A question of Soundstage?

So I’ve read some listeners prefer the soundstage to be in back of the speakers. Some seem to prefer the soundstage forward of the speakers into the listening room. I suppose some might prefer a mixture. So which is right? And what causes the phenomena?

Power cords, recordings, speakers, amplifiers, DACs, preamp, digital, analog, firmware, speaker cables, interconnects, and or tweaks?

At my home, I’ve seen/heard a variety of conditions/components that affect this. Right now (and my preference) I have a soundstage that projects sonic events behind the speakers where it seems that there are some performers singing/playing along the back row of the recording venue, while other images appear in the same plane as the speakers, and at times the images appear to be projected a few feet in front of the listening chair, and sometimes the sound seems to come from behind me. All from just a two channel system.

So is this right?

Or should the images only be projected from behind the speakers, stopping in the same plane as the speakers themselves? Some people seem to prefer this and pick components that cause this phenomena.

While working in a high end stereo store during the eighties, some customers thought speakers that projected the images in front of he speakers as being to forward. They wanted the sounds to come from behind the speakers or on the same plane. While others wanted the opposite.

So what is right? Where do you stand? Do you select components that favor one of the above descriptions? I thought about this while reading comments about power cords.

I believe that your system should mimic the physical layout and musicians positions at the recording venue.

But maybe not?

Time for your thoughts.

Steven B-)

If it makes a stable image, why should it matter where the speakers and image are relative to each other? I don’t get it… Close your eyes or turn off the lights and where the speakers are no longer matters, only the image.

At least that’s where I stand (or sit) on the subject.



I would agree. But others may not. Just thought it would be an entertaining subject.

When mixing a track, one can move the presentation of a given instrument forward and back in two ways:

1) More high frequency energy moves the image forward; less moves it back.

2) More reverb moves it back; dry moves it forward.

Both are consistent with what we hear in the real world.

My guess is speakers with a brighter signature and high frequency dispersion are more forward in their presentation.

As an aside, I often find tubes provide a deeper (greater distance front to back) than solid state. I have no theory as to why.


Interesting info about recording choices. And I have heard deeper sound stages with tubes vs solid state as well. I’ve never heard an explanation. Maybe just the tubes vibrating and playing along with the music.


Great topic, Steven. It is really interesting to chew over because systems do things differently and audiophools have their preferences that are reflected in component choice and system set up.

As you know I run zero NFB pure class A paralleled triodes in an big amp known for its exceptional ability to sound natural, musical and beguiling. In my system, the soundstage is always behind the speakers, but nothing seems to come from them - so a true disappearing act.

Now, the thing is that with better resolution at first from Minim and then from JRMC, and then WaveStream, the soundstage does not move forward, but it is deepening and widening and there is an increasing sense of images having a 3D character rather than 2D lateral dispersion between the speakers.

I have to say I prefer this to more forward soundstage presentations, which to my ears, sound like they are sacrificing tone and timbre to produce aural tricks that will jump out and give a front of speaker plane presence. Besides, in my system I increasingly get the sense that the rear wall is dissolving, which is actually a very cool aural trick in its own right, but I get it with beautiful tone and timbre.

And do not forget the sound engineers. Probably it’s recorded this way and probably it’s correct. What comes to my mind first is Tori Amos “portrayed” as sitting behind the Bösendorfer (and behind the speakers) facing you , while the piano is placed in front of the speakers.

David said: I increasingly get the sense that the rear wall is dissolving, which is actually a very cool aural trick in its own right

I agree; this is a very neat effect when it occurs and quite magical.

David said: I prefer this to more forward soundstage presentations, which to my ears, sound like they are sacrificing tone and timbre to produce aural tricks that will jump out and give a front of speaker plane presence.

Interesting perception. I have not found system with a more forward presentation to exhibit poor timbre - and timbre is crucial for me. They often have a different sense of air however.

sgrowan said: Just thought it would be an entertaining subject.

Very much so. Great idea.

I really like the soundstage behind the speakers and that’s what I’ve been getting; a nice deep, behind-the-speakers presentation. That said, I have nothing to compare with. Andrew Jones, of TAD, prefers to angle his speakers with extreme “toe-in” so that the tweeters’ axis meet somewhere between the listener and the speakers; providing the central image and soundstage well in front of the speakers. I have read that this sounds very good. I don’t have the necessary room (space) to try this.

My issue is with width. Room wise, I have plenty of space between my speakers and side walls, but I still don’t get much soundstageing to either side of the speakers. I get great depth, but mostly between the speakers. I would love to get that same distance to the sides as I do with the depth. I’m sure that my room constraints are a factor…

Interesting thread…



I find that adjusting toe in/out helps me tune the stage the best but also distance from side walls, camber, and strangely enough, with my speakers closer together I get a much wider stage. Say 6’ instead of 8’.

