Sunday Morning Hi Fi #11

Proper Speaker Setup

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Sunday Morning Hi Fi #11

Good morning, and happy Sunday Morning Hi Fi. Today we are going to talk about proper speaker placement and setup—arguably the most important step to achieving great soundstaging, imaging, and overall sonic accuracy. With a few simple tools and about 45 minutes, you can have your speakers set up like a pro, and can finally enjoy the full extent of your speakers’ capabilities.

Tools you will need:

·      Tape measure

·      1” painter’s tape

·      Woodworking square (or a protractor).

·      Carpenter’s square

·      Smartphone with RoomScan app (optional; free app)

Where to Begin

Since you read this magazine, we can assume that you already have speakers in place, and that you have placed them in a position that is relatively satisfying to you. You might want them to be perfect, but at least you have them in the ballpark. The same thing applies to your listening position; you probably already have a pretty good idea of where the best sound is.

From this point, the first thing you want to do is take a fairly accurate measurement of your room. I like the RoomScan app, which is free to download and will be a fast and effective way to measure your room. After downloading, you open the app and follow the on-screen steps. Essentially, you place your phone along your walls, the app makes a beep, then you move about 8 feet and place the phone on the next spot of your wall. You circle the room twice (or more for more accurate readings) and then the app will give you your room dimensions. This is a handy tool for our purposes, but also for around the house if you want to take measurements. You can also do it the old-fashioned way with a tape measure and a helper, just make sure you have a helper—there’s no way you can hold the tape measure taut against the wall for accurate measurements, unless you have a very small room.

Now that you have your room dimensions, measure your current speaker locations: from the rear walls, from the sidewalls, how far apart the speakers are positioned (how wide), and how far your listening position is, measuring both diagonally from the speakers, and from the center point between the speakers. (Measure the width of your speakers, divide that in half to find the center point, then measure from that point to the middle of your listening chair, approximating where you will sit.) Of course, write all of these measurements down.

So, how accurate is your current speaker placement? This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule (there are always exceptions in this game), but generally you want your speakers to be equidistant from the rear walls and sidewalls, meaning if one speaker is 6 feet from the left sidewall, then the other speaker should be 6 feet from the right sidewall, et cetera. If you have a room that is 21 feet wide, and your speakers are 15 feet apart, then you should have exactly 3 feet between each sidewall and each speaker.

When taking measurements from your speaker, choose a consistent point from which to measure. A lot of people will tell you to measure from the tweeter; while that’s fine, this is difficult to do by yourself and without fear of scraping your tweeter with a measuring tape. I like to measure my speakers from the outrigger, or the front-left or front-right spike, depending on which speaker I’m measuring. The point is, your left speaker and right speaker should form a perfect mirror in your room, and symmetry is what counts, not measuring from the tweeter versus the spike.

You should have room dimensions, speaker measurements, and the location of your listening position by now. Are your speakers symmetrical to each other in relation to your room? If not, we will fix that in due time.

Fine-Tuning

If your speakers are somehow perfectly positioned (highly unlikely), you can skip to the “Toe-in” section, but now we need to fine-tune our measurements. You can do two things: 1) Calculate where your speakers should be, and mark the location, or 2) Build a small grid so that you can make continual adjustments and not have to re-measure everything each time you move a speaker an inch or two. I opt for the grid, because I use a lot of different speakers in different positions. If you don’t want to ever move your speakers again, you can just mark the spot where you think the speaker should go. Examples: If you have a 17’ by 25’ room, you might consider placing your speakers 10 feet wide, 5 feet from the rear walls, and 3.5 feet from either sidewall, with a listening position that is 10 feet away from the center point of the width of your speakers; If your room is 12’ by 15’ you might want to have your speakers 7.5 feet apart, 3 feet from the rear walls, and 2.25 feet from either sidewall, with a listening position that is 7-9 feet from the center point. All of this will vary depending on your room size and shape, and your speakers. I can’t give you an exact ratio, but you want to strive for symmetry with your speaker setup, even if your room isn’t symmetrical. Either way, try to determine where your speakers should go on a macro level before fine-tuning. Now we will need to mark a grid where the speakers should go.

