Speaker Placement

This is a tough topic for the newbies, and even some of us old guys. Regardless of the theory and even the software available, I suspect there is much that the more experienced among us could pass on with this problem. As you shift your speakers closer to the optimum position, what do you hear? What do you hear when the speakers are too close to the front wall, or when they are too far out? What do you hear when they are too close together and need to be moved further apart? What do you hear when they are too close to the side wall? What effect does toe-in have? What strategy do you employ to dial-in a new set of speakers or a new room? I am sure Albert Porter could help us all on this one. I will post some of my experiences if this topic gets rolling.
Redkiwi--I like this post. First I think people posting should qualify the speakers they are placing: bi-pole, di-pole, planer, ported (rear vs front). Each of these would most likely give different results. While I've helped with speaker placement, the only ones I feel that I have spent enough time with in tweaking their position is a pair of Martin Logan Monoliths. This is a sealed closure woofer and of course planer di-pole for mids and highs--it is also important to note that the planer component is curved. Oddly enough with the exception of the distance from the front wall, all other mis-alignments have the same problem. Namely, the soundstage falls apart. So, in more detail:

Distance from front wall. 2 things happen hear. One is bass reflection. Too close to the wall and the bass becomes bloated. The second issue is the reflection for the planers. They need room to breath and I've found that it is approximately 1/3 the distance between them. Mine are spaced 120 inches apart, with about 40 inches from the front wall. I would be interested if others found this "rule number 2 of thirds" for planers to be valid.

Distance between speakers: Aside the previous comment, they can't get too far appart on the image breaks down--the central voices--in fact I use female soloists to check this. If they (the vocalists) don't have a central and easily defined position, either speakers are too far appart or the toe in is wrong.

Toe in: Too far out and there's no central image, too far in and everything is bunched up in the center and the soundstage seems very small. I usually start with them toed in too much, and gradually move them outward until the soundstage (central image) falls apart. Then I toe them back in from that position just a little.

Well, I try to keep my posts reasonably short. So that's my 2 cents in a nut shell, but I welcome questions and follow-up.
Abstract, pls excuse my misunderstanding, but is this 40 inches from planer to back wall? Regarding rules of 3rds, I had active panels (Audioexklusiv 3A) placed 2/3 from side walls, 3/3 between them, 3/3 or 4/3 from panel to back wall (depending upon listening position, 4/3 for further away). This is panel centre-to-centre.
I got excellent soundstaging without toe-in (as you, I used female vocals).
I think from Redkiwi's post that front wall is the front wall that the listener faces and is behind the speakers. I am used to calling that the back wall as you point out in your post, but I wanted to be consistent with Redkiwi's original thread. So it's 40 inches to the wall behind the speakers.
Forgot to mention, I had mine 42 inches from the back/front wall.
To tackle one of Redkiwi's questions, "...shifting speakers closer to optimum position":
A)soundstage started expanding beyond the speakers to reach room boundaries
B)image stability and depth enter the scene, esp. the former. The piano, say, would not perceptibly shift position depending on the octave the pianist is stiking (typically, left hand or right...). Similarly with female voices. I wonder if you've encountered this.
I saw some refreshing new insights into speaker placement at
Departs from rigid Cardas type perfect symetrical setup, and encourages different toe-in each speaker and trying
moving one speaker closer/further from speaker wall to acheive balance. Given the fact that almost no one has exactly equal hearing ability in each ear, and various
wall treatments and furniture placements this is worth reading and trying some ideas.

