How to Place Speakers for the Best Sound

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Two ears, two speakers, one sound

By Roy Johnson, loudspeaker designer, Green Mountain Audio, Inc.

When it comes time to place your speakers for stereo and the two main speakers for home theater, we have found certain guidelines always deliver excellent sound. The speaker positioning we recommend is an outcome of our own experiments guided by psycho-acoustic principles. These basics of speaker positioning will allow you to obtain the best sound and hear it all in any size and shape of room.

Use our Equal-Legged T

Speakers usually sound best on the wall where both speakers project their sound equally into the rest of the home. When you must place the speakers along a side wall, instead of on the end wall, keep in mind that you will only hear one speaker when you are at one end of the room or the other. You can also lose a fair amount of the bass when off to one end because the other speaker's bass arrives so late that it cancels with the bass from the closer speaker.

When we walk into an unfamiliar room to set up our speakers, such as at a stereo show, we look at several factors almost simultaneously.

The speakers must be a few feet off of the wall behind and from each sidewall, symmetrically. We avoid placing the best seat halfway down the length of the room and do not want a wall right behind that seat. We will spread the speakers apart about the same distance that we will be sitting from their plane.

Given a 12' wide room, we would start by spreading the speakers 6' apart and bring them out from the wall behind by 3' to the front of the speakers. We would then place the chair another 6-7' back, for a total of 9-10' down the length of that room.

The triangle formed between the speakers and our ears comes from what we call an 'Equal-Legged T' layout. What is important are the angles formed with your ears. If the speakers could be 12' apart, sit 12-14' back from their plane. Forced to sit only 5' away? Then spread the speakers 4-5' apart.


In that 12' wide room, our ears were at 9-10' down the length of the room. That room cannot then be 18-20' in length, or we would be sitting at its halfway point, where the bass is irregular in loudness from note to note.

If that room was indeed 12 x 18-20', then we would bring the speakers out another foot off of that 12-foot wall and move the chair back a foot. That would then place our ears just past its halfway point. We could also move the speakers closer together and move the chair closer, and sit on the near side of the halfway point.

If the room were large, say 20 x 24', then we would bring the speakers off the 20-foot wall behind by 4' to their fronts. We would spread them 9' apart and sit 9-10' from their plane, placing the sofa 14' down the length of the room, again, past the halfway point.

If the room were only 10 x 12', we would put the speakers on the 10'wall, bringing them out at least 2.5'. We would spread them 5-6'apart and sit 6-7' back. This puts us past the halfway point and keeps our ears off the back wall.

If we had to put the speakers on the 12' wall in this room, then we would bring them out at least 2.5' to their fronts, spread them 6'+ apart, and sit with our ears at least eight inches out from the wall behind us. Place an acoustic diffusor panel or a thick tapestry of natural fibers on that wall behind the sofa.


Working with the L-shaped room

An L-shaped room is perhaps the most difficult to juggle. Compare Layout A to Layout B, below. Note that in Layout B, the two main speakers project sound into the other part of the 'L.' Look at the gain in floor space -- enough for a dining area or another seating area.

For those reluctant to accommodate such a placement, we stress that the end result is not about audiophile effects such as stereo image, depth, or detail, but about experiencing overwhelming musical artistry and being truly engaged with a film, even if you are not sitting in the main seats.




Try the 45-degree twist

Another arrangement that works quite well, if the room and your own sensibilities allow, is with the speakers across a corner of the room and the sofa facing towards that corner.


This 45-degree twist allows the speakers to be placed almost up against their walls behind, which creates more space. It provides a perfect home for the TV screen and audio gear in that corner.

For this arrangement, look first at where you would place the sofa. Then see if the speakers can be separated enough to give you that 'Equal-Legged T' layout. A little narrower together is OK, but any wider apart is not. You can just pace it off for an initial estimate.

Finally, in every layout, the speakers would be toed-in so that each one does not quite 'look you in the eye.' This allows each speaker to talk to your opposite ear just enough to make the artists in the center sound more solid and dynamic. If the speakers are toed-in too much, then all sounds collapse into the middle. When it is obvious from the resulting sound that the speakers should not be toed-in, you are hearing sounds in the between them reflected from the stereo rack or the TV screen, and often from the front of the large speaker cabinets themselves! We recommend you listen to some recommended recordings in our article, "Learn to Listen," with your eyes closed while someone adjusts each speaker's toe-in for you. Your ears will know when it is right.

Such speaker placement also makes for better sound throughout the home, because the speakers have been placed sufficiently far from reflective surfaces (including the TV screen and entertainment center) so that cler sound is being projected. Unless the speakers can be several feet outside the edges of the TV screen or entertainment center, then the fronts of the speakers have to be at least 30" out from the plane of the TV screen or the front of the entertainment center to reduce and delay the reflected sounds which spoil the listening experience.

Further assistance

We are happy to help our owners determine the best speaker layout for their room. Our Retailers are also available if you need further assistance with speaker placement. There is no charge for this service. Please upload a room diagram and some photos to our dropbox, or contact your Authorized GMA Retailer.