The most placement forgiving planar speaker?

I am considering going to a flat or planar speaker. Maggies, Martin Logan, I.S., Quad...

I have been told most are very touchy as for room placement. Which of these are more forgiving and cast a wider sweet spot?

Or...Is this a silly idea to begin with (all be very touchy) and I should go with a large speaker with a ribbon element like a vmps.


Based on my experience I would say Sound-Lab M-1.

Unless you listen in a tiny space, they will work in your room. Bonus is they perform wonderfully with a wide variety of amps and throw a sweet spot that is "room sized."

In other words, you have to work hard to find a spot where they don't image and sound good :^).
Amazing how Albert's explanation perfectly describes my now 6-month experience with the same-sized A1's. In my room, there is a little bass hump if they are too close to the back wall. Closeness to side walls does not seem to be much of a factor. I have a wonderfully huge sweet spot no matter where I am as I walk across the back of the room. The Magnepan 3.5's that I owned before had a sweet spot of only a couple feet with a comparable 7-8' distance back from the speakers.
The Soundlab is an amazing speaker, if you can afford $7000.00, what about Eminent Technology LFT VIIIA?, placement can be as close as 2 ft from back wall and side wall is not critical, Bruce Thigpen (owner & designer) is about as nice as they come, give him a call and try a 30 day in home audition, at less than $2000 with Sound Anchor stands its a no-brainer.....and you will be hard pressed to find anyone who knocks these speakers.
I found that my Maggie 1.6's were pretty easy to place. Just need about 2 feet or greater from the back and side walls, if I recall. And as has been previously stated, I wouldn't try to stuff them in a small room.

I'm a SoundLAB dealer and owner, and Albert and JaFox are right on the money about Sound Labs being relatively forgiving of room, speaker positioning, and listener positioning. The tonal balance holds up throughout the room, and the soundstaging is still good well off center. Having owned smaller model SoundLABs as well, let me say that the M-3, M-2 and A-3 are very similar to the full-sized models in these respects.

One other planar that gives an exceptionally wide sweet spot is the Beveridge line of electrostats. They don't show up used very often, unfortunately. They might be back in limited production, but if so the prices I've heard mentioned make SoundLABS look like bargains.

Hi DrKen,

Albert was right on the money about the Soundlabs. I had the pleasure of hearing them in his house twice and they imaged amazingly well.

If you can't afford their price tag, however, I would go for the Martin Logans. Their curved pannels seem to help quite a bit with placement. You still need a couple of feet of room from the back wall but the side walls are not as problematic. The focus and image size are very good but the venetian-blind effect is still there, albeit not quite as severe as with the Eminent Technology and Maggies, which I also like. I prefer the Martin Logans because they are quicker and airier. ML also excells in customer service, which should not be overlooked.
planars are very picky about "exact" placement (ie the small increments measurements need to be spot on). they are no different in that regard to other high end speakers.

beside that they can be placed very close to the side wall(dipole placment)and need to be out from the back wall and no tv in between.. dipoles work really well in rectangular shoe box rooms out from the back wall and can be close to the side wall..

speakers like audio physic like cube or square rooms far away from the side walls
One thing you can look at is the horizontal dispersion pattern. If it's smooth, you'll probably be able to place the spkrs reasonably easily.
Speaking of which, I remember a test showing the Soundlabs had good dispersion characteristics...
Soundlabs are excellent speakers. U-1s, A-1s, and M-1s are all among the most impressive speakers available - if you have the right equipment, and if you have a proper room.

I've heard at least seven pair of Soundlabs: 3 pair of U-1s, 2 pair of A-1s, a pair of M-2s, and a pair of Pristine IIIs. One pair of U-1s sounded exquisite, most of the rest sounded very good, and one pair sounded very so-so. I don't think the difference was so much attributable to the models (although, no doubt the U-1s are the best of the best), or even the electronics (although the gear, especially the amps used with Soundlabs will make a significant impact). What I believe caused the considerable differences I heard among the seven pair was the variation in room acoustics.

