Soundstaging & Imaging - Anyone Care To Experiment With Me?

I’m trying to set-up my speakers in my listening room, and while I have the bass response generally set (using Masterset) I’m having a difficult time finding the best spot for ideal soundstaging and imaging.

One of the tracks I’m using as a reference is Bach Trios (Yo Yo Ma - Cello, Chris Thile - Mandolin, and Edgar Meyer - Double Bass).

I’ve attached a very simple drawing to reference where the artists appear to be playing from. As it stands on my system currently Chris Thile (mandolin) is coming from position “5,” Edgar Meyer is coming centered from positions 9 & 11 (double bass), and Yo Yo Ma is coming from position 15. Of course, when I move the speakers closer to the wall or out in the room this illusion changes, but I’m still not quite sure which is best. Should the mandolin and cello be narrower or wider in the soundstage? Is it accurate as it stands?

In some of my speaker set-ups the mandolin borders on coming from position 3 (right behind the speaker but not necessarily from the speaker), while the double bass appears to come from position 17 (same, from behind the right speaker)…while the cello stays centered between 9 and 11. To watch what I believe was the actual recording of this soundtrack on youtube check this out - VERY HELPFUL!

Below I’ve drawn a basic speaker set with numbers to reference where sounds appear to be coming from in the soundstage for those who are interested to reference and hear where each of these instruments are playing from on your system. I would love to hear different perspectives and a general consensus on where each instrument should be so I can set-up my speakers accordingly.

If anyone is interested in adding further tracks to reference and experiment with I’d love to hear your input and play around with those as well! Other tracks I’ve used include:

  1. “Hey Now” by London Grammar (If You Wait) Voice, electrical guitar, piano, unique sound effects first around 12/13 seconds.
  2. “Tin Pan Alley” by Stevie Ray Vaughn (The Essential Stevie Ray Vaughn). Electric Guitar, Bass, Drums…
  3. “Aventine” by Agnes Obel (Aventine). Piano, voice, cello, violin, viola, harp.

Paul, I’d love to hear your feedback and input as well if you’d be interested in playing any of these tracks on the IRS’s - - if you have the time and/or are interested. I heard you playing “Hey Now” at RMAF this year when I was in the room with you, so you may already know where these sounds should be coming from like they were from Arnie Nudell’s speakers.

Finally, I of course know some of these factors are system, room, and gear-dependent, but I think this would be helpful - not only to me - but to others who are interested in finding the best spot for their speakers for ideal imaging and soundstage. If anyone has any recommendations on reworking the picture for additional soundstaging/imaging factors let me know. This drawing is very basic, but it should at least serve as a guide for where music/instruments/voices should appear to be coming from in specific areas of the soundstage.

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As a side comment, the recording you are using is a hoot. I had no idea Chris Thile had this level of chops.

With the multi-mic setup used, the engineers can create any soundstage they would like. I would not rely on the video for any real information as to how it “should” sound.

Typically your most objective (most like the mix) soundstage will be if you and the speakers form an equidistant triangle. Another tool is to become familiar with what music sounds like on headphones. You will quickly learn how to translate headphone sound to speakers. The headphones will nicely serve as an absolute reference.

Some nice chops indeed!

Yeah, I noticed that with the multiple-mic setup as well. I only found that today right before I was getting ready to post this topic! I’ve been listening to it for months not knowing this setup.

I do have the equidistant triangle, sometimes a bit less (speaker to speaker), and I move this accordingly (mid-field listening towards the back-wall) to see what the changes are. Still, I’m curious what others think. I’m listening to headphones now (Audioquest Dragonfly Red, Jitterbug, Tidal Hifi, Senn. HD650’s with Toxic Silver Cables, and a Schiit Asgard Headphone amp) and the sound is wonderful, but I can’t pinpoint instruments and sounds nearly as well as I can through my 2-channel setup. Either that, or I’m not as trained…perhaps I should play with that a bit.

