What is ideal position for 2.1 computer speakers?
June 18, 2017 8:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm 57 and my ears are still pretty good, and though tricks abound for someone whose music collection is so important, I'm often hearing too-shrill sounds from two consecutive systems.

Yes, I replaced the Altec Lansing Octane 7 set with the superior Logitech Z623 recently -- https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003VAHYTG/ref=sr_ph_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497842852&sr=sr-1&keywords=logitech+z623
These were within my budget. I play files from a laptop through a FiiO DAC amp. The great subwoofer on floor. Satellites 3.5 feet high atop a wooden bookshelf, 23 inches apart and set an inch in from edge of shelf with an inch in front and a little more than that on laptop side, and maybe 4.5 inches in back. Limits of the shelf and best I could do. So, the "problem": Sometimes the highs sound glassy or unduly piercing/loud. *Is this inherent or otherwise common in speakers of this type* as opposed to regular "unplugged" (non-computer) speakers with more spacious cabinets? One other thing: today I listened to ELP's Pictures at an Exhibition, which I know like the back of my hand. The quieter parts sounded TOO quiet, but the louder parts were just fine. I'm thinking, Would these pups (sats) be better lower down, say, maybe two feet high, as many regular stereo speakers sit only so high, even on stands, and sound fantastic? My lady has some from 1992 but they distort on today's digital bass lows (like Bohren & the Club of Gore). I fill nicely this 489 sq ft apartment but am pretty obsessed w/ the question of balance in sound, even apart from sound quality. Right now, of course, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (Incredible String Band) is sounding all good. Psychological? Sudafed? Higher? Lower? Should they be sitting on more space for some resonance? Why do these damn keyboard/synth highs come less sweetly, more harshly?
posted by noelpratt2nd to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Correction -- there's more like 3 inches in front of the speakers.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 9:18 PM on June 18, 2017

Oh boy. At the risk of going all bananas and offending audiophiles, I'll try to answer:
- put the satellites wherever they sound best for you
- point them in whichever direction that sounds best for you
- use whatever EQ software you have on your computer to make things sound the best for you.

All of what follows is opinion: I find that, in general, computer/gaming speakers overemphasize the lower and upper ends. Additionally, at least when it comes to Windows, many sound card and onboard audio chipsets come with software that runs in the background that also futzes with the sound. Eg: Creative's X-Fi "Crystalizer."

We also tend to be closer to computer speakers than we are with home stereo speakers. This, combined with the fact that they're powered and might not have the best and most linear response to gain, usually lead to profoundly different listening experiences when sitting at the laptop versus cranking up the volume and listening from across the room.

I could go on an on about speaker placement, but won't, because I would argue that, for the most part, it doesn't matter. Yes, there are some near-universal recommendations, such as satellites/tweeters being at ear level, or "loading" a subwoofer in a corner of the room or next to a wall. But there's always going to be some compromise, small and large, whether it's the source of signal, the placement of your speakers, the quality of speaker or their drivers, the room they're in, the house your room's in, your ears and what's between them, etc. People go nuts with home audio setups, using all sorts of fancy calibrating techniques and tools, only to finally say, in the end, "fukkit. I want more goddamn BASS!"

So best advice I have for you is what I've written at the top. And do double-check for any audio/soundcard drivers/programs that might be running on your laptop. Futz with any settings that might be on them. Whatever the case is, you should be able to find settings on any laptop or a program that'll allow you to adjust the EQ. This would allow you to turn down the treble. Some playback software (eg: VLC) will also allow for some compression, which would allow you to hear the quieter bits without blasting your eardrums out with the loud parts.
posted by herrdoktor at 9:55 PM on June 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Gradually but inexorably over the last thirty years I've seen audio quality do a slow fade into the background, and I'm not talking about my increasingly damaged old ears.

High fidelity reproduction used to be a thing. There were magazines devoted to it, manufacturers competing to sell reasonably priced versions of it, and it was possible to acquire audio gear that performed really well without spending insane amounts of money on it.

Then Bose happened, and proper speakers started getting displaced by subwoofer and satellite combinations, and we ended up here in the 21st century where the laws of physics have just been declared irrelevant and marketing materials routinely refer with a complete lack of detectable irony to drivers under an inch wide as "woofers".

But this emperor has no clothes. Computer speakers all sound like complete shit. Any serious attempt to use one to reproduce anything more complicated than commercial 2dB dynamic range doof will always end in disappointment. Best that can be said about them is that the overdriven earbud transducers they build into phones now sound even worse.

