The spike dilemma

July 26, 2017
 by Paul McGowan

Audiophiles spike their speakers for better sound. Debate rages as to spike’s efficacy, but I don’t intend to address that in this post. Instead, I want to examine the decision to use them in the first place.

Spikes are supposed to provide a degree of isolation. The thought goes something like this. Coupling a loudspeaker to the floor with its full base touching, transfers speaker energy into the floor—something we don’t want to do. Some would rather all the energy moves air instead.

I would argue that one of the reasons we even use speakers, as opposed to headphones, is to recreate what happens in a concert where sound pressure moves more than just air. We feel sound as well as hear it.

If spiking a set of loudspeakers lessen the physical movement of music in the room, are we not attempting to ameliorate one of the principal benefits of the speakers themselves?

Food for thought.

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46 comments on “The spike dilemma”

  1. I have concrete floors, don’t think I can get them moving. I replaced the plastic rails that cones screwed into, with Star Sound cones. I drilled holes in the bottom, and installed threaded inserts. I did partially to change the angle of the speakers. The tweeters sit kind of high, by setting the front cones in all the way, and the back ones about .5″ out, the tweeters now aim right at my ear height. And they are more solid, the plastic rails were held in with long wood screws that were loose from moving 175lb speakers around.
    I always thought the idea was for the cabinet to be rigid, so that only the drivers are moving.

    1. I understand what you did and that is cool. I do have one question on this, and it also goes towards the other replies. It seems like my cabinet is heavy enough not to be affected by the movements of the drivers. I have Tannoy XT8F’s up front and the spec says they weigh 19.9 kg (43.9 lbs). Isn’t 20Kg/44lbs enough weight not to be affected by two 8″ drivers? I have seen speakers that are above my budget and they seem to be made even more solid than mine. So how much force does a driver really have? Scott

      1. I don’t think I am qualified to answer your question. One thing you can do, is see if you can find any reviews that test the cabinet for resonances. Stereophile does that. Depending on frequency it can effect the cleanliness of the midrange. You have two 8″ drivers in a 44lb cabinet, I have three 12″ drivers in 175lb cabinet. It all has to do with rigidity. If you are happy with the sound, why worry, but if you have things you think the speakers could do better, try some things. An easy one is to place some weight on top of the cabinet. Providing it is flat, put something on that will protect the finish, a thin towel, or ??? Then place some dumbbells, or weights of any type, as long as you have two, then listen for a few days, remove and listen. If it sounded better with the added weight, create something more elegant.
        If your speakers didn’t come with cones or spikes, Tannoy may have felt whatever they use is best, or it was a budget decision. The cones I used without the inserts, and tools to install them, [I bought a drill guide, to be sure I drilled in straight, drill bit stops, and a T handle to install them.] retailed for $60 a piece, or $480 for 8. But I got them for 1/3 that price. I got lucky, as I needed large cones with long threaded studs. If you decide to try spikes, check out Parts Express. They make a nice spike for a real good price. I bought a set for a wood shelf, one I would not have bought if Audio Advisor had been selling their Pangea shelf. Anyway for my use the top shelf and bottom shelf are now rigid.
        So, it can be done for a very good price.
        I hope that gives some ideas on how to experiment, without breaking your budget.

