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Speaker placement for stereo music listening

How to position your stereo speakers for the best sound possible

Stereo speaker placement diagram

Sitting between two properly-spaced speakers is like having the prime seat at your favorite concert venue.

The placement and positioning of your speakers plays a large role in your system's performance. And in an ideal world, everyone’s listening room would have perfectly arranged speakers and acoustically treated surfaces.

But many of us enjoy listening to music in the family room, bedroom, and other real-world spaces. Sometimes our speakers can't go exactly where they sound the best. But don't stress — even if your room isn’t perfect, making some simple adjustments will improve your listening experience.

My personal experience with placement tweaks

When I moved into my house, I set up my speaker system so that it looked good in my living room. I never gave much thought to how placement would affect performance. My Polk Audio floor-standing speakers ended up pushed against the wall, facing straight ahead. They sounded decent, but they never delivered the clarity that I heard when Polk demoed them at our headquarters.

Speaker placement before making any adjustments

My Polk Audio floor-standing speakers started out against the wall, robbing me of the nuance and detail they were capable of.

I recently decided to tinker with my how my system is arranged. I read up on industry guru Robert Harley’s suggestions, and I consulted with some in-house experts. I put some of the tricks I learned to use and …Whoa! What a difference! Simply by making a few adjustments, I was able to boost the quality of my system by several notches.

Pull your speakers away from the wall to reduce reflection

My first step towards better sound was pulling my speakers away from the wall. I had been getting over-emphasized bass reflection from the close proximity. Bringing them out about 6" gave me tighter, cleaner bass with improved detail.

Angle your speakers inwards for improved performance

Since my speakers had been facing straight ahead, I was missing out on two key parts of the listening experience: soundstage and imaging.

A good soundstage gives you a clear sense of the physical space where the band is playing, like the stage or studio. A good musical image means you can clearly visualize where each instrument or voice is coming from.

I turned each speaker inwards slowly, until they beamed sound directly at me. There was a "sweet spot" where the music seemed to lock into place naturally. With me as the focal point of the speakers, the soundstage and musical image sounded fantastic — it was like having a choice seat at a live show. 

Angling my speakers inward

Turning each speaker inward created a "sweet spot" in the center of my couch where music comes alive with detail.

Bring your listening position away from the wall

The third adjustment I made was moving my listening position forward by about a foot. My couch sits right up against the back wall, which reinforces bass as sound reflects off of it. Moving the couch itself wasn’t ideal, so I moved myself instead.

I put a thick pillow behind me to provide some distance from the wall. It was effective! Moving my listening position forward yielded a noticeable improvement in mid-bass performance.

Adjusting where I sat meant I needed to tweak the speaker angles slightly to line back up with my ears. Finally, my speakers sounded fantastic — much better than what I had been accustomed to over the years. 

Speakers properly positioned

Pulling my speakers away from the wall and angling them towards me made a noticeable difference in my listening experience.

Time for a jam session

Now that everything was in place, I put on The Pizza Tapes by Jerry Garcia and friends. I played Shady Grove, my favorite track from the album.

I've listened to this song many times. But I had never gotten such a clear sense of where Tony Rice's blistering guitar runs come from in the recording. Garcia's voice had a depth and richness that was new to me. And David Grisman's mandolin sparkled in the background. It was the best my speakers had ever sounded, and all it took was some simple adjusting.    

Reduce the impact of your room's reflections

Limiting reflection off of hard surfaces

When you listen to music you’re hearing two things. Sound coming from the speakers, and reflected sound from the surfaces in the room. The more you can reduce reflections, the better your listening experience will be.

The biggest culprits are windows and hard surfaces like wood or tile floors. They add an artificial brightness to the sound that’s being reflected, causing it to sound harsh. Covering your windows with curtains during a listening session can help. If you have hardwood floors like me, placing a rug between you and your speakers will reduce reflections off of the floor. Use absorptive panels to reduce reflections off of the walls.

Auralex Sonoliteover living rom seating

Auralex® SonoLite™ Panels absorb around 80% of the sound energy that strikes them, reducing reflections and restoring clarity to music.

