How to Place Stereo Speakers for the Best Performance

Turntable Amidst Speakers On Table By White Wall
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There are a number of ways to get the best performance out of your stereo system. The easiest, which happens to cost only a bit of your time and patience, involves adjusting the location and orientation of your speakers. Every room is different, but there are several speaker placement and setup tips that will make your system sound better. Take note that while these are meant for pairs of stereo speakers, they can also apply to multi-channel speaker systems.

What not to do

We'll start with the things you should avoid when placing your speakers.

  • Don’t place stereo speakers too near the front wall (the wall behind the speakers). Give them about two to three feet of space. In general, when speakers sit too close to walls (especially corners), they can reflect sound off of surfaces as well as exhibit an over-amplified bass response, making the bass sound too loud and/or boomy.
  • Don't orient the speakers so that they're completely parallel to each other. While this may look good for appearance, it won't let your system sound its best. In most cases, you'll want to angle the speakers so that they focus towards the listening spot—also known as toe-in. This way, you can experience the sharpest-possible acoustic imaging. However, double check your speaker's manual, as some models are designed so that they don't need to be angled for the best sound.
  • Don't just set speakers directly on the floor unless they are floor-standing tower speakers. Smaller speakers should be placed on stands (or shelves) tall enough so that the speakers are raised to approximately head and ear height. Many stands also help absorb reverberations and prevent the inclusion of noise.
  • Don't put anything in front of the speakers. This can mean small furniture (e.g., tables, stools, ottoman), home decor (e.g., picture frames, vases), books, DVDs, and other items you may have in your entertainment space. Any objects in front of the speakers will end up reflecting sound, causing distortion or blurring.

Apply the golden rectangle rule

If your room permits, try placing the speakers about 3 feet from the front wall. This reduces reflections from the front and side walls and helps to tame boomy bass.

The distances from the side walls are equally important. The golden rectangle rule states that a speaker’s distance to the nearest side wall should be at least 1.6 times its distance from the front wall. For example, if the distance from the front wall is 3 feet, then the distance to the nearest side wall should be at least 4.8 feet for each speaker (or vice versa if your room is wider than longer).

Once the speakers are in the ideal spot, angle them in by 30 degrees to face the listening spot (unless they are designed not to be angled). Essentially, you want the two speakers and the listener to create an equilateral triangle. If you want perfection, a protractor and measuring tape will help immensely. Keep in mind that you don't want the listener's head to be exactly at the corner of the triangle. Sit several inches closer so that the point rests behind the head. This way, your ears will pick up the left and right stereo channels properly.

Apply the one-third to one-fifth rule

Position the speakers so that the distance between the front wall is 1/3 to 1/5 the length of the room. Doing so will prevent the speakers from creating standing waves and exciting room resonances (the peak and valley/null nodes when reflected frequency responses are in or out of phase with each other). Angle the speakers towards the listening position, just as with the golden rectangle rule above. Your listening position is as important as speaker position to achieve the best sound quality. 

Additional tips

  • Don't be afraid to experiment with speaker placement. Every room is different and the methods presented above are guidelines.
  • Use masking tape on the floor to mark the speaker position as you experiment with placement options.