Stereo speakers, whether large floor-standing speakers, small bookshelf speakers, or even-smaller surround sound speakers in a home theater setup, require some special attention to their position so they achieve their optimal sound.
One mistake many people make is to push their speakers against the wall, pointing them straight ahead, and then turn them up to overcompensate for their not-so-high quality and lack of clarity.
There are a few things you need to do to improve the sound of your speakers.
Before we start, you need to remember that music is engineered by professionals to give you an optimal listening experience. Musical instruments and vocalists are spread out by design as if they're on a stage, and a well-produced album and properly placed speakers can give you a sense of the position of each musician on the stage or in the studio. (This is called imaging.) The lead guitar on the left, rhythm guitar and bass on the right, singer in the center, and drummer in the back.
You can take advantage of that imaging and left/right separation with the right kind of stereo setup. Here are seven tips to help you achieve it.
Pull Speakers Away From the Wall
First, pull your floor-sitting away from the wall. Having your speakers too close to the wall can give you a muddy-sounding bass from all the reflection of that bass off the wall and back out into the room. Pull them out so they're a couple feet from the wall.
Make sure there's enough space separating the speakers. You want roughly eight feet of separation for floor-standing speakers and four feet for bookshelf speakers. Too close, and the separation will be lost. Too far apart, you'll create a gap in the sound.
Elevate the Tweeters to Ear Level
Next, depending on the kind of speakers you have, elevate the tweeters to ear level. That may mean putting your speakers on speaker stands. If you have very tall speakers, those are already tall enough to reach ear height when you're seated. But their bookshelf line will need a lift, so put them on a speaker stand. Even the traditional short, squat floor speakers you find in most audiophiles' setups can benefit from a short speaker stand. And if you're using rear and side channel speakers, mount them so they're at ear level when you're seated in your usual movie watching position.
Surround sound speaker are best placed to the left and right of where you are sitting. Face the speakers directly toward you for the best, quality sound. if you are not able to place them to the sides of you (depending on your room size), place the speakers behind you and position them towards you. Ideally have your surround speakers about two feet above ear level for best sound.
Angle Your Speakers
Next, angle your speakers to find the sweet spot. (This angling is called toe-in.) While your speakers may push sound completely forward, there is some directionality to the sound. Imagine sound waves emanating from your speakers like a flashlight beam. While you would be able to see the beams if they were pointed straight ahead, you want to point the beams so they meet directly at the point where you're sitting. If there's only one of you, point them inward — increase the toe-in — so they intersect at the couch or chair in the center of the room. If there are two of you, turn them outward — decrease the toe-in — and expand the sweet spot a bit so you're both inside it.
Listen in Different Areas
Move yourself away from the wall. Just like your speakers can bounce the bass off the wall, the highs can bounce off a solid surface behind you. Pull your seat away from the wall by a foot or two in order to prevent any bounce back muddying up the sound waves reaching your ears directly. If you can't do that, try to put a thin pillow behind your head or hang something soft like a tapestry or wall hanging to deaden the wall and eliminate those sound bounces.
Isolate Your Turntable
Finally, isolate your turntable. The downside of a turntable is that it's very sensitive and easy to bump or jar. Even a heavy footfall when you walk can jar it and cause the carefully-balanced arm to skip and shudder. Make sure your bookshelf speakers and your turntable are not on the same surface, otherwise you'll get that shaking when you play at a high volume.
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