Speaker positioning: why do audiophiles neglect this so much?

Went to a recent seminar featuring Jim Smith, well known author of the book  "Get Better Sound"  and hi fi set up guru.

The basic gist of the discussion was that the most important elements of a high end stereo installation are listening position and speaker positioning, in that order.  The actual hardware (speakers, amplifiers, source, cables etc) are of less importance relatively speaking.

Yet it is clear from this web site and it's contents, that set up is discussed much less than the actual hardware.

When I look at the Virtual Systems page on site, I'm estimating that, maybe, 10% of the systems posted are close to well set up.  Thus, hardly any of the featured hardware is performing close to it's maximum potential.

Shame, and why is it so?  Not sexy enough to talk about system set up in depth?  Lack of knowledge?  Or is it simply too hard to do and too complex a subject?

Just my 2 cents ...


Then why are so many systems poorly set up?

As an example: why is most equipment (racks, cabinets, etc) situated between the speakers?  Classic number one no no according to Smith.

OP is right I think. It is hard and complex, but the end result is usually worth the effort. Many folks have yet to hear a properly set up system so they have no point of comparison. Flying blind so to speak. Took me years to get it drilled down and its still not perfect.  What is talked about endlessly and even less productively, IMHO, is tweaks. Easy to challenge set up, not so much tweaks. :-)

From my review of systems they are frequently located in duel function rooms, dens, living room… etc where aesthetics are of greater priority than sound. When shared the guy can buy more and more expensive stuff but not mess up the room decor, well other than putting too much stuff in it. Or, too small dedicated room and the desire for a grand system capable of filling a small auditorium.

I have done this. I wanted to be a mountaineer when in high school… I saved up for a sleeping bag good to -20F, perfect for Nepal. I spent so many nights over the years sweating myself to sleep in Colorado… Big dreams, modest reality..


Audiophiles don't understand radiation patterns for if they did they would understand that only loudspeakers that don't have controlled directivity require no items to be placed around them. Where as those that do have radiation pattern control and directivity do not require being pulled far out in rooms and can easily have large TV or audio systems placed between them without affecting imaging. No one way or the highway educated yourselves before you judge others.

Bobbydd, re comments on ’stuff between speakers’, even though Jim Smith sez so it ain’t necessarily so. For example if you listen to your speakers toed in so that the axis crosses in front of your listening position there is a fair amount of signal which has the wall behind the speakers acting as a 1st reflection point. Treating that wall with diffusion materiel or even stuff like equipment, bookcases, recordings etc can produce a much cleaner signal. What I think about Jim’s advise is that it is more important when dealing with sound waves hitting sensitive equipment, such as phono cartridges, and causing distortions. I’ve even seen ’knowlegable’ audophiles place TT’s in corners. Go figure.

An interesting experiment you can conduct to see how this works is to make a panel of materiel which absorbs high(er) frequencies and place it next to the inside surface of the speaker. You might be surprised at the benefit it can bring. Looks ugly though. :-)

Browse through the section of pairs of speaker cables currently on sale on Audiogon.  Look at the average length of those cables.  What does that tell you?

What about dipoles? They have a figure 8 radiation pattern the back wave being out of phase with the front they require to be pulled out into the room but between the loudspeakers, there is a null thus it will not be a problem to put gear between them. Or horns many of these have a more narrow frontal wave launch this isn't negatively affected by being placed near room boundaries or by having gear between them. But consider the audiophile darling a box with a dynamic driver this design radiates off to the sides and can be greatly affected by placing items near them or by room boundaries.


Yes indeed @johnk. I will add that sometimes looking at pictures can be misleading. I have the Fyne F704 speakers which are one model above Jim Smith’s speaker. I have also upgraded the crossovers with top notch parts.

I worked with a dealer who is very skilled at listening and speaker set-up and after some 3 hours we had them pulled far away from side and front walls with ideal toe in. Our listening room is also our living room. No TV. We wanted that way so we could have music playing in our home often. Open concept home and the room is very large with 10 foot ceilings

Well, I decided to try something different and placed the speakers in the corners some 13 feet apart inside edge to inside edge. They are only 12-14 inches from the side walls and some 4 feet from the wall behind them. They are toed in pointing almost at my head. Really midway between my ears and shoulders The room is far more at play now. Yes, the room is impacting the sound more in this position. However, we all like the resulting sound better! Most all would say the before picture would sound better. Pictures don’t and can’t tell the whole story.

Your speaker’s design, unique room characteristics, furnishings and subjective sonic priorities all come into play.

