How to place electrostatic loudspeakers
Most loudspeakers can produce a so called soundstage. Vocals and instruments are free standing in your listening room, comparable with listening to live music. It will form a three dimensional image from wall to wall and it has depth. The best loudspeakers will also produce differences in height. A vocal will have a higher position in comparison with a bass drum or cymbals.
Not only the loudspeakers, but also the electronics will add to the quality of the soundstage. We also discovered that some of the best power cables will influence the soundstage. Especially source components and pre amplifiers are sensitive for the quality of power cables. One of the most charming loudspeaker features is to create a fully free soundstage in the room. Just the same as you experience while listening to live music. But, if there’s something wrong with the placement, the electronics or maybe the cables, the sound seems only to come directly from the loudspeakers. It sticks to the loudspeakers and there’s absolutely no soundstage at all.
Electrostatic panels are famous for their ability to create a huge soundstage. To show their best, they need a little bit of space around. So, we recommend to place the panels free from the walls. Between the panels there should be a free and empty space. It does not help to place a flat screen or audio rack between the loudspeakers. It will compromise the soundstage. For the large Model 15 and Model 12, we recommend a 1.5-3 meter free distance to the back wall and 1-2 meter to the side walls. These distances will also do for the smaller models, but you can probably end up with some smaller distances.
The placement of loudspeakers in general will affect the soundstage and, due to physical laws, this is especially true for electrostatic panels. But, this placement also has a considerable impact on the tonal balance. As humans, we can detect frequencies in the range from 0 to 20.000Hz. A state of the art audio system should produce every single frequency with the same level (amplitude) and also the same energy. Most serious high end loudspeakers do have a flat frequency response in an anechoic room. Meaning a room without reflections, used for testing microphones and loudspeakers. Your living room definitely has reflection and these will influence the flat frequency response. Depending on the room and the placement of the loudspeakers, parts of the lower frequencies will be amplified or attenuated. But the so called room modes will also influence the mid and higher frequencies. The results will be that some of the frequencies will be missing and others will be amplified. You might be listening to an annoying boom bass, recessed mid frequencies or very sharp higher frequencies.
You can avoid a lot of these acoustic problems using a decent loudspeaker placement. Especially for loudspeakers covering the full frequency spectrum. Most acoustic problems are in the lower frequencies. So, don’t place a loudspeaker in a room’s corner. A corner consists of three walls and will act as a horn. It will amplify the lower frequencies. But on the contrary, when you own very small monitor loudspeakers, you can decide deliberately to find a corner position. Your monitors will sound one octave deeper. The same effect will happen when you place any loudspeaker closer to the wall.
But, gaining some additional lower frequencies is not a free lunch. Placement nearer to the wall will diminish the quality of the soundstage. The art of tuning means that you will find a compromise. A placement that will maintain a flat frequency response in the room and a decent soundstage.
Very large electrostatic panels will perform optimally if the placement is free in the room. So, keep a reasonable distance from the back wall, the side wall and the corners. Smaller electrostatic panels will provide you also with a huge soundstage when the placement is as free as possible. They will be mostly combined with a subwoofer. Try to find a position for this unit where the lower frequencies are at their deepest, but the frequency range is as flat as possible. Sometimes it can be in a corner or near to a wall, depending on the subwoofer and the room.
There is no fixed and best position for a subwoofer. But, there’re some best practices. One challenge is to find a position where the subwoofer performs at its best and where the room’s design values are not get lost. The truth is that you need a compromise for both of them. Scientifically spoken, you can find the best place for the subwoofer to take measurements, produce some nice graphics and acknowledge with listening practices. For most customers, it will be a bridge to far, because you need expensive measuring equipment and some knowledge about acoustics. So, we need a simple solution. Although there is a lot of controversy and different opinions around subwoofer placement, it’s probably wise to read the following recommendations. Two reasonable positions are to place a subwoofer in a corner, behind the artificial line between the two loudspeakers, or place the subwoofer on the line between the loudspeakers. In both positions, the subwoofer is close to the loudspeakers and the sound will integrate reasonably well.
A subwoofer placement far from the loudspeakers will produce time problems and far less integration. You will listen to the sound of the loudspeakers while the subwoofer will show up as a separate sound source. If you put the subwoofer on the line between the loudspeakers, try to place the subwoofer’s front panel a little bit before the loudspeaker’s front panels. For a perfect result, the sound from the loudspeaker’s drivers and the subwoofer’s sound should arrive at the same time at the listener’s ears. Because you can time delay the subwoofer’s sound, it works best when the subwoofer’s front is a little in front of the loudspeaker’s front panels. If the subwoofer is behind the artificial line between the loudspeakers, you need a special piece of equipment to delay the sound of the loudspeakers.
Listen for integration between the loudspeakers and the subwoofer and also for time alignment. The sound of the bass should not lag behind the sound of the loudspeakers. Also listen to the subwoofer’s sound level. Adjust this until you don’t hear the subwoofer as a separate entity. Low frequencies should not dominate the sound.
A subwoofer in a corner will produce more sound pressure level, because the sound is reinforced by the surrounding walls. Because of this, you can probably do with a smaller subwoofer. When the corner is too far from the loudspeakers, the integration will be compromised. As soon as the subwoofer will act as a separate entity, you need to decrease the distance between the subwoofer and the loudspeaker.
Hybrid Final loudspeakers consist of a flat electrostatic panel and a subwoofer. They are basically full range. Try to find a compromise between a flat frequency curve and a decent soundstage. Because there’s a subwoofer involved, a hybrid is very sensitive for the distance to the surrounding walls and floor. Placement near to the wall will amplify the lower frequencies. As a result, the frequency curve from 10-20.000 Hz is no longer flat. The loudspeaker will produce a bass heavy, boomy and annoying sound. You can recover the flat frequency curve if you find a position further from the walls or lower the subwoofer’s sound output. With lower frequencies you will most of the time encounter the phenomenon of so called standing waves. It are basically sound waves, bouncing between the walls in your listening environment. It results in one particular bass frequency that will sound very loud and annoying. The remedy is to find another place for the subwoofer. Sometimes, this place is only a few inches away.
It’s of course possible to toe-in the panels. If the loudspeaker’s baffle (front panel) is parallel with the back wall, you will have zero toe-in. When you turn the loudspeaker around across it’s vertical axis, you can choose for a specific smaller or wider angle with the back wall. Zero toe-in means a very wide soundstage. Applying more toe-in will increase the soundstage’s depth and diminish the width. So, the result is always a compromise between depth and width.