Experimenting with reversing polarity to speakers

Using a single pair of Clear Day double shotguns terminated with bananas feeding Totem Forest speakers. Am using Audioquest’s diagonal connection recommendation for bi-wireable speakers (see page 4 at link below;

"Using Full Range Cables On BiWire Capable Speakers"). Jumpers are also Clear Day wire.


Came across some comments on the web about experimenting with reversing the polarity of speaker cables at BOTH speakers...i.e., connecting red to negative and black to positive. Am NOT talking one speaker out of phase w/respect to the other. Both speakers are in phase with one another.

Having made the change, I did think stage depth immediately increased and imaging focus was improved. The improvement was on the order of installing better cabling, I’d say. I am NOT asking for explanations for the effect. I started the thread merely to suggest an "experiment" to those that might not have considered it before.
Cheap fun.

This topic has been discussed previously on A’gon and EXTENSIVELY in the 2010 thread below:

I readily admit it could be placebo (i.e., my imagination). Another well-regarded explanation relates to countering the effects of "out of phase recordings" (See Clark Johnson’s, The Wood Effect discussed at length on the Steve Hoffman forum and elsewhere). BUT the effect does seem to me to persist across multiple recordings (listening to various ripped CDs played off hard drive through Aries Mini>>Gungnir DAC>>Preamp>>Amp).

I’m inclined to think it’s related to some kind of room interaction and distance to listening point. More listening is needed to decide how consistent the benefit is. Of course, whatever the reason for it, the proof of it being a real improvement will be switching back to "proper" polarity after a few days and hearing a degradation in sound quality.

Best regards.

IMHO, the bigger quicker question and another worthwhile experiment is checking to see if the polarity of the drivers on any multi-way dynamic speaker are in polarity with each other. Using a "Cricket" device and test CD, you can play test signal and watch the lights on the device as you hold it in front of each driver to confirm they are all firing in polarity. 
Many speakers are designed with midranges out of polarity which sometimes improves measured specs for magazine reviews but sacrifices musical truth. If you speakers are bi or tri wireable, it's easy to switch and see what you prefer. I've seen many experienced audiophiles shocked at the improvements they hear in their own homes when out-of-polarity drivers are reversed. YMMV widely.
Hello Spencer.  A Happy New Year to you.  The intentional "out of phase" drivers was a factor in  that 2010 A'gon thread that I'd linked to. The OP's speakers were designed that way. Dunno if the Forests (2 ways) are...sort of suspect not.  But will have to find out more about that "Cricket" gadget.  Regardless of reason, however, experimenting with polarity for the entire speaker or individual drivers, where possible, might yield surprising results.      
I'd be interested in knowing if you heard any changes in the bass, both in extension and definition.
jc4659 - Change in bass wasn't something that jumped out at me but now that you mention it, I do think bass has benefited as part of the overall improvement to SQ.  Like everything else I think it's a little more "in focus"...so improved definition (maybe!).  I run a pair of subs (SVS SB10) driving off speaker level inputs via jumpers to the Forests.  The subs are relatively new to me so I pay a lot of attention to the quality of bass.  I did check whether changing phase from 0 to 180 after the polarity change at the Forests had an effect.  That seemed to reduce bass output a bit.  I went back to running them at 0 phase.  Like I said, a change in the quality of bass didn't jump out as a distinguishing feature but it certainly didn't suffer, either.  

One observation I forgot to note previously was the apparent jump in SPL after making the change.  I'd listened to SRV "Dirty Pool" from Scorsese's "Presents the Blues" compilation before changing the polarity.   With the volume control at the same position, the SPL at the listening position was noticeably louder after the change.  I actually had to reduce the volume setting a bit.  

Thinking about this a bit more, the change in SQ could be unique to my set up.  There are 6 pieces of gear between the hard drive and the Forests (the USB out from the Aries Mini runs into a V-Link 192 and from their via SPDIF to the Gungnir.   Maybe there's something messing with polarity (phase?) in one of those signal transfer steps.  
The few times I have experimented with reversed polarity I noticed a change in bass but I could not hear anything different in the mids and highs, at least in my room.  You might want to disconnect the subs when doing the polarity tests.  Trust your ears and leave it whichever way sounds best to you.
If you are using a tube preamp, many of them reverse polarity at the output and compensation must be made by doing exactly what you did..  All 3 of my various Audible Illusions Modulus series preamps and my Rogue Audio RP-5 are inverted at the output and I had to reverse both speaker cables.
Taken one step further, especially with vinyl, the album itself may be out of phase. 
jc - easy enough to take the subs out of the picture via their on/off switch and evaluate polarity changes on the Forests only.

stereo5 - Yes indeed. I am using a tube preamp (Opera Consonance Ref. 50) as part of the current configuration. Is polarity reversing something you can ascertain from specs? Would be interesting to confirm or refute that idea for the Ref. 50. However, since the subs are getting signal from the Forest speaker posts (not from pre-amp outs) any change in polarity at the Forests should "carry over" to the subs too - I would think.