        1. Thanks! I will try that or maybe the spikes to these disks that go under them I will try. I am trying to learn this. But my Tannoy’s came with some really nice billeted aluminum adjustable spikes. I just know what will happen on the wooden floor with those… I found this in a review, but it’s not really a number like I think you were talking about. I am not sure what a good number would be anyway. I have been reading and making changes from a book “Get Better Sound” by Jim Smith. So far the improvement on the sound after making suggested changes have actually been huge! I made some moves with my front in respect to the subs and I was like WOW! Here is the article and thanks for explaining and the advice. Does any of this make sense to you? The resonance part is at the bottom. ARTICLE> The woofers are loaded by two chambers connected via an internal port. The lower chamber is smaller in volume, and vents to the exterior through a downward-firing port at the bottom of the cabinet. This type of dual-chamber bass-reflex alignment was described as early as 1961 by George Augspurger in an article in Electronics World, but has seen little commercial application since then. In contrast with a conventional bass reflex, which is tuned to a single frequency, the dual-chamber design is tuned to two frequencies typically an octave apart. As a consequence, compared to a conventional bass reflex, the double bass reflex is able to control woofer excursion over a wider range, well into the deeper low end. This was evident in the impedance magnitude plot that showed well-damped woofer resonance peaks. The impedance minimum in the upper bass clocks in at about 3 ohms while the maximum is about 40 ohms in the upper midrange.

          1. Hi, I took a look at your speakers, if you have been following Jim Smith, you don’t really need me. One thing if you have measured your speakers in room. Now easy to do if you can find online, or buy Stereophile’s test CD, the one with the tones from 1000hz down. You can get afree app for your phone or tablet, while not calibrated it should give you readings based on setting 1000hz at 70 or 80db, and then writing down the measurement for each lower tone. I found this, read the whole review, but pay attention to partial or completely plugging the port. If they came with spikes, I would use them, and sure you the protective discs if needed. Read this:
            http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/tannoy-revolution-xt-8f-loudspeaker/

  2. There’s a fascinating thought Paul. Do you experience music better because your speakers are sitting on a flexible floor (wood floor boards on wooden joists)? I’m not sure I’d like my floor vibrating in sympathy with the music! Would you lose some of your connection with the performance if the speakers were placed on a solid concrete floor?

  3. The idea is we want the speaker cones to create vibrations in the room, but having the speaker itself move isn’t what we want at all.

    By coupling the speaker rigidly to the floor, it better resists movement in response to the movement of the speaker cones.

    Think of it this way; if you exert the same force when jumping into a pool, you will get a better transfer of momentum if jumping directly from a concrete pool deck than from atop an upturned plastic bucket; in the latter case some energy will be lost as the bucket is inevitably propelled backwards.

    That’s what we want to avoid happening to a speaker when a cone makes a strong movement.

    1. I stand corrected. Thank you. A number of people have pointed out that while most people use spikes to decrease vibrations as the post suggested, the original purpose of spikes was to transfer excess energy from the speaker into the floor, thus removing some of the unwanted energy from the cabinet.

      1. I have read over the years some loudspeaker manufactures saying that their speakers do not need to be spiked because of their weight which is of course correct. I tried with my speakers to spike them and found less bass but a little tighter, but I rather a little more bass. I have never noticed much difference in the mid-range so I pretty much do not spike, I just tilt, meaning any of my box speakers goes right on the floor with two felt sliders under each front corner and I’m a happy man. By the way everybody, I just have to tell everyone what I use under my turntable and that is ( Super Sliders by Waxman. 3 1/2 in. Felt Sliders Item #0037456 ) black side up. I buy these at Lowes and find they work better than all those expensive high end component footers that sell at insane prices. Yes, a Turntable can be spiked, but I much prefer my felt sliders. So here’s another thing about spiking where as a turntable needs to be isolated but not necessarily spiked.

  4. Starting off on a bit of a tangent; I like to take some sort of speaker with me when traveling, since I do not really enjoy listening through headphones or earbuds, and it is sometimes good to be able to provide background music. Since I often travel by air without checked baggage, they need to be small and light. I have very small powered conventional speakers, but the bass response is obviously appalling. At one time I had a resonance speaker, which transfers sound energy to the surface on which it is placed. This gave much better bass, but had virtually no treble, particularly if stuck to a table rather than a window. It was still more satisfactory than the mini-speakers, so much so that my son appropriated it and that was that! Now if I could only find one which had a built-in tweeter.

