How To: Position Desktop Speakers

Audiophiles spend a lot of money on useless items like cables and wires, but you can make a huge difference in the way your stereo sounds by paying attention to how you position your speakers. There are plenty of articles that go into great detail about placing speakers in a living room environment – you can read three such articles, in increasing complexity: here, here and here – but few of them discuss positioning speakers on a desk. There are a number of points to consider for desktop, or “nearfield,” listening, which is very different from “room” listening.

Here’s a photo of my desk:

Position your speakers at least a foot or two from a wall: If you have a wall behind your desk, don’t put the speakers too close to the wall; if necessary, pull your desk out a foot or two. Sound doesn’t only come out of the front of your speakers, and if speakers are too close to a wall, low frequencies can boom. Try to make sure the speakers are both the same distance from the wall, and try to avoid putting a speaker in the corner of a room, if possible. Don’t put them too close to you either; I find that setting my speakers at the back of my desk is fine. It’s generally not a good idea to have speakers lined up with your monitor.

Raise and/or insulate the speakers: I strongly believe that, for good sound, one should use “real” speakers, not speakers designed for computer listening. (Though powered monitors, such as Audioengine’s A5+ (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) are also a good option.) In this case, your speakers will be fairly large, and it’s best to raise them on stands rather than angle them upward. Speakers of any kind sitting on your desk will cause problems: either from vibrations, or from things in the way on your desk (unless you keep your desk very clear).

To dampen vibrations, use some sort of insulation under the speakers, or use desktop speaker stands such as these from IsoAcoustics (see my review; Amazon.com, Amazon UK). If you do want speakers at the level of your desk, you can use these Audioengine Desktop Speaker Stands to both insulate them and angle them toward your ears (see point 4). (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Separate the speakers: You don’t want your speakers just sticking out from the edges of your monitor; spread them as far apart as you can on your desk, ideally about 4-6 feet, for good stereo imaging. Make sure they are equidistant from your head.

Point the speakers toward your ears: To get the best sound, you need to find the right angle for your speakers. They should point toward your ears, but to find out how much, start with the speakers facing straight ahead from your desk. Listen to some music you’re familiar with, then turn them inward a bit, and listen again. Keep doing this until you find the sweet spot. One rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t see the sides of the speakers when you turn your head to look at them; the speakers should more or less be pointed toward your head.

speaker-position.png

Position the speakers so the tweeters point to the height of your ears: High-frequency sound waves are very short. A 4,000 Hz sound wave is approximately 8.5 cm; that’s shorter than a cigarette. While the sound wave spreads out as it leaves a speaker, higher frequency sound waves spread out much less quickly than lower frequencies. For this reason, you’ll find that, if your tweeters aren’t at the height of your ears, you’ll miss out on much of the high-frequency sounds. This is less of an issue in a living room, but when you’re listening on your desk, the speakers are only a few feet from your ears. If you have small speakers sitting flat on your desk, pointing straight out, you’ll be missing much of the high frequencies when you listen to music.

tweeter.png

If you use a sub-woofer, you can put it anywhere you want: In general, since low-frequency sound waves are very long – a 300 Hz wave is about 114 cm, or more than three feet – you can put a sub-woofer anywhere you want. (This is also why you only need a single channel for a sub-woofer; you wouldn’t be able to hear the stereo image because the waves are too long.) Stick it under the desk, on either side, but not too close to a wall or corner, to avoid booming.

The Next Track, Episode #147 – Kirk’s New Sonos Amp

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxKirk bought some new audio equipment: a Sonos Amp. We talk about how this amp works, and how it has allowed Kirk to minimalize the equipment in his home office.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #147 – Kirk’s New Sonos Amp.

Find out more at The Next Track website, or follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast.

Audio Engineering Matters, Not The Format – Computer Audiophile

My personal philosophy is that I am format neutral. For me, the format of the digital file is one of the least significant factors in getting true audio fidelity in the home. Assuming that one has competently engineered and manufactured electronics, which I find to be generally the case, the most significant and most often overlooked factor by audiophiles, is the room itself.

This cannot be stressed enough.

