Looking for the next level in imaging...

I enjoy my system every time I sit down and listen. But as we all do, we get the itch to seek improvement!  I am intrigued by Omnidirectional speakers such as MBL’s, German Physiks etc. and breaking free from the head in a vice sweet spot to get better imaging throughout the room and better the imaging in the sweet spot!  I believe changing the speaker will deliver on this quest!  What speakers would you look at? Or would changing a component yield the result? Has anyone gone from the traditional dispersion speaker to an omnidirectional?

current speakers are Martin Logan Ethos

budget $20-30K...could stretch if something is exceptional


IME, omnidirectionality hurts pin-point imaging by scattering the "image" around the room.

I purposely block the rear of my Heils to improve imaging and others have also reported that this aids their Heil's imaging too.

If you are in Orange County, So Cal, you are welcome to come over and hear what imaging is all about.

I would definitely try to audition the Larsen 9, which are said to be great and well below your budget. The MBLs are excellent, but in the lower end (below the 101) don't have deep bass. The Larsens excel at bass and life-like soundstage.

Larsen 9 review / AbSound

OP    budget $20-30K

You can buy whole system in below (with all cables). It is the cleanest, the most realistic and only natural audio sound in the world. Ask your spouse about below sounds. Alex/WTA


If I ever ready to stretch my audio spending, it would definitely be MBL101


hear what imaging is all about.

Sure would be nice if we could see what components produce such imaging.  Please post your components and maybe room photos with your profile.  Thanks.,.

Post removed 

Borresen speakers. They do many, many things right and imaging is most definitely one of them.

Does "imaging" refer to precise, pinpoint location of instruments? 

The term seems general enough to also include, "include a wide or immersive soundstage" -- which might not mean the kind of precise, localized, and discrete images which people are discussing.

Or is "imaging" not used in this other way?

This will be a simplified overview.

@polkalover, the "holy grail" of spatial quality is arguably the "you are there" presentation, wherein the venue spatial cues on the recording are perceptually dominant (whether they be real or engineered or both), rather than the "small room signature" cues of the playback room being perceptually dominant.

This can be accomplished by minimizing and/or disrupting the playback room’s cues, while effectively presenting the reverberation tails on the recording. The reverberation tails on the recording are the primary means by which the recording venue’s "sense of space" is conveyed, resulting in an enjoyable and/or realistic sensation of immersion/envelopment (depending on the recording).

Ideally we’d like the reverberation tails on the recording to arrive from many directions; to be spectrally correct; to be neither too loud nor too quiet; and to decay neither too fast nor too slow. With this end in mind, we can think of the in-room reflections as the CARRIERS for the reverberation tails on the recording! So in practice, we want the right amount of spectrally-correct reflection energy arriving from many directions; beginning to arrive neither too early nor too late; and decaying neither too fast nor too slow.

The earliest in-room reflections are the ones most detrimental to precise image localization, and they are also the ones which most strongly convey the playback room’s "small room signature" cues. So we want to minimize the earliest in-room reflections. Incidentally recording studios spend tens of thousands of dollars to minimize early reflections while preserving the later-arriving ones, which imo is something that can largely be accomplished in a home audio setting by loudspeaker design and set-up.

If we can combine a spectrally-correct, relatively late-onset reflection field (neither too loud not too quiet) with time-intensity trading for the first-arrival sound, while minimizing the undesirable early reflections, we can get a wide sweet spot along with a "you are there" presentation.

This is a complex topic and these aren’t the ONLY things we need to get right, but they are some of the big things that imo matter.

If by any chance you will be at T.H.E. Show in Costa Mesa, California, in early June, the Infigo Audio room will be exhibiting speakers whose characteristics enable a "you are there" presentation with an unusually wide sweet spot (when set up correctly), all without requiring extensive room treatment in most cases.

Let me know if you have questions; I kinda shoehorned a lot of ideas into a few paragraphs, some of which may not be sufficiently clear.


