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Posted on 05.02.2014

The Art of Positioning Speakers

The positioning of speakers can be a topic of hot debate - we make a few suggestions to get the best out of your system

Speakers: The Lifeblood Of Any Hi-Fi System.

Many people assume that the only way to improve the sound they hear from their speakers is to change one of the components in the system. A new DAC? Sure, that might work. A better amplifier? Yes, if you can afford one. Perhaps a new pair of speakers altogether? Maybe, but that simply might not be necessary. An often overlooked fact is that aside from the technology within a pair of speakers, slight alterations to their positioning within a room can make dramatic improvements to the overall sound.

Remember that when positioning speakers there are a few things to consider, though it’s important to remember that the topic is a subjective one and everyone has their own preferences.

Every Room Is Different – Don’t Panic If Your Living Room Is Not Set Up Like An Anechoic Chamber.

Here at Cambridge Audio we develop and test the equipment we make in a number of different manners: measurements, blind listening and, perhaps most importantly, we often take home new products to listen to in our own homes.

Acoustics will differ in every room and, unless you have the luxury of designing your own personal cinema, it won’t necessarily have been designed with your listening experience in mind. This is why we test our equipment in real homes and in realistic situations, giving us an idea of what they can sound like.

A Few Of Our Suggestions For Positioning Speakers:

  • Speakers should be laid out so that they play along the length of the room. If you have a surround-sound system for your TV in mind, your chair or sofa should ideally be placed nearer the middle of the room and not too close to the back wall.
  • It might sound obvious but avoid placing items directly in front of your speakers… We often see stacks of DVDs or video games piled up in front of them and this is a sure-fire way of distorting the sound and ruining your own listening experience!
  • Whether you have your speakers stand-mounted, on a shelf or wall-mounted, remember that speakers are generally designed so that they sound best when they are level with your ears when you are listening to them.
  • Try to leave space between the wall and the speaker. You will notice an improvement in your mid-range and mid-bass.
  • If you’re thinking about a surround sound system we recommend you place your subwoofer at least 30cm from a corner to prevent unnecessary reverberation and echo.
  • If you mount your speakers on a desk or shelf it is best to place them on a layer of foam or a similarly absorptive material. This prevents the entire desk from reverberating and helps isolate the sounds you actually wish to hear from those you don’t.

Setting Up:

Some manufacturers develop their speakers so that toe-in is not required, so the following will also vary depending on speaker brand. It’s best to speak to your local dealer if you’re interested in learning more about what suits your system.

While the below advice is generally accepted as helping set up speakers effectively in most environments it does require practice as differences are subtle. Also note that it is best to do this once the speakers are fully ‘run in’ so that the sound characteristics from the speakers will not change and require re-positioning after they are run-in.

  • Firstly place your speakers right up against the wall, flat out (not toed in), and the appropriate distance apart (usually 1.5 – 2.5m depending on relative listening position and aesthetics).
  • With the speakers in this position listen to a relatively detailed, familiar 30 second part of a track –  the more familiar  you are with it the better, as this will help you decide what sounds best.
  • Now move each speaker out from the wall by an inch or so and repeat the process with the same part of the track as a comparison – the sound will be usually be slightly better.
  • Next move the speakers out another inch or so and repeat the process again – the sound will probably be better again.
  • You will eventually reach a point where the sound starts to get worse, rather than better, as the distance from the wall gradually increases, step by step.  Put the speakers back in the last position before the sound started to get worse (where they sounded best to you) – this is the correct distance away from the wall for your tastes.
  • Now repeat exactly the same process with varying degrees of toe in.  You will find that as you toe the speakers inwards, step by step, at increasing angles of toe, the sound will get better and better, and then worse again as they become toed in too much.
  • Place them back in the last position where they sounded best.  This is the correct degree of toe for you.  You have now set your speakers up correctly for your room.

Generally speaking the better the listener you are, the better the result. Don’t forget though that it’s your system and you can listen to it however you like!

While the above is a list of some of our recommendations, remember that there is no hard and fast rule for speaker or subwoofer placement. This is due to the many other variables that will have a bearing on the sound such as furnishings, room size and shape, listener preference… the list goes on. For those interested in a more technical review about the positioning of speakers, we recommend American electronics retailer Crutchfield’s article on the subject here.

If you have any thoughts or tips for fellow fans of audio, we’d love for you to share them with us in the comments section below. Happy listening!