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Published March 1, 2003


Let's Talk About Speaker Stands

Why do I want speaker stands?

You may still be asking yourself the above question and wondering why you can’t just put your bookshelf speakers, well, on a bookshelf. The problem with putting a speaker on a bookshelf is that it’s going to interact with everything around it. It turns out that speakers like a little room to breathe, and putting them inside an open box means the sound from the drivers is going to interact with the surfaces of the box, which changes the sound.

If your speaker happens to be rear ported like so many small monitors are these days, then the port on the back of the speaker is going to interact with the shelf system, rather than operate in free air as it should. Then there are those pesky vibrations from the speaker, which are going to create resonance in the shelves and sides of the furniture and may even induce vibrations and rattles in other items stacked on the shelves. This will further degrade the sound.

So, while it may be practical and physically possible to put those new speakers in an enclosure, or on a bookshelf, it’s not going to get you the best performance. You just shelled out your hard-earned cash for those speakers! Unless they’re installed properly, the results you get are likely to be much worse than you bargained for, and you certainly won’t be getting the best possible sound from them.

The answer to this conundrum? The speaker stand.

What do I look for in a speaker stand?

Before you do anything else, you need to determine what height stand you need. The general rule of thumb is that each speaker’s tweeter should be at or very near ear level when you are seated in the primary listening position. The manufacturer of your particular speaker may have other recommendations, so you should check your owner’s manual before purchasing stands, but in the absence of a specific height recommendation, this is usually a pretty safe bet. The best way to determine the height of the stand you need is to sit where you normally would, and have somebody measure the height from the floor to your ear. Then measure the distance from the bottom of the speaker to the center of the tweeter, and subtract that distance from the listening height to obtain the optimum speaker stand height. Try to buy a stand with a total height that’s within a couple of inches of this measurement. Once you have the speakers at the appropriate height you can move them around to find the optimum position. For more information on speaker placement read "The Best Things in Life Are Free: Speaker Placement."

As far as I’m concerned, rule number one of stand construction is that heavier is almost always better. In my experience, the heavier the stand, the less likely it is that the assembly will vibrate or resonate, and the more stable it will be. Forget about those cheap particleboard stands that are offered at most big-box stores. They usually weigh around 10 pounds each, which could easily be less than the speakers you’re putting on top of them. This makes the whole thing more than a little top heavy.

This top-heavy arrangement is a recipe for disaster, and at some point you’re likely to see that pretty new $500 speaker you just bought take an ugly tumble to the floor. I prefer a stand made of either heavy steel or MDF, with one or more large pedestals that can be filled with sand or lead shot (I use sand) for the purpose of further weighting the stand and deadening any vibrations. In addition, the top and bottom plates should be sturdy and non-resonant.

Another factor to consider in overall stability is the design and size of the base. It should be large enough to provide a stable footing. Personally, I prefer rectangular bases to triangular ones, as I find the triangular shape too easy to knock over. If the stand is to be used on carpet, it should also include spiked feet to punch through the carpet to the sub-floor. This will further aid in stability and also couple the stand to the floor underneath. In this case, the supporting structure of the stand is only as large as the distance between the spikes, which effectively reduces the overall footprint of the base. Adjustable spikes provide the ability to accommodate slight irregularities in the floor and should include locknuts to ensure they stay in the position at which they were originally set.

Other potentially desirable features to look for in speaker stands include some kind of wire-management system, and adjustable spikes on the top plate. The wire-management feature is useful to keep wires out of sight for aesthetic reasons, and also to help ensure that nobody pulls or trips over them, thus pulling a speaker off the stand. You can also use the spikes on the top plate to couple the speaker to the stand and to provide a small degree of tilt to a speaker setup if you find the need to tweak the installation slightly.

One more thing that might be useful is an adjustable-height stand for use with surround speakers, but to be honest, with only a few exceptions, these seem to be far too spindly and unstable for my tastes. Plus, providing for height adjustment generally means giving up the ability to fill the stand for weight and sound deadening, making this feature less desirable. In practice, I usually end up wall-mounting my surrounds to get them to the height I want and keep them out of the way.

Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to track down a stand that will fit your needs, get those speakers off the shelf, and provide a stable, quiet foundation where your speakers will perform at their absolute best.

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