Room treatment critical for imaging, quality of drivers critical (take B&W diamond tweeter for instance). My eye opening experience in 1987. Using Magnapan SMGs when I walked into Stereo shop and heard some good dynamic floor standers (Conrad Johnson "Synthesis" LM-210). Night-and-day difference. Best imaging ever were/are Dunlavy SC IV-A driven by ARC electronics.

MBL is a poor choice for your quest.

Look at "concentric driver" designs....TAD, KEF Blade, etc.

Lots of good ideas and suggestions as always.  Keep them coming.  To clarify my vision of image - I have the soundstage-  the presentation of instruments and locations. I’m lacking the 3D, the depth.  I have a little bit but know it can be improved.  The current speakers have been toyed with - toeing in more/less move wider/narrower and all it does is compact or expand the left to right image.  I have treated room and moved treatments around as well. I have also tilted speakers upward and downward everything has given minimal to depth. 

Martin Logan’s do space and purity, but like omni’s are not ideal for organically solid full frequency imaging. one reason is that the mid and lower bass uses dynamic drivers, a different type of driver, so the coherency in the low frequencies is reduced. this detracts from imaging.

a more traditional 2 way dynamic speaker system might be best for this priority. it makes the fewest mistakes.

imaging is about room<->speaker synergy, and room symmetry, combined with surface treatment of reflections. to get imaging that is ’right’ also requires that the room has good bass balance, so images are cohesive, and contain full frequencies.

with your budget, there are any number of quality 2 way speaker systems that can work.

do you have a dedicated room?

is it symmetric? how high is the ceiling? can the ceiling be treated?

windows or screen next to or behind the speaker?

any distortion in your signal path or speaker will restrict imaging by locating the sound coming from the speaker. so eliminating distortion anywhere promotes imaging everywhere since the signal transparency disconnects the sound from the speaker location. you hear less distortion, more of the music signal.

seating position will also be a factor. sitting in the near field and working on toe in and toe out will allow you to optimize imaging. near field means more direct sound, and less reflected sound. an advantage for imaging.

all these factors will effect the potential imaging of your system.

Depending on material, soundstage can be wider and deeper than the room and instruments can be located with accuracy as to their placement.  Sometimes stuff even sounds like it's behind you.

I use my own creation which include JBL 2241H (18"), JBL 1151J (9-1/2") and a modified Great Heil. The crossovers are of course of my own design.

This is an older video with some crossover mods done since, but you can see what we are dealing with. Of course don’t expect a YouTube captured on a Nikon DSLR video to image.


BTW, the other speakers in the room include the modified JBL L200s (with increased cabinet volume, L300 long horns, slot tweeters, revised crossovers), one-off Big Red Supers (Altec 604E2s/Utah aux woofers) triamped with one-off electronic crossover and Marantz power amps), and Chartwell LS3/5As.

Room is 26’ x 16’ x 7.5-16 feet and about 5,000 cu ft.

None of these other speakers soundstage/image like the "Mermans" (so named for Ethel because of her loud and clear voice and disrespect for authority).


a more traditional 2 way dynamic speaker system might be best for this priority.

Agreed. Below are the MBL's best (with a master tape source), an original music, and WTA.  Alex/WTA


Original music


@polkalover Wrote:

Looking for the next level in imaging...

''Among the chief performance parameters we have identified are uniform polar response and directivity, smooth power response and low distortion. A secondary requirement is for accurate stereophonic imaging at close-in listening positions in the studio control room. A new family of constant directivity horns has formed tho basis of a new approach to monitor design, and we will now describe two monitor loudspeakers embodying them.''

See full article here


No ownership of anything at this level, but my guru says the MBLs are among the  best sounding speakers available, but also says they're hard to drive and are brutally revealing, so need top amplification.

He's also quite positive about the Clarysis Audio speakers.

The same guy uses Magico S5 MkIIs, but cost may be part of the equation in that selection.

