Many people think that they need better speakers when the real problem is that their speakers aren't set up correctly. The wrong setup can create poor sound quality out of the best speakers, while the right setup gets the greatest value from your equipment. Here is how to set up your floor standing speakers to get the best home audio experience.
Floor Standing Speaker Placement
The placement of your speakers is incredibly important, but also highly variable depending on your environment and the primary purpose of your speakers. Starting with the basics for every setup:
Our ears are very sensitive to the direction of high-frequency sound. It's helpful to think of your tweeters as emitting a beam of sound and place the tweeters at just the height that is level with your ear when you are seated in your favorite chair or couch. Most floor standing speakers are designed with the tweeters at the optimal height, while smaller speakers will need to be placed on a stand or shelf.
Sound waves are produced by the movement of the cones inside the speaker. If your speakers move, even slightly, then the movement of the speakers themselves can cancel out or distort the movement of the cones inside. It's important to protect your speakers from movement or wobbling when playing audio.
Many speakers have adjustable feet (or “floor spikes”) on the base of the cabinet so that you can adjust the feet and stabilize the cabinet from additional movement. Make sure that all the spikes are equally in contact with the floor and prevent unnecessary wobbling.
Positioning Your Floor Standing Speaker Relative to the Wall
Sound waves will bounce off of everything in a room. Furniture like couches and chairs will often absorb or diffuse sound, while sound will bounce off of walls, and floors and ceilings to a lesser extent. Placing your speakers too close to the wall behind them will cause additional reverberation in bass, and sometimes mid-range sounds.
Speakers should be placed about a foot away from the wall behind them, and not perfectly symmetrically in a corner; slightly offsetting speaker position in a corner keeps sound waves from bouncing equally off of surrounding walls and muddying sound or artificially amplifying bass.
The next speaker placement considerations depend on whether you are optimizing your speaker setup for music, or for video. The optimal placement is slightly different for each.
Optimizing Floor Standing Speaker Placement for Music
For stereo music, the ideal listening experience is to feel surrounded by the music. The ideal placement is to create an equilateral triangle where the speakers form two points and the listener forms the third point. In a perfect world, your favorite chair or the center of your couch would be exactly the same distance from each speaker, and the speakers would be the same distance from each other, with the speakers angled 60 degrees inward to face directly toward your ears.
If your speakers are, for example, 20 feet away from each other, then your seat should also be 20 feet from the speakers.
Optimizing Floor Standing Speakers for Music or Games
When the sound is intended to be part of a video experience, the speakers need to be placed near the screen. It can be distracting if the source of sound is placed too far away from the video source. Speakers should be placed to the left and right of the screen, no more than twice the width of the screen away from it. For example, if your screen is 3 feet wide, your speakers should not be placed more than 6 feet away from each of the sides of the screen.
Toe in or Toe out?
If you have a smaller room with a single seating cluster, it's generally best to “toe in” your speakers. This means angling the speakers toward the seats, but no more than 45 degrees, so the speakers don't face each other.
If you have a larger room with multiple or dispersed seating options, it's usually best to “toe out” your speakers. Oddly, “toe out” does not mean turn your speakers angling away from each other. It simply means placing your speakers parallel to the wall behind them, facing straight out, to spread the sound more evenly throughout the room.
Whether you toe in or toe out, place speakers for music or place speakers for movies, remember that your speakers should be placed away from the wall behind them, and not symmetrically in a corner. Check that they are the correct height and stabilize for rigidity.
Floor Standing Speaker Connections
As you can see, placement is the tricky part. Once you know where your speakers will go, you know how much speaker cable it will take to connect them, and you are ready to hook them up.
Choose Your Speaker Cable
Floor standing speakers typically accept speaker cables in sizes from 1mm to 3.3mm. If you are placing your speakers further away from their receiver, it's better to use a thicker cable for better sound quality.
Strip Your Cable and Attach it to the Posts
The speaker cable will need to be stripped so that there is about a half-inch of wire exposed and trimmed so it is even. Then twist the separate leads into points, and make sure your receiver is turned off and unplugged. Locate the binding posts on the audio receiver, which are usually colored black and red.
Insert the correct color of lead into the correct colors of the binding posts and tighten them. Then repeat this procedure for each speaker, connecting the right color of the lead with the right color binding post. Make sure that there are no frayed or stray wires that may touch anything else.
Following these guidelines will help you get the best audio experience out of any floor standing speaker and make the most of your speaker investment. Setting up your floor standing speakers in the way that works best for your entertainment preferences and your room enhances your listening experience and gets you the best sound you can have.
What other tips do you have for setting up your floor standing speakers? Sound off in the comments below.