The Science on Two-channel Stereo

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Lately, I’ve been reading up on two-channel stereo, and to not make things complicated two-channel stereo is often called stereo as it is the most common way of conveying some spatial content in sound recording and reproduction.

Stereo mix system audio sound waves

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In fact stereo-phony refers to any sound system that conveys three-dimensional sound images so it is used more generically in this book and includes surround sound.

International standards describing stereo in the form ‘n-m’, where n is the number of front channels and m is the number of rear or side channels (sound and recording 6th edition, Rumsey and McCormick, 2009).  Upon, reading from this book I’m learning, that “there are many stereo techniques that rely on loudspeakers for reproduction which only manage to provide some of the spatial cues to the ears.  Such techniques are compromises that have varying degrees of success, and they are necessary for the simple reason that they are reasonably straightforward from a recording point of view and result in subjectively high sound quality.  The results can be reproduced in anyone’s living room and are

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demonstrably better than mono (single-channel reproduction). Theoretical correctness is one thing, pragmatism and getting a ‘commercial sound’ is another.  the history of stereo could be characterized as being something of a compromise between the two(sound and recording 6th edition, Rumsey and McCormick, 2009).”  Stereo techniques cannot be considered from a purely theoretical point of view, neither can the theory be ignored, the key being in a proper synthesis of theory and subjective assessment.  Some techniques which have been judged subjectively to be good do not always stand up to rigorous theoretical analysis, and those which are held up as theoretically ‘correct’ are sometimes judged subjectively to be poorer than others.  Part of the problem is that the mechanisms of spatial perception are not yet entirely understood(sound and recording 6th edition, Rumsey and McCormick, 2009).

I also researched and read about the comparison between two-channel stereo, and natural listening and it stated “The differences between two-channel stereo reproduction and natural listening may lead listeners to prefer ‘distorted’ sound fields because of other pleasing artifacts such as ‘spaciousness’.  Most of the stereo techniques used today combine aspects of imaging accuracy with an attempt to give the impression of spaciousness in the sound field, and to some theorists these two are almost mutually exclusive(sound and recording 6th edition, Rumsey and McCormick, 2009).”  To conclude this brief discussion, “It would be reasonable to surmise that in most practical circumstances, for mainstream consumer applications, one is dealing with the business of creating believable illusions.  Sound recording is as much an art a science.  In other words, one needs to create the impression of natural spaces, source positions, depth, size and so on, without necessarily being able to replicate the exact sound pressure and velocity vectors that would be needed at each listening position to recreate a sound field accurately.  one must remember that listeners rarely sit in the optimum listening position, and often like to move around whilst listening.  Whilst it may be possible to achieve greater spatial accuracy using headphone reproduction, headphones are not always a practical or desirable form of monitoring(sound and recording 6th edition, Rumsey and McCormick, 2009).”

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Giovanni Hamm

Critical Recording Studio


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