Woo not woe

Today is about something very basic but practical: speaker setup. I'll share what I've found to work well in the homes we've rented across my audiophile career thus far. And there have been many: 5 in the US, 1 in Cyprus, 3 in Switzerland and already 3 in Ireland, with multiple system rooms per dwelling since Cyprus.

I nearly always end up with a short-wall setup. That's because it's how a room's door/s and window/s create the best layout. That preference then isn't based on sonics but utility and energy flow. I'm not advocating against long-wall setups at all. I've just had little opportunity to explore them. The most recent one was the Mount Pelèrin flat in Switzerland. To reduce reflective room gain, I set my speakers 2-3m from the front wall. That may seem a lot¹ and obviously depends on the room's total length but is essential for 'my' type of sonic presentation.

¹ Particularly with smaller monitors bolted to their stands, it's not difficult to move them into the room for listening and otherwise against the wall should décor and/or a significant other object to the free look. That's no different than pulling a car out of a garage down a driveway before we take off. It's no big deal. With speakers, it can make a nice difference.

Next I toe the speakers face on to see no sidewalls from the seat. The only exception are speakers with a hot treble. Those typically benefit from less severe toe-in to put my ears in their tweeter's rolled-off zone so not direct line of sight. I find that even closer side-wall proximity enforced by a narrower room causes no real issues with steep toe-in. I then routinely sit closer than the speakers are apart so not in the traditional equilateral triangle. That not only minimizes room interference to make the direct sound more dominant than the reflections. It also creates a more immersive connection to the music. From a bird's eye view, you might think of this as a "free-field nearfield" scenario. The seat-to-speaker aspect is nearfield, the speaker-to-room layout is free space (as free as the available space allows).

If there is one, a cheap but very effective trick is to leave the door behind the listening seat open. In my current main room for example, that door never closes. Now my seat's back can virtually touch its absentee boundary because there's nothing behind me except a soft heavy curtain. That damps behind-the-head treble reflections whilst being transparent to low frequencies. Across the hallway from it sits my office. Its door too is permanently open and replaced by the same heavy curtain. Whatever acoustic energies make it through the first and second curtain exhaust to not return. More importantly, creating a big hole in your rear wall—that's what an open door achieves—depressurizes the room. It effectively makes it bigger. Instead of building up more bass pressure, it bleeds a lot of it off. That's obviously not the case for the front corners. Those still cause pressure zones. It also doesn't eliminate bass sidewall reflections. There my purely passive solution is to cover the 20-80Hz range with a big 2×15" Ripol subwoofer. Its strategic dispersion pattern creates highly directional bass with full lateral cancellation like a dipole plus much reduced output toward the front wall. The intent is to minimize the room's signature on the sound without DSP or unsightly physical treatments. I prefer my wife's art on the walls, not absorber or scattering panels.

In some ways, my preference for wider speaker distance, closer sitting distance, steep toe-in, in-room speaker placement and often a chair close to a depressurized rear wall duplicates Joachim Gerhard's famous setup for Audio Physic speakers. It's not the same and involves no measurements or aspect ratios but similar. The only measurements are path-length equality to assure that each speaker sits at precisely the same distance from the chair. The rest is moving speakers and chair in sundry increments until all locks in.

Big Zu Submission sub in front corner isn't textbook placement for time alignment but given its height, wouldn't reasonably fit anywhere else.

In a close to square room, a very effective layout goes diagonal. In our current video 2.1 system above, the speakers sit very close to the front wall but there's space in the middle which creates more soundstage depth. Front-wall reflections are virtually immediate so barely delayed in time. That eliminates the echo machine. Meanwhile the sidewalls don't parallel the listener but splay out and away. That too is beneficial. If you're battling poor acoustics in a cuboid space, give this a try. It's a show exhibitor favorite for crammed hotel rooms.

Another effective variation on my big-room setup goes foot of bed if the sleeper's head is close to the rear wall, the feet far away from the front wall. If you enjoy listening in bed, perhaps cross-legged atop the duvet, back against the headboard—or the bedroom is your only hifi option in a small flat—set up compact monitors on sufficiently high stands. Put them right at the foot of the bed. If they're active, all you need is a source. If they're passive, an all-in-one covers the bases. Ivette currently has a pair of Boenicke W5se on an April Music CD receiver in such a layout. Her MacBook with external drive connects USB and doubles as CD/DVD source. It's very tidy, takes up little space, puts her into the relative nearfield and leaves plenty of open space behind the speakers to stage like demons. It makes huge sound from a barely-there system. Even at the desktop I favor line-of-sight toe in and a rake which aim's the tweeter axes directly at my ears.

As promised at the onset, I've kept this ultra basic without complicated theories or explanations. This is nothing but anecdotal 'just do it' evidence of success. It's from having done this in many different rooms over already 20 years. Again, the underlying aim is to hear more of the speaker, less of the room. It's also about detaching the sound from its sources so that it floats freely like wind through an open window. It shouldn't feel contained, constrained or just sit there. I also want it to layer deeply and precisely across a wide walk-in-and-explore panorama of crisp image specificity. Active bass from a premium subwoofer allows independent adjustment of its volume to fine-tune the tonal balance to the room. It also hands off the yeoman LF work to specialized bass equipment which reduces stress on the mains and their amp to free up their performance. That's it. Happy days.