Acoustics differ in every room, depending on their size and even how the room is constructed. It is generally assumed that in order to get great sound, one must invest in new gear, but other factors such as the positioning of the speakers are often overlooked. Slight alterations to the positioning of speakers can make vast improvements to the overall sound and save you the unnecessary cost of buying a whole new setup, unless of course you want to.
For great sound in a small room, place the speakers at a distance that is 1.2 times the distance between the speakers and the listeners. You will also need to keep the speakers on either side of the listening position away from the corners and place them at ear level for the best quality sound.
Sound preferences vary individual to individual, and everyone has their own preferences. But there are certain factors that generally lead to better sound quality. In this article, we will be discussing the factors that need to be taken into consideration when positioning your speakers for the best sound experience.
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Where Should Rear Speakers Be Placed?
Rear speakers breathe a soul to your auditory experience by capturing the background narrative. Whether it is a movie you are watching in your home theater system, a game, or even the music played in your home theater, the rear speakers provide added depth to the experience. Naturally, they need to be kept in a position that amplifies the benefits of these speakers.
Determine the Purpose of Rear Speakers
Rear speakers do not give the direct up-front sounds that front speakers do. This is because rear speakers do not have to carry the dialogues to the listeners but merely add to the auditory description of the place where the dialogue is being exchanged.
For instance, if a scene is being shot in a coffee shop, the dialogues are emitted out by the front speakers while the rear speaker captures the ambient sounds like the clatter of cups, footsteps, murmurs, etc.
Dolby recommends that these speakers be placed at an angle of 110 degrees towards your listening position. However, if that is not possible, then a 90-degree angle will also work. Both speakers need to be placed at this angle.
Place Rear Speakers at the Back of the Room
Rear surround speakers can be placed towards the back of the room and at 135-150 degrees from the listening position for optimal listening. It is recommended to place the speakers at about 2 ft (60.96 cm) above the head level of the person in the seated listening position.
When rear mounting speakers, mount them in a position so that they are on either side of the room and are pointed outwards. The idea is to flank the room with sound for an immersive experience. In an average-sized room, the two speakers should be placed at a distance of 6 feet (182.88 cm) from one another, but this can be brought down to 4 ft (121.92 cm) in a smaller room.
Rear Speakers Provide a Sense of Space to Your Room
The rear speakers are there to create an immersive sound experience for you. They are also there to create a sense of space in your room, and so rear speakers play a pivotal part in improving the room’s acoustics, especially a smaller room. There are various settings where you can set up the surround sound system, though the most commonly used setups include 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound configurations.
In a 5.1 surround sound system, the speakers need to be placed just behind the listeners and placed at a height compared to the front speakers in the room because rear speakers are needed to create an ambient sound in the room, and so they need not be at direct ear level. Placing them a little higher will be more beneficial as it will give the effect of the sound source being further away.
Effect of Room Configuration on Rear Speakers
Rooms of different configurations and sizes will have their own challenges, but the thumb rule is not to get the exact position but to get as close to the prescribed angle as possible.
Other things you might have to take into consideration are your walls, window, and furniture, but with a bit of thought, you can get close to the recommended angles. Finally, you will have to experiment with the positioning and let your ears decide which is the best for your hearing taste.
General Rules Regarding the Placement of Speakers For Great Sound
There are a few general rules when you are placing your speakers for optimum sound. Let us look at some of these factors here.
Do Not Place Objects Right in Front of Your Speakers
It may seem obvious, but placing objects right in front of your speakers will distort the sound from these systems. This is especially so in smaller rooms. It is ideal to allow the sound to play along the length of the room. There are often stacks of Blu-rays, DVDs, and books, and even armchairs placed right in front of the speakers, which is not recommended.
If you have a surround sound system, it should be placed somewhere along the center of the room and not against the back wall as that too distorts the sound and ruins the whole listening experience. If you leave space between the wall and the speaker, you will notice an improvement in the mid-range and mid-bass of the sound system, which will add richness to the listening experience.
Speakers Work Best When They Are at Ear Level
Speakers, and especially rear speakers, sound best when they are at the same level as your ears. This is why you will see many speakers are stand-mounted and wall-mounted, or sometimes put on bookshelves. The sound waves emitted this way reach the listener’s ears directly without being absorbed by the floor or the wall.
Keeping the speakers close to the floor is equivalent to providing added challenges to the person listening. Speakers are designed so that their sound waves travel horizontally. If they are kept close to the floor, this will lead to a break in their normal pattern of emitting waves, and the speakers may not be able to send out the sound waves vertically while maintaining the same quality and clarity of sound.
Place Your Speakers Away From the Corners to Prevent Reverberation and Echoes
Subwoofers are essential if you are thinking of having a surround sound system in a room. However, placing the subwoofers directly against the wall may lead to muffled sounds, which will not be a pleasing listening experience.
Ideally, subwoofers need to be placed at a distance of at least 12 in (approximately 30 cm) from the wall or the corner. This will help prevent unnecessary echo when the stereo is being played.
