Perfect Speaker Toe-In
We talk a lot about many different things on the AV Rant podcast, but one question we get periodically is how to adjust your speaker toe-in for perfect imaging and sound. Before we begin, a quick definition. Toe-in is the angle of your front left and right speakers. No toe-in would be the speakers facing straight forward. Any other positioning is your toe-in angle. Some speakers require no toe-in, others require a very precise angle to sound good. So, how do you know what is the perfect toe-in angle for your speakers? Let’s discuss.
What to Play
Before we go further, let’s talk about what you should be playing through your system while you adjust the toe-in of your speakers. There are two schools of thought here. The first is that you find music that will let you test the toe-in efficacy of your speakers, the second is to play sweeps. Personally, I don’t do the sweeps thing. It’s not fun and I don’t like it. But Rob H. of the AV Rant podcast does. If you want to hear how he does it, listen here.
I just use a song or two. One must have a well-anchored center image (just about any song with vocals will do) and one must have a side to side pan. This second song is harder to find. I found a Spotify playlist that has a lot of these songs. Find one you like. Make sure it has a definite pan from one side of the room to the other. It should pass through the front of the room and not just bounce between the two speakers.
You’ll want to listen to both tracks from your main listening position (centered between the two speakers). For the first track, you are listening for a very clear and well-defined center image. This means that the singer should sound like they are between the two speakers. For the second track, you want the sound to start and stop as far to the side as possible while maintaining convincing movement through the center of the room. The pan shouldn’t sound choppy or change in tone as it pans through the room.
Set a Baseline
Once you’ve set up your speakers, plop yourself down in your best seat. This is hopefully the seat that is equidistant between your front left and right speakers. Make sure your receiver is set to output stereo. It is fine (and preferable) if bass management is engaged.
Finding the perfect toe-in position for your speakers starts with knowing their capabilities. For this, we first place the speakers facing straight into the room. You primarily want to listen to the panning track. You are listening for the width of the soundstage (how far to the sides the sound starts and stops). Take note of any deficiencies in how the pan sounds as it passes through the center of the room. Take a listen to your track with a center voice as well.
Now, point the speakers directly at your seat. The center voice track should have a rock-solid image in the center of the room while the pan starting and stopping points may sound like they are narrower than the previous orientation.
Now you know the capabilities of your speakers. The straight forward speaker orientation should give you the widest soundstage and the toe-in directly at your face should give you the perfect center image.
Time to Adjust
At this point, you are looking for the speaker toe-in angle that gives you a soundstage that is as or nearly as wide as the straight forward orientation while still maintaining the perfect center image. It will take some time to decide what toe-in angle works best. But it isn’t that hard.
Next, move out of that seat. You want to move to a seat that is still between the two speakers but is as far from the “best” seat as possible. This is usually one end of a couch. Now repeat your listening tests. Do you still have a solid center image? How do the pans sound? You may find that you need to toe-out the speakers slightly to include these outside seats better. You may sacrifice a little at the “best” seat, but don’t ignore these other seats. Unless they are rarely used. Then ignore away.
The above will work in most situations. But there are some instances where getting the perfect speaker toe-in isn’t as easy as that. Here are some examples:
- Some speakers are extremely directional (electrostatic speakers are prime instances). For these speakers, there is no way to include additional seats. They will only image well for one seat and they need to be pointed directly at that seat.
- Some speakers are meant to be experienced off-axis. For these, pointing the speakers directly at you can result in harshness. Don’t worry about that. We are listening for the center image, not the sound quality.
- Some speakers will sound exactly the same pointed directly at you as straight forward. Congrats! You’ve got speakers you can toe-in however you want. We’d place them straight forward, but you do what looks best in your room.
- In rooms where you have large speakers and you are sitting very close to them, it is possible that they will sound best where they are actually toed-in past your best seat. This would be where the front right speaker might be aimed a the leftmost seat on your couch and vice versa for the left speaker. It’s unusual, but it happens. If you can’t get a good center image, keep toeing-in the speakers until you do. It may look strange but it may sound much better.
For most people, finding the perfect toe-in angle for their speakers is simply trial and error. Follow our simple steps and you’ll have the optimal speaker toe-in ensuring you have the widest soundstage with the best center image.
Do you have tracks you like to use when setting up your speaker’s toe-in? Let us know in the comments!