Stereo imaging

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This article is about localization of sound sources in three-dimensional space. For three-dimensional visual imaging, see stereoscopy.

Stereo imaging is an audio jargon term used for the aspect of sound recording and reproduction concerning the perceived spatial locations of the sound source(s), both laterally and in depth. An image is considered to be good if the location of the performers can be clearly located; the image is considered to be poor if the location of the performers is difficult to locate. A well-made stereo recording, properly reproduced, can provide good imaging within the front quadrant; a well-made Ambisonic recording, properly reproduced, can offer good imaging all around the listener and even including height information.

For many listeners, good imaging adds markedly to the pleasure of reproduced music. One may speculate that this is due to the evolutionary importance to humans of knowing where sounds are coming from, and that imaging may therefore be more important than some purely aesthetic considerations in satisfying the listener.

The quality of the imaging arriving at the listener's ear depends on numerous factors, of which the most important is the original "miking", that is, the choice and arrangement of the recording microphones (where "choice" refers here not to the brands chosen, but to the size and shape of the microphone diaphragms, and "arrangement" refers to microphone placement and orientation relative to other microphones). This is partly because miking simply affects imaging more than any other factor, and because, if the miking spoils the imaging, nothing later in the chain can recover it.

If miking is done well, then quality of imaging can be used to evaluate components in the record/playback chain (remembering that once the imaging is destroyed, it cannot be recovered).

It is worth noting that only a handful of recordings are miked for optimal imaging, and what usually passes for stereo, while being two-channel recording, is not true stereo because the imaging information is incoherent.

Imaging is usually thought of in the context of recording with two or more channels, though single-channel recording may convey depth information convincingly.

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