Near vs. far

June 10, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Upon hearing a well set up near-field speaker system or, for that matter, a properly set up far-field rig, it is hard to say one is better than the other.

For example, the near-field setup is more intimate. There is less room but more detail and closeness.

And our “normal” setup where the speakers are equal distance from the listener as they are apart have depth and room the near-fields cannot touch. But at the expense of detail and closeness.

The tradeoffs between the two are inevitable.

It’s not that one is better than the other.

They are simply different.

Which one appeals to you more?

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49 comments on “Near vs. far”

  1. My home’s music room choice “is what it is” (spare bedroom)…there just wasn’t other options. It has become a dedicated small listening space that has natural diffraction side wall designs and well balanced room acoustics. It is just intimate enough to create a quasi-near-field arrangement (monitors spaced 5ft with sweet spot 7ft from baffles) that to my ears offers all the sonic soundstage benefits of a much larger or smaller space rolled into one!

  2. I definitively prefer near-field listening with inter-speaker-crosstalk-cancellation thus getting incredibly big soundstage! 🙂 However the majority of loudspeakers isn’t designed for near-field listening.

  3. Dear friends & home-audio compatriots.
    I must apologise unreservedly to all of you for my inappropriate post here yesterday.
    (Inappropriate to express those views here on this home-audio site as opposed to the content)
    I have no excuse, except to say that I must’ve had some bug up my arse (ass).
    So this Hi-Fi family member possibly needs to go & stand in the corner for a while.
    Please find it in your hearts to forgive me & we’ll move on.

    I have a near-field (4’/1.2m from each loudspeaker to each ear) ‘bedphones’ set-up in my bedroom (basically a large open-air set of ‘far-distant’ headphones…talk about a centre channel 🙂 ) & a
    mid-field (6′-8’/1.8m-2.5m…depending on whether I’m sitting forward or leaning back on my sofa)
    main system in my living room.
    Both set-ups bring me great joy & they sound stunning with the better recorded CDs in my collection.
    However the near-field set-up (bedphones) system does tend to amaze & impress me more, because
    it’s so very inexpensive & yet it sounds incredible.

    As all things in home-audio are subjective, I wonder whether there is a recognised distance/distinction between ‘mid-field’ & ‘far-field’… 6′ (1.8m), 8′ (2.5m), 10′ (3m), 12′ (3.7m), 15’ (4.5m)…or beyond, from
    the line of the loudspeakers to the listeners ears?
    Or might the distance between ‘mid-field’ & ‘far-field’ of ‘ears to loudspeakers’ be expressed as a percentage of (as a function of) the total distance from the back wall to the front wall.
    Any thoughts?

        1. Yeah…. I’m gonna draw the line at strong fondness with a smidgeon of long distance aussie hetero-affection. 😉
          When a man loves a chicken…. (OH no ya don’t)
          Love that mix….
          Listening to it right now.
          Download # 1 Martin – it’s the best one….

    1. I wonder what would be the definition in terms of „x“-field for car stereo or for headphones? 🙂 And most funny those set-up with subwoofers placed in the corners while the main speakers sit in the near-field – would this be „hybrid-field“? It’s a pity that most manufacturers of multi-driver loudspeakers never mention the minimum listening distance, meaning the distance where the sound waves from all drivers are perfectly matched phase-wise.

      1. ps,
        ‘DeVore Fidelity’ advises that 7′ is the bare minimum distance from the
        O/93’s to the listener, so that the soundfield is presented ‘correctly’.

      2. There is just something about high end audio in a car… a soundroom is the finest, headphones can be perfectly intimate, but between those two delights is a well tuned car that has this unbeatable intensity. I’ve demo’d my room and my headphones but my car demos are the only thing that literally make people’s jaw drop in front of my eyes. 1800 watts, time aligned to the driver’s seat, subs tuned to 29 Hz, it has a certain something that just really can’t be matched.

