Speakers: Where Do I Put Them?

Getting the Most Out of Your Sound

Several years ago, I set up my current home theater room. While it wasn’t scheduled to be equipped with multitiered stadium seating, faux Art Deco design, or a popcorn machine, I did have the luxury of setting it up strictly for movie and music listening. It didn’t need to be compromised to serve any other purpose.

Even before I started to set up my projector, I began by finding the best place for the speakers. But there was one important limitation: The speakers had to be far enough apart that I could place my 78-inch-wide projection screen between them. Not at all coincidentally, the choice of screen size was partially influenced by the spacing that good two-channel music listening requires.

Of course, not all of you will have this luxury. But the placement of the speakers and the placement of the listener affects the sound you’ll hear. While necessity may require that you set up the speakers close to walls, they will nearly always sound better if you position them at least a couple of feet away from the front wall and a similar (but not identical) distance from the side walls. (This does not apply to in-wall and on-wall speakers, which I won’t address here.)

General Placement Tips
• The rules of thirds and fifths are often good starting places to determine speaker and listener placement. Position the speakers away from your walls at a distance that’s a multiple of thirds or fifths of the room’s dimension in that direction. For example, if a room is 20 feet long and 15 feet wide, locate the left and right front speakers 4 feet (one fifth) from the wall behind them and 3 feet out (one fifth) from the left and right side walls. Then, locate the main listening seat 4 feet from the wall behind the listener (12 feet from the plane of the front speakers) or 8 feet from the wall (8 feet from the front speakers).

• Try displacing the center speaker just a bit from the center of the room dimension. That is, instead of locating it 7.5 feet from each side wall of a 15-foot-wide room, locate it 7 feet from one wall and 8 feet from the other. Yes, this will slightly disturb the setup’s symmetry, but it could result in smoother response from the center speaker.

• If at all possible, avoid locating the main listening seats up against a wall. Because of a well-known room effect (standing waves), low frequencies are emphasized near a wall. This listening position will seriously compromise any attempt at smooth, well-balanced bass.

Front Speakers
• Sure, you will have a center-channel speaker, but don’t use this as an excuse to put the left and right speakers 15 feet apart. To provide the best combination of stereo spread, imaging precision, and coherence with the picture, a good rule of thumb is to position the left and right front speakers so that the distance between the two speakers is equal to or preferably a little less than the distance from each speaker to the listener. For instance, if your speakers are 7 feet apart, a distance of 8 to 9 feet from each speaker to the listener is excellent. You should avoid setting the speakers farther apart than the distance from each speaker to the listening position.

• I recommend that you place the speakers at least 7 feet apart for any listening position that will be 10 to 12 feet from the screen of a one-piece television and no more than 10 feet apart. For a front-projection setup, you should position them no more than a foot or so to the left and right sides of the screen.

• Many people sit too far from their TVs and speakers. For a 7-to-9-foot speaker spacing, I recommend that you sit at least 8 to 12 feet from the speakers. If you sit too close, the sound from each of the speakers’ drivers may not gel properly into a coherent whole. If you sit too far away, you’ll hear too much of the room. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll hear an amorphous blob of sound rather than a well-defined soundstage.

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