As for the format of the recording, I find that the quality of the recording itself to be far more important than the format. The skill of the recording engineer, the microphones used, the placement of same, the recording venue, the placement of the musicians in that space all trump whether the format is DSD or PCM or analog tape. With great engineering and or course, a light touch by the mastering engineer, all of these formats can yield spectacular results.

This too.

Source: Audio Engineering Matters, Not The Format – Computer Audiophile

The Next Track, Episode #135 – Christmas Gift Guide

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxDoug and Kirk make a list, and check it twice, presenting some ideas for music-related Christmas gifts.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #135 – Christmas Gift Guide.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

The Next Track, Episode #110 – Requiem for the Stereo

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxIs the home stereo dead? It certainly looks like it.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #110 – Requiem for the Stereo.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

Why Do People Equate High End Audio with Snake Oil? – Archimago’s Musings

I believe there is very much¬†“snake oil” salesmanship¬†going on in many areas of “high end” audio. Remember though that fraudulent products and sales tactics happen in many places, not just audiophilia (for example, think of fraudulent pharmaceuticals, naturopathy, homeopathy, the local psychic, etc.). However, like most things in life, it’s a bit more complicated and it would not be fair to classify everything as black or white.

A good examination of how many audiophile products can be considered snake oil, and how audiophiles get wrapped up in this type of thinking.

Source: Archimago’s Musings: MUSINGS: Why Do People Equate High End Audio with Snake Oil?

Speaker Cables: Can You Hear the Difference? – Sound & Vision

In the early 1980s, esoteric high-end audio as we know it today was just taking off as an alternative to the mass-market equipment offered in neighborhood TV/appliance stores. Fueled by an underground audio press that included magazines and newsletters such as Sound & Vision sister publication Stereophile, The Absolute Sound, International Audio Review, The Audio Critic, and others, a cottage industry emerged, one populated by small manufacturers of low-volume, high-priced exotica claiming greater faithfulness to the music than the gear reviewed and advertised in the pages of Stereo Review, High Fidelity, Audio, et al. Some of these claims were founded–true advances were indeed being made by start-ups run by technicians with first-class bonafides and good ears. But the High End also attracted its share of half-baked products and at least a few charlatans looking to cash in selling accessories that had little higher performance than a dime-store engagement ring.

In the midst of all this, the premium cable business emerged, driven in no small part by the success of the early Monster Cable products that followed the company’s founding by engineer/audiophile Noel Lee in 1979. The editors of our precursor Stereo Review were suspicious of the benefits of such speaker cables and interconnects, which were suddenly being proffered by an ever-widening mix of high-end specialists, often at prices far higher than Monster’s. The highly objective measurement-based testing approach employed by Julian Hirsch and his colleagues already ran counter to the high-end community’s subjective reviews, which focused solely on claimed sonic differences that SR’s instruments couldn’t detect. It wasn’t long before Stereo Review began positioning itself as the skeptical voice of reason in what its editors deemed an audio industry gone mad.

It was no surprise, then, that in 1983, the magazine jumped at the opportunity to conduct a double-blind listening test, which editor-in-chief Bill Livingston and his colleagues hoped would reveal, scientifically, that high-end cables were indeed a hoax and provided no higher performance than the everyday lamp cord in common use at the time.

Interesting reprint of a 1983 article examining speaker cables to see if listeners could tell the difference between average cables and premium wires.

Source: Speaker Cables: Can You Hear the Difference? | Sound & Vision

How the Audio Industry is Deceiving Consumers with High-Resolution Audio

Hi resI’ve been writing about music and audio for more than fifteen years, and I’ve always been of the opinion that music is more important than sound; that what matters is what we listen to, rather trying to only listen to music that sounds perfect (or nearly so).[1]

If you read about audio equipment in the hi-fi press, you’ll see that much of the audio equipment mentioned in these magazines is more expensive than most people would ever spend on a stereo setup. There are cables that cost more than my car, and speakers that can cost as much as a small home.[2]

A few months ago, I came to a realization. I don’t recall which article I read that pointed this out, but this type of audio is not just high-end, but it truly is luxury hardware. It’s the Jaguar and Porsche of audio. The amplifiers, speakers, and cables you see in these audiophile magazines are not targeted at the average listener, but those who have a great deal of disposable income. This is fine; there’s nothing wrong with people spending their money on what is often hand-made hardware from small, dedicated companies. But it’s only something that a tiny percentage of people can afford, or even appreciate. Audiophiles will scoff at people like me; in a recent forum discussion, I was told that, by purchasing a Yamaha amplifier, I was buying a "lifestyle" brand. I hadn’t been aware that this is an insult: it’s the audiophile equivalent of "philistine."

