Point of measurement

October 9, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

There’s typically a bit of confusion when it comes to speaker setup, in particular, around how far out into the room is best for soundstage and depth.

Generally, we’d like to be something close to 1/3 the way into the room but rarely is that possible. These are for the most part living rooms (in the truest sense of the word).

One question I am often asked is where to measure the distance from the speaker to the front wall (the wall behind the speaker). Most folks get this wrong because they measure from the rear of the speaker to the front wall.

The correct measurement point is the speaker’s front baffle. If you can manage to get that front baffle 3 to 4 feet into the room and away from the front wall, you’re probably doing really well.

One of the advantages of measuring from the front baffle is that regardless of speaker enclosure depth, you’re always getting it right in the room.

As well, another reason why speaker size compared to room size doesn’t matter as much as many folks suspect.

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48 comments on “Point of measurement”

  1. I was moving my speakers around last night as some bookcases were fitted during the day. The speakers are in a bay window so the walls behind are at around 45 degrees. I got some clear acrylic sheet cut to the size of the base of the speaker, with rounded corners, and I drilled some small holes in the acrylic to locate the spikes. It looks good, protects the floor and allows fine adjustment without too much effort as the acrylic slides on the wooden floor. The speakers are quite sensitive for positioning to image as well as they are able.

  2. If I were you, SntbcwS, I wouldn’t care about speaker placement.
    You’re not an audiophile so it doesn’t matter where they stand.
    Besides, sliding these speakers back and forth is not cool.

    1. This is a great idea, Steven, if it’s necessary to periodically move the speakers, buy you are forgoing the opportunity of utilizing any of several vibration absorbing devices under the spikes that could further improve resolution.

      1. My interior designer would object, quite violently, to Isoacoustics or Townshend Podiums in plain sight. There floor is dead flat and so sitting the speakers on an acrylic sheet allows them to be anchored using spikes and easily moved without damaging the floor.

        1. Why are you so afraid of your interior designer when you hold the most violent of weapons–your checkbook? Check out Soundeck TunePlates, or whatever they call them these days. It’s a British company, no less.

          1. My interior designer is a woman of independent views and means. Posted a couple of pictures on the forum. The damping is a work in progress, need to do UMIK/REW soundcheck in due course.

  3. Yes, we must be aware that every ft more from the front wall means a better experience one can’t pay with component upgrades. Unfortunately real fun starts with around 6-7ft (and equal distance to the sweat spot), 9-12ft distance and also near field listening gets magic, but I also can’t place the latter unfortunately.

    1. One man’s magic is another man’s disappointment. But you are right, you can certainly achieve a variety of different magical listening environments by changing the distance of the speakers from the wall(s) and the distance of the listener from the speakers. It’s a fun game.

          1. Unfortunately I can’t hear that extreme, but I occasionally do at a friend.
            No need for long speaker cables, you just have to move the components a bit towards the speakers, too. So it just needs one slightly longer central power cable.

            1. LOL You have no idea how difficult it is to move my equipment rack…even an inch. I have to dismantle the entire rig. I’ll borrow some longer cables from a friend.

              1. If you try extreme positions (in audio) first time, be aware that you’ll get different magnitudes of bass dips and peaks, so you have to find a good combination of seat and speaker movements to get quite flat response. But to get an imression of the soundstage experience, you can tolerate some anomalies temporarily. At far speaker distances from the front wall, it’s often helpful to place subs also near speaker level.

  4. Ok, let me make sure I got this strait.
    About 3 to 4 feet away from the wall behind the speakers?
    For those of us that live in smaller places, I think the speaker altogether, needs to be redesigned to accommodate smaller living rooms.
    Not everybody can move their speakers out one third of the way in to their living rooms.
    This is the reason why bipolar floor standing speakers don’t work that well for some people.
    Because, not only do you have drivers in the front of the speakers, you also have drivers in the back.
    It’s speakers like those that you can’t put right up against the wall behind them.
    So, if you can’t pull your speakers out away from the wall behind them, then a Black Ice Audio FXX Sound Stage Expender Bass Booster is in order here.
    And yes, they do work too!
    They work really well for situations like the one that I described above.

