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Stereo playback is back in fashion, and that might be a good thing

OPINION: I was at an event recently (which I can’t talk about just yet), but there was line from the person presenting that mentioned immersive listening from a pair of stereo speakers.

Maybe that was a slip of the tongue, or maybe it wasn’t. I wrote in the most recent Sound & Vision column about a spatial audio technology from Audioscenic that didn’t require a bunch of speakers to create an immersive effect, but maybe for some people, stereo is enough, and that immersive sound is old hat.

Of course, immersive audio isn’t old hat. It’s the up-and-coming sound format that’s going to become more prevalent. I’ve written about 3D and binaural audio a lot over the past few years, and the limitation of the format is that there isn’t an abundance of spatial audio content right now (although that relates more to music than it does film) and that in order to get an immersive experience, surround speakers are required. Otherwise, it’s a front heavy proposition and in that regard, how much different is it from a stereo proposition? Not a huge amount I’d say.

Sonos Era 100 stereo pair left right configuration

Recently I’ve been dabbling about with stereo set-ups, from a pair of Edifier active speakers to a set of Sonos Era 100 speakers joined together, as well as a couple of Echo Studio speakers as in most uses cases, a stereo pair function as fine enough. Technology is always going to be moving forward and looking for the next big thing, but the more advanced the technology, the more complicated everything seems to get. Stereo keeps it nice and simple – two speakers in front of you, one’s the left channel and the other is the right. There’s little to get confused about in that set-up.

If you’re in the right room or environment, then it can also be as immersive as a spatial audio set-up. It’s not the same bubble of sound you’d get from, say, the Samsung HW-Q990B soundbar system, but usually the closer you are to the speakers, the better sense of a stereo image you can get (depending on the type of speaker you use). If I’m only sitting less than a metre from a pair of speakers that are on a desktop, a Dolby Atmos set-up – whatever that would look like – would be something of an overkill.

Essentially, there are times when a Dolby Atmos set-up makes absolute sense so long as you have the space, the budget and the interest in watching films and listening to music in the format. From Atmos, to Sony’s 360 Reality Audio and Apple’s Spatial Audio, there’s a growing list of avenues when it comes to listening to 3D audio. For every other use case however, a stereo set-up is more than fine. We don’t necessarily need a ton of speakers dotted about a room to get that sense of immersion, just good-sounding speakers. Sometimes the old ways are the best.

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