At the end of the day, the low end that you can get from Soundlabs, or any other planar, or any speaker of any design will to a degree be determined by the length of your room. For example, I think a 32 Hz signal has a wavelength of approximately 35 feet. That means that if you are trying to accurately reproduce a 32 Hz signal, your speakers need to be at least 35 feet from the back wall (behind the listener) and you will need some additional space between speakers and the front wall (behind the speakers). With less than that total distance, the primary wave is going to reflect off the back wall before it has fully "unfolded" it's fundamental wave and you are going to have less than an ideal result. How much less than ideal is going to be a function of several considerations, only one of which is the length of the room. Once you establish the room length needed to support your desired lowest frequency (assuming the speaker can go that low - pretty much all models of Soundlabs will go to 32Hz), the room length will in turn dictate an optimum room width and ceiling height. (While there is some debate about whether Cardas' formula yields the exactly optimum "golden ratio" it appears that most of the other ratios put forward as "golden" are substantially similar to the ratio recommended by Cardas; ie, the relationships between room length, width, and height are widely accepted as being important to achieving good acoustics.) Additionally, the ideal room will not be rectangular in shape, but will have pied out walls and a pied ceiling (all of which starts to resemble the shape of a concert hall). Finally, the room treatments need to be implemented so that reflections and absorptions occur at the appropriate locations. The chances of all this lining up in a room that wasn't designed for audio is slim, and therefore what virtually all audiophiles get is something that is less than optimum. How much less than optimum is generally unknown until you experience the environment (ie, hear the speakers and the rest of the system in the particular room). It may be that a given room happens to yield acceptable results, or that in moving up from a lesser set of speakers to say, Soundlabs, that the improvement is enough to meet your expectations. But I'd be careful about saying that any speaker is notably less sensitive to room acoustics than any other speaker because all speakers interact with the room to form a "system" that impacts the overall sound.

I know that the readers on this thread probably know all this stuff, but I can tell you that once you invest several thousand dollars in a pair of fairly esoteric (expensive, large, heavy, hard to pack and hard to ship) speakers you won't want to find out that what generally might have worked for someone else doesn't work so well in your room. It's my opinion that when you reach a certain level of equipment that attributes such as frequency extension (at the bottom and top), frequency response/tonal balance, defintion/detail, and imaging are all going to be impacted as much or more by the room as they will be by the equipment.

Again, I think Soundlabs are among the all-time great speakers, but I know from experience that you can't just stick them in any room and expect them to do their magic. As much as I admire Soundlabs, I can't see any big technical reasons (other than perhaps their dispersion characteristics) that would make them easier to place in a room than other planars. And even with respect to dispersion, I think all you can say is that Soundlabs have a different/unique dispersion ability, but again, whether that ability works well in any given room is a function of the room's characteristics and how those characteristics work with the speakers – it’s not just a function of the speakers.

In summary, I think it's wise to proceed with caution on generalizations. With so many interdependent variables I think the results are as likely to be random as they are predictable. Having said all that, I’ll go way out on a limb and say this – if I had a free pass on just one of the variables, I think it would be room length; having a longer room (well over 20 feet and preferably closer to 40 feet, or even longer) would likely give the low end a chance to do it’s magic, and in turn get out of the way of the exquisite midrange and high end that Soundlabs can reproduce. Additionally, given that most folks building rooms in houses have some sense of proportions, any room that is 40 feet long is likely to have some decent width and probably ceiling height – although the chances of the ratio being golden is slim (obviously a 40 foot hallway isn't going to do the trick). To be sure, this "longer is better" notion is just a consideration and is itself random and far from quantifiably optimum, but I think the beauty of Agon is that people are helping other people learn from their experience and as a result hopefully more people are getting a reasonable return on their (money, time, and effort) investments. With that as a caveat, my very rough rule of thumb is that under 20 feet in length, you are pushing your luck, at 20-30 feet you stand a chance, over 30 feet you’re getting warm, and by 40 feet you might be hot. And if you really want to get it right, study, measure and try to create the ideal room environment, or try to get a demo in your room first (good luck with that :).
Ken, you don't mention any budget range in your question regarding the placement of planar speakers being difficult regarding room placement. The reason I'm bringing this up is because I think MG-3.6s are great speakers and are very competitive with the much more expensive Sound Lab speakers. There about $3000,00 less than the Sound Labs,and in my opinion, give nothing up sonicly to the Sound labs. If you go a step higher price wise then your talking about one of the all time great speakers a MG-20.1 at $12000.00. Either speaker would be a fine chose if you have enough room for placement. I have found as long as you can get about 3 to 4 feet off the back wall and at least 2 to 3 feet off the side walls and can sit back off the speakers about 8 to 12 feet the Maggies work just fine in most rooms. You can also experiment putting the ribbon tweeters on the inside or outside to decide which gives the best or most appealing combination of soundstage width and depth along with details inside the soundstage. The Sound Labs and the Maggies are both great speakers, I don't believe one is superior to the other, I have listened extensively to both, but believe that 3.6s are truly one of the great bargains in world reference speakers. Hope this helps.
Sound Labs are indeed the most forgiving planar speaker of room placement due to their curved design. However I wanted to mention that getting bass out of them as a lot more to do with amplifier choice then room placement (as long as a few simple rules are followed with respect to the room). IOW, if you put the wrong amp on Sound Labs, no amount of room placement will help you.

