So, you’ve got a monitor... what do you do with it? Acoustic oracle, White Mark’s David Bell, talks to
Audio Media magazine about the basics of speaker placement, rooms, and stands.
udio Media: It’s common knowledge that
you can’t consider speaker performance
without considering the room. Could you
start us off with some basics?
David Bell: A room and a set of speakers should
always be considered as a unit.
Both influence what you hear, and the interaction
between both influences what you hear almost as
much as the choice of either.
So, if you to have a production space with freestanding speakers and you put the speakers largely
where they need to be, and symmetrically in the
room, the room will interact with the speakers in
a number of ways. It will itself have modes which
will cause bass colouration, and the positioning
of the speakers will alter the interaction of the
speaker with the boundaries. By that I mean it
will reflect off the walls and you’ll have ‘coherent
interference’. This will cause notch filtering, and is
principally noted in the lower mid and the upper
bass, which is really where the character of voices
Even free-standing speakers ought to be set
up by someone who knows what they’re doing.
You will get interaction between the walls, the
ceiling, the floor, the speaker, and you. You need
to optimise that. You can do this by listening to
stuff that you know well, and adjusting the speaker
position – moving it six inches will make a huge
As a fundamental thing, it’s a good idea not
to have it the same distance from the floor, the
ceiling, and both walls so that the interactive
effects of those boundaries are not lying on top of
each other, and therefore smeared a bit.
A second thing is that the speaker is
trying to give you a full bandwidth of output out of
its speaker cones. It should be borne in mind that
as frequency goes down, as much will come out
of the back of the speaker as comes out the front.
The tweeter fires higher frequencies forwards in a
cone – it’s directional. It becomes less directional
as the frequency its carrying goes down to a
wavelength comparable to its diameter
The same is true of the midrange and the bass,
but the bass tends to be much more 360-degrees
radiating, because basically
the box vibrates.
On A Sure Footing
AM: What advice do you have on stands?
DB: You need to mount it on something solid, so
that the mounting you’ve got doesn’t absorb
frequencies specific to the mounting... This is
particularly true where you’ve got a nice bit of
furniture, and you’ve got a computer keyboard
and a little mixer, and you stand the speakers on
a little bookshelf shelf at the top of it. At least
put a paving slab on top – something heavy that
the speaker can run against.
There’s an awful lot of rubbish talked about
high end, really expensive, rubbed-against-thethighs-of-virgins magnesium-alloy... What you
want is a sodding great heavy thing to stand your
speakers on – and it’s no good putting it on a
wonderful speaker stand, wonderfully linked up
to a diaphragmatic wooden floor, because that’s
just the same. Although if your speaker stand is
full of lead, it’s then going to be quite heavy, so
the resonant frequency of the floor membrane it’s
standing on is going to be much lower.
AM: Is there any sense in de-coupling speakers –
by using foam products,
DB: You have to be careful. If you get a
piece of foam and stand a speaker on it,
the frequency at which it is de-coupled –
the resonant frequency of that compressed,
sprung system – is proportional to some
interesting constants, times one over the
deflection. The further you deflect it,
the lower the frequency it works at.
We try to get our floors to deflect about
6-8mm, and that gives you between 8-14Hz
resonant frequency. So anything from double that
up – from 20Hz up – is then de-coupled… But if
you’ve got, say, 2mm of deflection, your resonant
frequency would be higher, and would only clear
once you’re well into the audible range. Thus,
you’ve got a problem at the bottom end – it’s
getting absorbed by stuff that’s not very well decoupled.
This is why proper mounts are better than bits
of plastic. They manufacture them so that if you
put a certain weight on it, you will get 8mm of
deflection, and it’s known to be within the elastic
limit of the squashy stuff, so that it will work
properly at that frequency.
Up The Ante
AM: What about moving on to bigger rooms,
bigger speakers, and bigger budgets?
DB: You can start designing the room to try and
increase the effectiveness of the room-speaker
combination. One of the things you can do is to
minimise the effect of bass reflection by soffit
mounting the speakers – building them into the
wall. This is done not just by sticking a piece of
wall fabric under the speakers, but by building
them into a substantial wall in a big, heavy box.
We then pack the front wall – we use mineral
wool, though other people do others things.
The bass end becomes more efficient because
it’s all going forwards. If you correctly soffit mount
a speaker, you’ve got the early bass reflections
under control. And then if
you carefully design the distance between you and
the walls, you can further improve those early bass
We now need to look at the room itself. Cubic
rooms are a bad plan. Everyone’s heard of the
various imperfect ratios of height to length to
width. These all work in different ways, and to
different standards; and different ratios have
different devotees. But effectively when we’re
designing a room, as one of our clients once
said: ‘no-one’s going to let you shave a yard off