Measure and Connect

In our quest for the best stereo setup within our room we’ve managed to find where the effects of the sidewalls are minimized and placed our loudspeaker pair just outside this boundary. This is the starting point we’ll begin the process of dialing in the sound.

I’d like to point out something that may be controversial about this method. It is not formulaic in its approach and ignores several other revered setup techniques that use a precise “recipe” worked out over many years of experience. This may make some of you uncomfortable so I want to just touch lightly on the subject and then move on with our own technique. The problem I have with adhering to a strict formula for room setup is it ignores the quirks and uniqueness of the room itself.

If you’ve ever spent any time cooking (I admit to being a foodie) you’ll know that rarely is there a recipe that doesn’t include a simple instruction that can make or break the end result: “salt to taste”. This often is overlooked or under appreciated by wanna be chefs. The salt content in most recipes makes or breaks the dish going from bland, to perfect, to salty. Perfection in a recipe can only be achieved by tasting and working with the environment. So it is with stereo setup in a room which must be done by ear. You have to “taste” the sound to get it right.

Our next task will be to get our tape measure out and make sure we are perfectly symmetrical in our distances from the rear of the loudspeaker to the rear wall, perfectly parallel to the wall behind the listener and side-to-side with our sidewall measurement. This too is a bit controversial because there’s another camp of folks who want the room/speaker placement to be asymmetrical – but this approach drives me crazy and never works with the rest of my approach. In fact, this is a critical step in our setup procedure because millimeters matter to achieving our goal. Let’s keep it measured and symmetrical from here on out.

Take some of that blue painter’s masking tape and mark a two-sided area defining the outer front edge of each loudspeaker. Next, connect your stereo system up so you can play something. This is a great moment to make sure everything is properly connected, polarity of the speakers to the amp is correct, left and right is perfect, etc. Take your time and get it right. We don’t care about cable lifts, spikes and cones right now – in fact, make a point of getting rid of any of these crutches for this phase of our setup.

Remember the setup CD I asked you to get? Now is the time to grab it and play the first three tracks. These identify the channels and the phase (or polarity) of the system. As careful as I am with setup I am sometimes surprised that something’s wrong here despite my best efforts to get it right. If there is something wrong track it down to the source to fix it.

If, for example, the left and right are incorrect don’t just swap the speaker cables, find out where the error is. Get everything correct and then we’re ready to begin dialing it in.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.