September 29, 2023

Room Tweaks to Help Your Speakers Sound Their Best

Article written by Sarah Jones

Curtains, soft furniture, and even plants break up sonic reflections.

Whether you’re indulging in your favorite tunes, movies, or gaming adventures, superb sound always elevates the experience. 

Polk speakers are engineered to sound great in any environment. That said, every speaker interacts with the room it’s in, and even the best speakers can be colored by extreme room acoustics. 

Perhaps you noticed that your speakers don’t sound quite as amazing as they did in the showroom. Maybe you have a hard time understanding dialogue, or there’s a little too much boom in your bass. Fortunately, the acoustic culprits that cause these issues are pretty common—and easily fixable. By making a few simple adjustments, you’ll transform your room into an audio sanctuary. 

Note: We’re keeping things simple here, focusing on a pair of stereo speakers. (Looking to set up a Dolby Atmos sound bar or component system? Check out our guide.) And, we’re leaving room EQ, speaker calibration tools, and acoustic treatment out of the equation, focusing on easy speaker and furniture tweaks that anyone can try.

Soften Your Space

When you play sound through speakers in a room, you hear a combination of direct sound, which comes from your speakers; and reflected sound, which is sound that bounces off walls and other surfaces on its way to your ears. Reflected sound can add a sense of space (think of the gorgeous echo in a cavernous cathedral), but too many reflections can muddy up sound, resulting in boomy bass, harsh midrange, unintelligible speech, and a smeared soundstage. 

In an ideal world, everyone’s listening room would house precisely positioned speakers and acoustically optimizes surfaces. We recognize that your home is not a recording studio, but you can still make major strides toward minimizing reflections and boomy bass-y areas without disrupting your space. 

When it comes to room reflections, the culprits tend to be big, open expanses of hard, smooth surfaces: windows, mirrors, tables, doors, and wood or tile floors. While you probably can’t do much about your room dimensions, adding furniture and rugs helps absorb sound and break up reflections. Curtains, bookshelves, pillows, even that trendy rubber plant you’ve been eyeing all diffuse sound. Try rearranging furniture; avoid placing large reflective surfaces directly opposite your speakers. Need more help? Many off-the-shelf acoustic panels can be customized with designs of your choice, doubling as wall art.

Unlock the Speaker Sweet Spot

Since every space is unique, there’s no magic formula for dialing the best speaker placement in every room. And with many of us watching movies or listening to music in a family room, bedroom, and other real-world spaces, it’s not always realistic to place speakers exactly where they sound the best. But making a few minor adjustments will help you achieve the optimal balance of clarity and imaging without cramping your style. 

First, make sure speakers are positioned at ear height and equidistant from the side walls. Set the listening position where it forms an equilateral triangle with your speakers. 

Applying the "rule of thirds" is a solid starting point for speaker placement: Try positioning your speakers one-third of the distance from the furthest end of the longest wall, and your listening position at one-third of the distance from the opposite end. Setting these positions at odd ratios helps balance the blend of direct and reflected sound at the listening position, allowing for better imaging, soundstage width, and depth, creating a more immersive audio experience.

Avoid placing speakers directly against walls, in corners, or against large objects that can reinforce sound waves. Keeping speakers at least six inches away from a wall or similar surface leads to tighter, cleaner bass and improved detail.

Experiment With “Toeing In” 

Toeing-in, or angling speakers inward toward the center listening position, can help reduce reflections from side walls and widen the sound stage; however, some speakers sound better firing straight ahead. We encourage you to try a few orientations to determine what sounds best in your space. 

Place speakers on stands to minimize the transmission of vibrations.

Isolate Your Speakers

To cut down on vibrations and resonances, place speakers on isolation pads or stands. These accessories minimize the transmission of vibrations to surrounding surfaces, reducing distortion and ensuring cleaner sound reproduction.

Subwoofer Placement for the Most Balanced Bass

Finding the perfect spot for your subwoofer can be tricky. You may have heard that a subwoofer can be placed anywhere in the room; while that’s partially true, your subwoofer will perform better in some spots than others. Because subwoofer performance is somewhat defined by its interaction with your unique space, finding the ideal position may involve trial and error. Try some of the same tips you tried for speaker placement: Follow the rule of thirds and keep your sub away from walls and corners. For more suggestions, read our guide to subwoofer placement. 

For best bass response, place your subwoofer at least six inches from a wall.

Bonus Tip: Check Your Cable Connections

Don't overlook the importance of using high-quality speaker cables and ensuring proper connections. Poor-quality cables or loose connections can introduce signal loss and degrade audio performance. Invest in reliable cables and make sure they are securely connected to maximize the fidelity of your sound system.

Remember that these "rules" are just a starting point, and everyone's sound system, listening space, and preferences are different. By trying these simple strategies and doing a little experimenting, you’ll unlock your speakers’ full potential and treat yourself to a world of unparalleled audio immersion every time you press Play.

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