How to make your audio system sound better for free

Move your speakers into the middle of the room, and listen to them from 4 or 5 feet away.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

The easiest way to get better sound from your home audio system is...get closer to your speakers. A lot closer. I've covered "nearfield" listening strategies before, but usually with the speakers in a desktop setting. Listening to speakers from a few feet away lets you hear more sound directly from the speakers, and minimizes pesky reflections from the walls, floor and ceiling. So the sound is markedly clearer, and stereo imaging is far more precise. Bass definition improves, and best of all, these benefits are so easy to achieve -- at no cost to you!


Get closer to your speakers and away from the walls. 

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Today try moving your small to midsize stereo speakers out into the room (along with their stands, if you have them so mounted), so they are around 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) away from the wall behind them and away from corners. If you don't have stands use stools or chairs to serve as stands. Ideally you should have the speakers' tweeters at approximately the same height as your ears when you're sitting down. Then sit 3 to 5 feet away (1 to 1.5 meters) from the speakers. You should also not be close to any walls. (Optional: Experiment with toeing (angling) the speakers in toward the listening position.) 

Next play some familiar music and listen with your eyes closed -- how does it sound? Are you hearing any difference from what you heard from the speakers before you moved them?

Ideally the sound should be more open and spacious. With some recordings, you can almost feel like the speakers have disappeared and the musicians have taken up residence in your listening room! If you like what you're hearing experiment with the distance between the speakers, as well as your distance from the speakers.

This nearfield approach works best with stereo speakers, but there's no reason not to try close placement with a single wireless speaker. The main advantage of nearfield listening is you'll be hearing a lot more sound coming directly from the speaker(s), and less sound reflecting off the walls.

Granted, you probably can't leave the speakers out in the middle of the room, but if your speaker cables are long enough, you can put the speakers in the nearfield positions when you're listening, then push them back against the wall when you're not. I've done the "speaker dance" many times; it takes just a couple of minutes.

Give nearfield listening a try. You'll be amazed by the differences in sound quality  -- and they're free!