Speaker positioning and center image depth

I’ve been in so many conversations with people who boast of the depth of the soundstage from a particular pair of speakers to fall well behind said speakers, and others who claim the sound is very much more forward for some speakers. For me, I’ve found that most times, it just depends on how the speakers are positioned in the room.

I find a combination of just slightly too much toe in and just not enough distance between speakers in relation to the listener create a more powerful and forward center image and potentially a narrower soundstage as the speakers end up not taking advantage of the side walls. On the other hand, having the speakers toed out too little at a larger distance from each other results in a more distant center image and at times loses clarity.

Distance from the walls also makes a huge difference here, as well as how well the room is treated. And there are many variables that will change the way a speaker projects the sound.

Of course, many speakers do a better job of imaging a particular way over others, but I’m not convinced of generalizations made about these projections (how forward vs deep a speaker sounds) in reviews or forum threads. For me, it usually has much to do with how it’s set up in the room.

That said, I do believe some speakers play incredibly large, and others small such that the thresholds (toe in, distances, etc) are all variable, which help a speaker work in some rooms better than others. And of course every speaker imparts it’s own sonic character, some more open and transparent and others more recessed and warm, etc.

I’m curious as to other peoples’ reactions and experiences with regards to speaker depth/forwardness, and if they agree with what I’m finding or if they believe the speaker has a much larger role than the room the way I am describing. I’m always looking to learn more.



Why do you limit your observations to depth of center image? Why not depth of image at the extreme left and right? That's important too, no? What about basic speaker positioning issue of near field or distant/mid range. That too makes a big difference, no?

IMHO while speaker positioning, i.e. distance from walls and associated nulls, nodes, and reflections and their treatment are important, the most important ones are 1) a recording with the appropriate information, 2) the source electronics ability to pass this information through with minimal deviation from the recording, 3) and the electronics that drive the speakers (amp and pre amp) which have the ability to reproduce the most important frequencies to the reproduction of imaging with out distortion or emphasis. 

If you have THE recording, source, electronics and speakers then, and IMHO only then, can your worry too much about room set up IF your goal is to optimize imaging.

FWIW I've seen too many folks try to obtain some idealized imaging without even having a source/recording which can get them there (and there really are not that many extant). If you want to chase this holy grail down get "Depth of Image" by Opus 3 (long OOP its on a CD but the LP is better by far).

There are really two issues here.

1. How wide and deep a soundstage is, created by a given pair of speakers and their setup.

2. Where the soundstage starts in relation to the plane of the drivers; in my experience some speakers/setups will throw a soundstage starting in front of that plane, some start at that plane, and a few even start behind that plane and extend well back.

Consequently, for example, an "in your face" presentation may be a combination of a tipped up frequency response and a "forward" soundstage.

@newbee Thanks for the reference track, I’ll look into it. 

I agree it’s not just about the center image, I guess I was just trying to make a simplified point vs trying to generalize the relationship between positioning and the depth of the entire stage, which is more complicated. And I agree that all aspects of positioning and treatment are important, especially in relation to the listener’s sitting chair as some speakers are better for near field vs from farther away. My point was really revolving around how people attribute a speaker as one with a forward or deep soundstage, but in reality, those attributes have much to deal with how a speaker is set up vs the speaker itself.

I’ve had a pair of KEF Reference 5’s since last September and I’m still futzing with them.  Currently they are 24” away from the front wall, 46” from the side walls, 7’6” apart (center to center) 8’ from my listening position and toed in 7.5°. 
Most of what I listen to is lite Jazz like Bill Evans, Hank Mobley, Art Farmer, Pepper, Blakey.  Today I listened to 3 albums by Dominique Fils-Aime. She is kind of a modern version of Sade. Anyway, there was little depth, but the sound was superb.

If you are interested, check out The album “Nameless” and the song “Birds”.

@curiousjim Birds is one of my reference tracks. The imaging of the clapping / percussion is incredible, as is the split of the vocals on the stage. That is a great track to test with as it is perfect for demonstrating what I am getting at above. There is a thin margin in the rooms I’ve set up where the clapping / percussion is almost directly to the sides, and the center image is still spot on. Otherwise in sub-optimal setups you lose clarity in one or the other. 

Decent gear/speakers/recording are  nothing without location,location and location.

That also means necessary embellishment-damping/diffusion per ear/software(for the perfectionists).

