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    Imaging and Positioning

    March 31, 2023 4 min read

    The Note has the potential, with effective room placement, to be the best imaging loudspeaker in the world. Imaging, or 'soundstaging' refers to the ability of a system to recreate the recorded acoustic space with accurate placement of sound events relative to each other in it.


    Soundstaging has always been a potential for stereo audio. But until quite recently this potential had not been realised, and in many cases, even in the high-end is still not being realised. Much of the reason for this is limitations of speaker design. From the 60s when stereo began to take over from mono in domestic audio, right through the 80s speakers tended to be relatively large boxes, often sealed. In those days getting half decent bass out of a speaker meant using a large driver that could move a sufficient mass of air. So, either the speakers were big in order to produce a full range sound, or they just didn't do bass. There were very few exceptions. Linn produced a tiny speaker called Kan at the end of the 70s. Allegedly this was in a response to a journalist opining to Ivor Tiefenbrun, the founder of Linn that no-one could make a small speaker full range; to which his response was “Linn can”. The story is probably apocryphal but the Kan could, in fact, if driven by sufficiently powerful amps sound like a big floorstander, with the imaging qualities of a small speaker.


    Big, wide speakers do not image because the sound reflects and refracts off the baffle. Proper imaging creates a soundstage which is behind the speakers. In most circumstances the recording was made with microphones that were in front of the musicians so it stands to reason that a realistic image of the recorded event would materialise behind the hi-fi speakers. A massive baffle and short throw drivers will simply stop this from occurring.


    In the 90s advances in driver engineering allowed speakers to get smaller and slimmer and still produce acceptable bass. We started to think about soundstaging because it became apparent that these slimmer speakers could acoustically 'disappear'. We weren't listening to the speaker so much as we were starting to listen to the sound that had come out of the speaker and was projecting in the room.


    Nowadays everyone talks about soundstaging as if, for the world, it is something we have always had in domestic stereo. In fact, the ability of a system to image so that we can start to locate individual sound events in a believable acoustic space is quite a recent thing. From the 60s through to the mid 90s what we had, with some outliers, was pretty much a 'wall of sound' from our hi-fi. The Note is, of course, a very slim loudspeaker that can totally sonically and almost visually disappear.


    The ability of a system to resolve micro dynamics is also important. If we can't actually hear that the oboist is farther from the mic than the violinist we don't have our image. The Note is exemplary in this regard. Properly set up it is possible to hear spatial information with millimetre precision.


    Puccini's La Bohème with Pavarotti/ Karajan/ The Berlin Philharmonic released on Decca Classics has the orchestra in a pit with the singers on stage above. One can clearly hear that the singers are above the orchestra. Furthermore, one can follow the singers moving from place to place and even hear when they turn their heads as they sing. I know I designed The Note to image and I am very proud of my creation but this amazed even me when I heard it.


    One thing to bear in mind is: even though The Note is perfectly capable of recreating the size of the Berlin Philharmonic the mind may not allow it completely in a space which is not physically large enough. Because we know we cannot fit an orchestra in our living room (in most cases) there is a cognitive block which comes into play. In situations where the ensemble could fit, a string quartet perhaps, it's not an issue, the image will be life-size. Otherwise, the brain will 'scale down' the experience. Placement of individual sound events will still be precise, just smaller. Some people try to get round this mental block by listening in the dark, but the problem is we know our spaces well enough that it is still difficult to suspend disbelief in the temporary absence of visual reminders.


    For world class imaging, ideally, we have our The Note speakers somewhat out into the room, as far as possible whilst still allowing approximately 8 feet from the front plane of the speakers to the ears. The speakers themselves should be 6 to 8 feet apart. Try to keep furniture and other objects more than 4 feet from the speakers. Try to keep the space behind the speakers visually simple. This is a guide and individual rooms may provide more possibilities or impose other constraints. However, a truly realistic and accurate image may be created with The Note quite easily. One that gives the impression of being able to walk through an ensemble and 'meet' individual musicians. In the small rooms at audio shows we have had the listening public search the room for the extra speakers that must be there; marvel that there is a stereo image close to or even behind the speakers, and be in tears at the end of extended listening sessions.


    We are always available to discuss setup and room treatment to support your purchase of The Note speakers and send you a more detailed application note. We are engineers and acousticians. We understand how sound works in rooms and we are happy to help.


    Mark Porzilli


    The Designer at the Designer’s desk.

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