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Greater Toronto Area Audiophile Club (GTAA):


Speaker positioning strategies, an exercise with the Dynaudio Sapphires

 Date:  Dec 12, 2011





"Come on over Rick, I bought a pair of new Dynaudio Sapphires.   Gotta get them positioned properly."











Speaker positioning is a controversial subject amongst audiophiles.   At one end you have those who are vehemently committed to using computer programs, spectrum analyzers and other high tech tools employed by the home theatre or studio design pros.    They rely heavily on graphs generated by acoustic softwares, and will position the speakers based on the response they have on various dips or troughs on the chart.     Some will pay thousands of dollars for a multi-day sophisticated sessions where the pros will come in with high tech tools reminiscence of an episode of The Ghost Hunters.    I have been to a few pro designed rooms and have witnessed several "Before and After" calibration scenarios.  I can testify that the change are often times effective, dramatic and to the positive. 


Then there are those who are committed to old fashioned methods (which I’ll refer to as the Voodoo method hereafter).   It relies on nothing but the well trained ears of seasoned audiophiles.    They argue that there are too many factors which can never be measured or quantified by spectrum analyzers.   We often hear of them talk about “air around bass notes”, layering of the soundstage, harmonics, as well as they solidity of the 3-D image.   These Voodoo terminologies describe things which are highly subjective, controversial and immeasurable.  Proponents of the Voodoo method will usually tell you the process is part of the fun.  At the end, your ears do the listening and not the computer so why add another unnecessary element into the equation ?


For 95% of the average Joe out there (including myself), who does not have the financial means to bring in the pros to do the job, the Voodoo method is usually the strategy of choice. At the end of the day, I believe both camps are probably trying to achieve the very same thing, just like what the Indian proverb says: You can touch the nose this way, or take the hand around to touch it that way.  


Personally, I see merits with both strategies and will not dismiss one or the other.     What I have written here is not intended to arouse debates, nor to provide you with a set of instructions.    I am not suggesting that one method is better than the other.    What worked for Alek's room may not work for yours.    It is merely a documentation of an evening of fun and music between a few friends.   


Recently, a good friend of mine purchased a set of Dynaudio Sapphires, and he asked for my help to position his new speakers.   Knowing there is an expert in the Voodoo Method within the area, I immediately asked for the help of David who is well trained in the art of "Speaker Voodoo Magik".    For about 4 hours, we watched David perform his tricks.   It was great fun as well as a great learning experience.  Here's what went on that evening:


1) First thing we did was to mark the very center of the room with green tape, this allowed us to determine the proper sitting positing and the very center of the room.


2) From approximately 1/3rd distance into the room from the front wall, mark a perfectly perpendicular horizontal line with green tape.  This will be the starting position for the speakers.  The sitting position was placed approx. 2/3rd distance into the room, and 1/3rd distance from the back wall.


3) The starting point of the speaker position was right behind the horizontal green tape.  The distance between the speaker was arbitrary at this stage, and we also began with no toe in angle. 


4) Determining the vertical position, or distance from the back wall:


David played a bass heavy track, and walked to and fro along the middle line.   The purpose was to determine the "Coupling focal point of the room" where phase cancellation is at the lowest.    Somewhere along the center middle line, one would hear the bass notes suddenly become louder and tighter.   That very spot is arguably the perfect distance from the back wall where phase cancellation is at the minimal.   The speakers were repositioned over the horizontal line where the "coupling point" lies.    Usually, this very spot is not too far away from 1/3 into a rectangular symmetrical room.  In our case, we had to move the speakers back by 8 inches.


With Aleks listening carefully in the sweet spot, he paid close attention  to the bass notes while we moved the speakers forward and backward.  Lo and behold, when we hit the right spot, he said "Bang On !".    The bass became tighter and better controlled,  and at the same time, the boomy resonance disappeared.  That very spot was arguably the correct distance from the back wall.


We repeated the same exercise for determining the sitting position, which included changing the height of the chair as well as the distance from the walls.


5) The horizontal position:


We utilized the Hungarian Rhapsody track on Living Stereo's Stokowski LP to determine the proper "width" of the speaker.     From the initial spot, we moved the speakers further and further away from each other.   As we did that, we noticed the soundstage got wider and wider.   We moved them further and further away from each other until we reached the point were the presentation were starting to break apart, that very prior spot was arguably the ideal horizontal position. 



6) Toe in angle:


We marked the floor with green tape once again, this time with different toe in angles based on 1 to 4 inches of diagonal move.     We then played a couple of female vocals which we were familiar with, paying close attention to the height, the size, as well as the "contrast" of the image.    The toe in angle was adjusted based on the combination of these three factors.   When toed it too much, the center image became congested.  The height will collapse.    When toed in too little, a female vocal projection will become exceedingly large, while instruments will have a large than life presentation.  The optimal point lies somewhere in between.


The entire process took us approximately 4 hours.      With the help of David, the process was systematic and quantifiable.   It wasn't just an arbitrary positioning method with a few guys sitting at the back going "Oooo..... Ahhhh...... we thought MAY BE this was a better spot".     We had a definite game plan, and we knew exactly what to look for.  

The strategy and approach we took was completely different than proponents of software, spectrum analyzer, or computer graphs.   We did not look for the flatness of the curve.  The was no graphs or charts to speak of.   Some may dismiss it as unscientific or Voodoo magic, yet we witnessed a marked improvement of in every aspect of the sound stage.  The stereo image became wider, the soundstage went beyond the walls.   There was a depth perception as well as layers of instrument.    The height went from a collapsed image (ie, listening from a balcony), to a proper stage like performance.    

For Aleks' room, the Voodoo method appeared to have worked.   Whether the room measures correctly with the professional software remains to be seen.    For now, we will have to believe it is as good as it gets, until we can bring in the Pros when the piggy bank gets full.  


    Richard H. Mak          (Email Contact)



Rick marking the toe in angle for the Sapphire




















































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