Elk, what recordings do you use that serve as soundstaging references? When do you “know” that the instruments/vocals are in the right place? Would you be willing to share some of these, and would you even be willing to provide the placement of these using my provided illustration for common-reference to all?


I do not use any particular recording for a soundstage reference. I simply pick something i am willing to listen to multiple of times.

I start with the speakers equidistant from the listening location. I then keep separating them until the center image solidity suffers and the soundstage collapses to the left and right. I then bring the speakers back together until the soundstage is solid and uniform again. I find a recording of a full orchestra or a good size chamber orchestra the most useful as sound is spared across the entire soundstage. Then I check this against a few other recordings. I do not worry about what is “real” or “correct.”

I will happily sacrifice soundstage and other recording artifacts for frequency response, timbrel accuracy, and good micro-dynamics.

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Good info and helpful, thanks. I do indeed notice what you’re saying about improving upon timbrel accuracy and good micro-dynamics. I’ve noticed similar improvements when moving my speakers around as well - something good to think about.

Good recommendation on separating the speakers and then slowly bringing them back in until soundstage is solid and uniform again…I haven’t tried that but definitely will.

Thanks for the help, Elk. I love this kind of input…


Anytime you place a system in a room, there are a couple of things you have to know and deal with. One, is room modals. You can find a modal calculator, and desired frequencies to be dealt with and where. Second, is that all rooms, (except rooms over seating for more than 800) will be half of the speaker’s performance. The room dominates response from about 200Hz down, and then the speaker becomes the dominant factor. You really would want to know the recommended configuration from the speaker manufacturer.

One of the things I run into is not really being able to excessively treat my room. Good thing is, I have curtains, furniture, rugs, and a good-size room to work with. So while I don’t have the luxury of a dedicated listening room, I do have a pretty decent setup and the opportunity to easily bring the speakers out for critical listening whenever I want. Heck, even against the wall it sounds pretty decent.

I’ve checked my manufacturer recommendations (Monitor Audio - Silver 300’s), and to say the least their guidance is vague (12" - 24" from rear wall, at least 3’ from side walls, speakers at least 6’ apart from one another, experiment, experiment, experiment…). I’ve memorized these figured as I try to figure out the best placement in the room.

Just today I’ve had the most progress yet…speakers approx. 41" from the rear walls, approx. 90" apart from one another (about 92-94" from my listening position), and approx. 4.5’ from the sidewalls. This gives me excellent imaging and soundstage, detail, instrument timbre, but I have the feeling I can still squeeze out some more progress. I’ve been doing this for several weeks now and while I keep taking what I feel are 3-4 steps forward and 1-2 steps backwards the persistence is paying off. But I have to be honest it’s a bit frustrating! This no doubt can take a while - especially when I hear (if I remember correctly) that people even like Paul can take one week to properly setup music room one. Granted, I know the IRS’s are probably a more complex set-up.

Anyhow, the journey has been fun - albeit sometimes frustrating, but on days like today - very rewarding and eye-opening. My modest system is definitely capable of quite a lot since I’m hearing things that many folks say to listen for on reference tracks. Exciting and fun stuff!

Well, since we really don’t know the dimensions of your room, it would be hard to say what is the primary modals you would want to try to hit first, but also keep in mind, you’re not really looking to kill the room, but to use specific placement strategically. Sometimes just treating one wall for example, can remove a number of modal issues. A modal calculator will tell you what frequency, it’s location, height and depth. High frequencies are dominated by the loudspeaker, and it’s focal point should be close to what the manufacturer intended.

My room is approx. 16 feet wide by 28 feet long, and my speakers are set-up on the shorter end (open room with family room connected to kitchen).

I’ll look into a modal calculator and see what you’re talking about - thanks for the heads up! The more I know the better!!! I appreciate the help, Barsley.

How tall is the room? What other furniture? You can also use this calculator;

And this as a reference to golden rules;

Room has 9 ft ceilings, I have 2 chairs to the left of the listening position (1 leather, 1 cloth), and the listening position is on an L shaped sectional sofa, cloth. If you look at this link it gives you the very general make-up of my listening room (my horrible hand-drawn picture is there :smile:) I sit basically where the star is in that picture.