Also, in case you need to mount the speakers on a bookshelf or a desk in order to keep them at ear level, it is best to add a layer of foam below the speakers. This will prevent any reverberation when the music is being played, and provide further clarity in the sound.
Test the Speakers in Varying Distances From the Wall
There are many ways in which you can test your speakers, even in a small room, before you decide which is the best position for placing them. You can start off by placing your speakers right up against the wall at first to check the quality of sound it emits from there.
Maintain a distance between the two speakers, even if they are both being propped up against the wall. The ideal distance between the two speakers is around 1.5-2.5 m (4.92-8.20 ft). Note that this distance will vary depending on the room size. For a smaller room, the distance can be lesser depending on the relative listening position.
Listen to a familiar trace for a short while – 30 seconds to a minute to get an idea of how the acoustics play out in this setup. Start to move the speakers from the wall by an inch and listen to the track once again. The sound should have relatively improved now. Repeat this process of shifting the speaker by a few inches and listening to the track till you find a sweet spot where music can be best enjoyed from.
If you keep experimenting this way for too long, then the sound will eventually start to get worse, rather than better. This is because you are now approaching another wall which will muddle the sounds. Go back to the position where the sound was better. You have now found yourself the exact place to position your speakers that is aligned to your taste.
Test the Speakers in Various Toe-In Positions
Just as you had done with the wall distance, repeat the same process with varying degrees of toe-in positions. As you toe the speakers inward, the music will start sounding better. Do this at a gentle angle at a time. As the speakers get pushed inwards at increasing angles, the sound gets better before it starts getting worse again.
This is the point when you need to place the speakers back to the last position where they sounded best, and that becomes the correct degree of toe for the speakers in the room.
Alternatively, if you use speakers like this JBL Flip 5, which comes in a cylindrical shape, you need not worry about the toe-in position. Simply connect it to your smartphone or tablet and be immersed in impressive stereo sound. It is wireless and portable, allowing you more options to experiment with the positioning, and comes with a 4800 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery that supports up to 12 hours of playtime.
Bluetooth speakers are best for small rooms—more about how to place your Bluetooth speaker in the next section.
Determine How to Best Position Bluetooth Speakers in a Small Room
Bluetooth speakers are smaller and more lightweight, making it a great option to experiment with positioning for better sound. Because of their small size, they are ideal for a set up in a small room. You can use them to see how the different positions of the Bluetooth speakers can affect the acoustics in a room and how a small change in position can make a big difference in the sound.
With Bluetooth speakers, you can start by putting them on the floor in the middle of the room. You will notice that this way, the speaker produces a lot more bass than it did when it was placed on the top of other surfaces above the ground. The sound quality may also not be optimum, and it might even sound dull and deflated from this position.
Now move the speaker to a corner of the room while continuing to keep it on the floor. You will notice that the speakers are now emitting even more bass. Next, place the speakers on a table in a corner. You will see that the bass has become lesser, and the missing treble in the music is back.
If you place the speakers on a table, but a few feet away from the corner or any walls, you are now more likely to get a better sound quality than in the first few positions you have experimented with. Place the speaker at the height of 3-4 feet (0.91-1.22 m) for the best results.
You can also move the speaker at this height to each wall in the room to see if one wall sounds better than the other. If there is a difference in the sound quality, place the Bluetooth speakers a few feet away from the wall where it yields the best sound quality.
The Rule of Thumb When Placing Speakers
It is easier if you decide ahead of the exact location in the room where you will prefer listening to your music. Once that is decided, place your speakers at a distance and in such a manner so that it forms an equilateral triangle from your listening space.
Though this is not the ideal set up and many sound experts claim that other factors should also be taken into account, such as the walls, any sound dampeners in the room, etc. But in a pinch, this simple remedy should help sort matters quickly and efficiently.
Bookshelf Speakers vs. Floor Standing Speakers: Degree of Separation
For bookshelf speakers, the ideal separation is around 4 ft (roughly 122 cm). This, when compared to floor standing speakers, is around 8 ft (roughly 244 cm). For a small room, bookshelf speakers are more appropriate as they can be properly accommodated in lesser space.
A certain amount of distance is necessary between the speakers because keeping them too close will make the sounds blend together, and the end result of the sound will be muddy. Similarly, if they are too far apart, then the sound may not have the desired effects as it will get scattered in the empty spaces.
Minimize Sound Reflection
To obtain clarity in listening, it is important to do away with any objects that may create sound reflections. Sometimes these sounds bounce off the furniture and other objects placed in front of the speaker and will be delayed by a few moments before it reaches the listener’s ears, causing a distortion called “time smearing.”
To avoid sound from reflecting, it is important to make sure that there are no objects placed right in front of the speaker. It is also important to refrain from placing any huge object, such as a sofa or an armchair or bookshelf, etc., between the speakers and the listening area.
Having reduced sound reflections will result in high-quality sound.
Buy Speakers With Good Stereo Imaging
It is important for the sound system to have good sound imaging in order to produce an immersive effect on the listener. To distinguish between a good sound imaging and a poor one is to check the impression that is emitted from the speaker.