You have to use a tube amp for starters. Sound Labs want an amp that can make constant power with respect to load impedance and this is something that the vast majority of transistor amps cannot do.

I completely agree with you: the Maggies are great speakers and great bargains to boot. Oh, I almost forgot, they are also easy loads for amplifiers.

I do have a few reservations about them. Their electromagnetic midrange is not quite as fast as their magical ribbon tweeters. The sound is outstandanding, mind you, but still not quite seamless. And even though I could hear improvement with each generation of Maggies--that's what so great about this wonderful company--they are still demanding with room placement. Few people have rooms that can accomodate 3 to 4 feet off the back wall and 2 to 3 feet off the side wall, plus 8 to 12 feet away from the speaker. Finally, the venetian-blind effect is still with all the Maggies, though less and less with each generation. I am talking about the noticeable discontinuity or abrupt shift in the image as you move you head side to side.

For these reasons, if money is no object, I much prefer the Soundlabs to the Maggies though both are great speakers.
Hi Hifi brings up some points that I'd like to comment on. He's right about the radiation pattern of the Sound Labs contributing to their relatively friendly room interaction, but I'd like to explore some of the reasons for this.

The radiation pattern of the Sound Labs is exceptionally uniform over a wide arc, either a 60, 75, or 90 degree arc (depending on the model). Now note that a dipole has a figure-8 radiation pattern in the bass region. As we go up in frequency and the panel's characteristics begin to take over, that figure-8 pattern is maintained all the way up the spectrum (especially in the case of the 90-degree pattern full size models). The result is not only an exceptionally wide, uniform sweet spot, but also a tonally correct reverberant field. This is extremely rare in loudspeakers, but is common among live instruments - and is one of the reasons live instruments sound better and more relaxing than virtually all loudspeakers.

Hi Hifi commented on the importance of a large room. Well, that isn't as critical with the Sound Labs as you might think. First of all, you don't need a large room to generate deep bass. Think of a high quality car stereo system, or as an extreme example headphones. The ears register pressure even if the room dimensions are too short to support a wavelength.

Now with a speaker whose reverberant field response is tonally incorrect, the more "room sound" you get the worse the tonal balance. But what if the reverberant sound isn't detrimental to the tonal balance? In that case, the size of the room is much less important.

Note that a piano sounds like a real piano in pretty much any room. And note that, in your living room, a concert grand piano will sound better than a little upright piano - even if ideally the concert grand piano should be used in a much larger recital hall. Well, the same principles apply to loudspeakers that get the reverbrant field right.

Sound Labs can be positioned quite close to the back wall, moreso than most planars. There are two reasons for this: The first is, they have plenty of bass to begin with, whereas most planars are barely ekeing out adequate bass so when the nearby back wall reinforces the out-of-phase backwave the bass response becomes too weak. Second, that faceted-curved panel has a focal point about two feet behind the diaphragm. This means that you can very effectively treat the backwave (either with diffusion or absorption) by treating that focal point. Actually, it's a vertical line running the height of the panel. The Sallie backwave absorber is one example of such treatment. I've heard Sound Labs sound wonderful with the back of the speaker's base only out a foot out from the wall.

I maintain that the radiation pattern of the Sound Labs is not just "different/unique", but rather that it has significant audible advantages over non-uniform radiation patterns (which covers just about everything else out there). And in particlar, I maintain that these advantages make it easier to get the Sound Labs to sound good in a wide variety of rooms.

In addition to the characteristics mentioned above, here's another benefit of the Sound Labs' radiation pattern: With most speakers, as you vary the toe-in your not only varying the relative amount of early sidewall reflections, you're also varying the tonal balance because it changes depending on whether or not you are "on-axis". The uniformity of the Sound Labs means you can vary the room interaction independent of the tonal balance! Now, the wide pattern does mean that, in most cases, you'll have significant early sidewall interaction. But that can be relatively easily addressed - I use a couple of fake ficus trees.