        Fun fact (without the engine running) with a fully charged $800 Odyssey Extreme AGM 2150PHCA battery, a song played at a healthy concert style volume level will kill the battery to the point of the stereo cutting out in about 9 minutes. Yup – BIG-A$$ alternator.

        OK, what the hey…here’s a Friday laugh (at my expense) that I thought NEVER share… I went to a sound-off competition in Vancouver in 1991. The girl in the passenger seat was hiding from the camera because she was NOT supposed be there. With me. That’s all I’m gonna say about that. 😉

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJtEiXwX99o

        Hey… Mullets were the THING back then….
        Stop laughing.

  4. I am easy either way as long as it sounds fantastic i get transported to audio heaven here Earth!!

    Thanks Paul – back to my Audirvana account before i leave for work…..

    Richard

  5. In response to todays question I have no preference in far field versus near field. I have left it to the room to dictate what sounds best. In the current set up (room) an equilateral set up sounds best. Although with the drivers side by side where do you measure from? (It’s a smaller room dedicated to audio) Diffusion and absorption added as the room was used and ‘tuned’. Seating closer to the back wall than the front wall. Lots of detail, good soundstage, good sound, and great enjoyment.

  6. Near Field, Near Field, Near Field as vindicated by previous posters comments.
    My tiny study and approaching 20k pounds investment including headphone set up is heaven for me.
    Household harmony is achieved for all.

    Edit I can’t afford the far field house let alone the ultimate far field kit.

  7. Hi,
    I did “invent” near-field as a kid in times i did not know anything about hifi and I did like it. But now I prefer far-field which I understand as system in interaction with the room. I have read somehere on Stereophile, that the room is the only real thing in audio reproduction 😀
    Martin

    Paul, please, can You get someone to fix old issues of Copper, I found first article by Richard Murison in no1 but issues 2 and next are all without content. 🙁

  8. This is a fantastic post, Paul. I am dealing with this very topic right now after having moved across the country with my system being in storage for the past 15 months. In my new dedicated room, it is the first time I’ve had the luxury of marking various seating distances. I’ve marked 1.0, the Wilson recommended 1.2, and 1.5. Would you describe that as Near, Mid and Far?

    My JBL M2s have such great dispersion that they all really sound balanced and I appreciate each for their own individual strengths.

    My task today is to go through The Audiophiles Setup Guide again with fresh ears to reconfirm room setup is spot on from yesterday results.

  9. Hi,

    I have both.
    Near-field in my home office/study, when working or pretending to work…
    Far-field in my living / TV room, stereo (2.1) for music and 7.1 for movies.
    Which one is best is difficult to say.

    It seems that some recording made from mono part disperse in a stereo field at mixing time (bad studio recording), sounds better in near-field, when fully stereo recording (live session) sounds better in far-field.

    But what I dislike is the 7 channels stereo simulation for stereo signal that the multi-channel amp can provide/spit, still my kids prefer it over pure stereo for their kind of music, mostly streaming. Go figure…

    For me near-field or far-field is the same battle as open or close headphones, which one is better ? I also have both and depending on the music recording…

    I ask myself if, at recording stage, AB, XY, near-coincident, ORTF or DIN microphone setup have an influence on the near or far field experience of the music. A question for Ask-Paul ?

  10. My 41″ flat TV style electrostatic speakers create a definitely near field illusion despite of the 10 feet distance to the listening position. Must be due to their dipole beaming character. Depending on mood, music, time and liquid refreshment I change the hot seat location from a more open to the head in a vice position, love it.

  11. I’m more of a far-field guy. If re-creating, to the extent possible, the sense and scale of the original recording space (whether live or in the studio) is the goal, then that’s the way to go IMO. While nothing can get you all the way there, it’s a goal worth pursuing. Still, I do enjoy nearfield via my “2nd system” and my desktop speakers, for the intimacy and clarity they can bring. But I’m at my happiest when a significant slice of the recorded space is in evidence.

