Stereo Images: Speaker Placement Considerations in the Home


Preserving sound integrity with contemporary audio equipment

The revolution in digital home audio started before the appearance of the MP3 file format, but the technology that followed the reasonably sized audio compression method broke the field wide open. Before long, personal music players such as the iPod and those included on ever more powerful smartphones, fundamentally changed the way many people enjoyed their favorite sounds.

On top of this, wireless technologies such as music streamed over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth gave rise to exciting new hardware, no longer dependant on cabled connections to home stereo components.

Whether it’s nostalgia over traditional music enjoyment or just a return to the appreciation of quality over convenience, many listeners who have enjoyed the go-anywhere nature of digital music portability now turn to home listening setups that lend themselves to whole body music appreciation – the music room.

The Advantages of a Dedicated Listening Space

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Without a doubt, take-along music has eased the boredom of waiting in the real world and brought music to places it’s never been. However, incorporating our favorite artists into a busy day removes us from complete immersion in their repertoires. Old style home stereos, whether in a living room, family room or bedroom, created oases of sound, pleasure centers that we looked toward for relaxation and entertainment.

New products designed for in-home listening indicate that there is still an audience looking for this experience, to which they wish to add some of the features of contemporary technology.

One of the most effective and immersive audio experiences is the full-range stereo soundscape. With a quality audio system, a listener can close their eyes and pinpoint sounds across the field in front of them. Anyone using stereo headphones or earbuds knows the sensation of stereo imaging, but there is an artificial nature to these sources, a lack of natural ambience that blends with recorded sound.

All it takes is a stereo source and two speakers. You may already have those. What you may not have is the knowledge of how best to use those resources.

Speaker Placement – Essential to Best Performance

Unless you’re building your room from floor to ceiling, creating perfect speaker placement is probably impossible. Set your expectations at “better” speaker placement. There are many factors that intercede between desires and perfection, from room shapes to furniture arrangements to keeping your spouse happy. As we continue the discussion here, keep in mind we discuss ideals. The considerations you make for pragmatic placement may be as important as the theories behind ideal locations. Check out wireless speaker options that may be suitable for home use.

This article includes a buying guide with several model styles represented, including those suitable for listening room applications.

The Room

In most cases, you’re bringing music to the room, not the other way around. There are volumes written about the importance of dimensions, shapes and volumes of rooms and the affect on acoustics. However, this article aims to help those improve sound in an existing space, so don’t look for advice on room construction. We’re assuming already that the room and its furnishings are largely a constant.

One of the least perfect spaces in which to listen to quality music is in a rectangular room with parallel walls, floors and ceilings.

“Amazing!” you might be thinking, “that exactly describes the room I had in mind.” Of course it does, since most home construction results in rectangular rooms with parallel surfaces. However, you’re not doomed. Speaker placement can adapt to help reduce room effects.

Be aware, however, that the room causes reflections, some that reinforce certain frequencies while cancelling others. That’s both bad news and good news. The bad news is that those spots in the room sound absolutely awful. The good news is that it’s only spots in the room. If you set up speakers and they sound horrible at your listening chair, move the chair. Get out of that spot. Moving the speakers may or may not change the way the room resonates.

The Listening Triangle

The goal for personal listening is the optimal experience for one person – you. Where you sit is probably the first point to consider. Think of that as the apex of a triangle. Your speakers will be, in the ideal world, an equal distance from that apex at an equal angle. The ideal is an equilateral triangle, where all sides and angles are the same.

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In the ideal world, that would be it. Adjust angles and distances to fit your room and you’re ready. Chances are, though, you’ll need to make compromises due to room, spouse or furniture, and there are other factors that influence the sound.

Walls and Corners

Walls and corners reflect middle and lower frequencies. High frequencies reflect as well, but these lose energy fast and generally don’t contribute much. When speakers are too close to a wall, early reflections at the listening point may be strong enough to interfere with sound directly from the speakers. There are two solutions for this:

1. Wall mount the speakers – this keeps reflections closer to time aligned with the speakers (recording studios used to build speakers into walls to eliminate these reflections entirely).

2. Move the speakers away from the wall.

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Even distances as small as 10 or 20 inches can make a difference. Symmetry is also important. Each speaker should be the same distance from walls and corners, so reflection characteristics match. When speakers are in corners, back wall to speaker and side wall to speaker distances shouldn’t be equal.

Toe-In, Tilt and Height

Toe-In: Each speaker may face directly forward, or may be angled toward the listening position. Toe-in supports the center image in the stereo sound field.

Tilt: an angle, up or down, to either direct speakers toward the listening point to improve direct sound, or to floor or ceiling to encourage dispersion.

Height: The floor to speaker measurement. For most speakers the ideal height places tweeters at the ear level of the listener.

Use each of these adjustments to fine tune your speaker setting. In some cases, you may not be able to follow any of these rules. Bend and break them as needed, but continue to adjust until you arrive at a sound with which you’re happy. In extreme cases, consider change or removal of spouse, but this is not recommended due to potential side effects. When you’re set up, make the most of your new room by checking out this list. Happy listening!


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