You don’t need expensive audio gear to be an audiophile. In fact, all you really need to fit the definition of audiophile is to be passionate about high fidelity sound reproduction.
It is true that high quality speakers tend to be expensive, but budget audiophiles can stretch the value and performance of cheap speakers by following a few basic steps.
Before you go out and spend money on new speakers, make sure you are doing the right things in your listening environment first. I’m willing to bet that you can extract higher quality sound from your budget speakers by implementing some of the tips in this article.
I’m going to share several things that you can do, right now, to improve the sound from your cheap speakers. Most of these tips and tricks will be absolutely free. You don’t need to conquer all of them at once. After all, there is always something in your setup that can be improved.
The first thing you need to do to make your cheap speakers sound better is to make sure they are positioned properly. This will depend on many factors, including:
- Size and shape of the room
- Your listening position
- Size of the speakers
For the sake of this article, we are going to be talking only about stereo speakers (2.0, left and right speakers). In general, you want an equal distance between your head to each speaker, and from one speaker to another. If you imagine a triangle where one corner is your head, and the other two corners are the speakers, the triangle sides should be equal distance.
The further away you are from the speakers, the further away the speakers need to be from each other to give you proper left and right channel separation.
Your left and right channel stereo speakers should be angled in toward the listening position. The higher frequencies coming from the mid-range drivers and tweeters on your speakers are very directional. In other words, standing directly to the side of a speaker wouldn’t produce very good sound. But aiming that speaker right toward your ears will produce great sound.
Low end frequencies, such as those produced by a subwoofer, are dispersed more evenly in a space. That is why subwoofers can be placed in a room corner and do not need to be facing the listener to have the desired effect.
For vertical speaker angle, you will want the tweeter to be as close as possible to ear level, or slightly above. If you can’t accomplish that, for example with computer speakers on a desk, they should at least be angled up toward your ears.
Space Between the Speaker and Wall
There are two reasons why you want to avoid placing a speaker right up against a wall or other solid object. First, many speakers have rear ports that need proper airflow to function. Second, sound reflects off of the surface of objects in your room.
When a speaker is placed too close to a wall, sound being dispersed behind the speaker is reflected off the wall, and goes toward the listener. This, in addition to the sound coming directly from the speaker to the listener, creates sound quality issues.
The amount of space you need between the wall and the speaker will vary based on the specific speaker and your room. As a rule of thumb, give at least 18 inches of space if possible.
Pick the Right Sound Source
Not all audio sources are created equal. AM/FM radio is one of the worst ways to listen to music. Put simply, a song played over the radio is going to sound a lot worse than a song played from a CD player. If you want to get the most out of your cheap speakers, you need to feed them audio from the highest quality sources available.
Bluetooth streaming is another pitfall to avoid. Audio is heavily compressed when it travels to your speakers over bluetooth. The difference isn’t as drastic as FM radio to CD, but you can certainly tell the difference between a song played from the AUX cord from your phone and from a Bluetooth connection with your phone.
Make Sure They Have Enough Amplifier Power
Even the best speakers in the world will sound bad if they aren’t hooked up to an amplifier with enough power. Check out the specifications for your speakers. You should be able to find RMS wattage ratings and maximum wattage ratings.
Ideally, you will have an amp that can deliver enough wattage per channel to equal or slightly exceed the maximum wattage for the speaker.
Room Acoustics and Sound Treatment
We’ve taken care of just about all the free and easy things you can do to make your cheap speakers sound better. For this last section we will focus on how you can treat your listening area to be more acoustically friendly.
The best bang for your buck when it comes to treating a room is to start with treating the first reflection point. By that I mean find the large, flat object that sound coming from your speaker will hit first. In most rooms, this will be the back wall.
A flat, large wall is perfect for reflecting sound from a speaker. To avoid this, you can purchase acoustic panels and place them on the back wall. Acoustic panels are made from a variety of materials, such as rockwool, fiberglass, and foam.
On a budget? You can do your best to dampen the sound reflection without purchasing expensive acoustic panels. Things like curtains, wall art, and furniture between the speaker and the wall all help to dampen reflections.
In our opinion, the best speakers are the ones you already own! If you follow the simple tricks we’ve gone over in this article, you can make sure you are getting the most out of your cheap speakers.
Have any tips and tricks to make your speakers sound good that you would think are helpful? Share them in the comments below!