My PSB Silver-I speakers are 5ft from speaker wall, 6ft apart, and I sit 7ft back from speakers....classic nearfield
arrangement. However I do use different toe-in each speaker, and one speaker is 4" closer to acheive my preferred balance. All depends on your room and individual hearing ability.
Intersting Sam: My speakers ended up with non symetrical placement that was arrived at through trial and ear. The left speaker is 21" from the front wall and 6' from the side wall. There are (almost) floor to ceiling standard bookshelves directly behind it but there is also an open doorway to the left and behind this speaker. The left speaker has no toe-in and I some times partially cover the open doorway with a hall closet door that opens up to the doorway and cock it at an angle. The doorway has a pocket door as well, but I do not care for the sound when it is used in any position, so just leave it in the wall. The right speaker is 25" from the back wall with the bookshelves also directly behind it but is 8' from the side wall instead of 6'. This speaker has a slight toe-in. The speakers measure 5 1/2' from tweeter to tweeter. The left speaker fires directly into the living room and the right speaker (with toe-in) fires into the living room but also partly to the dining and kitchen area (the kitchen starts approx. 12' back from the front wall and the whole setup is a horseshoe arrangement with a center wall running half the length of the room (starting from the back wall and extending to the middle of the room). The center wall divides the living room and the kitchen. If the kitchen were completely walled off (which it is not as it has an open end) the setup would be the typical and dreaded "L" shaped room. The sound is fairly nice throughout the living room (especially on the left wall, opposite the center wall and where the sofa is located), but when I get serious I position myself in a chair dead center and 7-8 feet back from the speakers. There is a bentwood/cane settee behind/between the speakers that doesn't seem to make a great deal of difference in the sound. I can't decide whether it's good or bad is one way to descibe its effect. Although the speakers are very close together the sound stage often exceeds the boundaries of the side walls (more so on the left side wall), especially since the addition of the 300B SET amp and a pair of Svetlana output tubes. Swapping the small signal tubes in the amp not only changes detail and tonality but also the height as well as the width of the sound stage and the "size" of the instruments within the sound stage (if this makes any sense). Sometimes Krall has a huge mouth and sometimes it's smaller, depending on the tubes used. Because of all the new variables that I have been dealing with lately, I havn't posted much about the "current" state of affairs with my system. I am still trying to figure it out. I have wanted to post photos of this setup as it is one of the strangest ones that I have ever had, but it really sounds OK all things considered (not great but OK). Other than bookshelves on two other walls of the room I can't imagine why though.
My speakers are the Avantgarde Duo's with the latest 225 Subwoofer. Rest of system is Sony SCD1 to TACT 2.0 RCS to Art Audio Jota (a wonderful amp!)

Speaker placement has been a real experiment that I have put many hours into trying to optimize. Having the TACT 2.0 RCS has changed the equation dramatically, but once I got it right, WOW! My speakers ended up producing an incredible stage with detail - you would think there are 6 speakers spread around the room the way the stage is - and depth!

Key to success was using the formula George Cardas recommended for Nearfield listening: George Cardas "Golden Rule" formula as found on his web site:
Distance - Center of Woofer face to sidewall; Multiply Room Width by .276
Distance - Center of Woofer face to wall behind speaker;
Multiply Width by .447
This put my speakers 81.354 off of the front wall and 50.32 inches out from the sidewall.

Take the distance between the center of the right and left speakers and move your listening position to that distance from the front of the speakers.

I have only a 1" toe in on each speaker.

Once I did this, everything fell into a wonderful sound - the best I've ever had.

