Understanding speaker placement: A complete guide

We often think the only way to get the best audio out of a sound system is to buy a high-end speaker. We also tend to focus on speaker drivers, bass, quality of audio while we don’t want to think anything about their placement.

While speakers with better driver and quality audio are crucial factors, speaker placement and room acoustics play a vital role in their audio as well. One of the simplest solutions to improve the sound quality of the speaker is to change its position.

The room acoustics should be such that the reflections are control reflection, diffusion, and absorption. Each room has a different structure so there isn’t anyone rules of controlling them. In this guide, I will focus on the ideal placement for speakers and improving room acoustics for better audio.

Guideline for speaker placement:

If you change the position of speakers or your sitting position slightly you can easily realize a difference in sound. Sound is a longitudinal wave that travels via a medium, bounces off surfaces and you listen both the original and bounced audio.

The following are the guidelines that you must follow to get the best out of your sound system.

Step 1:

The distance between sidewalls and two speakers should be the same. The distance between the back walls to two speakers should be the same because the audio of one speaker shouldn’t behave differently than the other.

As you leave a distance behind your speakers, it reduces the over-emphasis on bass to an accurate level. And as you leave distance behind your sitting position it will improve the mid-bass.

Front ported vs rear-ported:

If your speaker is rear-ported you have to place them away from the walls for better bass performance. For front-ported speakers, there is flexibility that means the audio will not be affected extremely if you place them close to walls.

Step 2:

According to the Rule of 1/3rd, assume that your room is a rectangle, divide the room into 3. Within the first 1/3rd put your speakers and on the last 1/3rd   of the room. So that both speaker and sofa/couch both have distance behind them for better audio.this method of placement reduces standing waves and reflections.

Step 3:

Toe-in your speakers inwards and create an equilateral triangle between the user and the two speakers so that they meet to a point that goes behind the user. Then adjust the angle to find the position where the audio has better soundstage and imaging.

Speaker Placement-1

Stereo imaging means where sound will come from different places. Such as if you are listening to a song, then all instruments and vocal sound shouldn’t come from a single point rather they should come from various points so that it feels like they are standing in front of you.

Speaker Placement-2

If you move the speakers closer you will achieve better mid-bass coupling that is around 200-600Hz. But if you think there is a mid-bass hump then move them slightly further away.

Step 4:

The speaker should be at your ear level. This means speakers like bookshelf speakers or PC speakers should be placed on a tall height so that the tweeters are aligned parallel to the ears. This will deliver sound directly to your ear.

Step 5:

There should be any large or small object placed between the speakers and the users like a DVD stack, etc. our ultimate focus is to reduce the reflection of sound waves.

Step 6:

The Golden ratio:

Rectangular room:

If you have a rectangular room then according to the Golden ration formula you:

  • Distance from the center of the woofer to the sidewall will be: Room width(RW) × 0.276
  • The distance between the center of the woofer to the rear wall will be: Room width × 0.447

Speaker Placement-3

Square room:

Square rooms are the worst for music setup. But you can try this golden ratio with it as well.

Distance Ratio NumericalPercentage
Speaker to side wall:
RW x
0.618 5 0.276
Speaker to rear wall:
RW x
180.447
Speaker to opposite wall:
RW x
1.618130.724
Speaker to speaker wall: RW x180.447

Speaker Placement-4You can find the distance by multiplying the RW with the ratio/numeric value or percentage easily. You can use this calculator for your convenience:

Bookshelf speaker placement:

The following steps above are generally applicable to all speakers: bookshelf, floor-standing, etc. Bookshelf speakers are usually used for small spaces or rooms. If you have a pair of bookshelf speakers and want to place them on open shelves or speaker stands, then you should use isolation pads.

The speakers should remain at the same height level. The purpose of an isolation pad or rubber pad is to minimize vibration created as the speaker is attached to the desk/shelf. These reduce the resonance or vibration by ‘dampening or absorbing’ the energy.

Find out the difference between the KEF R300 and KEF R3 bookshelf speakers

List of isolation pads:

You can place the speakers in alignment like the 10 and 2 o clock hands of the clock and then alter the angle to find the better soundstage. They should be above the stand and at your ear level.

Or you can follow the golden ratio as well. Since there is no one rule or a strict formula for speaker placement we have to patiently try some of the well-examined methods and decide which one suits us.

However this is not the end of the story, the audio quality also depends on room acoustics like reflection, diffusion, or absorption from surfaces/furniture of the room. There are some suggestions where it is recommended to place speakers with a separation of D and then allow the user to sit 1.5 times D distance away.

You can try to place the speakers 4 feet away from each other and 2-3 feet away from the walls. The distance between the speakers and toe-in angle can be changed always and will vary from room to room.