    The point of this anecdote is that it is certainly possible to couple speaker sound energy to the surface on which it is placed, and have that surface act as a radiator, but it is horribly unpredictable. For a high fidelity system you would need to modify the signal to the speaker to take account of it, which might be possible with a tri-amped system with DSP, but would be difficult for less sophisticated setups. I feel it is better to isolate the speaker acoustically from the surface on which it is placed.

  5. We have wooden floors and I can’t pick up my speakers, so I put felt pads under my speakers where the spikes would have been. This way I can slide/move the speakers when I need to, without getting killed by my wife for scratching up the floor.

  6. Actually I was replying to another person but I have a question on this topic that maybe someone can help explain to me.
    It seems like my cabinet would be heavy enough not to be affected by the movements of the drivers. I have Tannoy XT8F’s up front and the spec says they weigh 19.9 kg (43.9 lbs). Isn’t 20Kg/44lbs enough weight not to be affected by two 8″ drivers? I have seen speakers that are above my budget and they seem to be made even more solid than mine. So how much force does a driver really have? Scott

  7. I have never found a dealer who could explain why a spike should stop the propagation of structure-/solid-borne sound. These experts always compared a spike’s effect with a diode. My argument always is: take a tuning fork and look to the tiny point contact allowing the structure-borne noise to make the forks resonate. Concerning the horizontal movement of the speaker or speaker baffle: just compare the possible movement created by Newton’s law (actio = reactio) to the tiny displacement of the tweeter’s membrane and you get an idea how essential it is to get a stable baffle.

  8. I am confused….somewhat!
    I read a lot about audio and do my best in following affordable suggestions. I believe all of the aformationed post around Paul’s thread but I very recently had a not so nice forum member (another forum) insist to me that concrete floors are the best floors to have for your speakers . I, perhaps ignorant NEVER read or heard anything of that nature.
    My dedicated room is in the basement of a converted garage. Cement floor with padding and and industrial carpet.
    At first I was not using anything on my speakers…spikes. Then I purchased two sub-dudes form Auralex and I like what I am hearing. I notice better separation between the mid-range and woofers.
    I just end wanted to know from others having a concrete floor what their opinions are on this subject…including Paul.
    Thanks everyone,
    another good topic Paul,
    Frank

    1. My dedicated sound room is also on concrete slab with under padding and carpeting. My speakers came with spikes, but in the coarse of positioning them , I slid them around without spikes. They were unlistenable sitting on the carpet. They had to be isolated from the carpet and grounded to the concrete.
      In my friend’s sound room, he has his large Revel Salon’s sitting unspiked on hardwood floors over concrete slab. They do sound good but I do wonder how much more detailed they would be if spiked. He won’t even try it, even though spikes were provided, because they were reviewed that way !

  9. If a speaker comes from the manufacturer with spikes I use them as I believe that is part of their design criteria. Conversely if they don’t come with spikes, I don’t bother. I believe some speaker manufacturers actually use cabinet resonance as part of their tuning process.

  10. I have a Cement slab floor with med carpeting and pad .i am currently using Martin Logans
    New 11-A which uses 24 bit DSP to blend from the midbass 300hz into the upper 20hz region
    Having 2 powered bass drivers per speaker ,and built in Bass room correction truly helps the Bass do its job properly.without question in my case the 1.5 inch machined 3/8 inch thread spikes give me better focus and depth then the Majority sub standard 5/16 diameter threadmany mistakes many speaker companies make is the spike threads are just to small to dissipate the energy quickly .several high end speaker companies relayed this common mistake also with my speakers there is a metal sub assembly that isolates the stat panel
    From the Bass energy. That is why with spikes or whatever platform you use under your
    Speakers there are many variables. Just as with room acoustics Nothing is set in stone.