Regardless, since putting the Forests back in service and using the subs with them for the first time, I’d been slightly dissatisfied with the sound (compared to from these subs w/Prelude Plus floor standers). Not a forebrain-type recognition of a problem - more a sort of nagging impression after a listening session that things just weren’t as clear or focused as they might be. Since reversing polarity that little bit of (lower mid-range?) "muzziness" is completely gone. Listened to a variety of music today and things sound nice and coherent across the frequency spectrum.

Thanks for the input folks. Again, my main purpose in starting this thread was to give some visibility to yet another "tweaking" option that’s easy, free and low risk (assuming you turn off power before switching speaker leads) but has the potential to provide some real improvement to a system’s sound.

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Anthony Gallo recommends experimenting with reversing the polarity on both speakers. My preamp does not invert polarity, and I found the imaging was wider, deeper, and more focused when reversing + - on speakers. 
Lowrider - Thanks for the comments. Did not know about the Gallo recommendation. Your description of the effects of reversing polarity at both speakers is consistent with what I experienced. It is one of the more significantly beneficial "tweaks" I’ve tried.

Thanks, kalali.  Don't wish to offend but would you mind citing the source of that info about the Ref. 50?  I've not been too concerned trying to understand the cause of the benefit in any case, but again, thanks
50% of all recordings are out of phase. So you might have to be swapping the cables quite a lot to sort that one out! We provided an absolute phase switch on our preamps to deal with that issue. Most of the time you can't hear a difference- but it does seem to help if the recording is minimally mic'ed.
kalali - Thanks for that.  

atmasphere - since I thought I was hearing a benefit across multiple recordings, I'm thinking it is something system related (in the streamer/DAC chain).  Listening to the CDP only today, less certain reversing polarity made a positive difference with that gear.  
Don’t sell your ears short, Ghosthouse; and trust what you hear. As many listeners know, getting the phase setting correct when using subwoofers can make a very audible and substantial difference in the quality of the bass response. I use a pair of REL Storm III subs in my system and getting the phase setting correct makes a very big difference. With the "incorrect" phase setting the bass sounds as if it’s being sucked in as opposed to being pushed out (think whistling both ways); but, the amazing thing to me is that the most important difference (for me) is not in the bass region but in the areas of image focus and expansiveness of the soundstage even when there is little or no obvious music content in the bass range. While I realize that this is, in great part, a function of getting the phase of the sub correct relative to the phase of the main speakers, I can’t help but wonder if there is more to the story than meets the eye (ear) and if perhaps things like size of the listening room, positioning of speakers and distance to listening chair are all things that interact with the phase characteristics of the bass response of full range speakers which, in turn, affect things like image focus and soundstaging. Would love to get Ralph’s and others’ thoughts on this.

Happy New Year!
Thanks for the input frogman (and encouragement). I have definitely grown in confidence about my "aural judgement" over the last decade. I’m not doubting what I hear relative to the benefit of a polarity reversal on the DAC chain. BUT using the CDP, that benefit is not as apparent. Polarity can affect phase though they aren’t identical things. I very much agree with you about the importance of phase "matching". I did in fact take some time to ensure a proper phase setting on the subs.

At this point in time, I believe normal polarity amp to speakers is best for direct CD/SACD playback in my room. Reversed polarity seems best for streamer/DAC playback - my primary listening source. A bit mystifying as to the "why" but I was again today struck by how improved general SQ appears to be with that reversal when listening to music from the Aries Mini.

I do completely agree with your observations about the surprising benefit of properly set up subs being greater than "more/deeper bass". AND those improvements, in my set up at least, cannot be attributed to "unloading" the main amp of lower frequency duty by limiting the main speakers low range performance with the sub’s crossover. I run my floor standers full range...sort of in parallel with the subs.   Even though the subs are coming in at 80-100 Hz, the resulting sound at much higher frequencies appears to be affected and for the better.  Addition of the subs really has been "transformative".

