What Is Stereo Separation?

By Matt McGew

Updated January 09, 2018

When listening to a stereo system, you may experience the sensation of delay with regard to specific sounds coming from different places. This effect is not an accidental occurrence or a glitch in your stereo system. Stereo separation is the effect of sound coming through a stereo system at different points.

Separating the Sounds

Stereo separation is an intuitive concept related to spatial and audio distinction between sounds heard through a stereo system. An example of stereo separation relates to a live music performance. If you stand near one end of the stage where the bassist performs, the sounds from the bass will be the first and loudest sounds that you hear. This natural separation of sound results from the placement of musical instruments and singers at different points relative to your position.

Separation Through Speakers

When applied to a stereo system, stereo separation relates to the separation of sounds through a left and a right speaker. When you attach headphones to a stereo system, the stereo separation commonly becomes more noticeable. For example, you may hear the drums through the left headphone speaker and the guitar from the right headphone speaker. This separation mimics the spatial separation within the recording studio where the musicians recorded the music.

Separation Versus Surround Sound

Today, many buyers of stereo systems prefer to purchase surround sound systems. These systems conflict with the concept of stereo separation and produce the sensation of sounds all around you in an indistinguishable circle. The surround sound technology does offer some benefits when watching television programs or movies, but is less than ideal for stereo enthusiasts who prefer the realistic separation between the ears that a live experience affords.

Achieving Stereo Separation

If you want to replicate the natural separation of a live music performance, you should purchase a stereo system that has only two speakers. This allows the stereo system to imitate the separation between the right and left ears that naturally occurs at a live performance. A car is actually one of the best places to achieve true stereo separation, provided you purchase a good system. A car produces good stereo separation because of the true spatial difference that exists between the left and right side of a car.