      1. Good morning FR!
        Also true!
        In my living room, one of my speakers is about 4 feet away from the side wall.
        And that speaker, being my left speaker.
        My kitchen opens up in to my living room.
        And I have a speaker setting over there too.
        The crazy thing here, is, there is no side wall for that speaker to contend with.
        The next wall, is about 12 to 14 feet away from that speaker.
        On the way in to the kitchen, on that same wall, is the back door to my house, and right there, is the pantry and the refrigerator.
        And plus, you have the counter that also has a double sink in it.
        This is not an ideal setup, but it does work for me.

        1. John, with your asymmetrical room, do you find that the tonality of the left and right speakers are identical?

          In my living room there is more room volume and distance (10 feet) to the left of my left speaker and less room volume and distance (7 feet) to the right of my right speaker. When I play the “left channel” then “right channel” tracks of Paul’s voice on the Audiophile Guide Reference Disk I hear a slight difference in tonality between the left and right voices. I attribute this to the asymmetry of the placement of my speakers in my room. No one has ever answered me when I ask others if the tonality of Paul’s “left” and “right” voice is identical on the Audiophile Reference Disk.

          1. Good afternoon JosephLG!
            I can’t really answer that question for you.
            I never really had a chance to pick up a copy of Paul’s reference disc.
            But I will give you the benefit of my own personal experience.
            In my living room, the tonality is equal.
            That is, until I switch my Mcintosh MQ-107 equalizer in to the Cirket.
            I don’t understand why this happens exactly, but it sounds like to me that my right speaker is slamming more bass then my left speaker is.
            I think it all has somethingg to do with one of the channels in my equalizer having more gain then the other.
            But one of these days, I don’t know when, I’m gonna get away from that equalizer, and go pro audio.
            I think equallizers that were designed for pro audio, do a way better job of getting the sound right.
            Also, in my livingg room, I have a hard floor.
            And my speakers are just about as tall as I am.
            So, playing my music in a peerless fashion, doesn’t work too well for me.
            You have to have some kind of tone controls.
            But this is the most shameful thing about them.
            Most audiophiles don’t like tone controls of any kind.
            But if this is the only way you can tame the wild sound of your room, then so be it.

    1. Good afternoon J.P.,

      Yes, small living spaces do indeed make ‘optimal’ speaker placement problematic. I downsized to a small 3 room apartment with a squarish main room with a nasty bass resonance [tired of hearing me whine about this yet?]. Even with just me living here, personal traffic flow patterns would make moving the speakers from their current positions an imposition on the rest of day to day living. Tiny house aficionados must be primarily headphone listeners.

      So jb4, by your standards, like SntbcwS I’m not a real audiophile, either. Oh, lookie! Here comes the Brain Police to confiscate my audiophile card. Yet again. Funny how they haven’t sussed that I keep handing them a used nose drool tissue from the trash can.

      Heh, heh, heh.

      1. Good afternoon Confused Steeven!
        An equalizer can help you with this problem too as well.
        All you have to do, is set it to the way you desire your sound to be.
        Most audiophiles don’t like these things, but who cares anyway?
        To each their own.

        1. Yes, my integrated amp has 2 tone controls with a direct button that bypasses them (also the balance control). I roll the bass off a bit plus have the ports of my small stand mount speakers plugged with rolled up wool socks. Even this setup can excite the resonance at greater than moderate volumes. Bass shy music is still infinitely better than no music and I’ve never had any complaints from the in-building neighbors. And there is always the headphone option, although my outer ears are pressure sensitive and I can only stand wearing them for about one album side/half a CD. Overall, I much prefer loudspeaker listening, even with the limitations imposed by my living space. This apartment is not particularly fancy by American standards, but it is quite affordable and I lead a comfortable life. So by the standards of much of the world, I live like a king. This is a nice, old neighborhood with a large city park across the street and a really good coffee shop and a bakery just 2-1/2 blocks over. Thanks for the suggestions, received wisdom is always welcome.