We see it in the systems section-some layouts are a travesty.

Without it....


@tablejockey Agree. I will confide that just a few days ago I visited a nationally known dealer in another part of the country with multiple audio rooms containing equipment totaling over $1MM in each room (I won’t get into naming where this was out of respect for the dealership). I was excited to see the caliber of the equipment, but was shocked at how bad the rooms sounded due to horrible acoustics. Each room had some treatments, too, but not enough given the configuration of the rooms. I ended up having to reposition the speakers myself in each room as I was listening, but it only helped so much due to the detrimental effect of the reflections and reverberations.


It’s kind of amazing to me that I’ve been listening to music for 50+ years and I still keep finding “new to me” music. A week ago I’d never heard of Dominique Fils-Aime 😀


Out of curiosity, about how loud do you play your demo’s? There are only a couple of places around me that that have any equipment I’m interested in and one plays everything loud and the other plays their demo’s louder. I’m calling loud 80-85 dbs and louder 85+.




@curiousjim When I listen, I typically enjoy the 80-85db range, sometimes louder when I want to rock out, and sometimes lower when I’m relaxing at night. When I demo for others, I tend to start at the 75-80db range and hand the remote to customers or friends and encourage them not to be shy with the volume. Some prefer to turn it up after, and some turn it down to hear what the system sounds like at lower volumes.

I tend to find that in my own room if I turn up the volume too much, like into the 100s, the soundstage depth gets compromised. Many times, in most systems slightly lower volumes are best for demonstrating the depth of the stage.

I also think the best dealers and audiophiles who let others demo are ones that do not try to put on tracks for others and hover around them, but rather show the person how to maneuver libraries and controls and give the listener some freedom and space to get acquainted. 

One reason that I like acoustic suspension speakers rather than those with ports is that the interaction with the room is much easier to manage. A port makes the speaker placement more critical to achieve good imaging.

Too much speaker depth and you could fall in and disappear. Hey man...stranger things have happened...also, if you can't deal with ports (seriously...what percentage of speakers have ports?) and actually think they're hard to deal with you really should choose another hobby.

Your question is not an easy one to answer. It's much more complex than speakers. Recording, mixing, cables (@Jason Bourne - no need for comment) and everything in the chain that affects the delivery of spatial information to our brain.

However, for starters, you are correct that placement (and listening position) are fundamental values to work with, to approach your goal. However, you may find that you are happy with the soundstage presentation, only to find that something has been traded off. 

Speakers all have a different sonic signature and you will find some that need very little dialling in, other than fine tuning of the basic manufacturer recommendations. Some speakers will never deliver your requirements, in your listening environment. These are things that make our hobby such fun and can cause us immense frustration too. As always, several days auditioning in your listening environment is essential for success. The initial "wow" factor can turn out to be a false improvement after a few days.

Agree with observations. Certain rooms work better than others, certain treatments are better than others and the combination of both room and treatments. The interaction between components also play an important role in sound stage imaging, not just the speakers. You own tastes will be different to that of others. So many variables to consider. Cardas has a good site to explore sound stage derivation and there are a few others that provide similar advice such as creating a grid in your room and within the grid moving your speakers about to find the magic sweet spot. It does exist but it does take time to find it!

You already nailed the basic root cause of the issue blisshifi which is independent of the system price tag.

I ended up having to reposition the speakers myself in each room as I was listening, but it only helped so much due to the detrimental effect of the reflections and reverberations.

For any system the reflections from the floor and walls or the lack of them shape the sound image.

This worked best for imaging in my room:

  • 30" long sound absorbers along the wall behind the speakers which are back ported.
  • Speakers are about 35" from the back wall and slightly toed inside.
  • A long haired carpet in front of the speakers.
  • The area between and behind the speakers is empty.
  • Bare wooden floor between and behind the speakers. I tested covering the area between/behind the speakers with carpet but the sound wasn’t good.
  • Speakers decoupled from the floor.


Every case is room and system dependent. Only way is to test different treatments to get what you experience as the best.



I've been able to use a combination of the factors listed (positioning, treatment, recording) to get a fairly deep and wide soundstage. (Chesky recordings are often great for testing this, by the way.)

If I start with the best my system can do, what then changes it the most?

The amp, then the preamp, in order of importance.

Keeping everything else stable, swapping a tube amp for my solid state amp has done the most to expand (including deepen) the soundstage.