Regarding Teajay's post, let me say that I've had Maggie 3.6's side-by-side with Sound Labs, and while I agree that the 3.6 is an outstanding speaker in its price range, the big Sound Labs do some things audibly better. Of course the larger size helps the bottom end, but in particular the low-level detail and articulation on the Sound Labs was better. I kept wanting to turn up the volume on the Maggies to hear the details that were readily apparent on the Sound Labs. That being said, if I had the opportunity to become a Maggie dealer I would do so in a heartbeat - I think the 3.6 and below are very competitive in their price ranges.

Please explain the ventian blind effect?
Sorry about leaving out the cost. I wanted to make the dicussion more about the product. But because you took the time to look and ask somewhere in the 3-5k range used. Less would be fine as well. I am especially concerned with not placing these pups more than 2 feet from the rear wall.

Dont forget all the complaints about Martin Logans bass response with the panal...there are lots of threads that talk about this fault in Logan's
Hi Fatparrot,

I thought I did explain the venetian-blind effect, albeit succintly: "I am talking about the noticeable discontinuity or abrupt shift in the image as you move you head from side to side."

Let me try again. With cone/box speakers, as you move your head laterally, say slowly from left to right, the center image such as a singing voice will remain in the center for a while, say for six to twelve inches; when your head has moved far enough to the right, the voice will shift to the closest (right) speaker.

With most dipolar speakers, i.e. planar speakers producing sound to the front and to the rear of their diaphrams, if you move your head just a few inches from left to right, the center image will suddendenly disappear and then reappear slightly to the right. This effect will continue as you keep moving your head. Now you hear the center image, now you don't, and now you hear it again, similar to the way you see only between the slats of a venetian blind: thus the "venetian blind effect." So to get a stable image, you must keep your head stationay, locked within a few inches of the listening center.

This sounds far worse than it really is. And the Maggies aren't certainly the only speakers to do that. All dipolar/planar speakers do, some more than others. In other words, they all have a relatively small sweet spot compared to cone/box speakers. This sweep spot gets bigger with each new generation of the Maggies and is quite large with the Soundlabs.

The venetian blind effect can be quite disconcerting to some people. When you are within the sweet spot, however, the sound is vividly three-dimensional and truly magical. That's why I continue to have a love-hate relationship with dipolar speakers.
Drken, Re not wanting to put the speakers more than 2 ft from the rear wall....Don't know about the Soundlabs set up - I'd take Albert's and Duke's word on that issue.

However on other panels, or electrostats, 2 feet from a back wall may not be where they will sound best. To get them to do so you are likely to have to treat that back wall in some fashion to deal with the back wave from the speaker, even then it won't sound as good as pulled out further into the room.

But, that said, putting a full range speaker 2 feet from a back wall may not give you the smoothest bass response either, but at least you won't have to worry as much about the mids and highs except from sidewall reflections which are not as much a problem for most panels and electrostats).

I love Stats and panels, but I think its only fair to say that to get their best you have to make a real committment to set up. (Wish some one had told me that before I got the Quads, which was before the internet audio sites appeared). Good luch with whatever you choose.
Dont get Innersound speakers if you are worried about a sweet spot, its about 12 inches....your head will be in a vice
Take a look at my system; Bruce Thigpen, the designer of the speakers said, "No problem" with them being inches from the wall. He was right. You'll want to do some room tuning, though, behind the planars. Makes a big difference in ridding unwanted room reflections.
In the 3-5k used range you are definitely looking at Maggie 3.6s and perhaps Soundlab M-2s, or maybe M-3s. Soundlabs and Maggies are both great; they are different than each other, but great. One other possiblity would be a pair of Wayne Picquet's Quad 57s (which would probably fit in your budget even "new", ie with his refurbs) - they are outstanding, but won't have quite the low end or the large imaging of the full range planars (Wayne would tell you to solve those requirements by stacking two pair of 57s).

Back on the room, Duke is one of my all-time favorite hifi dealers (really, truly, seriously), but I don't share his opinion that you don't need a large room to generate deep bass. I know that Duke knows the difference between deep boomy/muddy bass and deep accurate bass and I have to assume that he meant deep acccurate bass.

Duke said:

"First of all, you don't need a large room to generate deep bass. Think of a high quality car stereo system, or as an extreme example headphones. The ears register pressure even if the room dimensions are too short to support a wavelength."