Limiting absorption from soft surfaces

Sometimes thick carpeting, upholstered furniture, and other absorptive materials reduce too much sound reflection. This can cause a lack of spaciousness. Everyone’s room is different in this regard, so make adjustments as needed. I found that moving my large, upholstered ottoman made a difference — it was soaking up sound from my speakers.

Check out our article on room acoustics for a deep dive into your room's impact on sound.

Fine-tuning tips to get the most from your system

Subwoofer placement

If you’re using a powered subwoofer, try it out in different locations to see where the bass sounds the best. Placing your subwoofer near a wall will generally result in more bass. Placement near a corner where three room boundaries come together will get you even more.

If your subwoofer has phase-adjustment, see which position gives you the best sound. If you find your bass is muddy, use a bass trap to smooth out low-frequency response. Want to avoid snaking a subwoofer cable across the room? Use a wireless subwoofer kit.

Optimal speaker height

It’s important that your tweeters are as close to ear level as possible. If you’re using bookshelf speakers, place them on a pair of sturdy speaker stands away from the wall. Some stands feature adjustable height to make ear level placement easier.

Sturdy speakers reduce vibration

You want your speakers to be as vibration-free as possible. If you’re using floor-standing speakers, install the included floor spikes or pads. They’ll ensure that your speakers stay as still as possible for the best performance.

Sonus Faber Venere on stands

A sturdy pair of speaker stands reduces cabinet vibration. Choose a pair that elevates your tweeters to ear level.

Have some fun with your system

I found that being open-minded about my speaker positioning changed how I experience my system. I recommend experimenting with your speaker placement to see where they sound the best. And have some fun with the tinkering process! After all, listening to music on a good pair of speakers is one of life's great joys.

Josh Crane with his Polk Audio TSx550T floor-standing speakers

Changing the positioning of my speakers made music sound amazing — and put a big smile on my face.

Free personalized advice

Want friendly, one-on-one help choosing the best gear for your system? Our expert Advisors can help. Call or chat with us today for free, personalized advice. Free lifetime tech support is included with every Crutchfield purchase.

Please share your thoughts below.

  • Dave from NYC

    Posted on 10/7/2019

    As a huge Garcia fan, I'm embarrassed to have never listened to pizza tapes. Thank you very much for that and a few other useful tips

  • Suzanne from Cape Canaveral

    Posted on 7/24/2019

    Thanks to your excellent advice, I'm sitting in the triangle made by me and standing speakers listening to The Pizza Tapes. This is heaven!!!

  • Joseph S from Harrisburg, Pa.

    Posted on 8/12/2018

    Curious of your advice regarding: Setting up two audio systems in an [single] room. Where would each pair of speakers be placed ? Note: one pair of speakers would serve two solid state int. amps (w/ quick connect speaker cables) the other pair of speakers to two tube integrated systems. I choose which 'mood' I'm in when choosing which Int. amp I want to use. The room is 13'6" X 20' (rectangle) Speakers are Definitive Technology bipolar 7004/8060 Can both pair be placed next to each other - with one pair in use at a time?

  • Fermín Cataldo from SAN FELIPE- Chile

    Posted on 1/9/2018

    Muchas gracias, me pareció de bastante ayuda el artículo publicado.

  • Jim Harvey from Newark OH

    Posted on 1/4/2018

    Belief on topics was just earned as I was reading Kramer Cranes' very real world experiences and results with a decent system. But the KNOCKOUT PUNCH came when he talked about the real recorded live music by some of the best artists assembled and in our time- J Garcia(the likely perpetual CHAMP), D Grisman and T Rice, also top drawer in so many amazing bouts of genius which will simply force onto your mindset as well as face- a smile or grin of amazement and gratitude for the ability to listen along closely and MOVE with the often complex and developed themes and goodness brought forward and highlighted with power, truth, beauty, and an energy to make those toes tap and bodies surge with booming power chords that are part of these artists many works of masterpiece.

  • Jamie Anderson from Ulverstone

    Posted on 11/22/2017

    Would encourage experimentation with toe-in where the speaker axes cross in front of the listening position. This widens the sweet spot for sound staging - useful when sharing the music with a guest or two - and can help reduce early reflections from side walls. Sound engineers often find this approach useful.