If you want good sound, you have to spend serious money on decent gear, and decent gear still means inconveniently large speakers. Expecting some tiny tinny thing that costs under two hundred bucks to move useful amounts of air is just unrealistic.
posted by flabdablet at 11:11 PM on June 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm going to agree with what's been said. I think you have to get away from computer speakers. I don't think you need to go crazy, but I'd bet you could spend close to the same amount on speakers meant for actual music listening and do better. Or get used ones.

I don't hate satellite + sub systems, they just have to be right. That one kind of hurts my ears just looking at it. Speakers must be of a certain size to produce certain frequencies. It's physics, there's no magic bullet.
posted by bongo_x at 1:05 AM on June 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I completely agree with flabdablet, and have demo'd and owned many pieces of new and old "high-end" audio gear. Ultimately, however, I've gotta say that whatever the price, or whatever the objective characteristics and build quality of any piece of audio equipment, I've taken the position and have accepted that people like what they like. And so long as they're happy with what they've got, great!

And this applies to me, too: some favorite speakers I had were these pizacrap speakers, because they just blasted the midrange and bass which was perfect for gaming and my ears and tastes at the time. I loved these speakers and still have fond memories of listening to mp3s, and perhaps the rapid advance in sound quality and cards in the 90s as well as the novelty of mp3s colored my impression of them.

Shoot, even this silly thing, which came out years ago, and is arguably not an audio device, is something I loved. It clamped to my desk chair and just shook the chair and transmitted low-frequency rumbles through my buttocks when I was shooting and getting shot at by my friends while playing video games.

Are either of those two fine, hi-fi devices with any semblance of a decent frequency response curves? No. Could the speakers handle putting out sound that would fill even a smallish apartment without distorting? Hell no. But they sounded great to me.

Point is: people don't have to spend a billion bucks for perfect sound, if they're happy getting away with gear within their budget, and might be able to find their ideal sound by futzing with placement, settings, and EQ.

And as a final note: my pop, ever since I was a kid, always loved his music to sound "crisp." He'd buy a boombox or stereo system, or a car, or whatever, and would always ask me to make it sound "crisp." If it didn't sound "crisp," it was a piece of shit.

You know what "crisp" is? What audio heaven is for him? It's cranking the fucking treble knob all the way to the right, or sliding the high-freq EQ sliders all the way up. It's ear-piercing, migraine-inducing, and it's what perfect sound is for him, and that was and is all that matters.

(The theory my brothers and I share is that he blew out his hearing during service in the Korean army, shooting pistols all the time and jumping and wrecking Jeeps.)

posted by herrdoktor at 1:06 AM on June 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can't help with placement much (though I echo the suggestion to check for software EQing since that's the easiest thing to turn off)' but if you follow the advice above and you want something between the standard 2.1 computer speakers and a full receiver-amp-and-bookshelf setup, I highly recommend a pair of powered studio monitors. Sky's the limit, but you can pick up a pretty good pair for $100.
posted by supercres at 6:03 AM on June 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a resukt of the above, I've begun to come off of my Flat default EQ on Windows Media Player, and I wonder if someone could tell me, simply, which band is the best one to slide down a bit to take the edge off the highs of a Hammon organ or electric piano. Just wanna start with some surity in my tinkering. Thanks for all th responses.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 7:13 AM on June 19, 2017

Also, I stuffed the side portal on the subwoofer with old socks. It doesn't overheat (I'm not a gamer). But some say it needs to breathe. Is it again a question of "if it sounds good to you, do it"?
posted by noelpratt2nd at 7:16 AM on June 19, 2017

and I wonder if someone could tell me, simply, which band is the best one to slide down a bit to take the edge off the highs of a Hammon organ or electric piano.

I don't remember Windows Media very well - what are the choices?

, I stuffed the side portal on the subwoofer with old socks

The entire point of the port is to get more bass out of a small box. Plus, probably, some heat dissipation. Heat can affect the speaker and other components over time, so the socks are probably not a good idea.

I'll try to give more details later, but in short you are missing the forest for the trees - those speakers are simply not "hi-fi" enough to get you what you're looking for, worrying about exact placement is a waste of time.