Give it a try!
Great idea Redman,
I began my placement process by following the 1/3 or 1/5 rule. I started with the speakers 1/3 of the length of my room from the wall in front of me. I then took 1/3 off that dimension to determine the distance from the side wall. This is a rough starting point as determined by one of a few rule of thumbs. I use the Stereophile test disk #2 and the XLO test & burn in disk which have a series of speaker placement tracks. The first thing I tried was using a white noise (full spectrum) track and walked around my room to locate the amplified and dead nodes. If my seating area (1/3 into the room) coincides (which it did) with these nodes I knew I must change my starting point. I moved the speakers ½" at a time in a diagonal to keep the relationship from the walls. Once I had a rough location with no node problems I tried an out of phase mono recording from the XLO disk. The sound should appear to come from all directions with no discernable source. This proved to be an invaluable track on the XLO disk. I worked this and the white noise tracks back and forth until I again had both working. I then used an in-phase mono track to work on pinpointing (toe-in) the sound to a very small point location. These were my start points, there are a number of other tests which are helpful, but these were my major tests. It was now time to listen to some familiar music. I find female vocal jazz quartets to be excellent tools. The voice should appear to be centered (if recorded centered) and stay in the center as I move side to side and front and back. If the voice is too large, not sounding like it came from a mouth then I'd toe the speakers in. If the spot was too tight I'd toe out more. To get the spot to remain centered I moved my listening spot for and aft until it became very stable. Now using a disk with more instruments I could look at sound stage width. The stage should be as wide as possible without losing my center spot location. Back to the jazz vocal I now look for depth. The drum and bass should appear behind the singer. The horns should have a defined point with space in front and behind it. If this depth does not appear (like mine) I tried moving the speakers forward or back ever so slightly. There is a magic spot that the speakers work with the room to bring it all together. The last thing I look for is bass definition. Again I found forward and back impacted bass. A stand up bass should have a definite location, and the note made from the pluck of the string should appear well defined, almost like a round spot. This needs to remain focused down to the lowest notes. If your not dialed in the note will appear to flatten out, and if real bad it will stretch across your floor. These speaker movements were tinny for me in the end. I'm talking 1/16" and the focus would clear up. (That's after a lot of time to get real close) The entire process took about four hours the first time. I listened for a week and reworked it four or five times. It helps to enlist a friend with good ears who is not so close to the process, mine was very important in the final sessions. Once we were sure of our location, we measured the speakers back and side corners to the wall, it turned out one speaker was slightly off of the other. Once we re-aligned them to be exactly the same, one last toe-in and it was indeed there.
So what do I hear now? Every instrument is easy to locate, even when there are 10-15 instruments. They appear within there own space, with room in front, back and on it's sides. When it's well tuned this should not be a stain to hear, but simply the way it is. The center image is tight ( in a realistic way) and does not move from the center. The stage appears to extend well beyond my speakers, but not so far as to lose the center image. The entire presentation comes alive, as if it's in your room, it took a long time but it is extremely natural and not a strain to find all the instruments on stage. I think it's just trial and error, just keep playing. My friend and I tried to better the sound by starting over once and the speakers ended up within an 1/6" of where they started, just a bit further back. I kind of think there is a spot they belong, and if it's the right one you'll find it again. Some of these features my have had as much to do with the tweaks I've made as did speaker location, I believe they do work hand and hand. I just started a post on the tweaks I did this year, it's titled "the winters lessons". Above all, have fun with it, it's not a race. If all else fails but a Bose wave radio. J.D.
Check the Cardas site for some really good input on this topic. Good Listening.
The best placement aid I have discovered is a bottle of good chardonnay. Seriously, it does require a great deal of patience. The obvious, but often overlooked place to start is with a live, unamplified concert. But once the placement process begins, resist the temptation to move them again after an improvement. Live with it for a while. And mark their location before further experimentation. Also, I read somewhere that in general, folks place speakers too close together, and with too much toe in, and suspect this to be true.
I've just finished a quick positioning of a pair of Matin-Logan reQuests, and my findings are very similar to Abstract's. I just took a tape measure down, out of interest. Speakers are 9' apart to centers. They are position 3' 2" from back wall.

Based on a couple of excellent posts (thanks!) I'm going to be doing some fine-tuning.

Not sure if I will be allowed to apply Cardas rule - its a large room and they would be 12' from the front wall. But I' definitely going to try it.
Soundlab speakers produce nearly as much output from the rear as the front, making the distance from the back wall far more critical than the sides. The distance from the rear wall is determined by a number of factors, including toe in, wall treatments, and ceiling height. I keep my U-1's about 5 feet from the rear wall, even with RPG panels and Tube Traps in place. The single most important and overlooked adjustment on Soundlabs is the vertical alignment. From the factory, they tend to lean backwards (especially the U-1). This destroys the focus of the high frequencies, sending the highs well above the normal listening height. This effects not only tonal balance, depth and soundstage, but the voice and instrument imaging as well. With the original factory feet, the U-1 is out of plumb nearly two and a fourth inches. Floor level must be considered at this point as well, an out of plumb floor by only one fourth of an inch, when multiplied out to the top of a seven foot speaker, produces huge errors. After the vertical is right, it is fairly painless to set the toe in. Simply sight thorough the speaker from the rear, aiming for the center listening position. Use the fourth cell, counting from the wall side of the frame. Sight with a horizontal rib that closely matches your head height in the listening chair. More than half the time, this gets the toe in dead on, leaving only the wall distance as a final tweak.
Redkiwi, great thread. You beat me to the punch... I am interested in the responses from esl owners as I am now mating my *new* Kinergetics SW800 subs with my ML CLS1's.

