How can you be certain your speakers are precisely aligned? – and why you should care!

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First, a cautionary note if I may. The plain fact is that the majority of adults listening seriously to music in the home (but not necessarily listening to serious music) is a male occupation. Moreover most men who engage in this generally harmless activity do so alone. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this brief piece and in terms of the intended outcome, irrelevant. Other than to say that the uncomplicated yet effective procedure shown below assumes one listener in the sitting position rather two or more side by side.

And before you ask, yes it might possibly ‘work’ for listeners in row each behind the one at the front (suddenly I’m visualising all those rowers in the opening credits of Hawaii Five-O) but you’d need a long room and anyway, it would be daft. So, moving on ….

Were you aware that the most commonly overlooked and/or under appreciated issue in audio is speaker alignment? Probably not. Some experienced listeners and speaker designers are of the opinion that 90% of the systems out there are under-performing due to improper alignment. They argue that in all probability you’ll achieve worthwhile sonic improvements by careful attention to speaker placement and alignment.

In my view, if you check and then adjust (if necessary) only one measurement then it’s equalising the distance from listener to each speaker. If imaging is important to you (and why not?) then sound from the 2 speakers must arrive at the listening position at precisely the same moment. This requires that the speakers be placed exactly the same distance away from the main seating position. I find a tape measure for this procedure can be a bit clumsy so I use a string (taped to a point at ear level in the listening position) to match the distances. I have to say – despite being a sceptic that in some situations fractions of an inch really matter!

It is critical that one take the time to insure locating and set-up have been fully optimised. It would be difficult to overstate the importance that a small change can make here. Once you've got things pretty close, you'll find that just a quarter of an inch makes a very noticeable difference – usually. Even if you’ve not noticed anything in particular you’ve certainly not done any harm – unless of course your life-partner (by which I mean a human, not your turntable or your Dire Straits album) is irate that you ‘ruined the room’s visual balance’

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  • ed hryniewicz

    A cautionary note. I once was puzzled by an apparently inferior to normal sound from my hifi. After checking all the interconnect connections, mains leads and so on I still couldn’t figure out the reason. Was I imagining it?
    Later in the day, I realised that I had forgotten to re-place the speakers after moving them forward to hoover behind them. The moral of the tale – don’t do housework!

    • listen

      Well, good afternoon Ed. A pleasure to hear from you again. Were you imagining it? Probably not. I and many of my trade colleagues have had similar experiences. Of course there is the possibly of self-delusion albeit in a benign way so I guess correctly stated, that it’s our perception of the change followed by the degree of significance involved. The latter of course being an inconvenient variable. Your comment is timely. It’s a catalyst for a bit of writing on my part. I wish for you, and everyone else reading this, everything that can reasonably wish for in 2014. Thank you. Howard.