What do we do when creating or even upgrading a media room? Most of us will start researching gear. We look for the best we can afford, in each category. This will usually mean amps and speakers. What comes next is installing all the new shiny gear. Installing audio gear means different things to different people. For some this means putting the speakers in the corners of the room and setting the amp on some type of shelf or rack. For others this means breaking out levels, tape measures, and planning the furniture layout. This seems to me like a great intro post for the Hifi Chicken as correcting room layout is something anyone can do with the gear they already have usually costs nothing to do. Let’s get into it.
The first step is to have an objective or goal for your room, are you looking for perfect reproduction of sound, or is it something else. Not everyone is looking for the an acoustically perfect room, and most of us will never achieve one. Once you know what you are looking to achieve you can start with looking at your own room and everything it in. Any object in a room will change the sound of the room to some degree or another. This includes the walls, windows, doors and furniture, some of which are out of your control. For a basic setup we will ignore the items that can not be changed by simply relocation, such as walls.
We are going to discuss a two channel stereo setup for simplicity, the principals will apply to however many channels you add.
Ideally you will want a symmetrical room, in terms of both speaker placement and furniture placement. All speakers come with recommendations for how far from a given wall they should be placed, both on the sides and to the rear. You will want to start there and match both the left and right channels. The first order reflections are what are at play here, that is, the location in the room where sound first hits an object. If the speakers are placed different to one another, these reflections will no longer be in sync and can change how you perceive the left and right channels. The next step will be how much do you angle the speakers in or out as well as up or down. I found it best to start at parallel to both the walls and floor, then from there make about 1 degree changes in towards the center of room until it sounded best to me as well as kept plenty of separation in the channels. This is not something that has a magic number as every speaker plays differently in any given room. For up an down angle changes this is something that may come down to personal preferences as well as speaker design. A speaker like the JBL L100 has factory stands that tilt it up at the listener, where as a bookshelf unit like the KEF LS50 is usually shown sitting parallel to the floor at ear height. Which brings us to the next placement parameter which is height. Ideally your tweeter should be as close to the same height as your ear when sitting in your normal listing position. Again this is just a good starting point and then from there you can make tweaks to match your preference and room dynamics.
I recommend doing any speaker changes with all the furniture you plan to have in the room in there, as that will effect the end sound. In terms of furniture in a stereo room set up, it’s best to place the seating in the center of the wall opposite the speakers, or as close too as you can get. This will give the best stage for the left and right channels. That is to say though you may not want it against that opposite wall but rather just centered left to right.
Once you have everything positioned how it sounds best to you, this is when room correction utilities such as Marantz’s Audyssey will truly help. These utilities are not made to cover up a bad setup but rather to fine tune for minor acoustic issues that can be present in a room. One of the items I can not change about my own listening room is the entry point which is off to the left and slightly back in from the wall the left speaker is on. This does change the sound of the room, and an issue that room correction software may be able to mitigate.
Hopefully the basic intro into room setup will help you get the most out gear you already have or are about to purchase. I found that make small adjustments to my room layout made more of a difference than some of my equipment changes.
In the next post we will discuss the next step in room set up and that is Room Treatments.
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