How to Correctly Place Stereo Speakers for the Best Performance

Tips for Proper Stereo Speaker Placement for Awesome Audio

A home stereo system set up in the corner of a room, in front of a screen
Home audio setup.

There are a number of ways to get the best performance out of your stereo system. The easiest, which happens to cost only a bit of your time and patience, involves adjusting the location and orientation of your speakers. In fact, correct speaker placement may also be the most effective means to immediately enjoy fantastic audio performance from your stereo system. Every room is different, but there are several speaker placement tips that will make your system sound better. Take note that while these are meant for pairs of stereo speakers, they can also apply to multi-channel speaker systems. Here's what you need to know:

What Not to Do

  • Don’t place stereo speakers too near the front wall (the wall behind the speakers). Give them about two to three feet of space. In general, when speakers sit too closely to walls (especially corners), they can reflect sound off of surfaces as well as exhibit an over-amplified bass response (makes the bass sound too loud and/or boomy).
  • Don't orient the speakers so that they're completely parallel to each other. While this may look good for aesthetic reasons, it won't let your system sound its best. You'll want to angle the speakers – also known as toe-in – so that they focus towards the listening spot. This way, you can experience the sharpest-possible acoustic imaging (the sweet spot). However, it's worth double-checking your speaker's manual, as some models are designed so that they don't need to be angled in.
  • Don't just set speakers directly on the floor (exceptions to the rule are made for floor-standing tower speakers). Smaller speakers should be placed on stands (or shelves) tall enough so that the speakers are raised to approximately head/ear height. Many stands also help absorb reverberations and prevent the inclusion of noise.
  • Don't put anything in front of the speakers. This can mean small furniture (e.g. tables, stools, ottoman), home decor (e.g. picture frames, vases), books, DVDs, you name it. Any objects in front of the speakers will end up reflecting sound, causing distortion or blurring.

Apply the Golden Rectangle Rule

If your room permits, try placing the speakers about 3 feet from the front wall. This reduces reflections from the front and side walls (and it also helps to tame boomy bass). But the distances from the side walls are equally important too. The golden rectangle rule states that a speaker’s distance to the nearest the side wall should be 1.6 times its distance from the front wall. So if the distance from the front wall is 3 feet, then the distance to the nearest side wall should be 4.8 feet for each speaker (or vice versa if your room is wider than longer).

Once the speakers are in the ideal spot, angle them in by 30 degrees to face the listening spot. Essentially, you want the two speakers and the listener to create an equilateral triangle. If you want perfection, a protractor and measuring tape will help immensely. Keep in mind that you don't want the listener's head to be exactly at the corner of the triangle. Sit several inches closer so that the point rests behind the head. This way, your ears will pick up the left and right stereo channels perfectly.

Apply the 1/3 - 1/5 Rule

Position the speakers so that the distance between the front wall is 1/3 to 1/5 the length of the room. Doing so will prevent the speakers from creating standing waves and exciting room resonances (the peak and valley/null nodes when reflected frequency responses are in or out of phase with each other). Angle the speakers towards the listening position, just as with the golden rectangle rule above. Your listening position is as important as speaker position to achieve the best sound quality. 

Additional Speaker Placement Pro Tips

  • Don't be afraid to experiment with speaker placement. Every room is different and the methods presented above are guidelines.
  • Use masking tape on the floor to mark the speaker position as you experiment with placement options.