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What makes the whole polarity issue almost moot is the fact that most CDs are not in the correct absolute polarity to begin with. There are no standards for polarity in the industry so you get what you get. According to the Polarity Pundit G. Louis, around 90% of CDs are in reverse polarity right out of the box, including most audiophile recordings. In fact, ironically, the sound that reaches the listener's ear in a system that has been determined to be in the correct absolute polarity will be almost always in reverse polarity since most CDs are reverse polarity. As I recall LPs suffer the same fate as CDs in terms of polarity but not to the same degree.
To expound on Geoff's good point, another fact making absolute polarity moot is that the signal on each track of a recording made on a multi-track recorder may or may not be in the same polarity as any other. That’s one reason many recordings bear no semblance whatsoever to live music. Listen to Dwight Twilley's first solo album, or Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers first. They were both recorded at Shelter Studio in Hollywood, by two of the most incompetent engineers ever let loose in a studio---Max and Noah, whoever they are (were). Severe phasing problems on both albums---the sound actually "swirls" around.
I agree with Stereo 5. I use Cary SLP 98 P, and Cary suggests reversing polarity at speaker terminal. 
Is reversing polarity at tube amplifier output terminals identical in effect to reversing polarity at the speaker input terminals?
Yup. If you think about it, it has to be---both ways does the same thing, and neither the amp nor speaker cares.
Just make sure you turn the amplifier off when experimenting with the speaker wires. It makes a bad day if/when they touch each other by accident.
Interesting article (Tip of the Month) written in February 2017 Absolute Sound regarding Optimizing AC Polarity. More relevant to A/C polarity then acoustic polarity.
Do you think this only works with LR crossovers?
Would you reverse all 8 connections if you bi-wire?
Would it make any difference in a bi-wire configuration?
Does polarity switching only matter with tube amps?
I have often maintained that "Audiophiles" are individuals with non-standard hearing abilities, like an individual who has perfect pitch, which can be a real curse. Absolute phase has been discussed many times since I started in the hobby of audio back in the '60's. 1st I have to admit to not being sensitive to absolute phase. This is probably why most people from the beginning of the recording chain to the end at your speakers don't mention it. Now for the kicker; it is not absolute phase but rather polarity that is being changed. Weather an event begins on the positive cycle or the negative cycle is it's polarity not it's timing,(phase).   P.S. I tune large concert P.A. systems with some really nice digital components, and though we have come a long ways from horn loaded individual rack and stack boxes, at the end of the day I can still hear the processing. The moral; KISS, no  electronics, passive or active, are artifact free. For "pure" sound you are still stuck with a single driver system
I might also suggest that all of you involved in this discussion need to read up on some basic electronics and physics before you comment. The above topic is one of the most commonly misunderstood topics in all of audio. The difference between phase(timing) and polarity (positive vs. negative charge values). Phase does have a very noticeable effect on sound, polarity not so much(as long as it matches). However when designing electrical circuits, circuits based on negative charges are quieter then positive because the noise in the natural world tends to be positive,i.e. static electricity,lighting, are positive. This would be a reason for inverting the polarity of a system,i.e. an amplifier.
Sound differences could be due to some unknown sensitivity in hearing and/or more likely the physical path the circuit takes,i.e. chassis ground connections( shared connections introducing noise) vs. physically isolated in and out connections. This being compounded further by mixing and matching components of different design's.
From the Gallo Classico CL-3 manual...
Advanced Connection: If you are an experienced listener, you should try connecting the Front Left and Right speakers with the polarity reversed. [i.e., positive (+) (red) on Amp to negative (-) (black) on Speaker, and negative (-) (black) on Amp to positive (+) (red) on Speaker].
Listen closely to the differences from the standard polarity hook-up, as this reverse polarity variable in the system can yield significant performance gains with a reversed polarity setup.

Any idea why A. Gallo recommends this and why reversing polarity works in my system? Imaging thru these speakers is focused with extended bass. (my preamp is non-inverting).
The design is a 3-way floorstander with a transmission line and no crossovers. Only one pair of binding posts.
Excerpt from Clark Johnsen's landmark article on Absolute Polarity in Issue 1 Positive Feedback Online:

"Oh, the Wood Effect. Discovered by Charles Wood at the Defense Research Laboratory in 1957, it was first reported in 1962 in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. "Wood used as a signal a sinusoid partially clipped during half of each cycle. The resulting sound had a different timbre when the flat-topped portion was presented to the ear as a rarefaction, than it did when leads were reversed and the flat-topped portion was presented as a compression." There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: An asymmetric sinusoidal signal, presented those two dissimilar ways, with no other distortion, was proven to sound very different each way. Let’s see, what else in the sonic realm generates asymmetric signals? Well, ta da! That would be musical instruments! Which explains how polarity permeates our entire audio world, albeit through negligence, because we hear normal and inverted polarity (more accurately, compression and rarefaction) so very dissimilarly, ,yet rarely are they differentiated by us in playback.

The abstract to The Wood Effect says it best: "Masked by random combination with other distortions in the music reproduction chain, an unsuspected major contributor has lain hidden: Aural sensitivity to ‘phase inversion’ — the Wood Effect."