IMHO omnidirectional speakers present a wide, deep sound stage but smear imaging.  Vivid Giya series is my recommendation.  Others I have heard are Borrensen, KEF Blades, Raidho, and Wilson.  My experience is also electronics play a critical part.  I did not realize the full potential of my Vivids sound staging and imaging until I upgraded from Krell to Burmester.  Eye opening.  Also power conditioning made a significant improvement in realizing the full potential.  Finally, follow the well written recommendations from @audiokinesis and @mikelavigne - gentlemen, well said.  

Kef Blade is a very solid choice for imaging at the price point. It is not critical to be in the sweet spot although it does that well also.

My Opus 3, Test Record 1 - Depth of Image, assists in speaker placement for greatest effect.  The 16 tracks describe what you should be hearing and where.  It's amazing (to me) how deep and wide the soundstage can be.  Then I am disappointed at the vast majority of recordings that showcase very little of this.  Leading me to believe 90% of the soundstage is in the recording and 10% is system dependent.  It is my opinion that throwing a lot of money at new equipment will not change that.   

I agree with what others have said about omnidirectional speakers. I recently heard a pair of German  Physiks and can’t say I was impressed, very clean, airy, sound BUT absolutely no imaging. Everything sounded like it was all blended in together. All high end electronics in the chain.  For $36,000, I was not impressed.

Ps Audio FR30 ! The Ethos and mentioned comparable's would then collect dust. 
A gift at that price point, find an audition…bring your wallet.


I misunderstood when I suggested the Larsen 9, because you’d mentioned the MBL’s. You’re looking for imaging, but those two are omnis. Sorry! I am intrigued by the Larsens (and MBLs, which I have heard) because they throw up a "wall of sound" that is more like live music but with less instrument and voice image specificity. Many of us, myself included, are conditioned by front-firing traditional speakers, though some would argue that the imaging and precise soundstaging they offer is an artifice, not realistic to live music. Of course, much recorded music, especially if recorded in the studio with many tracks combined at the soundboard and mixed for effect, is an artifice. Other than orchestral and chamber music, much of what I listen to probably wasn’t recorded live with all the musicians in studio together, playing as they would on stage in performance.

All that said, people who know and love the Larsens warn that the experience is quite different than front-firing speakers, and the AbSound review says that also. They have some advantages apparently, like being able to be placed up against the front wall without harming bass response, and are less affected by sidewall distance and room effects. 

I note that AbSound’s Jon Valin has as one of his reference speakers the top of the line MBLs with massive subwoofers. Big bucks!

Another direction is to get a quality subwoofer.  I just bought a REL S510, and it is an amazing improvement to my two channel system.

Suppose you buy a million dollar system and you don't like the sound.... what do you do then? I've had several systems over the years and it wasn't the most expensive that sounded the best. As for me, Martin Logan speakers sound really good.

I will second the Larsen and KEF suggestions. I have not heard the Larsens, but they are consistently reviewed well. And I have KEF Reference, the concentric design makes for a large sweet spot and very good imaging. 

Two specific ways to increase soundstage depth, as you seek.  First, increasing the distance of your speakers from the front wall can have a huge impact.  If this works in your room, it would be my first move.  Second, consider a tube based amplifier.  My McIntosh C22/MC275 do a much better job with depth than comparable solid state amps. 


Also, are you working with a dealer or other professional?  As noted above, this is a really complex process.  An hour or two from an experienced person might be well worth the expense

As @patrickdowns touched upon briefly with instrument placement I don’t see why so many here look for which instrument is where in a song. Are there more genres than classical orchestras that play music in such a way?  Does most everyone here listen only to classical music? Surely it doesn’t matter as much in a studio where everyone is standing? And the sound is in the hands of the engineers anyway. With classical music being a small part of the world of music I fail to see the importance of what instrument is where in a song. I have some classical music in my Qobuz library and it sounds good but I really just want the music I like to listen to to sound great and not worry about what is where. Am I missing something to listen for that would improve my listening experience ? I listen to 60s 70s 80s 90s etc. 

