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  • Writer's pictureSteve Elford

Speaker Setup – Part 1

Updated: Mar 14

Basic Symmetry

Listening optimisation always includes a certain amount of debate and experimentation with room layout and speaker positioning. It's a very important topic and well worth going over the principles.

Assuming you have a good system that performs well intrinsically, perhaps the first thing to consider is your listening style. Do you want a combination of a reasonably good setup but with significant consideration of other domestic requirements, or a fully adjusted listening seat and speaker position ‘triangle’ for accurate stereo reproduction? Let’s consider the first scenario for this blog and come back to the high-accuracy setup at a later date. 

It also might be that you’re at a certain point in your upgrade path where you’re making upgrades now, say moving up to a set of speakers with a wider bandwidth than you’ve had before, so positioning is going to become more important to avoid some symmetry and room acoustic pitfalls. 

With basic symmetry, what we should try to avoid is the case where the fundamental room position and local furnishings is significantly different for the left and right speaker. These problems might be that one speaker is in an alcove or on a shelf but the other is in a clearer space, or one has heavy furnishings close to it and the other doesn’t. Maybe one is much closer to a rear wall than the other. These differences in symmetry will have an unbalancing effect on the sound. 

First, if we look at bass response in the room, if one speaker is much closer to a rear boundary than the other, or boxed in by an alcove, that speaker is likely to be producing much more reinforced bass than the other. Perhaps the other speaker is in too much open space and therefore bass light (depends on the general bass output of the speakers of course). So you might find that when listening in different parts of the room that the bass you can hear varies considerably, or perhaps it is boomy and uncontrolled with certain types of music. So this is the first consideration to keep in mind. 

Next, if one speaker has considerably more soft furnishings close by than the other, there may be a marked difference in projection of the midrange and treble each side. The soft furnishings will absorb more acoustic energy of course, while an open space will leave a lot more midrange and treble radiating out and bouncing around that side of the room. This is the second main symmetry consideration. 

So have a good look at the basic symmetry situation in your setup and see if there is scope for improvement. Move things around if possible and see if you can even up the distances between rear and side walls or move your setup around to a different end or side of the room (pretty drastic this one but it might be on the cards!). Listen to bass performance as you even things up, listening from different seats in the room and get an idea how things are improving. Then also see if you can even up any imbalance in mid and treble absorption. Maybe you can move one piece of soft furnishing across from one side of the room to the other. And again keep listening as you make the changes. 

When I have helped people with system issues in their home, there have been a few occasions where the basic system symmetry has been significantly out of balance. The symmetry problem then naturally comes up in the conversation, to see if any improvements in that regard can be made. So if the client is willing, and with a bit of work repositioning speakers and furniture, the result is almost always a significant sound quality improvement. The overall better presentation then also allows further and more effective gains with other system upgrades with things like supports and cabling for example - their gains are now more readily heard when the basic symmetry is in reasonable balance. 

Basic symmetry is always a factor to be considered, and once you've had a few goes at it you'll find that it's always an element in your system setup thinking. And when you want to move into the realm of accurate stereo setup, basic symmetry will be an important building block for the next level of refinement.

A setup with lots of speakers!
A setup with lots of speakers!

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