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Fine-tuning Speaker Placement - The Best Acoustic Enhancer

SachinChavan

Active Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2011
Messages
102
Points
28
Location
Thane, Mumbai
Hi guys, a couple of months ago I concluded that I had upgraded and optimised my audio system with the chain of components (in my signature), as well as connectors and cables etc. Over the last couple of years, I had invested time and money in experiementing, researching and setting it up. The sound was of course far better than what I had started with. It was surely in the hi-fi category. I didn’t want to upgrade any more, and focus instead on enjoying my burgeoning CD collection instead.

However, something made me start experimenting with the positioning of my speakers. I bought a two feet long steel ruler and started moving my speakers along the various axes, noting the positions and listening keenly to the chages in the sound. I used three CDs (my favourites) for reference (Knopfler’s Get Lucky, Norah Jones’ Come away with me, and Amit Trivedi’s film album Fitoor). I was reasonably covered between highs, mids and lows between these well recorded albums which I could listen to hundreds of times without getting bored.

And what I observed and learnt was mind-boggling! In a summary, it is captured in the title of the post. Speaker placement is the cheapest (free) and the most impacting enhancement you can do to your system. Before you spend money on that next costly upgrade, ensure you’ve done this.

There are four key parts to it as I discovered.

1. Most important (and most commonly known too) is the distance of the speakers from the wall behind them

Now, I have average sized bookshelf speakers, the Castle Knight 2. And these, like most bookshelves have a rear port. You can start with a clearance of one foot from the wall, and keep increasing it and listening to the sound after each incremental movement. I did these movements in shifts of 2-3 cms first, then narrowing down to 1 cm, and can you believe it, finally to 1 mm increments! Perhaps it’s because my system is resolving enough, and I am so familiar with the music I was playing, but I could perceive changes to the sound quality even with shifts of 1 mm in the clearance from the wall. I also had my wife, a non-audiophile who loves these albums too, for blind assessment and her and my assessments almost always concurred. I also had an audiophile friend comfirm this when I showed him some fine adjustments here. So, it’s real, not imaginary. Whether these are repeatable on your system, only you can check and tell.

There will be one optimum placement where, if you moved the speakers even a mm back, the bass will start overpowering other sounds (and you can hear slightly boomy bass), and if you moved even a mm further up, the instruments will start sounding thin and vocals will start sounding less melodic and enjoyable. Both these effects will grow gradually as you keep moving in those directions.

This is actually the optimisation between clarity and enjoyment. There is one point where it is most optimum.

If you have anything between the speakers like in my case a shelf on which my television sits, you may also have to optimise the distance of the placement of that shelf with respect to the speakers as well as the wall.



2. The distance of the speakers from each other

The optimum here will vary based on how big the speakers are, and how far your listening position is etc. And there are a number of thumb rules. But your room is unique and hence you have to go by your own listening. The basic funda is, the more you separate the speakers from each other, the wider will be the soundstage and each instrument will have more separation from each other. However this isn’t necessarily the more the merrier. You also want the whole ensemble to sound like one holistic unit with the harmonies and the interplays between the various instruments and voice. So it is an optimisation between organicity and soundstage. You will find one point, again up to millimetre precise, where you would find the best combination. You also notice that if you move the speakers little farther apart, the treble could get a tad sharper and less sweet.


3. Matching the height of the two speakers (drivers)

Now this is an important one. We all know that the upper driver has to be at your ear level in ordinary sitting position. I’m not talking about that. Bookshelf speakers on stands (unlike floorstanding speakers), unless carefully adjusted, can have a slight difference in their heights which may not be noticed visually. I found height difference of more than a centimetre between my left and right speakers. And then as I adjusted the screws at the bottom of the stand to get this exactly even as measured from the floor, I could perceive a noticeable difference in the sound quality. When the heights were exactly matched, the noise floor of the music improved like anything. All of a sudden my system sounded like a notch or two higher in terms of its price range. The pinpointedness of the vocals as well as the higher frequency octaves (which give that lustre to the vocals) were now so much more pronounced. The ‘presence’ of the sound went up considerably. It was now a more are ‘you are there‘ kind of feeling, making the system invisible. So, check if your bookshelf speakers' heights are evenly matched.


4. Lastly, the angling (toeing) of the speakers

This positioning is perhaps the most subjective both in terms of the listener as well as the speakers invioved. However there will still be one optimum amount of angling or toeing of the speakers towards you that for your system and for your listening preference will sound the best. Interestingly for my speakers and for my liking I realised that placing them absolutely parallel to each other gave the sound that I liked the best. I ensure this by visually aligning the edges of the speakers with the edges of the tiles on the floor. It’s very easy to do. The general rule is the more you toe in, the more the centre channel becomes prominent- usually this is the vocals on most tracks, and essentially the imaging improves. Therefore those of you who listen more to the lyrics tend to toe in the speakers more. However there is a compromise involved. Toeing in reduces the focus around each instrument. Therefore, like me, those of you who listen more to the instruments and the overall feel of the song will like focused instrumentation over vocal prominence. As you reduce the toeing in, you would hear more balanced volume levels between the centre, right and left parts of your recording.


Well, that’s it. I find the time I spent on this fine tuning was well worth. The improvement in sound is unbelievable. And it’s for free. Give it a try (any or all of the four adjustments above), if you haven’t already. And share your experiences. Experts, who have been there and done that, feel free to opine, agree or differ.

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tuff

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 26, 2014
Messages
1,768
Points
113
Location
Thane
It's that one thing i see people putting it off for various reasons. No matter what gear it is, if the room and placement is not taken care of, the system will never be optimal. Good explanation.
 

ajuvignesh

Active Member
Joined
Aug 19, 2018
Messages
166
Points
28
Location
Kanyakumari
It's that one thing i see people putting it off for various reasons. No matter what gear it is, if the room and placement is not taken care of, the system will never be optimal. Good explanation.
I always harp on it. People don't seem to give a damn until they listen to something in an acoustically treated room.
 
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