The Lost Art Of Correct Speaker Placement

Correct speaker placement has become something of a lost art. Lots of people get it all wrong. As any self-respecting audiophile will tell you, it’s not how big they are, but where you put them. Here’s what you need to know.

Seen any good T-shirts lately? I met a woman the other day whose T-shirt declared “I am silently correcting your grammar”. I’ll take two of those, please. Or maybe I’ll have one made up to read “I want to reposition your speakers”. Audiophiles would be amused, anyway.

Lots of people get their speaker placement all wrong and it can have a profoundly limiting effect on the music. Poor speaker placement takes a stereo system and makes it mono. You’d get the same result with a single speaker.

Mostly I blame the big electrical retailers, but life partners must also carry some responsibility here. Go into any store and the stereos are lined up to occupy the least shelf space possible, so the right and left speakers are hard up against the centre electronics stack. People thus figure this is the way they should be, so they set them up thus at home. There’s no left and right channel separation at all, you just hear a lump of music coming from one place.

So separate the speakers. Get at least two metres between them. Ideally place one at each extreme of the wall you face when listening to your music. You’ll get stereo. The violins will be on the left, the cellos and double basses on the right, the woodwinds and flutes in the middle and the tubas, harps, timpani, french horns and so on wherever they’ve been placed on the stage. Just as the music was recorded.

The whole point of stereo is to spread the music across the room just as it would be in a concert, with the lead vocalist dead centre and the backing singers off to one side. And if it’s a live recording you’ll hear the audience all around you. It’s an immediate and noticeable improvement in sound, even if you’ve only paid a couple of hundred dollars for the stereo. And the best thing about it is that this profound improvement in sound quality has cost you zip, nada, nothing.

If you want the best possible result possible, place the two speakers at two points of an equilateral triangle with you at the third. It positions you at the dead centre of the recording and it’s why headphones are so involving. It’s also why the sound lounges in serious audio shops are always set up with the couch about as far from the speakers as the speakers are from one another.

Of course all of this sage advice counts for nothing if your life partner objects to your speaker placement, the other big problem in achieving a correct stereo image. Audiophiles with lots of money address this by establishing a “listening room”. Audiophiles without have headphones.

A friend of mine, when sea-changing to Woodend, tackled this problem in a third way and it worked like a charm. He put his 25-year-old mid-range American speakers on the verge and lashed out on a pair of Dalis from Denmark. Dalis are serious speakers even for the Scandinavians. He set them up for maximum effect, made his wife close her eyes as he walked her into the room, cranked them up with her favourite music, then let her look. It was her audio wow moment. She said he could leave the speakers right where they were. (Warning: Results are not guaranteed.)

Further reading: How To Be An Audiophile On The Cheap

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald’s home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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