Spiking Your Speakers: What’s the Point?

Before we get started, a big IMO should go in front of the next sentence.…

Spikes are NOT loudspeaker isolation devices.  They are tuning devices.

They will always “lean out” the sound.  True isolation devices will yield a fuller, more realistic sound with better dynamics (critical for maximum musical involvement).  Leaning out the bass reduces the dynamics & tone that the performer & composer meant for you to experience.  More on that in a bit…

That’s not to say that you can never use spikes. In fact, they are on a prototype pair of speakers that I’ve been evaluating for a manufacturer.  Although, if they were mine to keep, I’d replace the spikes, or get a good spike/floor interface.

Sliding base for spiked speakers

Whether you prefer spiked speakers or not, we can all agree that spiked loudspeakers are a major pain to get placed in just the right spot, whether on carpet, wood, or other surfaces.

I generally recommend the accessories from Herbie’s Audio Lab. Nearly everyone who tries these items from Herbie’s Audio Lab has reported far more musical results – less mechanical & more organic sounding.  They are called Cone/Spike Decoupling Gliders.

Although I initially tried the Giant Decoupling Gliders, I often ended up using the standard ones on most system/room voicing jobs. About the only time you’d need the giant ones would be if your speaker is maybe 125 lbs. or more, or perhaps if your carpet is deeper than most. To see the decoupling gliders, scroll down to about half of this page.

I also like the brass inserts, but this is personal taste. So basically, the least expensive version (US $16.89 each) has consistently worked out best for me.

In certain cases, the Threaded Stud Glider is a great solution as well. I use them with speakers or audio furniture pieces that were threaded for a spike/cone assembly.

The icing on the cake is that – at least with the Herbie’s gliders – you can make the most minute speaker adjustments – while still using your spikes – without cursing and questioning why you ever got into this weird but wonderful pastime of ours!

But just to be extra clear, practically everyone always prefers the sound with their spiked speakers left sitting on Herbie’s gliders – not to mention the enhanced ease of movement.  No going back to “spiked into the floor” for them.

The Point

OK, I know there are lots of well-respected (and famous) designers out there who still recommend spikes into the floor for their loudspeakers. I’ve written and commented on this position before, but it seems as if I need to touch on it in a little more depth.

Actually, this topic comes up on a number of RoomPlay voicing sessions as well. Quite simply, using spikes as the interface between the floor and the speaker consistently produces what I call Audiophile Bass. There is no question that the bass is tighter. It even affects the overall sound in the higher registers.

I tend to prefer more of what I call a musically organic sound, whereas the spikes produce a more mechanically precise sound. So there is room for calling one or the other a simple preference. Until you think about the actual sound of live bass, acoustic or amplified.  I always say, “It’s not a preference when you have a reference.” :)

Over many years of concert-going, and making live recordings for various entities, including Public Radio Affiliates, not once have I EVER heard live bass (acoustic or amplified) that sounds as tight and shriveled as I hear from systems where spikes are used. Not once – never…

Yet, I can go into an audio show where – time-after-time – the speaker designer is on hand, proudly demoing his latest creation, which, more often than not, is sitting on spikes into the floor. Rather than being critical, let’s just chalk it up to a matter of opinion and experience.

Or, sometimes we are told that we need to couple our speakers to the floor with spikes. I’m not sure if that is the right term. Guess I’ve probably come down on the side of those whose viewpoint is that we need to decouple the system from the floor. Or at least do it in a more valid and musically engaging manner, whatever the descriptive term.

I can attest to the fact that I’ve voiced dozens of systems lately where the client was using spikes under their speakers when I arrived, because that was what came with their speakers, or they had invested in the purchase, often due to ACK (Audiophile Common Knowledge). I do not suggest removing them. I do suggest refining the interface between the spike and the floor (Doesn’t matter if the floor is hardwood, tile, carpeted, etc.).

Acoustic Wave-launch & Sliders

Over the l-o-o-n-g time that I have spent voicing audio systems to listening rooms, I have come to believe that nothing is more important than a successful acoustic wave-launch into the room, and – of at least equal importance – how the listener receives it.