"Music normally creates compression waves. Electronics, however, often invert that natural, positive polarity to unnatural, negative rarefaction, thus diminishing physical and aesthetic impact. The term Absolute Polarity uniquely describes the correct arrival to the ear of wavefronts from loudspeakers, with respect to actual musical instruments."

"Wrong polarity, when isolated, is obvious to everyone. Its present neglect results from habitual disregard for phase response, especially in loudspeakers."

But as to why I’m on the case again, there are problems in those Ultimate Audio articles by Mrs. Herron and Fredell—and elsewhere too, notably in an e-zine, in a piece authored by Doug Blackburn, outstanding for its wrong-headedness. These writers (and many others, too) confuse small-case polarity with Absolute Polarity. Also, they use "polarity" interchangeably with "phase." Phase could mean any degree, while polarity denotes precisely the 180° condition. Third, they all seem to think that the Absolute inheres in recorded media, whereas in truth it occurs only at the final impingement point: your ear. To quote Mr. Herron: "Absolute polarity can be lost... and again restored in many places in the recording and playback chain." No, Keith! You mean, simply, polarity. And not "lost," either: polarity never disappears, it only reverses itself, time and again."

And there is this little jewel from Clark Johnsen's article in Issue 75 of Positive Feedback,

"A corollary finding was that some LPs and most CDs at that time exhibited a fascinatingly anomalous behavior, viz. that tracks or cuts would actually alternate in polarity. Those LPs were mostly from Japan although the affected CDs originated from all over. This came as a revelation: that certain agencies in the industry did know! And had evidently developed automatic means to detect and systematize polarity to produce discs and records that because of the admixture could be enjoyed more or less throughout, on any system of indeterminate but fixed polarity, with no one the wiser to the subterfuge. (This particular claim has been repeatedly challenged, but facts are facts.)"


"The One" was the best speaker made by Totem.  You may want to seek out if you enjoy the brand.  Happy Listening!
I wish all pre-amps had a polarity switch on the front panel, as Atma-Sphere's do.
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"Many of you graduating today from Acme Audio Engineering School will go on to big things. The rest of you will become recording engineers." 😛
jsrtheta wrote,

"It is certainly best to keep polarity correct and consistent throughout the recording chain, and it is also recommended. But given the number of processes and amount of gear in modern recording it is difficult, and not a priority, to police polarity. Why not a priority? Because recording engineers don’t find polarity issues to be audible or important. I’ve never heard of an engineer listening to playback and leaping out of his chair yelling "Stop!" because the polarity was reversed. They can’t tell any better than anyone else.

See below for a random snip snip ✂️ from George Louis’ Polarity list of non inverting polarity N and reverse polarity R CDs and CD labels. You tell me, does this look random?

I hate to judge too quickly but it appears they are not "keeping the polarity correct and consistent throughout the recording chain." Obviously polarity must not be a priority. But then neither is dynamic range. I hate to,judge before all the facts are in but there appears to be quite a wide gap between what audiophiles consider good sound and what recording engineers consider good sound.

London N
M*A Recordings – Bruce Stark, piano – Dream song R
MAD-KAT Records – Kitty Margolis – Live at The Jazz Workshop R
Mapleshade N
Mark Levinson – Red Rose Music-– Volume one R
Maxell Studio Series headphones R
MCA GRP – Rob Wasserman (etc.) – Trios R
MCA Zebra* – David Grisman Acousticity R
Mercury Living Presence R
Mercury R
MHS Musical Herritage Society N
Milestone –The Kenny Drew, Jr. Trio – Winter Flower R
MOBILE FIDELITY MFSL (Polydor original R) – Eric Clapton Slowhand R
MOBILE FIDELITY SOUND LAB ULTRA DISC II (original Verve – R) – Getz/Gilberto R
Mode 26 (Records) R
MOTOWN – Diana Ross – Lady Sings the Blues R
MSFL Original Master Recording – Jim Hall – Concierto R
Music from BMI*- BLUE NOTE – Patricia Barber – Live a Fortnight in France R
MuSick – Evan foster – Instrumentals R
N Coded Music N
Naim – Charlie Haden & John Taylor R
Nakamichi Bridiging Adaptor BA-100 N
Narada R
Narada Collection Series R
Nature Recordings R
NEC CD-730, CD-830D CD players N
Nimbus Records English Stsring Orchestra – Mendelssohn Complete String symphonies R
Nonesuch R
Nonesuch – Mandy Patnkin – Oscar & Steve R
NOVUS (BMG RCA) – Marcus Roberts – The Truth s Spoken Here R
Oppo BDP-95 CD, DVD, SACD, DVD-A, Blu-ray player R
Opus 3 R
Opus 3 – Depth of Image Test Record 1 R