Speaker quality and soundstage

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Speaker quality and soundstage
I am often asked if one must have a killer set of speakers in order to experience the wonders of a great soundstage. Fortunately, the answer is no. In fact, almost any decent pair of speakers from a hundreds of dollars pair of Elacs, to an old pair of vintage beasts you haul out of storage, soundstage is almost entirely based upon setup skills. You've likely been to audio shows and heard great soundstaging. While at those shows you might also have noticed a huge divergence of setups from straight ahead placement without much toe in at all, to pulling all the way out to the sidewalls and aiming the speakers directly at the sweet spot. As I describe in The Audiophile's Guide, much about how speakers are set up has to do with the speaker's performance. A speaker with flat off-axis response is going to generally want to have only a slight amount of toe in while the opposite is true with a speaker whose flattest response is on-axis (speakers pointing directly at the listener). While this is not universally true, it might help you to figure out which approach to take. The major differences between the two main approaches—speakers 8 or so feet apart, tweeter to tweeter with only a little toe in vs. left and right speakers pulled out to the sides and pointed inwards—is how the soundstage is presented. In the first scenario, we get a natural sounding stage with at times (when close-miked) the sound coming from the speakers themselves, but with the advantage of extending well beyond the left and right speakers. In the second scenario, we never get sound from the loudspeakers but the slight downside is that the entire soundstage is contained between left and right speakers, never quite filling the room. With those qualifiers in mind, it may be helpful to know that just about any speaker can reproduce the illusion of a soundstage if you know how to set them up. Knowledge and skill are a lot less expensive than speakers.
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Paul McGowan

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