Bookshelf Speakers that have to be up against the wall


My very first posting, so be gentle. Looking to upgrade my bookshelf speakers, say to a max of 3k or so. I have an old mcintosh amp and pre. plenty of power. I now have to put my speakers against the wall and the ported ones I have now don’t ‘bloom’ now, they sound a bit muffled - they lost most of their imaging. I think because they are ported in the back also aside from being against the wall. I’d like to hear from anyone who has had that problem and recommendations from those with knowledge of solving this issue.
deadhead1000
You lost your imaging the minute you put the speakers right up against the wall. Only thing worse you could do is put them on an actual bookshelf with books and stuff lined up flush with the front of the speakers. Bookshelf is a term of size. The last thing in the world you ever want to do is put them on an actual book shelf.

This is because all speakers, in order to sound their best, need to be set up so the sound goes from the speaker to your ears. What you have now is the sound goes from the speaker to the wall to your ears. Every sound coming off the speaker reflects within a millisecond off the wall, and not just the once either but constantly across the whole surface of the wall, until the sound reaching your ears is this garbled mess, which is why they image so poorly now. Move them even a foot or two out and you will see. Move them 3 or 4 feet out and they will image like champs.

Porting is misleading. If the port is in the back and too close (within inches) to the wall then yes this will affect the response. But most of this will happen whether or not they are ported. 

In other words, don't go looking to new speakers to solve your problems, Go looking to new speaker PLACEMENT.
Talk to Fritz and ask him to make you a pair specifically for use against the wall.
It won't solve everything, but you'll get more efficient speakers with better sounding bass and treble balance.
Yes, it is true that putting speakers so close to the back wall would affect sound. Google "speaker boundary interference response" (SBIR) for more reading on this, but the general idea is if a speaker is too close to a wall, it will use the wall to "plane" or "bloom" the wave forms generated from the speaker drivers.

Also, like Erik said, do not get a speaker with a rear port if you are going to push it up against the wall. Make sure it has a front port.
Thanks for the input so far. The speakers are actually not on a bookcase, more like sitting on a cabinet, so a nice solid surface, I can move them out perhaps a foot, but cannot put stands in front of the cabinet. I’ll see how much that helps. 
Audio Note AN-K sealed cabinets and designed to be placed in a corner or against a wall. Should be around your budget.
Also, like Erik said, do not get a speaker with a rear port if you are going to push it up against the wall. Make sure it has a front port.


Actually I was being a little more nuanced than this. Designing a speaker to be on a counter, near a wall requires a different crossover than one designed to be out in the room.
In a close space like that we can forego the baffle steep compensation in the crossover which yields a higher efficiency design. The trouble is, the speaker out in free air will sound thin.

Another option is to use a professional, powered monitor which lets you dial in the amount of bass.

Vandersteen VLR signature- crossover, drivers, cabinet designed for close mounting to wall, starting with coaxial driver.
As is the VLR without carbon tweeter

deadhead1000
Bookshelf Speakers that have to be up against the wall

All Linn speakers, back in the old days, Sara, Isobraric, Kan ect were voiced to be hard up against the wall, maybe the new ones do too?
Cheers George
But in general the astute speaker designer can design a great sounding speaker for near wall placement by altering polar response, the crossover, the placement of the tweeter and as Eric importantly noted the filter network, will it ever get to the Millercarbon ideal of 3-5’ out into the room ? Maybe... really depends on many variables, including how the ear brain works. A really nice floor stander w pretty good imaging is the Nordic Larson and as I mentioned Vandersteen, there are others.
@georgehifi  yes! I had two pair of Sara and a pair of Index. The Sara in particular are a fantastic rock speaker
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Sjofn “the clue” speakers are made to be against the wall and use the room to augment the sound.  Due to this, the bass that comes out of them almost defies belief.  Heard them at a couple shows and everyone was in disbelief at what they were hearing.  For $2000 you could get a stacked pair.  Best of luck. 
I second the Vandy VLR's.
I have them near the corners of my office ceiling- kind of a nearfield listening position- and they have a decent bass reproduction. Though I supplement them with a pair of HSU subs. I once played them without the subs and was impressed by how low they can go.
Bob
   You've had some pretty good suggestions here. Speaker placement is paramount to making speakers sound as good as they are capable. Sounds like you are restricted to placing the speakers so close to the wall. "Bookshelf" speakers that are rear ported usually have that feature to enhance bass. To calm that interaction with room boundaries (walls etc.) some have plugged the rear ports to minimize close wall reflections. Of course that minimizes the bass response the speaker was designed for. Some add a sub to compensate for the loss in bass.

   You didn't mention the particular speakers you have? Adding sound absorbing material to the back wall or plugging the rear ports of the speaker may or may not improve your sound. You probably want to explore all options before shopping for new speakers. If you must place the speakers so close to the rear wall, shop for ones that are not rear ported.