          1. Good morning Confused Steven!
            You’re welcom, anytime!
            But just out of curiosity, what kind of an integrated amp do you have?
            What’s the name of the company that made it?
            And, what is the mottle of that amp?
            You said something about where you live.
            That sounds like a place I once lived in with my late wife in Daytona Beach Florida.
            Is this where you live at?
            If so, that is a really nice aria to live in!

            1. Good afternoon #2 John Price,

              My integrated amp is an Arcam A65+ (40 Wpc). It’s a sweet, little, solid state bit of kit; British designed and built (before the manufacturing diaspora to China); ever so slightly warm sounding, which bothers me not a bit. My current speakers are the wonder puppy, Andrew Jones designed (but built in China, no escape at this price point) Pioneer LS-BS22-LRs. I still have my venerable and beloved A/D/S L520s, which due to the aforementioned resonance problem, simply overpower the room. I cannot bring myself to sell them, though, hope springs eternal. My musical tastes are best described as being all over the place.

              I currently reside in the College View neighborhood of Lincoln, Nebraska; a nice, old part of town. Although Lincoln is home to the flagship campuses of the University of Nebraska, the college in view is Union College, a private religious/liberal arts/nursing school run by the Seventh Day Adventists. In addition to the big city park across the street, that campus has a good sized arboretum for the commons area. Being not far east of the High Plains, we love our trees.

              Sorry for your loss. We lost my wife to metastasized breast cancer 16 years ago. Our only child married a computer science PhD (and more importantly, a good man) who landed a plum job with a major player in Silicon Valley. They now have a little girl of their own, Teensy Sweety: the Next Generation (and thank the good Lord for Skype). I had a large house, but it was far more than just me needed, so I downsized. Despite the resonance problem, I like it here.

              And out of similar curiosity, what hardware and software/genres do you listen to?

              1. Good afternoon Confused Steven!
                It was a little more then 20 years ago when I lost my third and late wife.
                She was a dish washer for Pizza Hut right up until she pinched a nerve in her back.
                She went in to the hospital to have an operation performed on her back.
                But they weren’t paying too close attention to their monitoring equipment.
                Because if they had been, then they would have known right away, that she was in very serious trouble with her heart.
                She was 52 when I lost her.
                I only left Daytona for awhile, to come back up here to Lake City to take care of my father when I got that phone call.
                To answer your question, I’m really a lover of jazz.
                But just like you, I and my current wife, welcoms just about all kinds of music.
                I have a sizable collection of CD’s.
                I also have a sizable collection of records too as well.
                I can’t listen to my record collection just yet, because I don’t own a turntable yet.
                But sometime in the near future, that will change.
                I record an offel lot of music from my iPad while I’m streaming music from Apple Music.
                I have a pare of Welten USA speakers that I rebuilt myself.
                And they’re being driven by an Avantone Pro CLA-100 reference power amp.
                And I have an old Mcintosh MQ-107 equalizer.
                And all of that is being driven by my 47 year old JVC 4VR-5445 quadriphonic receiver.
                And also, I have a 22 year old JVC 5disc CD changer.
                But when it starts getting really cold outside, I will hook my Jolida JD-1000p all tube power amp back up.
                That’s my whole intire system in my living room.
                In my bed room, I have a quod of Avantone Pro CLA-10 studio monitors stacked up on top of a pare of JBL LSR-310S powered studio subwoofers.
                That whole intire system is being driven by a vintage Fisher 800 all vacuum tube stereo receiver.
                Most of the time, the audio saurse is my Hopper3 receiver that gives us both TV and music.
                My wife and I, keep that one, always tuned in to some kind of a jazz music channel.
                But at bed time, we retire to a Tivoli Audio Mottle1-BT tabletop radio.
                And the hopper3 is connected to it, via bluetooth.
                But that’s my setup for both of my systems.
                When I’m running my computer out here in the living room, I’m using two identical Tivoli Audio Mottle 1 radios as a pare of computer speakers.
                I’m controling the volume of both of them, by my Pioneer recording leveler.