Have you tried BACCH, with the newly added room correction feature built in?  I believe that it can be a game changer for any system, no matter how expensive.  It is priced well below your proposed budget and has a reasonable return policy if you are not happy with it.


What happens when you remove the table sitting between the listener and the speakers? I recognize that this is not a spouse approved move, but it might provide a no cost improvement.  As mentioned above in reference to another poster, it is always helpful if we could see your components on your profile.  I don’t have the expertise to analyze your component mix, but many here do.

@bigtwin Wow!  Someone else knows about Opus 3, Test Record 1 - Depth of Image!  It has been my standard since first hearing it while demoing Mission 770's back in 1981.  The two standout cuts for me for depth are "Tiden Bara Gor" and "Polka from the Bolt".  In the showroom the depth portrayed by the Missions was deep and wide and I bought them on the spot.  Unfortunately, I was never able to reproduce that level of imaging at home until 2016, when I got a pair of Martin Logan ESLs.


Unfortunately this is not the cleanest most natural sounding system in the world, sorry to burst your bubble but there's a much better systems out there.

@jhnnrrs  Something else we have in common.  Love of ESLs.  I've owned Martin logan in the past.  Kept them for 20 years.  Now running a set of SoundLab Majestic 745s.  Coming back to my main point, a speaker can't produce anything that is not embedded in the recording.  The engineer crowds everything into the center, no speaker can magically spread the soundstage out.  Likewise with depth of field.  If it's not on the recording, it's not in your listening room.  That's not to say some systems aren't a little better than others at reproducing soundstage, I'm simply saying that any exception that new speakers are the answer to creating it, is pure folly.  IMHO.  Cheers.

My stereo system has great imaging. How great, you ask?

Well, one time I spilled my drink and I thought would get a cleaning bill from one of the performers.

Ba Da Bump.

But seriously folks...

Try playing Alice Cooper’s, "Blue Turk". It has a large, deep and spacey soundstage with instruments all around the stage front to back. Plus the guitar at the end goes progressively lower typically transitioning from the midrange to the bass driver.  See how well your speakers integrate that.  

And then play, "School’s Out" just because they played that song on the radio every spring through the 70’s.

I’ve been yapping about angle of dispersion; initial reflections; alternate toe-in for single or two listeners; and importantly for home theater: wide dispersion.

Just created this virtual system to illustrate my beliefs/advice based on many years

Toe-In Alternates: Stereo and Video

btw, viewing anybody’s system, open 1st image: top right corner, ’toggle full screen’ gets rid of the ads and shows image captions, and use side arrows for a slide show.


mihorn, Unfortunately this is not the cleanest most natural sounding system in the world, sorry to burst your bubble but there's a much better systems out there.

It is possible that my system is not the cleanest and the most natural sound system in the world. There can be many better sounding systems which I have heard yet.

Please kindly let me know what and where is that clean and natural sound system. Alex/WTA

I run a BSG qol Signal Completion Stage processor which takes my system "to the next level" in imaging. My Thiel CS6 speakers image very well but the qol gives it added depth and focus. I would recommend trying this before buying new gear. TAS and Stereophile reviewed this piece and both reviewers liked it. The audiophiles who have heard my system have had a very strong favorable reaction. One was nearly incredulous and asked, "How do you get so much depth?" A BSG qol comes up for sale ocassionally but you have to watch for it. They usually go for around $1k (they were $4k when new). I bought an extra one in case this one fails.

Another option is the Carver C9. I have one of these also and it works reasonably well but the BSG is better. They sell for cheap so it's not much of a risk to try it. I'm going to sell mine but I haven't gotten around to it.

I haven't heard a BACCH but it seems like it does something similar to the Carver C9. I'm looking forward to hearing this when I have an opportunity.