Thank you for this! I didn’t realize this resource was out there. I’ll have to play around with it - especially since I’m effectively listening in only half of the whole room (which I know isn’t ideal). Great resource, thank you - I’m enjoying reading through it, and I’ll enjoy it more once I can put it into practice when I get a chance!

…hard by the way…especially with six kiddos ages 1 - 13 :):thinking: But I find the time nonetheless. Especially in the mornings during my Bible study from around 5:00 to 6:00.

Do you have the room depth to place the speakers about 1/3 into the room? If yes, try that as a rough starting point and fiddle around all over again with the space between the speakers and toe. Sorry if I already suggested something similar. FWIW.

Looking at some of the primary modal frequencies of your room size, if you were wanting to address some basic location for treatment, if it were me, I would look at all four corners of the room. In those corners, it would be a great place to set bass traps rather close to those corners. These corners also are a hot spot for reflections in upper frequencies and would also benefit from this treatment. You would want the treatment (traps) to have effective treatment down to at least the 100Hz range.

Similar size and shape to the last room my system was in. If you were getting happy with the spread/triangle you found earlier, I might just go from there and noodle with toe-in for a bit. Depending on the speaker, you often want them firing at a point just behind your head (which would be a lot of toe-in). Some speakers/rooms are happier with them facing straight forward. I would guess from memory that the Monitor Audios would be happy somewhere in between or towards the toed-in to your head zone. But it’s up to your ears : )

I’m not a huge fan of the 1/3 rule, as it depends on lots of other things to work well. Some swear by it, but I haven’t found it to be universally useful. It is, however, useful with respect to starting with the speakers at a point that will create significantly less modal interaction with the room. Having said that, it’s imparctical for most situations - with all those kids, you can’t have speakers 7’ out into the room - and many speakers like a bit of “help” from the walls. I think the distance you found earlier a good spot. You can noodle with moving the whole triangle back and forth, paying particular attention to the bass reinforcement as you get closer to the wall, and where that starts to mess with the imaging in the high end.

The only problem with HF focus, is we don’t have a spinorama of the off-axis performance. The manufacturer specified on-axis location, and since I don’t know what the balloon looks like, it would be hard for me to recommend something outside of it. Not all speakers are well behaved off-axis, and EQ will not assist you in this area.

I don’t have the speakers about 1/3 into the room - this is not feasible for my condition. In fact, if I had to guess my speakers are out in the room more like 1/6 of the room. The room is approx. 28’ long, and I have the speakers out approx. 5 ft from the rear wall. So, I’m away from there another 1/6 give or take…with my listening chair probably being out about into the room about 1/3 or so if not just a little further. I wish I could take advantage of the 1/3 rule but it just isn’t going to happen. Still, things are sounding pretty good!

I’ve thought about this too - especially if I could give portable treatments a shot. They’d have to be something easy to move in/out, but I’d prefer not to.

Thanks for the reply, “badbeef” - sorry, I just have to chuckle a bit writing that :):smile: I agree about just going from where my good results are now and seeing how I can improve upon this. Trial / error, trial / error, trial / error…

I also agree about the toe-in factor. In order to get my speakers having a decent-width of soundstage, imaging, and depth, this means I must put one of my speakers really close to my sectional (one corner is probably 6" away). Because of this, it requires quite a bit of toe-in to not have those early reflections hit the sofa immediately - this is my reasoning anyways.

Though this also seems to work. I still get a great center image, good instrument separation, and nothing wonders too much - along with a smooth bass response. Though I do want to play around with toe-in more across a wide variety of songs to see what the overall best balance is.

Totally agree about not wanting the speakers too far out:) I just can’t and won’t, and when I’m not doing my critical listening I put them back against the wall probably 12" out. It still has a good sound from this position, but obviously not nearly as good as when I bring them out approx. 5’. Thanks for the input!!

It is impossible to neglect half of your speaker’s performance, and that is dictated by the room.