- headphones are like a system in an optimized room - the drivers and the room acoustics are both known in advance and are designed to have the intended dimensions, absorbptions, and reflections

- the trick is not to just get deep bass, but a frequency response that doesn't emphasize some frequencies at the expense of others; if you want deep bass, just push your speakers up against a wall or in the corners - the bass will get deeper and the rest of the sound will get muddier - because room size and relfections do matter.

Duke acknowledges this:

"Now with a speaker whose reverberant field response is tonally incorrect, the more "room sound" you get the worse the tonal balance."

But he then goes on to say:

"But what if the reverberant sound isn't detrimental to the tonal balance? In that case, the size of the room is much less important."

And that was original my point - you won't know if the reverberant sound is or isn't detrimental to the tonal balance until you hear the speaker in your room - there are too many variables to know without listening to the speakers in the room. If you try to put Soundlabs or Maggies in a small (short) room, you are asking for frequency response issues - starting with the low end and continuing right up the through the midrange and beyond.

If you like spending x on your speakers and selling them for 60% of x, just put them in whatever room you have and give it a go. The room matters more than people often know or like to admit.

Audiokinesis - Great description. Much of my experience with the A1s make a lot of sense after reading your text.

Mikesinger - My experience with the Sound-Lab A1 is that they are not so sensitive to exact placement vs. the Magnepans that did require a lot of experimentation of toe-in and rear and side wall placement.

Teajay - I was a Magnepan owner, 3.5s and 3.3s, and loved these speakers. For their price, they have little competition for the musicality they produce; I would go as far to say they are THE runaway steal of speaker value. They have a midrange and top-end clarity that is wonderful. But as Justin_time and Audiokinesis mention here, the Sound-Labs bring on a low-level resolution and dynamic contrast that the Maggies simply don't have. And when I heard the series 3 vs. the 20s at the dealer, there just was not a huge difference in these areas so I could not find a reason to "move up" in the Maggie line.

I never thought I'd find another speaker that has all of the Maggie magic and yet resolves their low-end extension and dynamic compressed weaknesses. And I have yet to notice a single quality of the Maggie that is lacking in the A1s.

I too often felt the need to crank up the level on the Maggies to get them to come alive. With the A1s, I don't need to do this. For this reason, I find the Sound-Lab to be far less "needing" of "high-power" amps.

With the Sound-Lab, there is a greater tonal coherency whereas the Maggies' midrange always had a little too much presence vs. the rest of the range. One other dramatic tonal difference between the products: neither the Magnepan 3.x nor 20.x are nearly as extended/authoritative in the bass as the Sound-Lab.

Hi_hifi - Physics aside, I find that I have excellent low-bass output in my 13x18 room. I might also note that I heard the U1s (with SALLIE's) in December in a room that was just a bit bigger than mine, at approx 15x20, and the bass in that audio setup was outstanding. If I had not heard these speakers perform so well in sizes that you describe as "pushing your luck", I would be very skeptical to the performance possibilities in such a small room. But based on what I have now, I would think that a room of size, (20 x 25 x 8-9) would allow for all the adjustments for placement that I will ever require. It sure beats spending a fortune to build a room of 30-40' in length. And if the installation of SALLIE devices behind the speakers removes the slight bass hump in my current room, then I know I'm good to go with the "you stand a chance" sized room as mentioned.
Innersound ESLs are noted for taking a different route because they have a flat panel and beam the music straight ahead which helps eliminate the room effects.

This is just a heads up as I have not even heard them,
just read good things about them and it is good to keep your mind open...
I agree with Hi hifi, that Duke is one of the great gentlemen of our hobby and is extremely knowledgable about the world of planar speakers. Duke, last time I briefly talked over the phone to you, you shared you were waiting for your new Blow Torch pre-amp. I'm interested if you did get it what has been your experience with it in your system? It would be great if you would share your viewpoint with us. Thanks in advance.
Teajay, I can't speak for others but have had a Blowtorch preamp for several years (my system description is linked below) and so am very familiar with it. Compared with other units it simply gets out of the way of the music better, transporting the listener to the performance venue. Dynamics, soundstage, and imaging are outstanding. The downside is there is a good chance they will not be available any longer since Bob Crump of CTC Builders may be moving soon.

Bass performance in smaller rooms (mine is the one to which Jafox referred in his most recent post above) is trickier than in larger rooms, a significant reason being that room modes can be harder to tame and can be extremely difficult to handle with cone woofers with the energy concentrated in a relatively small area. A speaker with larger radiating area, especially a dipole, distributes energy much more evenly in the room, exciting room resonances less and making them more manageable.