I enjoy live music and rarely sit in the front row so the slightly recessed stage [wide and deep] is my preference. As David said when “The back wall disappears” is indeed magical. musicians rarely play with their backs against the wall.

Lets also not forget the Musicians’ inputs.

A few years ago I attended a 3 act show at the Jazz festival and was disappointed that my reason for going, the third act was [Charlie Hayden, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Shirley Horne] was being served in the Bell Center hockey arena.

The first act sounded so terrible that we were very sad.

Then came [act two] Booker T and the MGs and then Charlie & co.

Same arena, crowd, sound crew etc but the incredible “tightness” of those PROs made a huge difference and blew the crowd away. I think when the “home” stage is set up right it enables us to get past it and into the finesse of the performance and it’s individuality, tone and timbre.

In other words it is just the “start” of the adventure and a doorway to what is lies beyond.

Behind the speakers for sure. I too have never tried the extreme toe in described by Ben but with normal speaker placement if the sound on a recording comes forward of the loudspeaker something’s amiss. What I use for a reference is slightly distantly recorded material or anything live (as opposed to studio recorded). This type of recording should always appear from behind the loudspeakers - as they are the microphones in reverse - so don’t think of the speakers as projecting forward (which they logically do) but as reproducing what went into the microphones.

For example, picture a singer with a guitar sitting in front of you in the room. In front of the singer is a microphone pointing at him capturing the performance. Now mentally flip that microphone around and into a pair of loudspeakers that are reproducing the event. The event happened behind the microphone - hence it’s natural the speakers reproduce the performer behind them.

@elk - What I meant wasn’t that the an individual instrument’s timbre was off, but the presentation feels off if some frequencies are forward and others are not. What’s an analogy - a bit like having a choir and someone singing too loud relative to the other. It’s still all there, but the balance is off. Not sure if I am explaining this well at all.

Good points Paul,

My current speakers, Legacy Focus SE, and my previous Helix (sold mine to buy new Helix, Aeris, or Whisper latter this year) were set up as per Bill Duddleston’s, President of Legacy Audio directions and help. Bill likes to adjust the toe in so that the speakers drivers axis cross right before the listener causing a very holographic 3d soundstage that envelops the listener. There seems to be plenty of depth behind the speakers as well and when listening to the Chesky setup cd ( can’t remember the name right now) everything appears to be exactly as the narrator and listening notes describe.

Also my subwoofer placement is different than most. The subs (a pair of Legacy Extreme HDs) are not placed in the front of he room by the main speakers but almost 2/3s down the side walls as this is where they correct the most room issues and again Bill Duddleston seems to favor this position and might actually want them placed a wee bit closer. I’ve moved them around the around the room including in the front right next to the mains and have always come right back to the position they are now. I believe this position also duplicates the sound of the recorded space for when I turn them off a lot of the “you are there” effects diminish. The subs are crossed over around 30Hz or so.

Mr. Duddleston’s Legacy speakers and setups are used by several noted recording engineers and studios such as Rick Rubin and Steve Hoffman. This does not mean that he is the only one who knows how to design great speakers and make great recordings far from it there are many talented people out there. But it does bring to mind one perspective.

I guess it comes down to what you like and what you are used to. As I remember my various setups with Acoustats ( full Range electrostats) and Magnepans they did many of these same sonic tricks very similar to my current Legacy Audio setups. This is probably why I like Legacy so well, many of the features of planar speakers with bass and presence one can feel.



David said: Not sure if I am explaining this well at all.

You did a great job. Now I understand what you mean and it makes sense.


sgrowan said: The subs (a pair of Legacy Extreme HDs) are not placed in the front of he room by the main speakers but almost 2/3s down the side walls

Interesting. This is where I have my sub, simply because I found it sounds best there.

(I am impressed with the Legacy Whisper speaker, but they are certainly over the top appearing - but we do not listen to how they look.)

@sgrowan A good topic, one I seem to recall coming up from time to time on this forum.

I think firstly, some recordings have good depth, some do not. If the recording has not captured depth, a system cannot create depth. However, a system may present the image somewhere in front or behind the speakers.

In my view, it does not matter so much where the image is relative to the speaker, as long as the system can accurately reproduce depth in a good recording, and thus contribute to the sense of 3D imaging.

Not exactly a live recording, but a good tester track for anyone looking to test their systems’ depth width of imaging - Aphex Twin “Gwely Mernans”, off his Drukqs album. Weird music but fascinating effect.