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I am a serious imaging freak. Really. More than tonal balance, accuracy, musical correctness. If you can get the image right I am immediately drawn into the music. And the opposite is true. Flat, lifeless imaging, where the soundstage is compressed between the speakers and the rear wall–trapped like a rat and begging for release. It is then I find myself hard pressed to evaluate other qualities in the music.
It's a failing. But it's me.
Rarely do I find other people's systems with enough breathing room between the speakers and the wall behind them. Yet, I've come to appreciate the fact not everyone has enough real estate to manage proper imaging, and others don't place as much importance on depth, soundstage and separation of instruments as I do.
Point in fact, my new system in the office, which is an oddly sized room. Long and narrow, my office dimensions are 27' long by 10' feet wide. The last 1/3 of the office is angled, so the far wall is only 4' wide. That's where I now have my desk. The listening area is 10' wide by 15' long. Not bad, but not great either, because it is a place of business with daily meetings, so the IRS Betas are shoved against the rear wall with only 3' of breathing space behind them. And, they are dipoles, which traditionally benefit from breathing room behind them.
Despite these limitations, the system actually sounds nice, though limited in its depth and soundstage - but NOT at the expense of tonal balance and musicality.
So, where does one draw the line? Where does one decide how much real estate to sacrifice in service to the music? Do you simply do the best you can, as many of us are forced to? Or do you seek other solutions within the constraints of your environment, like room treatment, different speaker choices, and radical placement options?
Of course the answer is very dependent on the individual. In my case, I've opted for a careful blend of aesthetics, functionality and electronics. Speakers against the real wall so they don't dominate the space, optimized for accuracy in the midbass and voice regions (at the expense of the frequency extremes), and powered by BHK electronics.
They turned out to be great choices.