I've been to three audio shows and I have heard maybe 3 or 4 systems that could match my system in imaging. The MBL 101E's ($80k) were one example. Another was a system with Von Schweikert Ultra 11's ($325k) and a third was with YG Sonja 3.3 ($140k). My point here is that I'm skeptical that you are going to get world class imaging with the budget you propose but if you go with conventional cone speakers you may like the imaging effect better than your ML's. I haven't heard the Ethos but other ML speakers I've heard are no slouches in the imaging department but they have a different character than typical box speakers that's a matter of personal taste. I don't know how well a signal processor will work on an electrostatic speaker but it wouldn't cost too much to find out.

It appears (in light of some speaker suggestions mentioned above) that many have very low standards for what is "3D", "deep", "huge", "enveloping" or not... 😁

You could also get the Theoretica Applied Physics BACCH processor (forget speaker shopping)...3D holographia for ages! In support of your quest, it is a significant enhancement even if some speaker design you acquired is a bit of a dud.

But, if you do go with the higher end concentric driver designs suggested above (they can do a good job on their own..In fact, it is a characteristic trait of such designs). But, they can as well be taken to the umpteeenth level with BACCH.

Good luck.


I use a TAD E1TX w/ BACCH. Not to brag here, but, you ain’t heard 3D envelopment from 2 speakers until you heard something like that. Following the science is generally a good idea for guys on quests.

"If it’s not on the recording, it’s not in your listening room" — BINGO @bigtwin !

One of my big concerns in re: high-end audio and the recording arts, is that the VAST majority of people listen to music on crappy systems (Bluetooth speakers!), or with earbuds, or in the car, and have very low expectations and sophistication as to what well-recorded music can and should sound like. We with good systems are in the minority, and record companies probably don’t much care about our needs. Maybe.

Thankfully, those aren’t the driving factors in how music is engineered and recorded overall, or we purists would be listening to vastly inferior recordings and our good systems would be rendered impotent. We still have engineers, producers, artists, and masterers who strive to achieve the best reproduction possible within reason. Bless them. (Yes, direct-to-disc , reel to reel master tapes etc aren't common and are expensive). 


Are you talking about sound that wraps around and behind you like surround sound ? 

First all stereo system nevermind their price, because they are two speakers sound source are flawed... Read Choueiri acoustical articles...

Second if your room is not very well acoustically balanced you will not hear  what is in the recording because your speakers/room is not optimally under controls enough to TRANSLATE in your own room  and  to reveal all spatial acoustic information contained in the recordings...

Than this sentence is not even wrong  and like describing the realitty in reverse order like if walking on your head was normal 😁:

"If it’s not on the recording, it’s not in your listening room" — BINGO @bigtwin !

You will listen what is in the recording only if you compensate for the crosstalk effect of any stereo system impeding any acoustical spatial information and only if your room is acoustically controlled and well balanced with the speakers/listener location / room coupling..

Why then someone can say the opposite of reality ?

it is because people think erroneously that acoustics parameters of the recorded room are automatically reproduced right in their own acoustical environment because their dac or turntable are TOP gear paid a high price 😋... Sorry you need acoustics controls of the room , filters for the crosstalk and even ideally inner ears measure and HTRF measures ..

Gear fetichism dont replace acoustics science...

It got a next level experience lesson in "sound staging" when listening to the Steinway-Lyngdorf Model B system.   I pride myself having listened to so many different systems and rooms over the years, but this delivered something very special.  A real "stage", quite addictive.   I did a series of videos about it all on my little channel.  Maybe it will be of interest to you? 



All imaging is Phantom, adjusting volume; phase; other things engineers know how to do, beginning with their skill with specific microphone types and placement for various voices or instruments, recording spaces, musician's placement .....

Precise reproduction of the media containing their intentions is very important.


LP Imaging:

Sound characteristics, preferences are subtle, read reviews, listen ...