Note the comment about how some speakers are "voiced" for near wall placement. Anyone can "voice" a speaker to not sound as bad near a wall. All this means is the frequency response is tailored so the speaker actually needs to be placed near a wall to sound best- in terms of frequency response.

But the OP specifically said "they lost most of their imaging." Well, of course they did! Anything else would defy the laws of physics. No amount of speaker design, no "voice" can change the fact the sound coming off the speaker hitting a flat surface so near by is gonna ruin the imaging. Cabinet, bookshelf, wall, does not matter. All the same as far as the soundwave goes. 

Things that will help - increasing the distance by any amount whatsoever, either by pulling the speaker out, or moving things away sideways; absorptive material, ideally something like Owens Corning fiberglass panel (any size, whatever you can get away with) but even something like soft fabric will help; staggering whatever you can, think books pulled out/pushed in different amounts. 

Really good imaging requires speakers being placed about 3 feet away because reflected sounds arriving within about a 3 to 5 millisecond window affect our ability to localize, and sound travels about one foot per millisecond. So anything you can do to eliminate or attenuate reflections within the first few feet of the speaker will have an inordinate effect on imaging.

 
    millercarbon is completely correct! All of those things suggested should be investigated. BUT!!!!!....Are you completely locked in to the placement of your speakers? If so, your options are limited. Even if you replace your existing speakers, the new ones will also offer a challenge as to their placement.

   It all comes down to what you perceive as acceptable sound for you. Your sound "theater" should be what you accept as ideal with what you expect. I still haven't heard what speakers you are now using? Not that it matters so much but it gives a hint as to how improvements may be accomplished.


actually, no....a careful read of my statement about tailoring the polar  response IS not about voicing, its about managing the. amplitude of those early refllections. IF they are down significant db it js the same as being out in the room 3-5’...just physics...

I can stellar image depth with. Vandersteen Treo out 20” from the wall (tweeter to wall) because they are designed for that....of course they get better at 3’ but ...... 
stop by the studio someday and hear the depth of.  image possible out of soffit mounted  set of constant directivity monitors....maybe not mastering quality but fine....for sure...

also see this month’s Stereophile for a review of “ image champs” and a designer who knows how to pull that off...
Lots of good info, thanks. I own Totem Rainmakers and they sounded excellent until I had to put them close to the wall. I will look into all the suggestions. 
1. get the height so they produce sound, especially highs, at seated ear level if possible.

2. add a subwoofer. filter out the low bass to the sub before it goes to the bookshelf speakers so they do not try to produce too much bass.

3. find the best location for the sub that is acceptable. Not too much from the sub, just enough that you notice if it is off.
We have installed many Vandersteen VLR CTs, Treo CTs, and full range Quatros right up against the wall.
Many 3 inches out from the wall. Their unique driver system, low diffraction grill is a trick that allows these to image beyond comprehension.
 The power response within this close wall positioning with all of these speakers is remarkable.  Best JohnnyR Vandersteen dealer

if you have  Totem Rainmakers, plug the rear ports with peace of foam  and add  sub-woofer(  if you have a space for it). and adjust bass for the best sound possible  . i have energy c2 (front ported) in the book shelf in horizontal position in 3.1 (or 2.1 with center channel disconnected  ) configuration and sound quite nice

But the OP specifically said "they lost most of their imaging." Well, of course they did! Anything else would defy the laws of physics. No amount of speaker design, no "voice" can change the fact the sound coming off the speaker hitting a flat surface so near by is gonna ruin the imaging. Cabinet, bookshelf, wall, does not matter.. All the same as far as the soundwave goes.

Really good imaging requires speakers being placed about 3 feet away because reflected sounds arriving within about a 3 to 5 millisecond window affect our ability to localize, and sound travels about one foot per millisecond. So anything you can do to eliminate or attenuate reflections within the first few feet of the speaker will have an inordinate effect on imaging.

Sorry my friend @millercarbon but this is not true.  I used to believe the same as you about speaker placement and imaging, but it really depends on how the speaker is designed.  And Sjofn “the clue” uses the wall boundaries as well as floor and ceiling to work with its design rather than against it, and it works.  I didn’t believe it either until I heard it, but there was a wonderful and deep 3D soundstage accompanied by a clean level of deep bass I’ve never heard from speakers this size (or price) before.  I imagine the Von Schweikert Vortex speakers also manage to overcome these “barriers” in their own way although I’ve never heard them.  

While you are correct that with traditional speaker designs getting speakers away from walls is crucial to really open up a 3D stage, but as with most things in audio there’s more than one way to skin a cat. 


