Soundstage is defined as an imaginary three-dimensional space, that is the perceived location and size of the sound reproduced by a speaker system. Soundstage, in other words, allows a person to hear as if they are in a recording studio or a few rows from the front enjoying a musical concert.
Soundstage matters because it creates an immersive experience, which is fun because you can recreate a concert experience right from the comfort of your home.
Imaging, unlike soundstage, determines where, how far, how wide each object (people and instruments) should be in a soundstage. This is the localization of different objects in a soundstage. An image is perceived to be good if the location of different objects in the soundstage can be located, which creates a more immersive audio experience.
Good imaging matters because it creates a non-congested soundstage. For gamers, especially FPS gaming, it creates better localization of different sounds such as gunshots, footsteps, and more. This is advantageous, especially in competitive gaming where even the small details matter. You can check out our post on gaming headphones vs gaming headsets for a detailed guide.
When sound is moved from one side of a two-dimensional plane to another it is referred to as headstage. This brings about an immersive experience in the music. However, if you crave more than a two-dimensional headstage experience, soundstage comes into play.
A three-dimensional soundstage is created when initially capturing the production of sound. Whether it is a musical concert or a recording room, sounds are recorded via close micing techniques which thereafter determine the sort of auditory artifacts and ambient cues left in the final track. Ambient cues indicate an approximation of where an instrument is located.
The soundstage can also be created by playing around with reverb and delay, or mid/side processing. Read about these techniques in our informative guide on soundstage and imaging.
Soundstage in headphones refers to the ability of a headphone driver to reproduce sounds that allow you to perceive the width, height, and depth of a virtual stage. The difference between full-size speakers and headphones is that headphones are closer to your ears while full-size speakers are spread out around a room, which gives a better sense of spaciousness.
Speakers make most recordings sound better because they are recorded and mixed with speakers in mind. However, neither speakers nor headphones sound better, but each has its strong points. For soundstage and imaging, I think headphones do not do a great job because almost nobody records binaurally. However, when you listen to a binaural recording on headphones, it’s an amazing experience compared to speakers.
Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X Audiophile Open-Air Headphones
There are different ways manufacturers try to better the soundstage of headphones, such as angling the headphone driver, positioning it further away from the ear, or playing around with the materials of the earcup.
Overall, headphones offer a much more intimate experience by panning audio better. As opposed to full-range speakers, you do not have to worry about room acoustics or nearly as much about outside noise. This makes headphones more personal and engaging.
Soundstage is the major difference between open-back and closed-back headphones. This is because, by design, open headphones do not block sound or ambient noise. This makes the audio you’re listening to sound like it’s part of the environment and coming directly from the headphones around your ears.
AKG Pro Audio K702 Reference Studio Headphones
The openness of the headphone dictates how spacious the sound will be, while the sound leakage gives the listener a subtle ambiance of the room.
With closed-back headphones, you are relying on the internal structure of the earcup to create the soundstage. A manufacturer might play around with the design of the earcup, e.g, add non-resonant material to help absorb sound reflections, which greatly reduce the soundstage effect. There are some closed-back headphones such as Brainwavz HM5, Audio Technica ATH-MSR7, or M50X, which have good soundstage scores. Read more about the differences between open and closed headphones.