I had the CLS's 5' from the front wall, 9' apart (center panel to center panel) with 4" toe in, 5' from the side walls and 10' to where my ass resides.

With the subs I have moved the CLS's in to a position that is 8'4" center panel to center panel. Everything else is the same except toe in is 3.5". SW800's (five 10" drivers in each 58" tall enclosure) are 1.5" from the outside of each CLS and aimed in exactly the same direction as the CLS's.

It's been one week so this is only a starting point.

CLS people (and other esl folks) ... what say you????
Albert, I have had the same experience regarding back tilt with my CLS's as you have described with your U-1's. Verticle alignment appears to be critical in most esl's. Certainly in my case.

My CLS/SW800 combo is so good despite limited time for set up. But... get me a taller ceiling and I'll glomm on to a pair of A1's. The best speaker I've ever heard in the flesh.

But, I'm *not* suffering. Life is good.
Great idea Redkiwi, I've been experimenting with this for years. I currently own Thiel 3.6's. I have tried the Cardas rule but just usually experiment to dial in because my room is a little odd. It's a partially finished basement and measures 14.5W by 45L by 8H. My front wall is approx. 6 ft wide with 2 cavities on either side approx 5ft and 3 ft wide. My son's closet is on the other side and makes this identation into the room. It would be hard to dial in a rear firing speaker. Right now I have the speakers 48" off the front wall about 8.5ft apart which leaves my around 4 and 3 ft from side walls. I sit about 9 ft in front. Thiels have a wide dispersion so I don't usually toe-in although I play around with this it seems all the time - I can never be completely satisfied. I use a wool horse banket on the wall between the speakers and 2 on the side for damping, this seems to help imaging. Other than that damping material like foam seems to deaden the sound too much. My ceiling is unfinished - wood joists above me - don't know if this is good or bad or indifferent. Maybe defraction. Let me finish with a horror story, if you're quezy at all do not read on. Just yesterday I was fooling around and accidentally knocked over a sheet of drywall that was leaning up against an unfinished frame(STUPID IDIOT!) It fell into my speaker, tipped it over(GULP) it landed on my amp, fortunately on the face plate of my Classe, knocked the amp off the stand on its side, the speaker then rolled to a stop. Put a half inch gouge in the top right on the corner of the speaker (LOOKS REAL NICE). The place looked like a crime scene, cables everywhere - man. Well everything works or I would have crawled up on the roof to jump. Ever see the movie Jaws and Quin said the scariest moment of his life was waiting his turn to be pulled from the shark infested water, well mine was booting up waiting for the tubes to come on in the preamp to see if I could still produce music!
JD: Very nice post in a nutshell, which I made a hard copy of. I have a lense cleaning disc (that I have been afraid to use) that has white as well as pink noise tracks. Though I don't have a wide range of options as far as permanent placement of the speakers goes, it will be fun to play around with it (the white noise) as far as minor adjustments. Hopefully this will improve the sound in the casual listening area. If this shows positive results and doesn't drive me nuts I will then spring for the test disc that you refer to. I used pink noise generators years ago when setting up equalizers, but don't ever recall using or listening to white noise, other than when a television station went off the air.
Dekay, A friend of mine has a very casual set-up in that his wife seams to think speakers 4' into there 14' livingroom is too obtrusive. Chah Spouses. We worked with the white noise on his room and ended up with a speaker location that fit both the nodes and the spouse. It would not have been a set-up we would have ever tried without this process. Good luck!
Good news JD. My speakers have a tendency to "creep" if you know what I mean, and the soundstage just gets better and better.
Once they've stopped "creeping" (yea, I know what you mean) you might check the thread I posted "the winter lessons" to see some thoughts on other things to concider. I have found that speaker placement works very much in harmony with the entire system, Footers, cords and tweeks all need to be concidered after the speakers find there perfect spot. You can find perfection with the speakers in the right spot after continued tweeking, but don't waste the time tweeking until the speakers work with the room. I speaketh from great wasted experience! J.D.
Front wall/back wall? I'm from downunder remember, it all looks different from here. I haven't had any chance to use RHUBARB yet on this post, which is my only disappointment. Otherwise this is a very good read.