A lot of setups are in dual purpose rooms.

Systems in living spaces just aren't going to have speakers pushed into the room as they should be to breathe.

If you can't have your speakers 4-6 feet out,  3-4 from sidewalls, you're possibly missing what they're capable of.

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My system has the speakers sixteen feet apart up against a wall with the gear and a couch between.  Imaging is only fair and soundstage flat.  It sounds incredible otherwise.  Much better than a well set up system that images and soundstages like a champ but isn’t balanced top to bottom or shouts, booms bass, pace is off, has a mediocre noise floor.  Chasing soundstage and imaging without trading off the things that make music involving and fun isn’t possible in my multi use room.  

Yes, what others have said--most of us have to find compromises in setup to "live" with our systems. A better barometer would be to examine setups in dedicated rooms--there you will find the care and attention you are seeking. What I find interesting is how many reviewers have systems that are not set up optimally. The rags used to publish room and set up information for each reviewer but I don't see that much anymore. Online rags often give you photos of the room and sometimes there are obvious limitations to the point where you might question the validity of conclusions drawn about reviewed products. Dare I say the last pictures of saw of Fremer's room left me scratching my head. He spent a zillion dollars on rewiring his house for audio and yet has these huge Wilson's crammed into a tiny little space (last I saw). Anyway, you get my point. I know for my own system I'd love to move the rack in between the speakers to shorten ICs (and lessen capacitance) but then I would not be able to use my wall shelf to isolate my turntable--tradeoffs! Also, my speakers would love to be further into the room but then where does the couch (with the wife on it) go?

Back to my main point: why obsess about equipment when what is currently in use is operating at, say, 60% of it's potential?

What does it matter what if a new cable, cartridge, preamp or speaker can bring another 5 - 10% improvement in sound, when the existing equipment is sailing at half mast?

It's as much about set up as the gear IMO.

I agree with the comment about reviewers, BTW.  Fremer is a classic case, giant speakers stuffed into a small listening space.  He claims it sounds good.  Really?  Bet it would all sound much better in an optimized space.

Speakers position and listener position is only HALF of the story...Sorry...

And it is a common place fact in acoustic circle if not in audiophile thread....

And yes most people think the gear is the main important factor which is erroneous...

The passive material treatment and especially the mechanical acoustic control is the more important half...Why more important?

Because the first half is well known, the speaker/listener position; the other half is not even explained in audio threads : Room acoustic mechanical control with Helmholtz method about resonators and diffusers ....

And this part ONLY can compensate and  can use for the better the specific difficult geometry, topology and acoustic material content of most small rooms ( carpet, fabric cloth pieces, furniture,books,mirror etc); the relation between speakers and listener position CANNOT solve by itself all these acoustic problems..

I never wrote a book but i was able to do my small room right... BUT It takes me 2 years non stop to figure it out , i am retired.... And now i know how to do the listening experiments and which devices can be useful ... And yes it is complex... But yes it may cost peanuts.... 😁😊

And it was the most fun experience in my life on par with cycling and walking and dreaming and reading....

Upgrading one piece of gear after the other is not audiophile experience, it is obsession maintained by ignorance of acoustic, sorry....




It would be nice if your posts would stop generalizing about the ignorance and ineptness of most other audiophiles. Just a thought for you today. Enjoy your music and I do find your tweaks and builds most interesting. 

As mentioned in this thread already, many of us do not have a dedicated room (as much as we probably wish we did).

So we have to do the best we can with what we have.

I have a setup as mentioned, media cabinet right in the middle of the speakers.

But at least I was able to get rid of the coffee table (was able to convince the wife that we hardly ever have guests, no use of the coffee table), so now there is nothing between my seating position and the equipment/speakers.

I so wish I had a dedicated room.


You are right, 😁😊 but if i dont insist who will?Not so many people for sure...

I apologize for my lack of modesty or ego....I am not perfect i know....

My goal is saving money for people...

Dont upgrade before figuring acoustic...

By the way this general ignorance in audio thread or magazines cost me time and money many years ago, this dont excuse my tone of voice sometimes but help to understand it...


My deepest respect to you...

It would be nice if your posts would stop generalizing about the ignorance and ineptness of most other audiophiles.

You can create great S.Q. in a living room.... But it is way more difficult...

And it is not because many people cannot own a dedicated room that this truth can be erased from thread:

It is not the cost of the gear who gives us S.Q. but acoustic....

The only luxury in audio is a room, not a 100,000 bucks system...

I apologize for repeating this truth...