Imaging: I only consider cartridges with wide channel separation (30db, 28db, higher number is best for imaging (if it exists in the source as noted), and tight center balance (1.0 db; 0.5db harder to find)

The combination results is both wider and more precise, thus more perceivable imaging. Individual musicians, i.e. where's/there's the bass player, there's the trumpet/trombone ....... 

@mahgister   I understand your love and dedication to acoustic principals.  It makes up the heart of most of your posts.  

Your comment : 

Than this sentence is not even wrong  and like describing the realitty in reverse order like if walking on your head was normal 😁:

"If it’s not on the recording, it’s not in your listening room" — BINGO @bigtwin !

is totally irrelevant in the context to which it was made.  I was not discussing the virtue of proper room acoustics, nor how the lack thereof will diminish the ability to hear all that could be presented by a recording.  I was stating that no system, or room for that matter, can reproduce something that is not embedded in the recording to start with.  There is no magic.  Cheers.

"As @patrickdowns touched upon briefly with instrument placement I don’t see why so many here look for which instrument is where in a song. Are there more genres than classical orchestras that play music in such a way? Does most everyone here listen only to classical music? Surely it doesn’t matter as much in a studio where everyone is standing? And the sound is in the hands of the engineers anyway. With classical music being a small part of the world of music I fail to see the importance of what instrument is where in a song. I have some classical music in my Qobuz library and it sounds good but I really just want the music I like to listen to to sound great and not worry about what is where. Am I missing something to listen for that would improve my listening experience ? I listen to 60s 70s 80s 90s etc."

I do find it important as to where instruments are placed in the sound field and want to hear them in their "chosen" position. Case in point.



Thanks for your reply ...

But sorry you miss my point completely...

This then reveal the general audiophile misunderstandings about acoustics concepts reduced to mere room acoustic panels...

I was stating that no system, or room for that matter, can reproduce something that is not embedded in the recording to start with. There is no magic.

First the gear system reproduce bits or electrical weaves, but your speakers coupled to the room/ears TRANSLATE these acoustic waves in acoustic information about the initial recording trade off using the parameters of your ears and the parameters of your HTRF and your location and the parameters of your acoustic room content .

What was recorded were chosen acoustics parameters resulting from a trade-off choice by the mics type and location , not bits and electrical waves in which they were encoded, what was recorded by the recording engineer trade off choices need to be acoustically translated in a correct acoustical balance and under controls in your room for your ears.

Then even a good system in a bad room will not translate all the spatial characterics of the sound even if they are POTENTIALLY there in the coded bits or electrical and mechanical waves of the vinyl, ask Dr. Edgar Choueiri not mahgister... 😊

And yes when all is done right magic exist...

Why do you think i am happy ? Not because of my gear price tags 😁 but because of the way i embedded and modify it to optimally translate for my specific Ears and HTRF what is recorded ... It is not perfect but very good ratio S.Q. /cost...

There is magic...It is called acoustics... There is magic... It is called music well translated in my room...

When i came here more than 8 years ago i was confused... It is only by acoustics experiments that i could figure out how to install my system and how to cure upgraditis ignorance .. Before upgrading we must learn basic... Nobody claimed that elementary truth for me in audio forums... They all sell their favorite gear as solution...

It is not because most people cannot afford the time and the necessary free room to experiment that the truth must be banned ... 😊

Acoustics concepts rule audio (not mere acoustic panels) not price tags ...

Magic happen with  acoustics when coupled with the synergetical gear design  ...


How can one know what the chosen position of instruments is? Do you know where the instruments are supposed to be on the stage in every song you ever listen to? 


Yes! The chosen position of the instrument/vocal is supposed to be exactly where the engineer placed it in the soundstage and you should be able to discern this location/position. It makes no difference whether it is real or contrived, so long as it is what was intended. In the L&M cut, you should be able to hear the musicians as if they are spaced out in a room infront of you each occupying his own space and not as a "wall" of sound.