Next to that, swapping a 6SN7 preamp for my 12AT preamp has done the most.

DAC changes also affect this, but they come in third in importance.

I would be in the camp that speakers positioning, room size and shape and acoustics treatments have more to do with any kind of imaging than the speakers themselves.

I appreciate everyone’s input and resonate with much of what has been expressed. Especially @bobpyle on the wow factor vs trade offs, @walkup with every component/cable making a difference, and @tjag on treating the room properly.

I would be lying if I said I believe that I had my speakers set up perfectly, or all the correct treatments in the right places, or the best components and system synergy. But trial and error has gotten me to a place where the combinations of these things are producing results that I believe surpass many other systems I hear.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate other systems that I hear - in fact it’s opposite. So many audiophiles listen to another’s’ system and are quick to point out its flaws, similar to how @bobpyle points out the wow factors & tradeoffs, but they don’t approach it open-mindedly enough to understand and resonate with the possible wow factors. Everyone has a perspective in which they think is the truth. With audio, there is some directional agreement on what the truth is, but at the end of the day, it is absolutely personal based on an individual’s perceptions. 

I don’t want this to become a measurements vs sonics thread, as I absolutely believe in how something sounds vs how it measures. But it brings me back to my original reason for posting. Much (no, not everything) of what is communicated in reviews and forums to generalize the soundstaging and imaging of a speaker is largely dependent on the communicator’s past experiences with gear (which may be very limited) and the way the speakers were set up in the room, along with all of the other variables shared so far. It is for this reason that I will not let reviews or chatter alone drive my decision on a speaker and need to experience one that moves me (at least in the same brand/line if not the exact speaker) to help me define my convictions of how it sounds. This makes me take what everyone else says about a particular pair of speakers with a grain of salt.


Just last week I tried moving my speakers (Acoustic Zen Crescendo) out 6 feet from the rear wall, as I have read so ofter that this is an optimal distance.  I can't leave them there as the room just doesn't work.  Anyway, I was very surprised at the sound.  The speakers were way into the room, but the music appeared to be glued to the read wall.  Very wierd to be seeing the speakers sitting in one location and having the music coing from far behind them.  Not good or bad, just different.  

Speaker positioning including orientation is very important.   Never overlook it. 


Much (no, not everything) of what is communicated in reviews and forums to generalize the soundstaging and imaging of a speaker is largely dependent on the communicator’s past experiences with gear (which may be very limited) and the way the speakers were set up in the room

You're right consider the source of the comments. Those who don't post their systems or what gear is their point of reference should be taken less seriously, IMHO. Over time you'll find a few posters whose prior experiences and preferences will put their comments in a different league of usefulness to you. 

Nothing wrong with anybody sharing any opinion, but with more context, everybody wins. Cheers,


bigtwin, I can understand what you have experienced but I think you (and others perhaps) may be missing the point about bringing the speakers out into the room. I'm using a equilateral set up with speakers about 9ft apart and 6ft from the wall behind them. I too have never been able to bring the front of the soundstage out into the room. It is always on the rear wall, BUT the difference as I experience it with most recordings is that the image begins at the rear wall and extends much further behind it. With the speakers closer to the wall this depth disappears substantially with the concurrent loss of resolution. 

And, as I said earlier if you want to hear what your system is really doing, soundstage wise, you need a recording in which the information is embedded. I referred to the Opus 3 recording called 'depth of image' for the obvious reason, but also because the recording is accompanied by the producers description of what you should hear from each cut on the disc. I've heard this recording on a great system and can tell you that it is all there. I've used this recording a a gold standard for setting up my system. I hate to admit this, but while I have worked hard for many years I've never fully achieved it fully. But hearing it initially, over a modest High End system properly set up, was an unforgettable revelation.  FWIW

My point was really revolving around how people attribute a speaker as one with a forward or deep soundstage, but in reality, those attributes have much to deal with how a speaker is set up vs the speaker itself.

First, I think this is a great post and point for discussion, so thanks for this.  Second, I usually don’t respond to any thread unless I’ve read every post, but I’m doing so here because I just don’t have the time so my apologies for my ignorance.  

