Secrets of Sound Quality - Speaker Placment

Is there a boilerplate, mathematical formula to place speakers optimally in a room? In my experience, the answer is a definitive NO. Don't take my opinion only on this topic, as you will find some of the best dealerships in the country have a dedicated person for loudspeaker setup in customer's homes. Not all of them will tune by ear, but those with the most experience and best results often tune by ear. If you would like some references to contact, give us a call and we can name some dealerships we like to work with.

Not to worry, there is a way to place speakers optimally. The required equipment is your own ears, and some patience. This article will equip you with a basic process to repeat our setup process for loudspeakers, and reveal one of the lesser known secrets of great sound. Here's the best part. Every system can benefit from better speaker placement and the only cost is your time to complete the process. 

So what about the secret part. It's not really a secret. It is more the fact that all too often, speakers are set up in a room with a that's good enough attitude. When the placement of the loudspeakers is taken more seriously, tuned by ear and made to work cooperatively with the room, the sound takes on a magically effortless quality. Really beautiful sound that is enjoyable for hours at a time. Intriguing idea, especially if you have never heard a system set up this way. Once you hear the results in your own system, it will shift your idea of what is possible for stereo system performance. So for now, put aside any biases and give this setup technique a try.

A quick note about those claiming mathematical techniques for speaker placement. Overall, there is plenty of incorrect information on the internet about optimal speaker placement. Postings abound in audio forums, and amazingly every poster feels their technique is the correct and only way to achieve optimal performance. I am sure you have read such statements as "my speakers are exactly 2 feet from the front wall, at an angle of 37 degrees toe in, with the listening position equidistant from the triangle formed..." Blah blah blah. So let's begin by putting to rest the notion of mathematical speaker placement for your room. And here's why. Almost no two rooms yield exactly the same acoustics in their response to sound sources such as loudspeakers. Furniture and items within the room have a dramatic effect on room acoustics as well. Bottom line is this. Every room is a little different. What to do? Fortunately, the answer is found in your head. Well, actually, on your head. That is in the form of your ears. To allow your speakers to work optimally with your room, the process is pretty straightforward. Without giving an overly detailed description of the process, it can be distilled into set of two steps.

1) Disconnect either the left of right speaker cables from the amplifier. Using the speaker that remains connected, choose any song with a well recorded voice and clear bass notes. Some strings and high frequency is needed as well. Norah Jones songs work well, but choose anything you like. Set the volume relatively loud, almost uncomfortably loud, and have the speaker up against the wall. In very small increments, begin moving the speaker away from the wall. Take your time doing this, as you will need to return to the listening seat after each small move of the speaker. Patience is key here. At certain locations, the sound will be fairly unpleasant. Shrill, overly boomy, muffled. Just plain awful sounding. Continue moving in small increments until you hear a more balanced and clear sound. When you hear this, mark the location of the speaker with masking tape on the floor. Continue with this process until you have found 3 to 5 locations that all sound balanced and pleasing. Choose from one of the locations market. Don't worry, any of the marked locations will work equally well. You will know it when you find it. It will just sound right. As the final step, without moving the speaker very much forward or backward from its taped, great sounding location, toe in the speaker just enough to have the singer's voice be somewhat in the middle of the soundstage. Don't worry about getting the voice exactly in the middle. The final tuning will be complete when the other speaker is placed in step 2.

2) Leave the speaker in place that has been "set", and leave it plugged in. Repeat the process with the other speaker. After the second speaker location is placed using masking tape and listening method, toe in the speaker just enough to create a defined location of the singer's voice. Use caution here, as not all recordings place the singer's voice in the middle of the soundstage. Use a couple different tracks, or perhaps a song that has a known center location of the singer's voice.

That's it! By placing your loudspeakers with this method, your system will be optimized to your room. In numerous cases for rooms I have personally tuned, excellent results have been achieved without the use of ANY room treatments. Many would claim this to be impossible, but it is simply not so. I encourage you to give it a try. With the money saved from not buying a room fill of diffusion or absorption panels, you can purchase some nice art work for the room.  

In all seriousness, if you have questions or would like help, please reach out by email. We are happy to help and love to have customers discover their system can sound much better, and all it takes is some patience and a set of ears! Happy listening.