Few things can compare to the audio quality of an impressive sound system, as it can liven up the experience of watching a movie or listening to your favorite song. And you can achieve the ideal sound by placing your speakers in the proper position. But what is the correct setup?
Your speakers should be as far apart from each other as you are from them. When using speakers, they should be set up to form the points of an equilateral triangle with the listener in one corner. Without adequate spacing, the audio won’t have the effect it was intended to have.
This article will explain what factors you should consider when setting up your speakers. So whether you’re setting up bookshelf speakers or planning to install a home theater, this article will show you everything you need to know to get the most out of your sound system.
Also read: How Far Back Should Rear Speakers Be?
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Achieving quality sound doesn’t always mean upgrading to the most expensive audio equipment or soundproofing your living room. Correct speaker placement can significantly impact sound quality without you having to spend extra money.
To correctly position your speakers, you will need to understand two critical factors. These include:
Imagine listening to a recording of your favorite band performing one of their greatest hits.
- The band starts playing and the familiar melody surrounds you.
- You can hear each instrument with precision and it sounds like the music is coming from different ends of the room.
- The vocals are crystal clear, enveloping your senses.
- If you close your eyes, it feels like you can reach out and touch the stage they’re performing on.
The creation of this feeling depends on stereo imaging.
Stereo imaging involves arranging sounds so that the brain processes the information as a three-dimensional mental image. To enhance the experience, stereo imaging recreates the way soundwaves would behave if you were at a live performance.
Now you may be wondering what stereo imaging has to do with positioning your speakers.
Well, we know that stereo imaging manages the direction of sound as it travels to your ears.
By placing your speakers too close together, you will experience all sounds coming from the same direction. Set them too far apart, and you’re going to feel a gap in the surround sound, 180° scope that stereo imaging intends to use.
Now that you know what your speakers are capable of, you may want to test them out for yourself. To do this, you should pay attention to the following sound cues:
- Empty Space. Stereo imaging provides the listener with a 180° scope of sound. Adequate stereo imaging will use as much of that 180° as possible. If there’s a noticeable gap in that surround sound, it will cause the sound waves to be processed differently and you can pick up on this.
- Blended Sounds. Poor stereo imaging can also make it seem like all sounds are coming from the same direction. Having the sounds muffled this way will cause them to blend into one sound.
For anyone who wants to test their sound system to see how stereo imaging works, you can do this by playing this short video by M Zillch from your speakers.
Remember, achieving proper stereo imaging will only work if the material you’re consuming is recorded in stereo. Depending on the music you listen to or the movies you watch this may not always be the case, particularly if the content you consume pre-dates the 70s’.
A reflection is a sound wave from your speaker that comes into contact with another surface before it reaches your ears. A reflected sound wave will not reach your ear as quickly as those that are coming directly, but a fraction of a moment later.
When your ear picks up a sound and then you hear the same note repeated a fraction of a second later, it causes a distortion called time smearing. This distortion diminishes your sound quality by creating a lag along with a slight echo of the sound that the listener is paying attention to.
Reflections also adversely affect stereo imaging by diluting its effect and creating a distortion even when sound is coming from a 180° scope. The lag in audio can be as tiny as a split second but the brain will immediately pick up on the difference and warp the sound.
How and where you place your speakers will directly impact the number of reflections you encounter when using them.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when considering reflections is the speaker’s proximity to the wall. According to U-Turn Audio, a speaker should be no closer than two to three feet (60cm – 90cm) from the wall.
While this distance is ideal, you still need to consider the room you’re placing the speakers in and whether the space is big enough to accommodate the sound you’re trying to create. If possible, consider playing around with the layout of a room as this may reveal the ideal solution to placing your speakers.
Getting the right sound quality for an available space will take a fair bit of trial and error. So play around with speaker placement and rearrange them differently so you can compare the options available to you.
If you need some tips on speaker placement and how to avoid the effects of reflection, check out this YouTube video by GIK Acoustics.
Now that you know how vital speaker placement is to overall sound quality let’s examine some important considerations when positioning your speakers.
How far apart your speakers are will depend on a few factors, including speaker size, the layout of the room, and the surface on which you place the speakers. By tweaking each of these factors you can generate different levels of audio quality and figure out which one you like best.
The ideal distance between your speakers will vary slightly depending on the other factors mentioned here. By understanding these elements, you can set up your speakers in a way to optimize sound quality. Let’s take a look at each of these factors in detail.
- Speaker Size. The size of your speaker will determine where in the room you can place them. More importantly, the size will tell you how to place the speakers so the sound hits your ears. As a rule of thumb, all speakers should be placed near or at ear level as this minimizes the potential for reflections and gives the sound waves a direct channel.
- Room Layout. To optimize sound quality, it’s vital to consider the placement of other objects in proximity to your speakers. Putting things in front of your speakers will increase the number of reflections. Even subtle changes, such as drawing your curtains can significantly impact sound quality.
- Speaker Surfaces. If you’re considering using furniture or shelves to rest your speakers, you need to be aware of reverberations. Some surfaces will vibrate more than others, especially when there’s a lot of bass. Excess reverberations will be a nuisance and dilute audio quality significantly.
You can resolve the last issue by giving your speakers their own surface, not shared with other objects, and covering the surface with foam or a similar material to prevent reverberation.
When you’ve considered these other factors, set up your speakers in the way mentioned earlier – in an equilateral triangle with you being one point.
Your left and right speakers are some of the most important in your sound system. Most sound effects in a movie or audio clip typically come from these, so their placement is vital. When arranging the layout of your sound system, you need to factor in the ideal distance between these speakers.
Left and right speakers should be at least three ft (0.9m) apart from each other, angled towards the listener at approximately 30°. Front speakers should be placed on either side of a display screen, creating symmetry and space for a center speaker.
As mentioned before, although these measurements are ideal, they might not always be possible due to the space you have available. If you’re not sure where to start, a speaker setup calculator can help you get a basic understanding of where to place your speakers.
The main rule of thumb for speaker placement is that they should be equidistant from each other and from you, basically like a triangle where all sides are equal in length.
The positioning of your speakers is essential because it can:
- Improve stereo imaging
- Decrease reflections
If the speaker placement is not considered, you may end up with an empty space where there should be sound, and some elements of sound can even blend and become muddled.
When positioning your speakers, you need to take into consideration the following:
- Space available to you
- Speaker surfaces
- Speaker size
- UTurn Audio: How To Position Your Speakers For Great Sound
- Vinyl Me Please: A Guide to Speaker Placement
- Steve Hoffman Music Forums: How Far Apart Should Speakers Be?
- Cambridge Audio: The Art of Positioning Speakers
- Octane Seating: Surround Sound Speaker Placement
- Cardas Audio” Speaker Placement Calculator