More often than not, the system owner or significant other may have some issues with the room layout from a décor standpoint. This often means that the loudspeakers cannot be moved forward enough to present the sort of musically involving Dynamics, Presence, & Tone that is simply waiting to be unlocked from recordings.

Restricting a high performance speaker to – or near to – the plane of the wall behind it is a sure recipe for a lack of musical involvement. Even more so when there is an equipment (or really, any kind of) cabinet between your speakers.

Back when I was making recordings, there was no way that I would allow a performer to be that close to the wall or nearby furniture! The resulting sound would be hopelessly colored, and notably lacking Presence & Tone. So why do we allow our loudspeakers to be boxed in, restricting much of the musical involvement that they could freely supply, if only a little care was applied to their set-up?

Often it’s a matter of décor requirements. Hey, after 47 years of marriage, I kinda know how that can happen… :)

Whenever I voice a system in a room where these requirements need to be followed, there has always been a way – when listening seriously – to hear the sound for which you have paid.  Although there is going to be a lot of frustration – and maybe tension – if you do not put the speakers back when you are done! Who needs tension when we are listening to our music?

Part of the problem is that audiophiles insist on their favorite feet, spikes or isolation devices for their loudspeakers, rendering them difficult to move at best… May I suggest another solution that will yield FAR more engaging sound?

Place your loudspeakers on furniture sliders! They come in all sorts of sizes & shapes. Re these optional solutions to loudspeaker spikes inserted directly into the floor, once they heard the difference, in every case, the client did not want to give up the solution I brought along to aid with the movement of the speakers. If you’ve ever tried to move heavy speakers on spikes, you know what I mean!

Here’s the thing – leaving your loudspeakers on the “best” footers, spikes, etc. – but in a very compromised position – is nowhere close to the listening experience you can have with your speakers slid into the best – or at least a better – position for your listening session!

Once you’ve experienced the difference available from a dramatically improved acoustic wave-launch, there is no way that you would ever want to go back to serious listening with your loudspeakers in a compromised position. For example – on a recent RoomPlay session, the client’s loudspeakers weighed over 500 lbs. apiece! Once he experienced them producing a hugely involving illusion of live music from a proper acoustic wave-launch, he was hooked. Yet, he could move his speakers back into the appropriately décor-minded place by himself!

I should mention that I prefer the Herbie’s decoupling gliders to furniture sliders, but if you already own some exotic footers that you want to use, it can be done with furniture sliders.  If you have them, even spikes can be used when an appropriate interface is introduced between the spike & floor.

And again, if you are listening in a room where the décor minded person will object to having the speakers placed further into the room, always be sure to put them back when your serious listening session ends.  Unwanted tension in the home is not a recipe for musical engagement!

In summary, worrying about high-end footers (no matter how expensive or how outrageous the claims) – cannot begin to compare to the acoustic wave launch actually doing what it is supposed to do.  Especially if you want to hear what you paid for…

Once the speakers are in this dramatically improved position, if you want to use your exotic footers, go for it! Only now you will gain a far greater result, assuming the footers are really up to the task.

One more thought re: improved acoustic wave-launch

The objection that “My short (and usually expensive) speaker cables won’t reach now!” is always rendered powerless – even if we temporarily use 16 gauge speaker wire from the local hardware store – when compared to the huge improvement from a (relatively) unsullied acoustic wave-launch.  Of course, the clients are usually confounded & astounded that cheapo 16 ga. wire is beating their favorite cable.  But it’s not the wire that makes the huge difference, it’s the dramatically improved acoustic wave-launch!

If you still want to use the cables you love, the improvement in sound & musical engagement from a correct acoustic wave-launch will make the added expense of longer cables even more worthwhile.

Ok, one more (brief) thing…

Bringing the speakers further into the room, serves to reduce the effect of the room as well.  Why?

Now the sound reaches you quicker, reducing the effect of room reflections.  There’s more I could say on this topic, but that’s not the point here…

This piece was adapted from Get Better Sound‘s Quarter Notes newsletters. You can read more of Jim Smith’s writings here.