  12. I have both on the same room. I have a Herman Miller computer chair with casters and while listening I roll my chair up and back to get different perspectives within the soundstage. I can get within a foot or two from the plane of the speakers which are 8 feet apart and the soundstage depth is incredible. I have a large ASC tubetrap in the middle between the speakers just in front of my component rack and that was a total game changer.

  13. luckily, I have both in my dedicated music/ office room. When I ‘m working at my small desk, I’m in farfield- like half way back in the concert hall. For serious listening, I slide my desk back on the carpeted floor and move my chair in front. Works great with my Revel speakers which have such good tweeter dispersion. This would never work with ribbon or electrostatic speakers, since they would require repositioning which is not doable with the isolated cone feet.

  14. I have both kinds of setups. I listen to the near-field setup a lot more, because it’s by my computer where I spend most of my life…but I prefer the far field rig. It gives me a bigger, more spacious sound that more closely approximates the sound of musicians playing in real life, especially with smaller-scale music like jazz.

    When I really want to rock I can play music through my Carvin PA speakers at ridiculous volume. Certainly not an “audiophile” sound…the high end will take your head off at close distance without EQ…but fun once in a while.

  15. As others certainly have posted already, I have both. And as Paul mentioned they are “different”. I am not sure that I prefer one over the other but if I had to pick I think the full sized room would win out. The nearfield can be incredibly detailed and is far easier to set up (reach over literally 2 feet to adjust the speaker with one hand) and I think the sweet spot is far easier to attain without worry of moving around. Upgrading that space can be far less expensive than full sized kit as well. My new (to me) Totem Dreamcatcher speakers, Yamaha desktop amp, even Kimber cables all tally up to less than $1,000 all in. Oh, there is a sub and it doubles as a footrest 🙂

    I do not subscribe to the nearfield as shown in the Octave room or others where a full sized room set of speakers sits on stands just beyond the desk or table. That is not generally what I am after, I want it all contained on the desk as part of my monitor/work environment.

  16. In my rather large room my particular Von Schweikert speakers (which are similar size as the FR30s) sound best far-field. With far-field the soundstage seems correctly scaled as in real life and the holography is natural.

    I once had the same speakers in a near-field arrangement and found the sound to not be as natural and holographic. In the near-field configuration the speakers sounded a bit in-your-face, raspy and fatiguing.

    My Harbeth M40.1s, smaller than the Von Schweikerts with the drivers closer together, sound great in near to mid-field arrangement, which makes sense because the M40s used to be standard BBC studio monitors.

    My cheap tiny computer speakers often amaze me with their clarity and holography. I often wonder what they would sound like spaced widely in a far-field configuration in a regular size room with an external subwoofer.

    So, the speaker design is a big factor in whether I prefer mid-field or far-field.

  17. I don’t have a near field setup at home. But one of the most amazing sounds I heard came from one. With the disclaimer that I’ve had lots of Maggies over the years and am very familiar with how they sound….A while back at a visit to a dealer, he had me sit down at a desk that was set up with the mini Maggie system. It was nothing short of stunning. Anyone would do themselves a favor by hearing it.

  18. Far field is my fav. Lately I have been tweaking my basement system which is my first time in decades seting up on the long wall.  Equalateral triangle with 10 feet / 3 meters between tweeters.   I close my eyes, turn to where the sound is coming from on the Left and it localizes well beyond where the speaker is.  Sometimes Mark Knopfler’s voice sounds like its on the ceiling directly above me.

    1. Interesting situation, the voice on the ceiling. I wonder if you could get the voice down from the ceiling to in front of you by tilting the speakers vertically or elevating your listening seat, so the tweeters aim more directly at your head.