Is there any room at all behind them?  I had a lovely pair of bookshelf B&Ws that started me down the audiophile path.  Powered by a McIntosh 252.  It was a great set up.  Sill own the 252 that powers a pair of B&W 804 D2's.  Sounds lovely in my office.
First I want to say thank you to all of you. I am going to try the cheap route first and plug them, I do have a sub, but it’s an older velodyne model right now.  I can move them a few inches from the wall and will see how that goes. I will then go the route of checking out a few of the speakers mentioned. Luckily I live near several high end Best to you all.
@deadhead1000 I had the same problem. I had to put the speakers with a rear port close to the wall and the sound was terrible. I simply put a large amount of cotton inside the ports and the speakers sound superb. Try it. It's cheap and effective. I didn't experiment with other materials and I can't think of any other material doing the same job so well done. Common cotton is great. It transforms a speaker with a rear port to a speaker with no port. I forgot to tell you that the speakers were cheap and I used them in the kitchen. Maybe this trick is not suitable for serious listening but give it a try and see for yourself. Cheers.
Guru QM 10-2 were really fun speakers. Great midrange and bass that far defies its size. Made to go against wall or in corner. One of the few speakers I regret selling. 
I have a pair of Harbeth P3ESR's in my computer room.  Due to space limitations, they are in corners, about a foot from the wall.  Wood paneling, no treatments (yet) of any kind and they sound as good or better than my main system.  Sealed design, well within your budget.  I have mine matched up to an inexpensive SVS SB12-NSD sub.  The room is about 12' X 12'
In my primary dedicated listening room, imaging was a priority.  So, yes, the speakers are well out into the room with perfect symmetry.  And the imaging is fantastic.

In a second system I don't have the ability to position speakers much off the front wall.  Enter the VSA VR-33's.  I am shocked I can get such an open sound with nice imaging with the speakers only 14" from the front wall.  As good as my main system?--no.  But a very good performance none the less from a speaker designed to work well in this situation.  
I have a very similar set up and placement limitations -bookshelf speakers on the cabinet, fairly close to wall. I have two recommendations that work for me. Proac tablet 10 which are sealed speakers, and Wharfdale 220 or 225 which are extremely good value with down firing ports. Both of these work great on the cabinet even 6 inches from the wall. I put mine on acoustic pads as well. I own both speakers. 
other speakers have not worked with this placement in my experience.
proacs have better bass than the Wharfedale but much more $
just to add that my Proac Tab 10's on cabinet are in a mid sized bedroom, not the main system. I wouldn't recommend tablettes for a large room necessarily. good luck.
In my home office's desktop audio system, I've had 4-5 pairs of speakers over the past 12-13 years (2 powered; 3 passive). All were located w/in ~1 foot of the front wall (actually an inset picture window covered with heavy blinds). 

The main thing I learned is that sealed/acoustic suspension systems work better near a wall than any ported designs. 

I currently have 2 such speaker pairs: my main pair is ATC SCM12 Pros, large/heavy 2-ways that sound rather amazing. 2nd pair is a pretty 4-yr old pair of Aerial Acoustic 5Bs, also a relatively heavy 2-way system. The 5Bs have better soundstaging and would probably light up the room w/soundstage if pulled out from the wall & put on stands. I'll sell the 5Bs soon because I just can't keep multiple pairs of speakers going...and I love those ATCs. 

Had the Wharfedale Diamond 225s here and they sounded pretty good, though clearly not in the league of the 5Bs or ATCs.

Sealed is the way to go when near-wall placement is unavoidable.

Note: my system is nearfield, which probably minimizes the soundstaging deficits of close placement.
++ Linn Sara (if you find any they may need a little attention but you won't hear better! ).
You lost your imaging the minute you put the speakers right up against the wall. Only thing worse you could do is put them on an actual bookshelf with books and stuff lined up flush with the front of the speakers.
Books can actually disperse the reflection and act beneficial
This is because all speakers, in order to sound their best, need to be set up so the sound goes from the speaker to your ears. What you have now is the sound goes from the speaker to the wall to your ears. Every sound coming off the speaker reflects within a millisecond off the wall, and not just the once either but constantly across the whole surface of the wall, until the sound reaching your ears is this garbled mess, which is why they image so poorly now.
To which wall? By placing them theoretically flush with the wall, you actually remove reflection from back wall and you get an infinite baffle that can reinforce lower end. That way you could get by with compression box which will have better transient response and still get good bass extension. Then, there won't be any baffle step that needs to be taken care of in the crossover at the expense of loosing efficiency. 
If the wall is treated/covered with absorbing material I don't see any problem with imaging. Imaging is is defined by cues higher in frequency where the speakers are directional anyway.

There are speaker designs for wall mounting or against the wall and they can work pretty well.
Also put acoustic panels on the wall/surface behind the speakers.
Will help tame some of the bloat....
I have the ProAc Tablette 10 Signature and I have them close to the back wall, about a foot, and I do get very good results. 
Larsen 4.2 are in your price range and like all Larsen loudspeakers are designed to be placed right against the wall and still image well.
Eric