While I totally agree that speaker setup, positioning, and room have a huge influence on how much depth or 3D imaging you’ll achieve, certain speakers just do it better.  For example, there was someone here recently who has Harbeths and rightly loves them, but he recently acquired a pair of Joseph Audio Perspectives and it was an “oh my God” experience in terms of 3D imaging and depth of soundstage.  I’ll add ProAc, Vandersteen, Usher, Totem, Avalon, Audio Physic, and Verity off the top of mind that just do the audio 3D thing extraordinarily well.  So, while I totally agree speaker setup/positioning is absolutely key, there are just some speakers, for whatever reason, do this thing better than others.  Just my humble opinion and experience FWIW.  Again, thanks for a great and thought-provoking post. 

Why don’t you hire someone to do a master set?  This allows you sit in more places so you can hear great sound from many locations.  You also cannot hear the location of left and right speaker.

There is a dealer in Denver who specializes in this and they demonstrate this in all their listening rooms.

You don’t need a dealer to do the master set speaker positioning process. I did mine on my own and the results were well worth the time. And it does take a lot of time and patience.

@soix, I agree - there are definitely speakers that can play big and/or deep compared to others, ones that are more holographic. Thank you for your sharing your appreciation on the post!

I would also add Borresen/Raidho, Quad and Magnepan to the list you started. Maggies are a particular speaker many boast of having a deep soundstage, but I’ve also heard them configured to project a forward soundstage. I’m able to do the same with my Borresen. Perhaps it might be that as long as a speaker performs and images well, it can be set up to have a deep or forward soundstage depending on how it is positioned?


@larry5729, ​​​​@falconquest and others who have set up their speakers using the Master Set methodology. Do you find this methodology to produce a holographic stage? I’ve heard dealers set up rooms where the sound was very well distributed and tone was spot on, but it generated more of a wall of sound vs pinpoint, holographic imaging. Generally, I’ve found it is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve a truly holographic presentation that delivers outside of the primary listening position. 

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These are the calculations I have used over the years from Cardas. Slight tweaks but has been optimal for me in my small listening room. 12X14 with 9x11 vaulted ceilings. This is on the Cardas Audio website.


The wall behind my speakers is an exterior wall.  It's fun, though a tad disconcerting, that most of the orchestra appears to be seated somewhere in my yard.

Addition to the Cardas diagram. Just plug in dimensions.

I find something between this and room 1/3rd's works in my room. Both are going to have the speaker dominate the real estate. For dedicated rooms only. I have a pair of ML panels 8' out in a 13x26' long room. Along with, a pair of subs, this  produces a satisfying, reasonably convincing presentation. The ML's get slid WAY back towards the wall when not playing. 




I would agree with your characterization of master set. The thing that I noticed is that all of a sudden the speakers just seemed to work with the room. Since you are using the sound of your speakers to determine position it kinda makes sense to me.

@twoleftears I love the humor, but I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or if you actually wish that the soundstage was more forward. If so, try toeing in slightly memore or bringing your speakers closer together. 

@juanmanuelfangioii ​​​​and @tablejockey I would say the Cardas and 1/3rd rules are very good places to start, but I also argue that the height and slope of a ceiling will greatly influence positioning. Taller ceilings (>11ft) and sloped ceilings both complicate matters as the volume of the room increases and as such some speakers need to be nearer to the wall to take advantage of the possible room gain.

When people walk into my room, which is 19x23 with a sloped ceiling (9’ in front for me, 18’ behind me), they tend to say “This is the best type of room, it emulates a horn”. Yes, reflections are minimized in this kind of design, but so is the ability for a speaker to charge the room. Oh, the fun adventures of positioning!

This video was helpful to me. When I did my tests, I put down lots of tape and moved speakers from the front wall incrementally, same with side to side. Listening positioning, too.

I won’t lie -- it’s extraordinarily laborious, but the upside is that as you take notes during the process and start to rank best positions, you begin to see that there are multiple good positions and that there is a plurality of benefits. In some positions, it’s bass tightness, in others, evenness of tone, in others soundstage, etc. Getting the bass right is priority #1 for me because other things can be dealt with more easily.

Okay my room sound's great after a few tweaks. As I said I use the this as a jumping off point.


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Got it. Thanks, the way shill gets shot around here I did not want to piss anyone off. 

@baylinor Are you referring to the video from New Record day? I don't see the advertising angle. There are different ideas about speaker placement and what will actually work in your room. Having multiple options only enhances the communication in my mind.

Do people really need this much coaching when it simply should be: Move your speakers around until they sound good to you. The end.


