Whether you are investing in expensive premium floorstanding speakers or a budget Bluetooth speaker, where you place it in a room will be important to how good it sounds. The room shape itself is important, especially for a surround sound system which needs to deliver the optimum performance for multiple seating positions, but even small deviations in position can make a loudspeaker sound considerably better.
Pocket-lint has talked to British speaker manufacturer Cambridge Audio for its advice on where to put a new speaker or even a few tips on how you can make your existing set-up sound better. Plus, we throw our own experience into the mix, having heralded the benefits of home cinema speakers for some time.
Hopefully, the following tricks and tips will ensure you have a better listening experience for movies and music. And if you already own a decent set of speakers, it needn't cost you a penny.
Where to put speakers in a room
Whether you have a stereo or surround sound speaker system, you will want to place the front two speakers approximately 1.5 to 2.5-metres apart at the front wall - where your TV is - and flat out, facing directly into the room. Most speaker manufacturers purposely design their speakers so they do not have to be toed-in (angled so they face the seating position) although there are tests you can do to find out if that is more preferable to your equipment or tastes.
If your speakers are floorstanders, they will have been designed with a seating position in mind. However, if they are bookshelf speakers either with or without stands, you will want to place them so that they are ideally at the same height as your ears when you are sat down.
Surround speakers for a home cinema set-up, such as surround right and left, should be placed in roughly in an equivalent position to the fronts, but slightly behind the main seating position. They too should start out facing directly into the room and not toed-in.
If you have surround speakers and rears, such as in a 7.1 home cinema set-up, the rears should be placed where the surrounds are in a 5.1 system, while the left and right surrounds should be placed in the middle of the set-up on either side facing into the room. A centre speaker should be placed in the centre at the front, naturally.
Dolby Atmos is a new innovation for home cinema and there are few dedicated speakers around at present. If you do have a couple of ceiling firing speakers - where the driver is angled to fire at the ceiling - they should be placed on top of the left and right front speakers or as close to that position as possible.
It is worth pointing out at this point that the seating position will ideally not be against the back wall, especially where surround sound is utilised, but somewhere nearer the middle of the room (space permitting).
How far from the wall?
Not only is it important to have the speakers placed in the right areas and ideally facing forward, they should also not be flush to the walls as that will muddy their performance, specifically in the mid-range and mid-bass.
Cambridge Audio suggests that you start by placing your speakers directly against the wall and give them a sound test. Listen to around 30 seconds of a piece of music or movie soundtrack, something that you are familiar with. Then move the speakers around an inch or two out and repeat. The audio will continue to sound better to your ears as you progress. At some point though, it will sound worse, so move the speakers back to the immediately previous position and you will have hit the sweet spot.
This is also true with smaller, all-in-one speaker units, such as a Bluetooth system. They often sound better near but not flushed against a wall.
Subwoofers should be placed directly against a wall either. Many put them in a corner, but Cambridge Audio suggests that putting yours at least 30cm away will prevent reverberation and echo.
It's worth remembering that there is no secret to a perfect set-up no matter the situation. It comes down to room shape, size and personal preference. So trust your own ears, after all you're the one going to listen from here on in.
What was that about toeing-in?
To toe-in a speaker is to face it at an angle towards the ideal listening position. That will often be the case with corner mounted speakers for sure, as they are often further apart than front or surround speakers are usually.
One way to find out whether you prefer the audio when speakers are toed-in, basically repeat the positioning process of using the same clip of music or soundtrack and slowly increasing the angle each time. As soon as the clip sounds worse, you've toed-in too far, so return the speakers to the previous position. That could be where they were facing originally.
Any other tips?
There are several other possible things you can do to make your speakers sound better. Cambridge Audio suggests that bookshelf speakers could work better when placed on top of foam or similarly absorptive material as it will reduce the shelf or sideboard from reverberating and adding its own, unique sound properties.
Another is that you should never place anything in front of your speakers, such as a pile of DVDs or videogames. They will obviously distort any sound coming through them.
And finally, speakers can take a while to run in and settle to their most natural level. You are advised to repeat the set-up process when they have been played and used for a while, even on occasional periods afterwards, as their sound properties might change over time.