                1. I also have a Tivoli Model 1 radio in the bedroom. Its auxilary input is fed by an old (white plastic case) Apple MacBook with a DVD-ROM drive and an AudioQuest Dragonfly Black mini-DAC. I have burned about 4 or 5 score CDs onto the hard drive via iTunes (have to type in all the metadata by hand, a nuisance but it is what it is). It’s what I have and it still works.

                  I don’t do much streaming, but my son-in-law lets me piggyback on their TIDAL Masters family and friends account. The portable Dragonfly also does the decoding duties into the main stereo via an Apple ‘camera’ adaptor (lighting to USB B plus parallel lightning ports). The parallel lightning port is handy for also connecting the charger simultaneously and keeping the DAC from draining the battery on the iPhone 6 too fast. It sounds much better than the iPhone’s built-in DAC and headphone jack, of course, and can decode MQA files to 88.2kHz/24 bit. I still prefer the sound of my Arcam DV135 not-quite-universal player (stereo only and it doesn’t know what blu-ray is, but otherwise it will play any chrome doughnut you feed it) for CDs, HDCDs, and SACDs.

                  1. Good morning Confused Steven!
                    Saturday morning, I went to Walmart to pick up a few things.
                    One of the few things I picked up, was a 100 count of blank DVD’s.
                    I told the lady that helped me out, that I wanted double layer DVD’s
                    She was talking about DVD-r and DVD+r.
                    I have both a DVD burner and a blue ray burner on my computer.
                    She asked me how old my computer was.
                    I told her, that I’ve had it for a cupple of years.
                    The operating system got upgraded three times sense this computer came in to my home.
                    I’m holding out on Windows 11 until I learn a little more about it, before I download it.
                    But the problem I keep running in to, is getting this thing to write audio files to any one of those discs.
                    I tried using Windows Media Player to do it, but that didn’t work.
                    And so, I also tried using Burn Aware to do it, but that didn’t work either.
                    And so, I tried using Express Burn, but that piece of NCH software didn’t work for me at all either.
                    And so, I’m racking my brain trying to figure out how to make long playing CD’s out of these DVD+R’s
                    If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.
                    And thank you in advance!

  5. My media room has an unusual configuration, that leaves me unsure on how it affects the acoustics. Perhaps someone else has dealt with a similar configuration.

    Imagine a room 15 1/2 ft wide by 14 ft deep. The long wall on one side of the media room is open to a much larger living room of over 30 ft by 40 ft. The smaller media room does not share a continuous side wall with the larger living room, because it juts out from the approximate center of the 40 ft long living room wall.

    With my speakers position along the line separating the media room and the living room, and pointed towards the media room back wall, I essentially have no front wall. Or I guess you could say the speakers are positioned 2/3 of the way away from the front wall. But this ignores the influence of not having continuous sidewalls.

    The speakers must be positioned along the line separating the two rooms and facing the media back wall. My significant other and furniture provides me no other option.

    So is this situation good for acoustics? Or bad for acoustics? I should be finishing my speaker project in another couple months, so I will learn for sure then. But I will be battling many other technical issues at the same time.

  6. What we need to understand is that we need to create a minimum delay of at least 5 milliseconds from early reflections.
    If the delay is less than 5 milliseconds then it is perceived by your ears & brain as direct sound & the impact that this has is that it muffles the transients so that the leading edges of notes are not so clearly well defined.
    It also has an impact on the soundstage & our ability to place instruments within that soundstage.
    So soundstage, imaging & transient behaviour are all affected if you do not delay critical early reflections by at least 5 milliseconds.