A friend asked me the question that I started this post with because he wanted to spend a weekend setting up his first high-end system, and most of it was easy to lay out for him, except for this speaker placement issue. So I tried to think about how I could describe what to listen for, but despite setting up speakers loads of times I realised I didn't really have a method, or at least it was too intuitive for me to write down. Without pushing my speakers around the room to remind myself, I will post some things that I do remember about setting up speakers.

First of all, I believe that amp/speaker/room size relationships change the results. That is - for my room, changing the amp or speaker can (not always) result in different optimum positions. I think the root of this is that moving speakers around can affect the relationship between the sounds that define the outline of a singer or instrument and the sounds that define the body of a singer or instrument. The perceived "reality" of the sound and image are therefore affected if we do not hear the right combination of primary sounds as well as resonances and the harmonics of both of those. A similar relationship of sounds affects depth, width and height perspectives, and it seems to me that our brain recognises the very subtle ways in which propogation of sound through air, and multipath (ie. the combination of direct and reflections) affects the waveform, and that these relationships have to be right for us to perceive the "space" clues in the recording. But all of those relationships can also be affected by going to a speaker that moves significantly more or less air (which I mean in a way that is different than sheer loudness), in that a speaker that is too "small" for a room may need to be moved closer to boundaries than it would in a smaller room. Similarly a "large" speaker can overpower a room unless it is moved out towards HP's "thirds" position. Similarly a very powerful amp can make a "small" speaker perform more like a "big" speaker. I am not sure precisely what I am talking about. Is it just tonal balance? No. Perhaps there is something to do with relationships between impulse and decay (whoops I almost spelt that with a "k"). Perhaps it is something to do with phase errors. Perhaps it is something to do with reducing the smearing effect of reflections in the room that destroy resolution. Most likely it is all of these and some others too. Either way I think we may be trying by empirical experiment to optimise the value of a multinomial equation. So my second point is that getting an optimum result can be severely inhibited in the first place if the amp/speaker/room size equation is poor. So you end up facing a compromise like tonal balance is best with the speaker very close to the wall but soundstage is flattened. Obviously you also have a problem if either the equipment or the room is poor, but that is another matter.

So... The first thing I do is some very quick guages of a room, by just plonking the speakers in a likely place and moving them three or four times only with a brief listen in between. I listen to soundstage shape, gross tonal balance issue (ie. way too much or too little bass) and how images float free of speakers and boundaries. I do this to check which of a room's walls I want the speakers against, or the wall I will work with first.

So... Moving speakers forward and back (back and forward for you northern hemisphere people). The problem with sorting this out is that two effects come into play. The first is that, too close to the wall and a female vocalist's image can flatten and the outlines and nuance(the sound of the parting of a tongue from a lip or the breath that accompanies the vibration of the vocal cords) become recessed. This is what I call too much body and not enough outline. The voice just becomes less interesting because there is less going on - the steak with no sizzle. Too far from the wall and the opposite occurs. More outline seems like more resolution, and soundstage depth can be great, but without the body of the voice or instrument, so it sounds lacking in substance and seems to stir the soul less - all sizzle and no steak. What mucks this up is the fact that what gets the right balance for all those midrange voices and instruments may not be right in the bass - for the reasons I raised earlier about size of speaker and size of room etc. With too much bass going on the sound is no longer coherent - there is a transition from a tonally right mid and treble to an overly warm bass that lacks outlines (definition). This is arguably worse than too little bass going on, but on the other hand too much bass can be dealt with by room treatment (which I prefer to do than add a sub-woofer).

