now had some room to breathe and express itself.
What is Soundstage?
Even as good as the 7506 is, it doesn’t have a great Soundstage.
Why is that?
Well, for one, it’s a closed-back headphone.
Most of the time, a closed-back won’t provide you with a really great 3D image.
It tends to be very “in your head” sounding. You may get fatigued quicker as well.
- Related: Closed back vs. Open back Headphones
With an open back, the opposite is true, and that’s the meat of the question.
The soundstage is simply a headphone’s ability to provide a 3-D, surround sound quality image, as well as an out-of-your-head type of experience.
It separates the instruments and vocals in such a way that allows you to place them precisely where they are on stage.
A lot of people make huge claims with regard to headphones and their ability to produce these effects, but in reality, it’s a lot more subtle.
I’m a firm believer that you’re never actually going to feel like the band is in front of you (not literally anyway).
That’s really stretching it. Does it feel more realistic? Absolutely.
But it’s almost like a guy that says the moon is fake, Or that the earth is hollow. I love a good conspiracy theory, but those rabbit holes aren’t ones that I desire to venture down.
This rabbit hole is one that I do like to frequent:
I will say that with certain headphones, that literal “band in front of you” feeling comes kind of close (ish), but even then I think people over-exaggerate it a lot more than they would like to admit.
For instance, I was at a Music Matters show at Audio Advice recently.
A sales rep from Klipsch introduced me to some of their newer speakers. He was really hyping them up a lot, and for good reason: they sounded great!
However, when he said, “It sounds like the band is right in front of you!” I was thinking to myself “I mean, sorta.”
Even with great speakers like that, you have to really concentrate to get even a small moment of that effect.
It’s not some ongoing phenomenon where you feel like you’re there the whole time.
You catch glimpses of it in your head with your eyes closed.
Because let’s be honest,
nothing compares with actually being at a concert. Nothing.
The same is true for headphones. It’s immensely enjoyable but definitely more subtle.
The best way to describe it is that sometimes when you’re listening to music, you experience the illusion that certain sounds are coming from outside of the headphones, rather than being part of the track.
This feeling is nothing close to having an orgasm or achieving a pump at the gym (Arnold says the pump is like cumming), but it’s still really exciting. 😛
In the case of those cheap sets we talked about at the beginning, one thing was always common:
They didn’t produce a Soundstage.
But you didn’t care.
They sounded fine to your ears, and they got the job done regardless of their build quality (or lack thereof).
I believe most people pursue music in some form or fashion throughout their life. It’s sort of a universal thing.
We all love it, love to talk about it, and love to wear our favorite headphones while we’re out and about.
In a world full of negativity, tragedy, and despair, music is something that binds us all together through the ups and downs. It may even make us cry.
Few people really get into the audiophile world, but just your being here tells me that you are very aware of concepts that go beyond just listening to music.
“You know there’s this invention called the television, and on this invention they show shows, right?”
The first quote that came to mind is Jules from Pulp Fiction when he ends up talking with Vincent about foot massages and “the holiest of holies” 😉
Frozen in Time
Have you ever been listening to music on headphones while doing something, only to freeze and immediately take them off to make sure the sound wasn’t coming from the outside?
That in itself is pretty mind-blowing when you really think about it.
For Gaming, the same can be said for Soundstage and the psychological effects it can have on you.
Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Fallout 4 and doing some experimentation with various types of headphones.
- Related: The Best Headphones for Gaming!
Here are some great headphones that provide the effects we discussed above:
This is a great entry-level headphone that does fantastic for Gaming/Soundstage and is definitely one of the best even despite its meager price tag.
I experienced some of the best “out of my head” types of feelings with this one, to the point of my heart dropping into my stomach a few times.
The Soundstage was so good at one point that I thought there was a ruckus going on outside. “Could you describe the Ruckus sir?” “Sit down Johnson.” “Thank you, sir.” Lol.
It was so realistic that I ripped the headphones off in a panic, thinking that something monumental was happening outside my apartment (like the zombie apocalypse or something).
It was really intense and even downright frightening!
- Learn more: Samson SR850 Review!
This is also one of my top options for Gaming, with similar effects as the 850.
I really like these headphones as a great all-around investment and something that works well with nearly anything you throw at it.
- Learn more: Sennheiser HD560S Review
These also have fantastic Soundstage and are perhaps my go-to for all things gaming.
They tend to spread things out incredibly well and provide those out-of-your-head moments very frequently – to the point of it being really uncomfortable.
In other words,
I sometimes have a hard time keeping them on my head because of how realistic everything is.
They’re constantly making me think something’s going on outside which can be very disturbing.
- Learn more: Philips SHP9500 Review!
Good Soundstage also breeds clarity.
Have you ever put on a crappy pair of headphones and couldn’t decipher anything that was going on?
the sound gets all muddied up due to the poor quality of the set.
With a good open-back model that separates sounds well, this is rarely a problem.
Another aspect that goes hand in hand with Soundstage is what’s called Instrument Timbre. What is Timbre?
In many ways, Timbre is almost more important and can be felt to a greater degree than Soundstage.
A headphone that provides great Timbre is actually pretty rare.
Timbre is the character of the instrument and how it sounds in its most natural and realistic state.
It’s the degree to which the headphone portrays the true sound of an instrument as if it were actually in front of you.
It’s what gives the instrument its uniqueness.
When you’ve come across a headphone that provides this, you’ll know.
The music will seem less forced and more organic.
It will have a buttery smooth quality and will also sound much more graceful and effortless.
A great example of a headphone with these qualities is the Focal Utopia.
It’s hands down the best headphone I’ve ever heard and provides everything you could ever want in a sound signature.
- Learn more: Focal Utopia Review
To Recap, Soundstage is all of the following:
- It is the ability to pick out musicians on stage in their exact position.
- It is the ability to discern individually the instruments being played, as well as the notes that are played, how fast they are playing, and every subtle nuance that you would hear if the artist were playing for you, one on one.
- Instead of the components of the song all running together resulting in a muddy mess, the song is heard as a cohesive whole that works together to bring you an experience like no other.
- Instead of the music being trapped inside your head, you may feel like you’re sitting in the front row. Sorta. It’s as if the band is playing in front of you, rather than simply listening to them through headphones.
- This is something of an update and goes along with what I mentioned in the video below, but Soundstage isn’t necessarily dependent on how good your headphones are. In other words, even bad headphones can give off the illusion of good Soundstage. Why? Because of the track in question and how it was recorded, mixed, and mastered. More on that concept in the video!
In a nutshell?
It’s like having a 3D Surround sound system in your headphones. Well, not that good, but really great spacing and width nonetheless!
What is Soundstage?
I hope I’ve answered the question in great depth! If you need me to clear something up or just want to drop a comment, please do so in the box below!
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All the best and God bless,
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