Speakers and How To Position Them for Maximum Sound Quality
Getting the most boom for your buck

By. Jay R. Gibson

January 1, 2003

Whether you purchase the most expensive, or the cheapest set of speakers, position is the key for getting the most out of them. If this is done properly, any set of speakers can enhance the aural atmosphere and create a sense of space to movies, games and music. Most people who buy new speakers, usually just grab them out of the box, throw them on the table, plug them in and give them a test run. This is not a bad way to start off but there is a lot more you can do to produce better sound. 

Throughout the 20th century, the step by step improvement in audio quality has produced products that can duplicate sound at near exact levels as one would hear live. Currently in today's market, certain companies have excelled in audio performance and have produced speakers, audio systems and equipment that have surpassed previous standards. Leading today, are companies such as; Bose, Klipsch, THX ltd., Dolby and Velodyne, who all produce sound equipment that professionals and enthusiasts have taken a hold of in the search for the best sound. This guide will hopefully help you understand how sound reacts with objects and how to configure your current sound system for optimum performance, whether it be in your Living Room or Computer Room.

 How Sound Waves Travel
 How Sound Gets From Your Speakers To Your Ear

Well before you get to moving your speakers around your room/office/studio/etc., the first thing you should know is how sound actually works. Some might be wondering why this is important.  Well, to properly place your speakers for the optimum clarity, one needs to know how sound waves work and react with objects around them.  I know, I know... physics is not the most exciting subject but it will pay off in the end, trust us on this. 

To start with, sound is a compression waveform that can move through air and materials (I.e. glass, metals), but not a vacuum (sorry, you would not actually hear the Death Star blow up in outer space) .  This wave is created by the back and forth vibration of an object, such as a tuning fork or a speaker cone.  Just like most other waves, a sound wave has distinct characteristics; amplitude, velocity, wavelength and pitch. 

All four characteristics are very important to the sound wave.  Amplitude is basically the same thing as loudness, velocity is the speed at which the sound actually takes to leave the object and reach another point (roughly 1000 feet per second), wavelength is the distance from one crest to another and pitch is the sound of the wave the we hear.  Pitch is determined by how long or short the wavelength is.  The shorter the wavelength is, the higher the note.  The longer the wavelength, the lower the note.

Now, depending on the objects location and material its constructed of, sound can interact very differently. Their are typically a few things that sound will do, be it reflected, absorbed, transmitted, refracted and/or diffracted or cancel out.

  • Reflection: Hard materials, like concrete, steel or other dense substances can reflect waves that hit them. The further away the hard surface is, the easier it is to notice the echo (I.e. echo in a big stadium).

  • Absorption: Softer materials have a tendency to absorb sound (I.e. drapes, t-bar ceilings, big squishy couches). In most cases these are used to purposely eliminate echoes and unwanted noise reverb in theaters, recording studios.

  • Transmission: Because sound is made up of vibrations in matter, it can be transmitted through most objects.  When sound hits an object, some of it gets reflected off the surface, but a good majority passes right through it.  A good example of this is your noisy neighbor with the big sound system, that keeps playing loud music late into the night.  Oh wait, that's annoyance, which is a different matter altogether.

  • Refraction / Diffraction: This doesn't really effect the sound of a wave, it just changes the direction of it.  When a sound wave comes in contact with an edge of an object or passes through one, the object alters its path, so it sounds like the sound is coming from it.

  • Noise Cancellation: This is caused when two sound waves that are out of phase (a peak of one wave occurs when the valley of another does), they will cancel each other out and cause no sound.

Get all that??  Good...  That's the quick guide of how sound works. So lets blow through a few more quick subjects, then we can be on to the good stuff, speaker set up.

Speaker Innards and Digital Systems