How wide should your soundstage be? And, for that matter, how deep? How high?
The answer varies depending on the recording, but there are guidelines we can use to set our expectations.
On well-recorded tracks like some from Blue Coast and Reference Recordings, the soundstage should extend beyond the walls of the average listening room. At a minimum, it should not sound as if constrained by those listening room walls. On my system in Music Room One depth and width on many recordings transcends the room’s physical barriers.
Soundstage is an illusion, part of our goal of helping the speakers disappear from the equation. If you’re hearing your speakers on reasonably well recorded media then you’ve got some work to do. Work that’s a bit difficult to figure out since there are any number of reasons for speakers announcing their presence: everything from the speakers themselves to the electronics and cables driving them.
The first step in attaining appropriate soundstaging is an honest evaluation of where you are in the scheme of things. That’s not too hard if you have the right material. One of my favorite tracks for testing soundstage is The Rutter Requiem, or Looking for a Home off the Blue Coast collection. The Rutter’s by far the most apparent because of its sheer size. When you’re attempting to reproduce 300 choir voices in your room it’s easy to tell if those voices are trapped within the room. Less easy but no less effective is Keith Greeninger and Dayan Kai on the Blue Coast. Here we want to see if the smaller room they record in, with its subtle reverb and sense of place, is constrained by your room or, worse, trapped in your speakers.
I would always start with one of these two recordings. Make sure they are fully detached from your speakers, then focus on the space they are able to occupy without constraints.