Nthing suggestions that you need studio monitors or bookshelf speakers with a nice amplifier.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:29 AM on June 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, thanks, but I am inclined to make the best of these because I just bought them. I will certainly look at studio monitors next time. My main issue is that I must be able to play my files, and it seems you can't hook up older-type speakers to a computer. Or can you... On the WMP I use, the last bars are 2, 4, and 16 kHz.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 7:42 AM on June 19, 2017

Excuse me, the bars are (far right) 2, 4, 8, 16.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 7:56 AM on June 19, 2017

On the downside, those are super coarse controls.

On the upside, it won't take much messing about with them for you to find the settings that give you the least shitty sound you're going to get.

You might also want to leave the controls in WMP itself set flat for the time being, and see whether your Control Panel has an item labelled Realtek Advanced Audio or something similar. Those third-party audio add-ons often come with less coarse equalizers as well as assorted room effect post-processors; if your speakers sound like they're being played down a sewer, for example, that might well be because some helpful child has found those controls and set the effects to Sewer.
posted by flabdablet at 8:06 AM on June 19, 2017

I am inclined to make the best of these because I just bought them.

Fair enough.
posted by flabdablet at 8:09 AM on June 19, 2017

4 is the most likely to reduce "harshness", maybe a little 2 & 8.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:12 AM on June 19, 2017

Yep, I could try returning them, etc. Can't even sell the ones I gave 'em up for yet, in perfect condition. Many factors involved like anxiety, hatred of the hustle of going out, shipping back... At least I have clinical headphones (Audio Technica 50s) and decent Brainwavz IEMs. Also, guys, I'm only trying to get the best from these newbies and not be blind to what could be correctible. Basically I'm happy w/ the sound, which I listen to from across the room. I don't have 'em as a desktop station thing...that'd be a whole nuther worry. I've only brought down the 16kHz from flat to -2 and the 8 & 4 to -1, so far. No Realtek controls that I see, maybe it never came w/ this Windows 10. Certainly don't have any weird audio-critter program doing background stuff that I know of/would allow. Some of the mid-to-high sparkles of Keith Emerson's solos, as well as just a bit of Jerry Garcia's vocals on "Scarlet Begonias" still needs to be edged down.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 9:16 AM on June 19, 2017

Wow, okay -- thanks, soundguy99!
posted by noelpratt2nd at 9:17 AM on June 19, 2017

Soundguy99, what did this mean (typo?):

"Nthing suggestions that you need studio monitors or bookshelf speakers with a nice amplifier."
posted by noelpratt2nd at 9:19 AM on June 19, 2017

"Nthing" is like "seconding" only more so.
posted by flabdablet at 10:28 AM on June 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Have the 4 to -2, the 8 to -1. Guess i just have to spend more time over time. I think maybe my ears have started hearing some sounds as too strong, like my eyes do with light.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 12:29 PM on June 19, 2017

Other people have given better advice than I can, but I have one of Logitech's previous iterations of this level of speakers (Z2300). Somewhat infamous for the subwoofer hum from capacitor feedback or something, but otherwise nice. For what it's worth, I kept a t shirt in the hole for years to muffle the sub to a tolerable place for me.

Whatever I've done, they're never more than reasonably adequate. I just haven't been able to replace them, because anything less expensive is worse and I can't afford to spend that much if they aren't broken.

As far as I've found, the physical set up really doesn't matter to the same degree that it would for a better system. Though if it helps, I have the satellites about 44 inches apart on a solid oak table, 15 inches above the floor, and I sit a bit more than 6 feet away. Angle of convergence isn't terribly exact. They really sound better from further out. The subwoofer is off to one side right now, but it actually sounds better there because otherwise it is sitting in front of a metal fireplace insert underneath the table, and that echoes the low end unpleasantly. Hardware bass knob is set to about 25%. If I do any fiddling with software equalizers, it is usually to bring up the upper-middle frequencies and drop the lowest a notch or two. My current home theater computer, a crappy cheap laptop that refuses to die, doesn't have much to work with as far as sound output goes.

All of that being said, on their good days these speakers and laptop still sound better than the "Premium" Bose sound system in my car.

But it can really help to step away for a day or two and come back to hear if the new settings are working for you. Fresh ears, less pressure. Try listening to something else that you aren't as intimately familiar with for a while to help adjust to the new sound.

I hope you can get to a comfortable place.
posted by monopas at 2:01 PM on June 19, 2017

Thank you all!!
posted by noelpratt2nd at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2017

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