So... Lateral movement - ie. moving them closer together or further apart. Firing across a room I am in some agreement with how it was put in one of the first posts here (Abstract7 it was) that it is about opening the soundstage up without it falling apart or images wandering. But it is also about the very same things that I mentioned in moving speakers back and forth, and even more so when firing down a room - ie too far apart, which is arguably also too close to walls and images go flat and undefined, too close together and images lack body. So both of these are going on. And what's more our bass problem is moving around in the equation too. So here it seems to me we are playing around with three outcomes which may not optimise at the same point.

As if that was not enough, if you literally tried the above to try and achieve an optimum result, all your observations only apply to the position you were seated in! Where you sit can be a very useful way to solve that bass problem. But I also find I just like sitting about 10 feet away. Closer and it becomes like listening to headphones, further and it feels like listening to the room. Only in a very well treated room do I like sitting much further away. So moving back and forth can put you too far in, or too far out of the soundstage.

This post is way too long so I will be brief and then stop soon and come back later.

And then there is toe-in. Too close to side walls and more toe-in is required. Similarly more toe-in is required if you have the speakers too far apart or if you are very close to the speakers. The sound of more or less toe-in is covered in posts above.

Which leaves - what seems to work? But I will add my thoughts to the excellent posts already posted before me on this another day.
Nice post Rekiwi, so far your answer is the best to your own question. Real good points, I tend to agree in that there are so many variables that I can't imagine a formula giving an end result. Room shape, room contents, types of walls, ceilings, floors and speaker design concept should give the experienced audionut a starting point. My personal philosophy is start speakers as far apart and as far from all walls as possible with 10 ft left between sitting position and speakers. Not easy if you don't have a large room. Then about 3 inches of movement and listen - it can be painstaking. I also believe some toe in is almost always required on most designs to put some additional solid body on image outlines. Otherwise, you have wide a soundstage with less specificity of singers, instruments, etc. Also on my system I lose a little of the transparency without toe in, ie, I can locate sound coming from the speakers rather than behind the plane. A good test is a CD or LP with background singers to really judge where in the soundstage you want them and how far forward or back, also bunched together or more spread out. Toe-in usually affects that. Also, good point about distance of your chair, the further back the more room interaction, closer and it can sound like your on the front row at a rock show. But the big rule of thumb for me is use 2 or 3 sources of music, find your optimal position and then don't move em anymore. Some music is in phase some isn't, even on the same CD and you will gain or loss the perceived magic you just spent all of your hard work on with different sources. And finally, it's all about personal preference. Unfortunately some people can never be satisfied and get swept away into the music - always looking for something. And it may not be there!
Redkiwi, you refere to the female vocalist with "This is what I call too much body and not enough outline." I think I call that fat! Where as alot of well placed female body is always welcome. (there now you can call this post RHUBARB, and you can thank me later!)
JD, I think it is indeed possible to have too much female body in certain circumstances, but like you, if I read you right, I don't like to be short-changed either.

Pops, I often do it the other way around (that downunder thing), in that I often start too close to the wall and move it out listening for how the soundstage opens up and takes the correct shape, but looking for the point at which the voice starts to "fall apart" in terms of its palpability or body.
Stereophile had an excellent article on speaker placement that was written by Jonathan Scull in one his installments of fine tunes. I believe it was the October or August issue of 1998. I've probably gotten the date wrong (i'm at work) but you can probably find it on their web site. The article provided a very uniform way to set up speakers in rectangular rooms and I have found it to be unfailingly useful.
Pops, does your son really need a closet? Aren't his clothes on the floor, anyway? It's impossible to overstate the importance of re-positioning the speakers when making any change to the system. My recent switch from an active to a passive pre-amp caused the image to congest in the center. I got rid of the toe-in that had worked just fine and now, with the speakers facing forward, the image is just right. The need for change was also true, to a lesser extent, when going from the stock power cord on the CDP to Kevperro's Asylum cord. For apartment dwellers like myself witht the typical long, narrow (12x30) LR-DR, I've found that, whatever the speaker position in relation to the walls, it seems better to sit farther away. As I moved back and forth on a wheeled ottoman (no, that's not a gun-toting resident of Constantinople), I was able to find a distance that just "clicked", about 11 feet away from the front plane of the speakers. BTW, transmission line 2-ways.