If you consider high-resolution music, which is widely discussed as being essential to make music "sound like the artist intended," you may, at first, think of this as progress; a better quality format, going beyond the pokey LP, the limited CD, and the underperforming MP3 file. But it’s not. Most people cannot hear the difference between a CD (or even a good-quality digital download) and a high-resolution audio file. And, even if they can, they need expensive, nay, luxury equipment to appreciate it.[3]

And here’s where the problem lies. The audio industry has lost so many consumers at the low end – it used to be that most people had a stereo system in their homes; now they are satisfied with Bluetooth speakers – that it is trying to convince everyone, not just luxury hi-fi fans, that quality of the music they listen to sucks. There are economic reasons for this, of course. If they can convince some people that their audio files aren’t good enough, then they can perhaps get them to buy more expensive hi-fi equipment. In recent years, the mid-range hi-fi market – those "lifestyle" brands – has collapsed, and these companies only really survive because they sell lots of other products. So there’s not a lot of choice between Bluetooth speakers – or the Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, etc. – and higher-end audio equipment.[4]

Read more

Oppo Is Ceasing Production of Optical Disc Players and Headphones

Oppo, well known among audio enthusiasts for its optical disc players – DVD, Blu-Ray, etc. – is ceasing production of these products and of their headphones. In an article entitled Farewell, the company says:

It has been 14 years since we established OPPO Digital in the United States, and with the support of our customers, technical partners, and movie/music studios, we produced many award-winning Hi-Fi audio products and universal disc players, spanning three generations from DVD, Blu-ray, to 4K UHD.

As our latest 4K UHD players reach the pinnacle of their performance, it is time to say goodbye. We are proud to have made such well-regarded products and to have served the enthusiast community. Without our customers’ suggestions, encouragement, and support, we could not have accomplished these achievements.

Though OPPO Digital will gradually stop manufacturing new products, existing products will continue to be supported, warranties will still be valid, and both in-warranty and out-of-warranty repair services will continue to be available. Firmware will continue to be maintained and updates released from time to time. Customers can rest assured that they will continue to receive the high quality service and support that they have come to expect from OPPO Digital.

Oppo also makes smartphones, through a separate entity, and those products will continue. But it’s clear that streaming and digital downloads have affected this company enough that they can no longer survive.

This is a shame. Oppo is one of the references for high-quality, multi-disc players. In addition, their technology is used in players made by some other companies, such as a Cambridge Audio player that I own, which is built around an Oppo chassis and chips. This will therefore affect other brands, who may need to find new ways to build their devices, if they are to continue.

Man Who Self-Identifies as “Audiophile” Reviews Apple AirPods

A journalist writing for The Verge, who self-identifies as an “audiophile” has posted a review of Apple’s AirPods. In it, he points out that he is “headphone obsessive,” and that, for some reason, he is “not supposed to like the AirPods.” To be fair, this luxury music listener uses $3,000 headphones to listen to music; and undoubtedly has speaker cables whose cost per meter is more than the AirPods.

So he likes the AirPods. It’s not like this guy is the official audiophile that everyone should listen to. Just read some of what he says; the same drivel that audiophile reviewers spout all the time:

The AirPods convey a full sense of the mood and intent of the music I listen to. By that, I mean that they’re not technically spectacular. They don’t fill my world with a sparkling shimmer when listening to “Rachel’s Song” on the Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack, but they still put me in that longing, wistful mood.

He only mentions the sound in one paragraph; the rest is about the technical features of the AirPods and their design. As often in “audiophile” reviews, it’s a lot of fluff and little substance.

No, self-identifying as an “audiophile” doesn’t make anyone more qualified to judge audio equipment. This article proves it.