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Choosing and using standmount loudspeakers

Choosing and using standmount loudspeakers

The English have an affinity with standmount loudspeakers (especially two-way stand­mounts), as evidenced by the evergreen BBC-designed LS3/5a. This is understandable given the size of the typical English listening room, but with that affinity comes arrogance. We did not invent the standmount, and while we make a lot of very good standmounts, it doesn’t give us unique right to call ourselves ‘the best’. Other countries can lay equal claim to making some extremely good standmount designs, and over the years have made some truly world-class designs and innovations.

But since the heyday of the BBC Research Department, there have been significant developments in the materials used in the loudspeaker drive units, the components in the crossover network, and the choice of cabinet material. Sophisticated computer modelling designs optimum cabinet sizes, bracing, and port technology, while equally complex computer measurement techniques give the engineers an understanding of air flow inside and outside a loudspeaker, how a different cone surround effects the dynamics of a loudspeaker, and more. And these elements have created increasingly better loudspeaker designs.

We have recently looked at the basic technology and requirements of a loudspeaker back in issue 123. Rather than go over the same ground again, let’s look specifically at the practical concerns of installing a loudspeaker (in this case, but not exclusively, a standmount loudspeaker) in a room.

Naturally, the first consideration specific to a standmount loudspeaker is, er, a stand. While many companies provide a specific, dedicated stand for the loudspeaker, aftermarket stands often provide better performance. The three important aspects here are height, mass, and rigidity: in most cases (unless the loudspeaker manual says otherwise) the optimum height for a loudspeaker stand would make the acoustic centre of the tweeter of the loudspeaker fall roughly in line with your ears when seated. Some loudspeakers (for example, ProAc) perform best on a high-mass stand, while others (such as Epos) are best used with lightweight stands. Even rigidity has its supporters and detractors; companies such as Linn and Focal would have the loudspeakers completely immobile in the room, while brands like Raidho and Townshend are more concerned by energy transfer from stand to floor to speaker and that places rigidity as a relatively low priority.

Finding an appropriate amplifier match for a pair of loudspeakers is an important consideration, especially if you go beyond the comparatively safe option of a pair of reasonably easy to drive loudspeakers partnered with a relatively powerful solid-state amplifier. Some loudspeaker specifications do give an indication of how easy the loudspeaker is to drive; a loudspeaker with a rated minimum impedance of below two ohms, for example, is likely always going to need a hefty power amplifier to drive it, and will, in extreme cases, shorten the working life of the amplifier. Similarly, the low-frequency cut-off point in a loudspeaker’s frequency response, coupled to its sensitivity and maximum sound pressure level, will give broad indications of the sort of room this system will work well in: a low frequency limit of 50Hz (for example) will perfectly suit a small room, but sound too light in most cases in far larger rooms. However, in both these cases, the best solution is to work with experts who can advise and demonstrate upstream electronics and optimum systems for a given room

Once a loudspeaker is at the appropriate height with the right equipment, it’s worth considering the room it goes in. Room treatment is an important consideration in a dedicated listening room, but becomes hard to justify when the room is a shared family space. Nevertheless, a lot of loudspeaker woes can be resolved by subtle use of bass trapping in the corners of a room, absorption or diffusion behind the listener and (often) behind the loudspeakers and even first reflection treatment on the side walls and ceiling. If possible, it’s best to use dedicated room treatment solutions than home-brew variations like books, cushions, and sofas, but pragmatic considerations often weigh heavy.

Last but not least, it’s worth considering the installation itself. Most loudspeaker manuals include some kind of rudimentary installation diagram, usually some variant on an inverted isosceles triangle, with the listener at the apex and the loudspeakers at either base. Typically, in a rectangular room, try to sit on the centreline along the length of the room, with your chair around 1/3rd of the way from the rear wall. Then, position the loudspeakers at least 40cm from the nearest rear and side walls, and that they are ideally 2m or more apart. Once again, the manual is your friend, especially with regard to toe-in (the angle of the front of the speakers relative to your listening position). There are other schemes of install that many swear by, from firing across the room with the loudspeakers wide, and heavily ‘toed in’, through ‘vowelling in’ the room to find an optimum position, to ‘golden mean’ geomancy, and more.

Whichever installation system you try, experiment with careful positioning; consider the basic placement ‘roughed in’ and fine-tune the speaker set-up, even if it’s a centimetre or two movement. These can make big differences, on any loudspeaker.

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