  11. I employ springs from Machina Dynamica , a small tweak company. By putting them under all my components internal vibrations are neutralized in 3 dimensions. They come in various sizes and weight handling abilities. True audio bargains

  12. It’s not the transfer of bass energy to the floor that is the issue, Paul, but what happens to that energy once it has been transferred. I would expect the power response of a floor to differ from the power response of the speakers. Plus, spikes do indeed transfer energy to the floor. I use 3-point spiked bases under my tower speakers because my floor is not flat, and these spiked bases allow me to stabilize and properly level both speakers. As soon as I installed them, the sound improved – there was less smearing of the mid and treble ranges.

  13. It seems intuitive that one would want to treat speakers just like any other musical instrument, which tend not place their resonating chamber in direct contact with the floor (think cello, upright bass, kettle drums…). If you are trying to emulate the sound of these instruments (that have their chambers suspended above ground, often using a spike), it seems to follow that one would do the same with a speaker.

  14. One needs to think about how little movement in a driver produces loud sound. You can’t even see drivers moving when they’re blasting away. Then the need to keep the enclosure from moving becomes clearer(as does the need to keep the enclosure itself from vibrating, an even bigger problem in most speakers).

  15. I think the core point about spikes is that they simplify the mechanical interface between speaker and floor. It’s not the only solution to that problem, but it’s probably the simplest option – particularly with a rigid (i.e. concrete) floor. The problem gets much thornier, from a theoretical perspective, when the floor itself cannot be assumed to be rigid (such as a suspended floor) where the amount of damping in the speaker-floor coupling mechanism enters the equation.

  16. If you had speakers that were flat down to the lowest octave (very few are) you’d still have to pump more low frequency energy into them to hear deep bass. I love how these guys sell you speakers they claim are flat to 20 hz for $10,000 and then tell you that you need to buy a subwoofer they sell for a few thousand more which creates other problems. You really need two subwoofers. I also love Atkinson’s FR curves showing speakers flat to 20 hz based on his kludgy way of measuring them. Why do you need to pump more energy in them besides the fact that they don’t have flat FR? There are several reasons.

    If your house was built in the United States less than about 50 years ago, chances are the walls and ceiling are 1/2″ sheetrock screwed into 2 x 4 studs 16 inches on center with the screws one foot apart. The outside walls may be 5/8″ sheetrock. these are going to flex absorbing bass energy and other bass energy will pass right through them. Older houses like my parents’ were made with wet plaster on lath, much stronger. Paul’s room has two layers of sheetrock making them more rigid which helps some. The dimensions of your room are probably too small. You’ll get acoustic reinforcement of bass down to a cutoff frequency but owing to the dimensions of the room it will be well above the lowest notes. Unless you play sound at the level it was recorded at, you ears sensitivity to bass notes diminishes. If you play vinyl phonograph records, except for pipe organ records most were cut off at 50 hz for practical reasons. The bass is also monophonic on vinyl again for practical reasons.

    Do spikes help? I don’t know but I think they may be in the category of green felt tip pens and magic pebbles. Something more to sell. I know I’m not going to screw them into my speaker cabinets, especially the ones that weigh 125 pounds each. Some I suppose will put a hole in your carpet or in your wood floor, others rest on small discs. Either way I think they’ll be more prone to tipping over and much harder to move. Whatever they do or don’t do you’ve got many other problems with bass to deal with first.

    1. I like your remarks.
      All of this spikes, no spikes, cement better than wood etc is all subjective to YOU the listener. Having the b&w803 diamonds I was not worried about the floor creaking since it was on a cement floor. However I DID want isolation for the 803’s to compare what sound I would hear compared to solid cement even covered by padding and carpet. Having the 803’s on Auralex sub-dudes suspended approximately less than an inch from the floor I hear better sounding mid-range and lows..
      Of course this is what I hear and my opinion…however using spikes on carpet I feel is of no good use since in a lot of cases the spikes go thru the carpet to the wood floor or cement floor unless one is using metal discs under the spike.

  17. Paul, I believe the first issue is whether or not the floor is carpeted, regardless of whether there is wood or concrete underneath.

