Why speakers are in the room

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A pair of loudspeakers needs to take up precious living room real estate, often sparking domestic territorial battles. One person would like them as far out into the room as needed for best sound, the other unwilling to cede that much of a land grab. It can be a real struggle.

The need for distance from boundaries is essential to building a great two-channel audio setup, a problem not shared by home theater enthusiasts who get away with in-wall and on-wall speakers. They succeed next to the wall because imaging is more a function of multiple speakers and surround sound processing than the purity of a two-channel setup.

There have been attempts to mitigate the problem of stereo speakers in the room, but to my knowledge, none have been all that successful. In fact, the only speaker designed to work against the rear wall I am aware of is Naim Audio’s SBL. I can’t say I had the opportunity to listen to them and they now seem discontinued, but forum posts offer glowing reports.

For the rest of us who care about high-quality home music reproduction, our pair of loudspeakers sounds best when given room to breathe. The golden rule is 1/3 the way into the room from the wall behind them, but few of us have that luxury. We do the best we can, making sure we avoid placing the pair too close to hard boundaries like furniture, fireplace mantels, side walls, etc. The reasons for this are simple: we’d like even sound distribution of first reflected arrivals and as few late arriving soundwaves as possible.

Were you to break down how speakers generate sound in the room you could categorize their energy dispersion into three terms: direct, early reflections, late reflections. Direct off-axis sound is pretty easy to understand, and early reflections are those from the floor, ceiling, and sidewall. We’d like the early reflections to be as uniform in frequency, amplitude, and timing as possible (which is why we don’t want speakers too close to hard fixed room boundaries). But the late arrivals really mess us up and are to be avoided if we can.

I have videoed a few more thoughts on the subject which you can watch here.