This is where the 1” painter’s tape will come in. Please, please don’t use duct tape or cheap-o masking tape, especially on your hardwood floors, marble, tile, or even carpet. Cheap tape or sticky duct tape will leave residue. You might think it’s fine, but in 6 months there will be a weird spot of dirt. Just use high-quality painter’s tape and save your floors. Let’s use the 17’ by 25’ room as our example room for now on. Measure from the rear wall 5 feet to where your speaker will roughly end up, and mark a small spot with the tape. You can start with either the left or right speaker, doesn’t matter. Go to the opposite speaker position, and mark another spot 5 feet from the rear wall. You should have two spots on your floor. Now, run a long piece of tape from one spot to the other, and try to keep it as straight as possible. You should have one long piece of tape on the floor. Measure various spots along the piece of tape to ensure that it is 5 feet from the rear wall at all spots.

Now for the sidewall measurements. Measure 3.5 feet from one sidewall, and put a piece of tape that is perpendicular to the 10-foot piece of tape, making a cross on the floor. Do the same thing for the opposite side. Use either your woodworking square or carpenter’s square to check that your tape is square at 90 degrees. This is most important at the crossing point of the two pieces of tape, because this will help determine our toe-in later on.

Toe-In setup

Now you will need the woodworking square. Use the cross on the floor to line up your woodworking square, and slide the carpenter’s square underneath the woodworking square to form a straight edge. You can use anything that is straight, but I recommend a carpenter’s square because it’s thin, metal, and you know it’s perfectly straight. See photos. Along the side of your woodworking square will be a series of measurements in degrees. I’ve found that most point-source speakers sound best with a wide placement and 20 degree toe-in, so I will use 20 degrees as an example. Using the corner of the woodworking square as a guide, pivot your carpenter’s square and line up its edge with the corresponding degrees marker on your woodworking square. See the photo for reference. Once everything is lined up and straight, use a long piece of painter’s tape along the carpenter’s square to mark your toe-in angle. remove the woodworking and carpenter’s squares, and continue the piece of tape to the corner where your sidewall and rear wall measurement cross is located. See the photo for reference.

You should have three pieces of tape (maybe more) that form a right angle and your toe-in angle. If you want, you can make multiple angle markers, at 10 degrees, 20, 30, and 45, something like that. Repeat the above steps for the opposite speaker. This should give you a very accurate way to change toe-in for experimentation, and you could do this same marking along different spots so that you can adjust the width of your speakers on-the-fly. This will save you a lot of time in the future, assuming you can leave the tape on the floor. If you have hardwood floors or marble, I wouldn’t recommend leaving the tape more than a week.

Listening Position

This should be the easiest part after all that measuring you just did. From the center point between your speakers, measure the 10 feet. (The same as the width of our example speakers. If the speakers were 15 feet apart, then your listening position should be 15 feet from the center point.) Make a series of wide tape marks, wider than your listening chair, so that you can see how far your ears are from the center point. I make marks every six inches at the listening position so that I can easily adjust my chair and make notes of the adjustments. Once you are listening, you might want to take notes about what distance sounds best, has the best imaging, and the best soundstage. It might be 11 feet, it might be 9.5 feet, but careful listening and note taking will help you determine what’s best.

Replacing the Speakers

Now that we have all of our tape laid out, measurements taken, et cetera, it’s time to place the speakers. Do you remember at what point on the speaker you took your measurements? If you made them from the tweeter, make sure you line up the tweeter at the exact spot where your three marks cross. See photos. If you measure from the outrigger or floor spike like I do, then place the outer spike dead center in all of the markings. (In my photos you might see that the spikes don’t line up exactly with the tape markings. This is on purpose; I measure my speakers from the tweeter, and all spikes, for more accuracy. This is unnecessary for most people, and one measurement should suffice.) Line up the front baffle of the speaker and inner-front spike along your 20 degree tape line so that your speaker is toed-in properly. Do the same thing on the opposite side.

Congratulate Yourself

Score one for accurate speaker placement, because you are now done! You should notice improvements in soundstage, imagining, and on-axis time alignment and driver alignment (also called acoustic lobing). If something didn’t turn out right, go back and check your measurements. The 30-45 minutes you just spent properly setting up your speakers will make the largest impact on sound quality of any other tweak you can make. Now, if it’s morning when you’re reading this, drink some nice coffee and enjoy some music! If it’s evening, a fine glass of wine or your favorite beer or libation—you deserve some aural enjoyment. This setup applies for all point-source speakers, as well as electrostats, most di-poles, and bi-poles. Omni speakers are a little different because of their sonic properties, so I would refer to the manufacturer’s set-up guide. The point is, most people can use this guide to help tweak their speakers.

If you have questions about setup, or if any of these steps isn’t clear, leave a comment and I will answer your questions. Hopefully all of you will double check your speaker measurements and tweak them to perfection—it will make a world of difference.

Happy Listening!

Spencer