But i cannot boast about a piece of gear i dont upgrade nor buy anything i prefer to make my devices with junk...



But this acoustical truth is not said by much people here...is not it?

It is my excuse .... And i can mute myself and let others speak about everything save this important acoustic discovery for me for sure...



My best to you....


As mentioned in this thread already, many of us do not have a dedicated room (as much as we probably wish we did).

So we have to do the best we can with what we have.

I have a setup as mentioned, media cabinet right in the middle of the speakers.

But at least I was able to get rid of the coffee table (was able to convince the wife that we hardly ever have guests, no use of the coffee table), so now there is nothing between my seating position and the equipment/speakers.

I so wish I had a dedicated room.



Unless you want vastly different speaker lengths it is not always practical to have your equipment rack placed anywhere other than between the speakers. In previous houses I have had the equipment placed at right angles and well to the left of the LH speaker, with different length cables but never noticed any improvement in SQ. I now have a TV on the wall and the speakers well away from front and side walls and the equipment rack between the speakers and it sounds fine to my ancient ears.

I still think it's not possible to judge how a system in a room sounds from looking at a photo.

Wise observation...I think the same because my room look awful....But dont sound awful at all....Ifi judged my room by a photo myself i will claim the sound must be horrible...But it is a visual bias that has nothing to do with acoustic experience...

It is the reason why i put no actual images of my room in the virtual system page...

The old one are enough to perturbate most people.... Read the commentaries....😁😊


And seriously, how can you evaluate distance, exact location, material acoustic properties of the material content and topology, with speakers characteristics, exact density of the walls and ceilings and floor and the hiddeen characteristic of the room not visible and evaluable by sight ?

the only one who said he can was speaking of relatively empty room, not small nor too large, and even in this case it is very problematic to judge....

The most important aspect will be before room treatment and mechanical control, the synergy between the speakers characteristic and needs  and all properties of the room...This is INVISIBLE....

Those who say they can judge a room by a photo  dont understand acoustic and reduce acoustic  to panels general rules of  placement... alas! acoustic and psycho acoustic are more complex than  GENERAL panels mathematical rule placement,  trained ears experience judge listening on the concrete room NEVER from a  photo....

The only thing we can guess to have great acoustic property by sight of blueprint design not only photo will be the architectural design of a big amphitheater, and even there we must  listen, seat there to be sure and to be able to compare with other design... 




I still think it’s not possible to judge how a system in a room sounds from looking at a photo.

So I guess since not all of us can have the perfect listening situation then we shouldn’t upgrade our system at all?  

Obviously making changes to equipment makes a difference in sound, so why not do it?  Because it would sound even better in a non functional living environment?

So really none of what you are judging others for makes much sense.

Have you ever upgraded a car stereo or bought a car with a higher end unit?  What a waste I guess since it’s not a perfect listening environment. Have an expensive coffee maker yet use Starbucks beans?  I mean we could go on and on.  

Dont make a sophism with my observations...

Dont put words in my mouth...

I never said that changing some piece of gear will not make a difference...ALL change make a difference, even cables did...

I never said that people with a living room which is not under perfect acoustic control MUST never upgrade...They can, but acoustic improvement is BETTER before upgrading, because it is better to listen to the real potential of what you want to change before changing it....

I SAID that MOST upgrades will never replace the HUGE improvement when acoustic is rightfully done...For sure my low cost Sansui will never rival the high end design of a costlier amplifier ONLY  because my room is acoustically under control...did i ever say that?

But before upgrading this Sansui  amplifier it is better for me  to listen to it in optimal acoustic condition... I did.... This is the reason why now i am satisfied with it even if i know that a Berning Zotl amplifier for example will be better... But i am satisfied with my ratio S.Q. / price cost which is over the roof thanks to acoustic method...I listen music no more distracted or disturbed by a "bad" sound...Nothing is perfect but it is optimal now for this system/room of mine... It is then enough...

I will not go from a 500 bucks system to a 15,000 bucks upgrade, which will be the real cost of a real upgrade... I know the cost  because i listen to the working peak potential of my actual system and i can assess his limitations , thanks to acoustic...


I advise people here AFTER my experience and experiments thats all... I dont judge people 😁😊


By the way upgrading is a risky  move, acoustic is a science....


So I guess since not all of us can have the perfect listening situation then we shouldn’t upgrade our system at all?

Obviously making changes to equipment makes a difference in sound, so why not do it? Because it would sound even better in a non functional living environment?

So really none of what you are judging others for makes much sense.