Floorstanding speaker placements:

The floor-standing speakers don’t have the hassle of shelves or stands.  They are usually used for larger areas or rooms. The distance between the speakers should be 8 feet more or less. The distance between speakers with the back wall sidewall should be 2-3 feet.

As you move the speakers away from the walls you will achieve lower ‘boundary gain’ which has an effect on lower frequencies. The separation between speakers along with toe-in has to be adjusted for better soundstage.

You can put a simple mat beneath the floor standing speakers to minimize ‘rattling’. By following the Golden rectangle rule, you can put speakers in such a way that the distance of the speaker from the closest wall will be 1.6 times more than that of the front wall.

Following the general rules stated above, the distance between the speaker, and speaker and listener has to be adjusted to find the perfect spot where audio with sound natural with accurate treble, clear mid-range, and deep bass.

The ‘sweet spot’ is a point that you can find when the separation between the speakers will be equal or higher than the separation between the speaker and the user seat.

Comparison between two best floor-standing speakers Polk s50 and s55

Home theater placement:

The home theater consists of two front speakers, one center channel and two surround speakers are placed beside the listening position of the user. It also has a subwoofer and this is a 5.1 Home theater. The first figure shows a 5.1 Home theater and the second one shows a 7.1 system.

If you have a large room, then you can go for floor standing speakers, and for small rooms, bookshelf speakers are best. In a 7.1 Home theater, all of the above are included but it had two more spears placed on the rear side that is, directly behind the users on two sides.

Two front speakers:

We already know how to place the speakers in front of us. Place the speakers beside the TV and toe-in by 22-30 degrees towards the listener for direct sound.

Center channel speaker

The center channel speaker should be placed exactly above or below the TV. You can place them on TV stands or buy a separate stand for them.

Surround speakers

If you have a larger room place surround speakers on stands but if you don’t have space you can mount them on the wall. Place the speakers beside you on your left and right side. The speakers should be angled so that they direct sound directly to you.

If you don’t have space beside you, then you can put them a few feet away from your site and place them facing forward. The speakers should be placed one to two feet higher than the ear level for the optimum experience. This is for both 5.1 and 7.1 surround channels.

7.1 surround sound

The 7.1 all the above placements for front and surround speakers are applicable. In addition, the 7.1 system has two rear speakers.

The rear speakers are positioned behind you, facing forward. Place the pairs of speakers one to two feet above ear level for best performance.

The diagram above shows if you consider a baseline from the user to the TV, then that the front speakers should be angled by 22-30 degrees. The surround speakers should make 90-110 degrees and the rear speakers will make 135-150 degrees with the user.

Again this is a general formula; you have to move back and forth to adjust according to your room.

Subwoofer:

  • You can place the subwoofer at least 30cm away from a corner. If you place it very close to walls, it will deliver more bass or if you put it on a corner that has three room boundaries, the bass will enhance.
  • If you place the sub too close to a wall, it might create a harsh and unnatural sound which is not desirable. If the sub comes with a port, then you need to know the diameter of the port, multiply it by 2 and place it at that distance away from the wall.
  • Subwoofer placement has flexibility, unlike other speakers. You can test them by moving around. Sit on your couch, play music with deep bass, and ask a friend to move the subwoofer around the room to get the ideal spot.
  • You can use the subwoofer crawl technique. Here you have to place the sub at your listening position. Then walk (crawl slowly) around the room with SPL (optional) as you listen to a heavy-bass track. Then mark out 3 or 4 spots where sub sounds the best.
  • In various tests, it is seen that when the sub is placed 8-12 inches apart from the wall. You can also place it within the first half section in the front of the room near the speakers.

Build your own:

Most of us don’t have the privilege to make a special room for music listening or home studio. Often times the room is already there and we to move around the room to find the best spot. If you have the chance then built the room like a Golden Traralgon.

A Golden Trapagon has a Golden rectangle behind the speakers and a larger one behind the listener.  The main advantage is that it will solve the problem of parallel walls. The height and width of the room have a relationship of 1.618.

Conclusion

Often times when the audio quality isn’t natural or balanced, we think of expensive amplifiers, subwoofers or even changing the speaker. While you might need one of those, what we miss is we forget about how we place the speakers in our room.

Altering the angle or distance between the wall and speaker or speaker and user makes a huge difference. You will see a slight variation in speaker placement ideas from people researching in this field. This is because there isn’t a single method or guideline to follow. The placement will vary from room to room.

In this article, I have discussed some general ideas for ideal speaker placement. Base on your room structure you have to do some trial and errors until you find that sweet spot for the speakers.

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Categories Speaker