March 22, 2005

Audio Spatial Relationships in Jazz Trio Recordings

This morning on the way into work I was listening to some music from the jazz pianist Benny Green. There was something that seemed quite odd. It took me a few minutes to put my finger on it, but I finally got it. The audio image was backwards, that is to say left was right and vice versa. Having played the piano for years the sound was mapped completely wrong for me. I expect to have the bass notes in the left ear and the treble in the right, just as it would be were I sitting at the piano.

Since I have had my Sure E2C (the best mobile headphones I have ever owned) I have had to re-rip many CDs to get a better sound quality as the music sounded clipped. I am a huge fan of jazz music and particularly big band and trios each for vastly different reasons. I love big band jazz because of the breadth and depth of the sound. A large horn section can really move me with volume and richness, but a really tight big band (one that move swiftly as one) has me in awe. A trio is the opposite for me, the individuals stand out in the purity of each of the player's talents working together to blend as one. In the trio individual textures are readily apparent like grains of wood showing through in a polished piece of fine furniture.

So why did the "incorrect" sound mapping bother me? When listening to jazz on headphones the only place a spatial separation can be heard in the manner represented is sitting at the keyboard. With a grand piano or at an upright the sound emitting from the piano is greatly diffused, even by the short distance, and the sound can only be heard as one voice from coming out of the piano, not the individual strings nor the left and right.

The problem is most likely attributed to the mike placement during recording. Most often piano is recorded from within the body, with the mike(s) facing the player, hence reversing the spatial relationship. The only way to replicate this sound in person is to sit in the body of a grand piano, which is not usual, nor recommended seating.

Is there a program that will reverse the left and right channels? This is going to bug me to no end. I can not put my headphones in the wrong ears as they do not fit and really do not work that way.



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