I’ve had several different nice systems over the past 45 years & all I can surmise about speaker positioning in reference to listening position is that other than the basic obvious things we all mostly know, there are no hard & fast rules. Every room   & every system in a particular room can be different.  I heard some VERY pricey systems recently at the Capitol Audio Fest that truly excellent & some that sounded terrible & unlistenable to me in rooms large & small. These are set up by “experts” w/ access to almost anything they need to help for better sound, lots of prior show experience &have a vested interest in making their equipment sound as good as possible. So, it’s not that easy or straightforward & requires a lot of tweeting & experimentation.

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Speaker placement, listener position, and room acoustics ... they might have the highest impact, but they are the least 'sexy'.

Two sets of shiny speaker pods look much flashier than a 4 inch translation and a 3 degree toe in.

My wife thinks my listening room should be decorated like a living room, so the speakers are typically unceremoniously crammed into the corners where they're less obtrusive.  Every once in a while we let them out to play.  


So you can determine bad set ups by looking at photos eh?

A lucrative career awaits you as a remote system designer, undercutting all the others who need to listen in the room.  You could also set up as the equipment reviewer who decides by looking at photos of the kit.

I am at a loss to understand why you believe this, except possibly that you are deaf?

My system is not set up optimally, I'll admit. It is a compromise called a marriage. Yes, I have a low boy credenza between my speakers, and a 50 inch flat screen TV sitting atop. To me, my system sounds pretty darn good. The best that it can possibly sound? I doubt it. However, I have taken the time to properly set up the speakers, toe in, height, proximity to rear wall, listening position, some diy acoustical treatments, a mix of hard and soft surfaces/ furnishings, etc etc.....I've done the best I can possibly do in my current situation and room. I'm pretty well content.

I tried the ’nothing between the speakers trick’ and it works. I mean, it really does amazing things. I can’t do that in my current home. But I know what I’m missing out on.

But I try little things...every few weeks to get a little closer to what I had. I’ve managed to improve the sound quite a bit but not quite there yet. Next step is to actually try something novel. Which is what I did in my last home. I hit a wall (no pun intended) with speaker placement and room treatment and decided to take a big chance.

The difference then, was I was not married, lol. I could just do what I wanted. But I’m at the point where I know there is better sound in this room. I just need to find it.

In my case, I know what I’m missing. AND my current system cost is double what it was in my last home! That’s what’s so painful. Listening position, speaker position AND the room.

Same with acoustic treatment, probably only 10% of audiophiles pay it attention.  

I'm sure I've broken most of the "audiophile rules".  My room is too small, I've got a big Salamander triple rack between the speakers for my equipment, my dual subs are placed in the corners behind my mains, I've got a projector screen mounted up on the wall between the speakers.

But, I've chosen speakers that I know work well in my room, I've added room treatments, and I've carefully placed the speakers and listening position in the best places possible within my room's constraints, based on actual measurements.  It sounds amazing to me.  I'm happy.  I like the way it looks.  I like the way it sounds.  I've made the best use of the space that I have to work with.  Maybe I'm not taking full advantage of the equipment, but in the end, I believe getting 60% out of higher end equipment is still going to sound better than getting 60% out of your basic entry-level Best Buy offerings.  Equipment can and does make a difference, within reason.

The room and speaker positioning are the number 1 task to get right or nothing else will. I think what you see in peoples system is equipment in non-dedicated rooms so they are limited on how far out they can bring the speakers out from the back wall and/or the waf is implemented. I have seen rooms that have a couple hundred thousand $$$$ in equipment and they are in a living room with no treatments and up against the wall. 

@mahgister uhhhhh what???

So, how forums work. If I quote your response, like you did mine, then the person is addressing you. If you make a general comment about the OP’s topic then you are addressing what the OP said. 

I wasn’t talking to you, didn’t even read your comment, relax and take a breath and try to not be so defensive. 

In many rooms there is absolutely no need for any "room treatment" as the room may have furniture, shelves, carpets or rugs, and OMG (!) a "room" sound! To say any system other than yours isn't up to par because of possible "early reflections" or whatever your micro peeve might be is ridiculous unless you've been there and/or have somehow copped their taste...baloney. I don't mind some life provided by a non anechoic listening space, and speaker directivity or lack of such (dipole?) are all over the map...if your system works for you in providing what you feel is great sound...well...great. Strangers don't dictate how my personally dialed in system sings, and they never will.

I’ve had the Reference 5’s for about 6 months now and I’m still trying to get the “Just right”.


Have you ever noticed that dealers rarely if ever toe in their demo speakers?

 I wonder why.