No, not the video you speak of, the post was about this dealer claiming their power cord would solve the imaging issues on your speakers. And this morning I see the administration smartly removed his post!

@wolf_garcia some people are meticulous and very detailed. Some are not, it is your choice, to be or not to be. 


@wolf_garcia This thread is not about me seeking coaching, but sharing my experience and perspective in a way that I want to relate with others who may have experienced the same. If anything, perhaps I’m the one guilty of offering coaching, and if so, then I think that is a wonderful thing.

That said, the responses from the community here includes perspective and learnings that have enlightened me as well, so I would say my goal with this thread has been reached, like it or not. 

If you have not got it look for the Roger waters  cd amused  to death first song if I remember  correctly  called too much rope. It was recorded  in Q sound a room done right you are in for a sound stage treat. In my old house with my active  bi amped Maggie's and the help of an old friend  with a pitch  perfect  ear the sound stage depended on the recording  but with the right recording  the stage was wider than the side walls  and as deep as across the street and so good that you could hear or feel if the performer was moving there head while singing. This was on a normal recording  not the Q sound I talked about above. It is interesting  how much is available  in sound quality  when you think in the terms of my speaker is a 32 second of an inch out. That brings resolution  out and focus out as well. It is much easier to hear with the nore resolution  your system  has and the little changes done correctly  are stunning. I personally  like diffusion  better than absorption I like the alive sound. That being said absorption or at least some is very important.  In my new room I have a decent  basic setup but I know it needs the two years of tuning  a tiny bit here and a ting bit there. Each little change a person needs to listen  to for a few days. One thing that I have found works well on the wall behind the speakers  I'd a sheer curtain it should be close to floor to ceiling  the amount of fold in the curtain  and where they are changes the stage. More treatments  are need o n that wall but your system  will not sound as muddy after a person  does that. Funny how a person  doesn't  think it sounds muddy until you take some of it away. I actually  love the free improvements  to one's system  it just takes time and listening  to accomplish.  There's a bee gees live cd with sound number seven that they dedicate  the song to Andy the crowd is stunning on that diec. And that sound in particular.  A livingstone  Taylor discovered where he whistles that is also a stunning disc and the sense that he is right in front of you and you can go up and shake his hand is wonderful. I believe  that is a chesky  recording.  A friend  pf mine I had over and he listened  to my main system  and he brought over a disc for the Mormon  tabernacle  choir recorded in the temple  at Salt Lake that is an absolutely  huge sound stage and I am not perfectly  setup yet. Quite interesting  I went to another  Mormon  friends son's funeral  that was sad young fellow with three little kids anyhow first time I had been in a Mormon  stake it was very interesting  to look at the inside  from an audio file  stand point the walls were all treated with mainly diffusion  when I talked to my friends  afterwards the mother  told me that everytime  they build a new church there is an acoustic  engineer  involved.  If you ever get a chance worth your while to look at what they have done acousticly. Interesting  I went to support  my friends and help them grieve  and by keeping  my eyes open I was able to use some of what I saw for my hobby. You fellows  who live in cities  with world class performance  venues  have a great resource both in hearing  the music  live and looking at how they are accomplishing there sound quality. A very nice bonus  of living  in a big city. 



@retiredfarmer Lots of great thoughts here, thanks for sharing. I love the Roger Waters Amused to Death album - I was only introduced to it in the last two years. Done properly, the first track "The Ballad of Bill Hubbard" has a full 180-degree wide soundstage. It's very trippy.

"Funny how a person  doesn't think it sounds muddy until you take some of it away." - Love this, as it all comes down to one's perceptual baseline and what they believe is truth. Making these types of improvements reveal new truths, which are often obscured even when you see music live. I think many audiophiles will agree that their systems often if not always sound better than live shows!



@hifibliss that's correct I have the wrong song name. It's been awhile the horse goes around the room and comes  through the center of the sound stage from across  the street. Lol I had an audio file  boxer bull dog cross. Lol he would sit deD center  and setup and listen.  Lol when I played this dice he would bark at the horses as they went around the room. That was a great dog. He would tap his foot in time with the music it was highly  entertaining  and very fun  to watch.  Lol I had a cat that loved Ann  Murray the cat at the farm and an old basic setup would get up when the Ann Murray  cd was over and push the play button so the cat could hear it  again  both of thos animals  I found strange  but entertaining.