    Carpeting is nearly always installed with a pad underneath, area rugs not so often. So the question becomes how much softer, energy absorbing material is between the base of the speaker and the floor? In my experience carpeting decouples the speaker while spikes can penetrate that to regain coupling. I suspect it makes less difference with wood or concrete whether the speakers are spiked of not.

    There can also be a secondary reason, stabilization. The taller and thinner the speaker, think panels, the more likely it may be unstable without spikes.

  18. Spiking does not appear to have much if any influence on mid and high frequencies. It is the very low frequencies which tend to move the speaker cabinets because the drivers tend to move the cabinets back and forth. Bigger and heavier the the bass drivers more the movement. This is believed to result in muddying of the bass as only the cones should move ideally.Thus the concept of spiking. It works depending on the surface the speakers are placed on.There is greater movement on soft surfaces. Little if any on on hard surfaces. Regards.

  19. Its not always practical… I discovered something by accident. If you are willing to insert screw-in hooks on the top of your speakers? And devise a frame to go above the speaker? Hanging the speakers to the frames with moderate CHAINS will open up the sound like nothing else can. Its would probably be better if someone would invent a strap-on harness to hang the speakers with to protect their finish. And in doing so, the chain lengths can be fine tuned individually and adjusted with a turn screw type of device that is embedded in the frame. That way you can check the level of each speaker to match with a level bubble. I discovered this when I was forced to mount speakers from a wall using an wall extension platform. When the speakers sat on the platform they needed to be secured as to not fall off, or move. That choked the sound. When I raised the wall mounts and hung the speakers by chains from underneath these mounts. It just opened the sound right up in a wonderful way. I did that back in the late eighties with a pair of Sequerra Met 7 MK 2’s.

      1. stevensegal . I am not surprised someone created a hanging speaker. When I discussed with Dick Sequerra over the phone about hanging his Met 7 MKll’s from chains? He told me his large speaker system was suspended with chains from his ceiling. He told me he was looking right at them as we spoke. Back in the 70’s I helped set up a pair of EPI speakers for a friend who drove them with a refurbished Dynaco ST70. She did not know where to place them for here room was not conducive for a typical placement. Had a spontaneous thought… hung them from small chains from the ceiling. It was a phenomenal sounding system. I used to be amazed on how good it sounded. But, I did not make any connection with suspended speakers at that time.

  20. I just apply the rattle test. Put on some Massive Attack and if the speaker rattles, adjust the spikes. The calibration tool used is my hand placed gently on the top of the speaker.
    The science behind my approach is that a rattling speaker just doesn’t seem like a good thing at all.
    The advantage of using BBC box speakers is that you get the stands made to measure with the tweeter at ear-level height. The speakers are isolated from the stand using cabinet door bumpers, $2 per 100. I’ve got 92 left over, open to offers.
    When I’ve got some spare cash I’ll be renting a piling machine and going down to the bedrock, then fill in with a few hundred tonnes of concrete.

  21. i don’t think of the spikes letting vibrational energy dissipating the energy as much as structurally anchoring the structure and allowing the launch of the motions of the drivers to allow their pistonic motions to have integrity to the intended mission.

    mark smith, at the now defunct Audio Den in Van Nuys California, showed me that properly adjusted spikes would make the speaker so rock solid that they seemed to be an extension of the floor. any significant motion of the drivers are immediately converted to audible sound.

  22. I’m perplexed by this posting. I have always used spikes. A large number of speaker manufactures recommend and provide spikes with their speakers. And then there is the expensive after market spikes from such companies as Nordost. My understanding is that they de-couple the speakers from the floor to provide tighter and more defined bass and a more transparent mid range. Although my speakers sit on top of a carpeted concrete floor I still use spikes. Nevertheless, this post has questioned my approach and will try my speakers without spikes. I’m looking forward to the posts that lie ahead, because I’m wondering where Paul is going with this.