This is a pretty heated "discussion." Surely part of the reason is defensiveness regarding purchases; one might wonder whether the music or the music system is the priority. I’m not judging here, but "audiophiles" are into audio equipment the way sports car enthusiasts are into sports cars. How many sports car drivers have actually taken competition driving lessons, or for that matter ever push the capabilitits of the cars they own? Do you know how to drift? How to effectively heel-and-toe? But if you don’t, and yet you own a hot car, and know its 0-60 time, horsepower and torque, does that make you some kind of clown? No. Or at least, not necessarily. You’re in love with the technology, even if you can’t take full advantage of it yourself.

Jim Smith isn’t wrong about the importance of setup; I’ve got his book, and benefited from many of his tips. However, that book originated in a pamphlet with 30 tips that he distributed for free. The current edition of the book contains more than 200 tips, and he charges for it. Are all of those additional insights really helpful? You decide. And, as others have pointed out in this thread, every system, room and set of ears is different; Jim Smith offers rules of thumb, not dogma.

Still, I agree in principle with the OP’s claim. Most of us are just more interested in equipment than room setup. As rudyb put it, a new amp is sexier than moving your speakers another foot out from the wall. But moving the speakers will probably make a bigger difference in the SQ. So it’s not that audiophiles don’t know or care about the details of setup. Rather, we have the rooms we have; big changes there would require an architect, in consultation with an acoustician, and a contractor, not to mention the wife’s being on board. And even then, you might "get better sound," but you wouldn’t get a "better" system!

I always adjust/measure my 2 channel speakers by toe in and measuring distance to the "old" sweet spot, plus distances between speakers, the back wall, side walls, from audio rack etc, and once adjusted they stay put. My Monitor Audio Platinum PL300ii are a pain to tweak/adjust at 120lbs a piece. 

Even my HT speakers are all the same height off the floor mounted on the wall. 

I just put my stuff in a different room. Almost a dedicated room, except for a grand piano. It's very live with lots of hard surfaces. Other than putting down some kind of large area rug, I'm not going to do much else. There is no place for more upholstered furniture (the best room "treatment") and I refuse to have ridiculous looking difusers/absorbers on the walls. Even now, the room sounds great. I'd rather have an overly lively room than a dead one.

Rough crowd here.  Guess I touched a nerve!

Of course one cannot tell how a system sounds by viewing photo's.  What one CAN see, however, is that many such systems are FAR from optimized within a space.

Some basics:

Don't place the speakers too near any wall (except the few that are DESIGNED to work specifically THAT way - very few are).

Don't place the primary listening position near a wall.

Don't place the bulk of the equipment between the speakers (amplifiers sitting on floor stands excepted).

Avoid corner placement of any equipment.

Avoid over driving a room (giant speakers in a small room).

Don't place speakers and listening position at opposite extremes within a room (thus maximizing the sonic signature and associated reflections of the space itself).

These are just a few basics Jim Smith and other knowledgeable people have espoused.

Yet the focus remains 90% on the equipment, despite the dominant effects of the above issues.  Not addressing these issues hurts no one.  It just limits the sonic potential of the equipment, like putting a 60 mph limiter on a Porsche turbo.



Actually, you may be surprised how good speakers can sound near, 1 - 1.5 feet, from side walls. Depends on many factors I pointed to in a previous post. My findings based on doing many hours of listening tests with speakers not necessarily sold for corner placement. Be careful with absolute type statements in audio. They rarely, if ever,  turn out to be absolute and universal.


I can safely share this one absolute statement.  You must try all the various placement and listening positions options available in your space. Pick the one that sounds best to you. It may mirror conventional wisdom, or not! 

There are no hard a fast rules about loudspeaker/listener positioning.  Whatever works, works.  Real world considerations come into play and the "optimal" solution may not be doable or even desirable.  Let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

BTW, if your equipment is low to the floor it can be placed between the loudspeakers without any detriment to the sonics.


You didn’t strike a nerve, some people forget it’s a stereo hobbyist forum. 

It’s true there are just too many variables in all different rooms. Also in what people like to hear with respect to “too live” or “too dead”.

After decades, Im one of those folks that has come to my own personal conclusion that room acoustics come first. Whether it be broadband absorption and diffusers galore or just a few furnishings and a rug (or not), it’s room dependent.

Then comes the positioning of speakers/listeners. For me gear comes last.

But what if you do low volume/near field listening? Or headphones?

With no real boundary interference is room treatment necessary?

Here I would think the electronic gear would take priority.

Preferences and taste can’t be argued after all…