    There’s no getting around the physics of this!
    To achieve this you need to keep your loudspeakers away from all reflective surfaces…the front wall, the side wall, the floor, the ceiling.

    We need to understand how far sound will travel to create that 5 millisecond delay.
    Under normal atmospheric conditions sound travels at roughly 34cms, just over 1 foot, per millisecond.
    So we’re trying to get it to travel a distance of an extra 1.7 metres from the diaphragm of the driver, reflect (hit the wall) & then back to the front baffle of the loudspeaker before it arrives at our tympanic membranes; so it’s half that distance of 1.7 metres that you are looking to achieve,
    ie. 85 cms…just over 3′

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjliP25NiW4

        1. Let me save up the money first I’ve been spending it all on audio equipment and recordings.

          Sometimes I’m not that fond of Tarun. This video was a Super Duper presentation that he made. I’m going to re-subscribe to his YouTube channel.

        2. Let me save up the money first I’ve been spending it all on the audio equipment and recordings.

          Sometimes I’m not that fond of Tarun. This video was a Super Duper presentation.. I’m going to re-subscribe to his YouTube channel.

    1. I’d forgotten about Harun. Paul can’t compete with him because he talks proper and wears a Lord’s t-shirt. Unbelievable. And the videos are brilliant, as is his system that is perfect for the room.

  7. It’s definitely the bare minimum with my apogee duetta 2, but my polk SDA’s only need about 6″ from the wall in my dedicated room. In my living room the Polk’s could be run right up against the wall.

  8. It is interesting to note that when it comes to speaker placements in a room, it is always a case of placing them square to the room. Why? My listening space gives me a particular problem in that I have to put my listening position to one side; the speakers are thus positioned at a slight angle, about 15°. I am getting good results. I think I am using reflections off the walls to my advantage. Has anyone experimented with that? Don’t just place the speakers square to the back wall.

  9. “As well, another reason why speaker size compared to room size doesn’t matter as much as many folks suspect.”

    Paul, What do mean? Are you saying that room size matters more than speaker size? Or are you saying it is OK to put little speakers in big rooms and big speakers in small rooms?

    1. Exactly, Tony. The latter (within reason). It’s common to believe that speaker size should match room size when actually that’s rarely accurate.

      But that has to be tempered with common sense. You physically couldn’t place the IRS system in most rooms.

      That said, a proper pair of bookshelf speakers and a sub in my big room would likely work as well as a large pair of floor standers.

  10. With my loudspeakers I hear no appreciable difference when adjusting the speaker driver plane in a range 3.5 feet to 5.5 feet away from the front wall, so I just leave them at 3.5 feet and enjoy more space in the living room. I have at least 7 feet from the speakers to the side walls, the benefit of a large living room. My loudspeakers are forgiving in that they throw an impressive holographic 3D soundstage with uniform bass in the many different rooms I’ve had them in, often much closer to walls than they are now.

  11. Great and useful post. After being in the audio biz years back, and having been enjoying this hobby for 45 years, i have learned a couple of useful tips that might be helpful (or not).
    1. most people listen too far away from their speakers
    2. most people sit too high relative to their tweeters and mids (not applicable for speakers like Maggies)
    3. most people have their speakers too close together.

    I use the following measurements with my Thiel 3.7 speakers;

    1. distance from the front wall to the baffle: 69″
    2. distance from the tweeter/mid to my ear: 96″
    3. distance the tweeter/mid are apart: 110″ with only about 2 degrees toe in.

    Notice that the speakers are much further apart than i am from them but i do not get any “hole in the middle” and have a very large and deep soundstage. Of course this will vary from speaker to speaker and i just put this out there if anyone wants to “violate” the rule of thirds.

  12. Oooh, more measurements to compare hahaha.
    Bass antinodes are the bane of my living room.
    Movin’ movin’ movin’
    Keep movin’ movin’ movin’
    Though they’re disapprovin’
    Keep them speakers movin’

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