Great sound isn't just about speakers: Getting room acoustics right


  • TECH
  • Saturday, 30 Nov 2019

The placement and angle of speakers in a room can have a huge effect on sound quality. — dpa

Consumers are willing to spend good money on sound systems these days. Sales in the global audio market (excluding North America) grew by 15% year-on-year in the first half of 2019 to nearly €8bil (RM36.7bil), according to market researchers GfK.

But whether your system sounds really great depends on more than just the tech and the speakers.

Placement of your speakers is of the utmost importance. "You can't hear in stereo if you don't take care of the placement," says Ralph Werner, editor of the online magazine Fairaudio.

Speaker placement clearly influences sound quality and definition. Some ground rules: If the speakers are further apart, the sound becomes airier and lighter. If they are closer together, the sound in the middle will be more solid and physical. Let your personal taste guide you, Werner says.

Alignment also has a big effect. If the speakers are placed parallel, the sound space becomes larger and again more airy, Werner says. If the speakers are set at inward angles, you get a higher definition between voices and instruments, though the highs can become aggressively exaggerated.

Malte Ruhnke, editor-in-chief of the trade magazine Stereoplay, offers an additional tip: You can angle the speakers so the sound paths cross in front of the listening position. The highs will become softer, while the playback precision is enhanced.

If you're considering a basic setup, there are fewer decisions to make. Tweeters and mid-range speakers should be placed at ear height, so the speakers and listeners form a triangle. "The proper listening distance from the speakers is between 2 and 2.5 meters for most setups, no more," Ruhnke says. Then the sound is "more dynamic, more neutral and clearer."

The distance from the walls to the speakers is also important. If speakers are too close to the wall, the bass can be blown out. The ideal distance depends on the speakers themselves. But if your speaker doesn't carry the bass enough, you can try moving it closer to the wall to pump it up, Werner says.

Room acoustics are of great importance: "It is as important as the speaker model," Werner says. A normally furnished living room is good to work with, but a more spartan style or lots of windows can be problematic.

"Sound-reflecting surfaces produce too much reverberation, making the hi-fi reproduction sound diffuse, aggressive, rattling or shrill," Ruhnke says. These include walls, windows and tables.

Fabrics, carpets and upholstered furniture dampen or absorb sound, especially the high ranges. Werner says big L-shaped sofas in the corners of a room are excellent bass absorbers if you're getting too much boom.

If there is a wall directly behind the listener's seat, placing a wide bookshelf there can help absorb sound.

For professional-level sound, you can experiment with diffusers that scatter sound throughout the room. Any rough and irregular structures can serve this purpose, such as a bookshelf, canvas prints or a larger standing plant. And absorbers, such as heavy curtains that take energy from the sound, will make the bass more precise.

Ruhnke says you'll know a good system when you hear it: "It all depends on a healthy relationship between absorption, reflection and diffusion." – dpa

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