Fine Tunes #5

I've touched on loudspeaker placement in irregularly shaped rooms several times in the last few "Fine Tunes," but reader Peter Machare (Peter.MACHARE@usda.gov) wants more information about setting up L-shaped and other nonstandard listening areas. Here's how he describes his layout: "I have an L-shaped room. The speakers are at the bottom of the L and point up the long part of the L. Not all of us are perfect rectangles, you know."

That's true, Peter—a lot of us are squares! [badaBOOM] (Thanks, it's been a while since my last rim shot.) As some of you may recall from an earlier article ("A Matter of Taste," Stereophile, June 1995, Vol.18 No.6), our loft, too, is basically L-shaped. For the purposes of this column, let's call it boot-shaped, with a rectangular "heel" extending down and out behind the boot (fig.1). That's our living room, and the front door is located about where the pointed spinner of your silver spur might be if you were a cowpoke. (Like most New Yorkers, I'd really like to dig mah spurs into my landlord's beezer!) Because the living room extends the volume of our space at the "heel" of the boot, as it were, we can place our speakers—widely spaced with moderate toe-in—at the entrance to the box that makes up the short leg of the L, or the "toe" of the boot. The speakers are thus out in the main room, well away from the back wall and away from first-reflection-producing sidewalls. Our listening chair sits close to the opposite wall, backed by a trio of RoomLenses to break up the bounce from the wall behind it. That's what I mean by working with the strengths of a room and minimizing its weaknesses.

fig. 1 Jonathan Scull's and Kathleen Benvenista's boot-shaped listening/living space chez 10.

But reader Machare's listening room doesn't have a rectangular extension at the bottom of his L, so what are his options? If he tries to set up his speakers as we do, the right speaker would be too close to a reflecting wall. (Our right speaker "sees" the open living room at its side.) If he places the speakers farther back in the box of the short leg of the L and sits at the "entrance" to it, depending on the type of speakers used and the room's size and dimensions, and even using the rule of thirds, he could still be in for trouble. Standing waves, first and second reflection points, and close proximity to the wall behind the speakers can all combine to make for muddy, congested sound. In fact, even with our speakers so far out into the main room, we still had to tame the boxy, boomy signature of the area behind the speakers.

Peter Machare may be interested to know that I consider our own setup to be only the second best of all possible worlds. I've always wanted to set up our speakers at the opposite end of the long L from the living room: the short wall by the back windows. Set widely apart and forward of the back wall, there'd be plenty of room for them to breathe and for me to get to the bathroom. The only problem: we'd have to give up the Corian-planked desk and work area located there now. Computer, scanner, fax, printer—you know, modern effluvia. Bottom line, all I'd have to do is convince the long-suffering K-10 to give up more air and light, get rid of the desks . . . um, I don't think so. Hey, ya gotta listen to music, but ya gotta have a life too. That's what they say, anyway.

So, Peter, as long as the right-channel speaker in your room is far enough away from the back corner and the right side wall, you did the right thing. Just goes to show you what can be done if you trust your instincts and use your ears. Informed as you are from reading the collected wit'n'wisdom of Stereophile magazine(!), Kathleen thinks you might be better off with the system at the other end of your room, at the top of the L. You might benefit from the symmetry of the space at that end. Ah, the French and their symmetry . . .

Another setup I've noticed in our travels is what I'll call the Flying Buttress. Take our friend Dan Billet. Please. I've told you about him already—he's the guy who insisted, "No tubes, Scull, never!" Now he's found happiness with a Conrad-Johnson PV9. He's even successfully changed the tube set. [insert evil snicker here] Dan's just moved into a spacious apartment. The library/listening/living room is separated from another large room and dining area by a fairly solid partitioning wall that's opened up by a large, central archway. Of course, Dan parked his speakers in the library up against the short walls on either side of the archway, facing a slightly distant leather couch. The toe-in looked rather asymmetric and haphazard.

Well, when K-10 and I come to visit, it's heads up and get ready to change. I'm very insistent and Kathleen is quite convincing: "Don't touch a thing!" became, in fairly short order, "Yeah, I have to admit, that sounds better." All I did was pull the speakers out from the wall, line 'em up a bit, pull the grillecovers off, and set a moderate amount of toe-in. I grabbed a kitchen chair and plunked myself down about 5' in front of the speakers, the tweeters converging about a foot behind my head. Happy to say, it sounded better than it had any right to. I popped out of the chair and gestured to Dan. He quickly gestured back at me. Ahem.

But, almost immediately after taking the listening chair, jazz lover that he is, Dan folded. Now I've just got to convince him to put the Macintosh solid-state amp closer to the speakers on a good stand, get some quality cables and interconnects, slip a few cones under the speakers and other key components, and . . . Hello? Dan? [click click click] Gee, Kathleen, he hung up . . .

Moral: Placing speakers either side of open archways can work, but the same general rules apply: Get them out as much as possible into the room and away from corners and side-reflecting walls. You can always toe them out for casual listening, as does Dan when reading on his comfortable couch, and toe them in more tightly and "assume the position" for an audiophile-grade listening experience.

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