We’ve got a lot of stuff to cover today, so I’ll dispense with the intro anecdote and dive right into the topic du jour, which is part of an ongoing series about setting up your speakers to get the most out of them. It’s about tapping into the potential for stereo “imaging” that exists, which is usually inhibited by the walls and surfaces around our speakers.
Certain tweaks and positioning rules of thumb can alleviate these issues, and last week, we talked about using little stands to lift desktop speakers off of the stereo-robbing desk they’re placed on. I ran out of space to suggest it, but if you’re not into the stand idea, some of the enhancement of sound can be achieved if you place a 1” thick strip of soft foam under the front of the speakers, tilting them upwards slightly. Little DIY trick there.
Moving on, today we’re talking about “toeing” the speakers in or out, which describes pointing them either toward your ears or slightly away from them.
Common sense would lead you to face them directly at your ears or at a point roughly in the middle of your head. And traditional rule of thumb says to raise them up until the tweeters are at your ear level.
I’m not particularly fond of these rules. My position is that they are useful for some speakers or as a starting point for adjustment. I’ve always found that experimentation and listening are the only reliable tools to help me get the toe-in right.
Everyone’s ears are shaped differently, and everyone’s auditory system is unique. Our hearing systems include some serious processing, and our understanding of what we hear is dependent on what we’ve heard in the past.
So you just never know what’s going to work until you hear it working. In my experience, I usually prefer to toe the speakers outward from that initial starting point. I can hear the width of the sound increasing when I do that, and that’s what we’re after.
Generally, this angling movement is about dialing in the tweeter, which is the little speaker on top that makes high-pitched sounds. So why all this focus on the top end? Well, the physics of sound is a strange bird. Low sounds made by the bigger woofer will radiate sound backward just as much as forward. Low sounds are omnidirectional, and high sounds are directional. So when we’re turning the speaker slightly away from our ears, we’re actually lowering the tweeter in volume slightly, so that the overall balance is more pleasing.
Many tweeters are made of metals that are very hard, and these metals often exhibit resonances and ringing within the hearing range. This can make a speaker sound exciting, with lots of pizazz on the top end, but in long-term listening, it can make your ears hurt. Toeing the speakers out a bit can help a lot with fatiguing tweeters.
This is, as I said before, a very thick subject, but it is rewarding when we get it right. We continue next week.