    1. Perhaps just as widely accepted as his 3rd universal tweak recommendation: “Buy a single, simple, decent-quality power strip, and plug into it every product in your system.”

  23. The claims made for cones, spikes, or any of the more elaborate isolation devices are often at odds with known science. But, they almost all have an effect on sound if your system is capable of being highly resolving, with lots of detail. Whether that effect is more to your liking is what matters. I bought some used Black Diamond pyramid cones, four of the number 3, four of the number 4. I found that a mix of these improved my perceived sound of my preamp and DAC, compared to other things I had been using. In different places I use a mix of brass cones, rubber stoppers, the cork and rubber iso-pads, some components a spiked shelf, iso-pads, then a cutting board with one of the other devices. The only one I never liked the sound of are Cardas/Ayre wood blocks. Others like them.
    Like everything else, cables for example, we use these things to fine tune our systems to our liking. I think we all have our own idea of what that is, or we would all own the same system.

  24. As usual, I’m late in reading this thread but it does give one a wider reading. I have to use spikes because I have a pair of Vandersteen 5a’s with the integral subwoofer firing down from the bottom of the cabinet. However, I have thought that spikes are more useful in isolating the speaker cabinet from the returning, reflective vibrations of the floor; thus letting the cabinet/speaker combination act the way the designer planned rather than combining the speaker/cabinet/floor. Perhaps that is the benefit of a heavy concrete floor also?

  25. There are three ways to stop a speaker from moving the floor: use coupled opposing woofers; bolt the speaker to a concrete pillar anchored in the ground; or suspend the speaker on laterally compliant material like soft foam feet, or hang it from a single point on the ceiling.

    If the goal is to move the room, then spiking to a sprung wooden floor is pretty good.

  26. As a pair of 70 lb ATC tower speakers were on the way – 54Hz-22kHz (-6 dB) – I asked at a couple of forums whether or not I should use any kind of additional isolation on my medium depth shag carpeted floor beyond the spikes ATC provided (as a condo, I assume there’s concrete under there somewhere). The answer was uniformly no. Soon, I had a couple of guys from a local audio shop over to refine their positioning, and when finished they added the spikes as a way of leveling and anchoring the speakers so they wouldn’t move. I didn’t hear any difference before-after and they didn’t mention anything.

    I do use thick rubber insulated wood blocks under all my components, including a P5 and DS.

  27. I go way back on these things, having started with mod squad tiptoes in the 80’s. Being an “audiophile” I now have a box full of various Black diamonds, rollerblocks which are home brew, isopods, Michael Green brass cones, and some without name.
    I never tried the myrtle blocks, but I sent back Nordost brass cones which didn’t make it. -Almost forgot the sandbox under turntable, now gone, along with a piece of slate on a lead balloon for the turntable, also gone. My go to footers are now Walker valid points under speakers and heavy amps. The Michael Green brass footers work well under my front end components. I won’t spring for the stillpoints, but I hear good things about them.
    My experience has led me to believe that solid wood shelves and brass footers reproduce music most accurately to the original. ( Is a cello coupled to a concrete floor? -no) Concrete floors or shelves, rubber footers, or springs help isolate components from feedback, but don’t do a lot to drain a components inherent vibrations. I believe it’s all about controlling and /or enhancing resonances.
    I enjoy my wood floor feeding back some deep bass to my spine from dual 100lb woofer cabinets. A 10 hz soundwave won’t develop in my listening room, but I can still feel it.
    -John

  28. The best tweak I’ve done to my speakers is to replace the spikes with hard, flat metal plates on 1/4 20 bolts. The music increased in liveliness, but the speakers themselves are as stable as before. The floor is a bamboo, floating floor over a concrete slab.

    1. Good idea! I use steel plates (1x5x10 cm)w/o bolts on a wooden floor. Do you have the plates on the ground and the bolts facing upwards?
      Without the plates a lot of energy dissipates into the floor.

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