If we were to take orchestra music as an example; an accurate stereo imaging would make you feel that each sound is coming from a different place, ideally, the place where the particular musician is seated, whereas a poor imaging system will make you feel that the sounds are all being emitted from a single source with the sounds stacked on top of each other.
In case you are not inclined to buy a new stereo system just yet, consider changing the toe-in angle or repositioning the speakers in your room to help get rid of a poor stereo imaging system.
Place Your Speakers According to the Room Length
In case you have a small room that is rectangular in size, place your speakers in a position that will face the length of the room. Always remember that speakers travel the length of the room, so placing the speakers on desk height or on a bookshelf by the shortest wall will be ideal in such scenarios.
Even in a small room, you can divide it mentally into thirds, and the speakers need to be placed in the first third of the room. A distance of around 4 ft (roughly 122 cm) between the speakers needs to be maintained in a small room.
Know Where to Place Your Surround Sound Speakers
For surround sound, place the front speakers straight in front of you and then place the side speakers at the height of 3-4 ft (91.44-121.92 cm) from the floor and at an angle of 110 degrees on the sides. The speakers should be equidistant from your listening position but have a certain distance between them as well. If one were to take a bird’s eye view, it should show the speakers in a circle with the listener at the center.
In the video below, you will see how to set up rear speakers to make your home theater experience more exciting and immersive. The video focuses on 5.1 and 7.1 rear channel set up and guides you through height and distance choices and shares pictures of some real-world installations:
Use Sound Dampeners
Using fabric-based shades or a blanket over a glass wall or any hard reflection surface will help in reducing the amount of sound reflections. For this, you do not need to invest a lot of money. A simple fabric piece or even a blanket that is lying around in the linen closet may be used to get the job done.
Adding a carpet on the floor can also help improve the quality of the sound immensely. Often the floors also act as reflecting surfaces and cause much of the sound distortion. Placing a rug right in front of the home theater system will cause the sound reflections to diminish, lending more clarity to the audio and generally resulting in a higher quality of sound.
The BUBOS Professional Acoustic Panels are great for giving an acoustic treatment to your room and helps with noise reduction. It is also used as soundproof padding and has a beveled edge. Each pack contains six pieces that are 12 in (30.48 cm by 12 in (30.48 cm). It is made of low-density polyester fiber, which helps in absorbing unnecessary sounds giving greater clarity. They come in a variety of different colors as well.
Consider Investing in Sound Absorption Panels
If you are okay with the costs, spending on sound absorption panels can also help. These panels come with a very modern and sleek look and make the living spaces look more contemporary. They can be bought in any shape or size and so will fit right in in a small room just as it will in a large one.
Usually, they come in 2 ft by 2ft (60.96 cm x 60.96 cm), or 2 ft by 4 ft (60.96 cm x 121.92 cm), but they are customizable and can be made into any shape you want. These absorption panels are nothing but frames that have been draped over with fabric. They are dense fiberglass that helps remove any unnecessary elements from the sound, such as echoes and reverberation. They are also great for reducing and removing sound reflections.
But these absorption panels need to be used judiciously. Too much of them will render any sound dull and lifeless and will require a large amount of amplification power from your speakers. These days you can also purchase pre-made models and even get them in a color of your liking, or align it with the colors of your room.
Any minor issues with regards to reflective walls can be easily fixed with a few panels placed decoratively in strategic places around the room. Adding a few panels in the rear of the room will help decrease the amount of reflections considerably.
Identify Acoustic Reflections
An easy way to understand where the acoustic reflections are coming from is by asking a friend to sit in the listening space and holding up a mirror. Now you keep moving the mirror slowly from left to right till you see the reflection of the speaker in the mirror.
Once you identify the exact location where the reflection is being produced, you can add dampeners like a carpet of a fabric hanging, which will dampen these reflections. You can even use sound absorption panels for this.
The dependency of sound production is lowered for smaller rooms, with your proximity being nearer to the speakers. Having said that, a minimum distance of 1.75 m (5.7 ft) must be maintained for achieving optimum clarity.
Reduce Flutter Echoes by Adding Cushions
To diagnose flutter echoes, you can clap your hands in the room. If there is a slight reverberation and echoes of that clap can be heard, it means that there are flutter echoes in the room. A quick and easy way to rid your room of these flutter echoes is by placing a few small cushions in each corner of the room. This will act as sound absorption material and reduce the unnecessary distortion when you are playing music.
There really is a direct correlation between the size of the room, the inherent acoustics of the room, and the sound that you get to experience from your speakers. If you do not get the positioning of the speakers right, especially in a small room, it will be quite impossible to get good sound no matter how much you may have spent in procuring the best speakers.
A certain amount of trial and error is involved in the whole process before you get that sweet spot where your speakers will sing.
While the above-mentioned factors and guidelines are a set of recommendations, there are still countless variables, such as furnishing, sound dampeners, etc., that impact the quality of sound in your room. This makes your room unique and also allows you to experiment and see what works best for your tastes.