The Definition Of Stereo


Stereo mic placement

The term Stereophonic, commonly called stereo, sound refers to any method of sound reproduction in which an attempt is made to create an illusion of directionality and audible perspective. This is usually achieved by using two or more independent audio channels through a configuration of two or more loudspeakers in such a way as to create the impression of sound heard from various directions, as in natural hearing. Thus the term "stereophonic" applies to so-called "quadraphonic" and "surround-sound" systems as well as the more common 2-channel, 2-speaker systems. It is often contrasted with monophonic, or "mono" sound, where audio is in the form of one channel, often centered in the sound field (analogous to a visual field). Stereo sound is now common in entertainment systems such as broadcast radio and TV, recorded music and the cinema.

The word stereophonic derives from the Greek "στερεός" (stereos), "firm, solid" + "φωνή" (phōnē), "sound, tone, voice" and it was coined in 1927 by Western Electric, by analogy with the word "stereoscopic".


Stereo sound systems can be divided into two forms: The first is "true" or "natural" stereo in which a live sound is captured, with any natural reverberation or ambience present, by an array of microphones. The signal is then reproduced over multiple loudspeakers to recreate, as close as possible, the live sound.
Secondly "artificial" or "pan-pot" stereo, in which a single-channel (mono) sound is reproduced over multiple loudspeakers. By varying the relative amplitude of the signal sent to each speaker an artificial direction (relative to the listener) can be suggested. The control which is used to vary this relative amplitude of the signal is known as a "pan-pot". By combining multiple "pan-potted" mono signals together, a complete, yet entirely artificial, sound field can be created.
These days "true" stereo is mainly confined to recordings or broadcast of live, acoustic music, particularly classical music. Almost all pop records and movie soundtracks are of the "artificial" variety.
In technical usage, true stereo means sound recording and sound reproduction that uses stereographic projection to encode the relative positions of objects and events recorded.
During two-channel stereo recording, two microphones are placed in strategically chosen locations relative to the sound source, with both recording simultaneously. The two recorded channels will be similar, but each will have distinct time-of-arrival and sound-pressure-level information. During playback, the listener's brain uses those subtle differences in timing and sound level to triangulate the positions of the recorded objects. Stereo recordings often cannot be played on monaural systems without a significant loss of fidelity. Since each microphone records each wavefront at a slightly different time, the wavefronts are out of phase; as a result, constructive and destructive interference can occur if both tracks are played back on the same speaker. This phenomenon is known as phase cancellation.

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