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Old September 12th, 2008, 01:51 AM   #1
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Stereo on headphones

I attended a course on stereo a few years back in which we were told exactly why listening to stereo on headphones does not give the brain the clues on positioning that listening to speakers does. As with headphones the left ear hears only the left track and the right ear the right track, none of the subtle info gained from each ear hearing the opposite track as well can be processed by the brain. When you listen to speakers correctly positioned, phase differences, time of arrival and differences in level between the two tracks are detected by both ears and processed to give the true stereo illusion.

Our lecturer went on to say than Alan Blumlein, one of the pioneers of stereo in the 1930s, was aware of all this and invented a 'shuffling circuit', in which amounts of Left channel were bled into the Right headphone and vice versa to give an improved stereo image when listening on headphones. With digital processing I imagine that sophisticated versions of this may be available, but I can't find any. Anyone got any information on this?

Last edited by Nick Flowers; September 12th, 2008 at 03:32 AM. Reason: Shocking grammar
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Old September 12th, 2008, 04:14 AM   #2
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Just saw an article is Sound On Sound about this new headphone amp, the Phonitor by SPL, that supposedly does exactly that. In Short: Sound Performance Lab But it ain't cheap - around $2100 US.
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Old September 12th, 2008, 04:42 AM   #3
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Hmm. You have to wonder to what extent just reducing the stereo width of your stereo track in your NLE has this effect.

In FCP, this is done by reducing the PAN value from -1.0 (default for a stereo track) to say -0.9: other NLEs must be similar.

This mixes a little of each track with the other side, until at a PAN value of 0.0, they're equally mixed on both sides.

I do find that when mixing on headphones (as opposed to monitor speakers) I often end up narrowing the stereo image this way, as it seems "too extreme" otherwise. Maybe the effect Nick describes is what I'm hearing.
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Old September 12th, 2008, 05:14 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martin Mayer View Post
Hmm. You have to wonder to what extent just reducing the stereo width of your stereo track in your NLE has this effect.

In FCP, this is done by reducing the PAN value from -1.0 (default for a stereo track) to say -0.9: other NLEs must be similar.

This mixes a little of each track with the other side, until at a PAN value of 0.0, they're equally mixed on both sides.

I do find that when mixing on headphones (as opposed to monitor speakers) I often end up narrowing the stereo image this way, as it seems "too extreme" otherwise. Maybe the effect Nick describes is what I'm hearing.
The stereo stage isn't the only issue. Frequency balance and phase issues also manifest themselves differently in cans versus monitors.
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Old September 12th, 2008, 05:26 AM   #5
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The Phonitor flagged up by Steve seems to be what I had in mind. Only its price and its requirement for mains power stops me ordering one right now! Think how good it would be to record stereo atmos tracks in woodland or the countryside with no mains and be able to monitor what it would sound like on speakers.

Those who would like to learn more about the way we perceive stereo could do a lot worse than to seek 'Stereo Sound for Television' by Francis Rumsey (Focal Press 1989) ISBN 0 240 51288 X. I am sure that there are plenty of good guides written since, but this one is written for the simplest of sound recordists to understand: even I partially comprehended it.
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