  19. Paul.
    Some time ago you were kind enough to give me some advice for my system, advice that I continue to take advantage of on a daily basis.
    At one point you were telling me that a near-field system, based on Adam Audio powered monitors and a subwoofer of the same brand was a bit far from what you would consider “audiophile”, but that you did not rule out that something like that could sound good.
    My audiophile and music lover experience is over 30 years. Since I have to spend 10 or more hours in front of my computer (in a private room, fortunately), I have no choice: if I want to enjoy my music, I have no choice but to use a near-field system, which I have set up very carefully and using your advice, your book and your audio tracks for reference.
    And it really sounds good! I enjoy this system more today than I used to enjoy my conventional system of years ago.
    I didn’t have to choose. I had no other choice. Today I enjoy 8 to 10 hours of music daily (a lot in DSD) which makes me very happy.
    Thank you for your videos, your charisma and your help. I think you are making a great contribution to this hobby.
    If anyone would like to discuss in more detail about my system (I don’t sell anything nor have any commercial interest), I will be glad to talk to you through my mail, [email protected]

  20. Far Field. In order to get a good stereo image speakers must be placed 8-10 feet apart and of course away from back walls. I have tried both and I know there are advantages to both but still prefer far.

  21. The same near-field far-field differences occur in live music. The sound and experience when sitting in a symphony orchestra are vastly different from what the audience is hearing in the hall; as is the sound of a professional string quartet that occasionally rehearses in my living room from what I hear a few days later in a small performance space. There is no “absolute sound”; instead there’s a multitude of sounds-in-spaces, one of which sounds absolute to someone.

  22. I have three systems:

    My main in a large room with full extension speakers is far field with a 3D sound stage and, in my opinion, surprising inner detail.

    My video system is a strange mixture ( sort of near field ). The arrangement is determined by the size of the screen ( 60″ ) and the largest distance from the screen that you can still resolve 1080P video ( 8′ ). I have a 2.1 audio system with two small 2 way speakers placed so that they do no interfere with the screen. I really have to do better on this system.

    Finally, I have two pairs of high quality over the ear dynamic headphones that when driven by the remarkable Woo Audio WA5 ( 1st gen ) headphone amp have inner detail that is incredible, but there is no sense of a 3D sound stage. Even so, they can be fun.

  23. This discussion imo suffers repeatedly from confusing or nebulizing characteristics or even basic terms.

    First it would need a clarification of terms.

    This time, Paul speaks of near field, far field and „normal“. Should normal (with speakers at equal distance from the listener as they are apart) be the same as far field?

    E.g. this example shows, that some see this as near field:
    http://www.cardas.com/room_setup_near_field.php

    My personal rough understanding in contrary is:

    listener distance considerably closer than distance between speakers = near field
    listener distance slightly closer or further than distance between speakers = mid field
    listener distance considerably further than distance between speakers = far field

    Then my experience is, e.g. an equal distance of listener and speakers from each other has different characteristics, depending on the length of the triangle‘s sides used in this scenario. Depending also on the size of the room and the distance of speakers to front wall. The same triangle-like placement can in this dependency sound rather near field-like, far field-like or in a certain mod field scenarios even combine both advantages very generously.

    This topic imo is another inappropriate for the superficiality (not meant negatively in general) of this daily publication concept.

    1. Yes, and our speaker designer, Chris, has corrected me on my use of nearfield. That technically that is not correct and no one wants to be in the technical nearfield.

      What he’s training me to use instead is the direct field. That does make more sense.

      1. Yes, direct field is a good term for several situations.

        My experience is, that mainly depending on speaker-front wall distance, it’s not correct, that only indirect field enables soundstage extension to the sides. Even a close direct field does, if speakers are pulled out at least as far as the distance between them in my experience.

  24. Due to reasons you all know, I can’t put/keep my speakers in a semi-permanent spot. So I literally roll out the speakers to a mark on the floor and arbitrarily toe them in and adjust as i go. Pretty much 60inch equilateral . Unfortunately my chair is against the wall. Just restarted experiments with a sub next to my chair. I’ve moved everything around for better sound stage,but it’s convenient to stay where i am.

  25. I like them both. In nearfield you get a headphone effect without having to wear anything on your head, plus there’s an openness you do not get with headphones. Further away there is a better presentation of the soundstage.

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