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/9/2017

    Hi Michael, it's certainly true that some speakers may sound better firing straight ahead versus angled-in towards your listening position. There are numerous factors that can affect this, including room size and acoustics, the speakers' design, and the activities that take place within the room.

    As with any speaker system, I encourage you to try a few different orientations as you're dialing things in to see what sounds the best in your room.

  • Michael from Melbourne, Australia

    Posted on 8/3/2017

    I have JBL L36 Decade speakers, which I've been told will sound better/best if they are NOT angled in. I got this advice from a speaker repair specialist who has a really good reputation in the music industry, based on my description of my new home - an old school house, solid concrete walls, 24' x 33' room with approx. 18' high ceilings. I plan to elevate the speakers on purpose built shelves/stands at a height of about 7', angled down slightly. Interested to hear your thoughts about aiming the speakers straight down the wall line, and any advice about getting the best sound in the general room set-up I've described.

  • Dr. Narasimhan from Virajpet

    Posted on 3/28/2017

    Try this: Keep the speakers on the floor little away from the wall. Position yourself nearer the speakers, not 60-60-60, but 90-45-45. Turn the speakers so the the sounds reach behind your ears. The stereo sound appear virtually more separated and spacious.

  • Steven from Hackensack

    Posted on 11/24/2015

    For tower speakers what is the minimum size room you'd recommend? Say for the infinity r253? Other question what are your thoughts on Bose Dave? If you do not want to comment on my inquiry here email me. I'd appreciate the feedback.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/12/2015

    Adam, I forwarded your inquiry to our sales team for the best solution. They'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Adam from Southwick ma

    Posted on 11/11/2015

    I have a large garage 40'x50' with 18' ceilings. I am looking for advice. I enjoy quality sounds with great bass. Don't have any idea where to start

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/9/2015

    Right you are, Tony. I like to think of these "rules" more as "suggested servings," or at least a place to start. Everyone's system, listening room, and tastes are different. I have a friend who places his speakers much farther apart than the usual 1:1 recommendation (probably closer to 2:1) and doesn't toe them in at at all. But because of the high quality of his equipment and careful room treatment, his system achieves almost frighteningly holographic imaging and soundstaging.

  • tony from Los Angeles

    Posted on 11/8/2015

    I have speakers that are 1.25x further apart from each other than the distance to where we sit. They sound waaay better than when I positioned them 0.75x further. Due to the dimensions of the house I can't do 1:1. Thanks for the article but I would chime in just to say that it's not a steadfast rule.

  • Nitesh Nandan from Mumbai

    Posted on 11/2/2015

    Hii, I have B&O Beolab 8000 (2006 model, 2 way active speaker) with tube preamp, i feel its bass is less because of it small footprints, can adding a sub be a solution ? if yes so which sub you can recommend ? or any other recommendation for this speakers model ?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/22/2015

    rck, It does seem as though there are quite a few stands around 60cm (about 24") tall. Thinking out loud, perhaps the reason you don't see a lot of taller stands comes down to stability. Unless you're putting a tiny satellite-type speaker on top, the typical 20 to 30 pound, 12 to 15 inch tall bookshelf model perched on top of a very tall stand makes for a potentially dangerous assembly.

    If you feel the speakers are too low, tilting them upward a few degrees may do the trick. In my experience, as long as the tweeters on your speakers are plus or minus a foot from the same level as your ears when seated in your listening position, you should get good results.

  • rck

    Posted on 7/22/2015

    Very helpful , thank you I bought Norstone stands for my shelf speakers, but , they are far too low. At 60cm off the floor, this ruins the entire purpose of placing the speakers at my head level It seems this height is about average for other stands too, why is this ?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/18/2015

    Hi Larry. The Primus P363s are extremely popular with our customers, and would make a good choice for music and TV sound. Their 8-ohm impedance shouldn't pose any issues for the tube amplifier inside your receiver.

  • larry from Huntington beach Ca.

    Posted on 5/15/2015

    Hi I have a Sansui 500A receiver..era 1967/68 bought new. I'm getting it checked out and fixing what needs to be fixed. someone told me that he thought Infinity Primus 363's would be a good fit for it. I might also run my tv through the same speakers but not for sure. What do you think?