Speaker Placement in a Small Room: The Complete Guide

Nowadays, speakers are a standard part of everyday life, although it’s not something people always think about. Movie theaters, televisions, computers, phones, and of course, music all use speakers to deliver sound. Great sound is one of the best ways to enhance visual and musical experiences, but if you want the best possible sound experience, you need to arrange your speakers to disperse sound properly.

How you position your speakers in a small room depends on what shape it is. If your room is rectangular, then the best place to put your speakers is on the long wall. If you have a square-shaped room, the best location for your speakers is diagonal to the corner of your choice. 

Together, we’re going to explore and discuss how to place speakers in a small room. We’ll talk about what constitutes a “small” room, if the room shape is important, where you should put your speakers, if the kind of speaker you use matters. 

Speaker placement in small room

What Size Is a Small Room?

What counts as a “small” room is somewhat subjective according to each person. The average-sized bedroom in the United States is 11-foot by 12-foot (3.35-meter by 3.66-meter) or 130 square feet (12.08 square meters). An 11-foot by 12-foot (3.35-meter by 3.66-meter) room is considered small and would be just the right size for a mounted television with a small loveseat and up to two chairs for seating. 

Rooms can get even smaller, though. The smallest size room is “tiny” and measures around 7-feet by 10-feet (3.66-meter by 3.05-meter) or 70 square feet (6.5 square meters). Rooms this small are typically only used as quiet spaces for relaxation and may only be spacious enough for a single loveseat. 

Realistically speaking, however, most people don’t live in homes with rooms larger than 216 square feet (12-feet by 18-feet). As for a 300 square foot (27.87 square meters) room (15-feet by 20-feet or 4.57-meter by 6.1-meter)? Forget it – many places simply aren’t built to accommodate rooms that large. Succinctly, a “small” room is an average size for many people regardless of income or location. 

How Should Speakers Be Positioned in Small Rooms?

Rectangle-Shaped Rooms

If you’re working with a rectangle-shaped space, you have a little wiggle room. If you choose to put speakers on the long wall, you’ll end up listening in the near-field. However, you’ll be able to fit more chairs in.

“Near-field” means that you’re in a listening range where the speaker’s direct sound is louder than the sound reflected at you. The problem with near-field listening is that you’re not liable to get much bass or mid-bass, so your sound is going to fall a little flat. 

The issue with smaller rooms is that you don’t have a lot of space to hear your music’s full acoustic range. Putting your loudspeakers on the long wall can provide you with more seating, but it may end up being right next to the back wall. If you’re not interested in being plastered to the back of your room, keep your seat at least 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) off the wall. The 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) will provide better acoustic balance. 

If you decide to place your speakers on the short wall, your soundstage will be narrower and limit your seating space. If you’re not familiar with a soundstage, think of an imaginary three-dimensional area where you can hear the exact locations where each instrument is being played. 

The interesting thing about soundstage is that some of it are “imaginary.” That’s to say that certain audiophiles can immerse themselves more deeply into their music and can thus “hear” each instrument’s location. The distance between walls and the speakers matters too. A small room can make a song’s soundstage significantly smaller and squeezed together. Soundstages need reverb reflection to be at their best. 

Reverberation is how long a sound lasts after it was initially made. Reverberation or reverb happens when noise is reflected multiple times, accumulates, and then decays as the surrounding surfaces absorb it. 

Consider placing your speaker setup on the long wall if you’re able. You might be sitting in the near-field, but the short wall reverb is further away from the speaker. The reflection distance from your speakers will help your music attain a more dynamic sound.

What if My Room Is Square Shaped?

If your room is square, it’s massively uncool and will make setting up speakers pretty hard. All the sound waves will bounce off the walls at the same frequencies and may give you a muddied sound. One way around this is to mount your speakers on the walls diagonal to one corner of the room. 

What if I Want To Raise My Speakers off the Floor?

There are two types of speakers where elevation matters – subwoofers and floorstanders. Subwoofers will perform better when you lift them to ear height, but an elevation of around 12 inches (30.48 centimeters) is sufficient to produce better results.

You don’t need to raise floorstander speakers unless you have a low listening seat affecting the way your music sounds. Don’t elevate Floorstanders too much, though, or they become less effective.

What Kind of Speaker Should You Put in a Small Room?

It doesn’t matter which output your speakers have if you’re putting them in a small room because the location will compensate for what the speakers lack. What we mean is the acoustics of your little area will magnify the natural output of your loudspeakers. On top of that, if you’re working with limited space, why buy a speaker that exceeds the limits of what you need? 

Something else to take note of is your speaker’s sensitivity rating. The speaker sensitivity rating tells you how much output you get per watt from one meter away. The less sensitive your loudspeakers are, the more power it needs for its volume. A very sensitive speaker will allow you to play sound louder than one with less sensitivity. 

What’s Better: Bookshelf or Tower Speakers?

Tower speakers can be a little “try-hard.” They often try to do more than they need to and miss out on the important things. Many tower speakers try to pass themselves off as full-range models but wind up with mediocre midrange frequencies as the speaker attempts to pick up the bass. 

A couple of good bookshelf speakers paired with a subwoofer can avoid this. The subwoofer hits the bass, and the bookshelf speakers can handle the high to midrange frequencies.

Be wary of tower speakers that make bold proclamations about how much low frequency it can play at a low cost. Most products that make the “high quality for less” claims typically stretch the truth – sometimes by a wide margin. If you want good speakers with range, get bookshelves with a subwoofer. 

Does Speaker Size Matter?

The size of your speakers directly correlates with the size of your room. We know that there’s just something extraordinary about having humongous speakers inside of an epic home studio, but your room size does — to some extent — impact which kind of speakers you can have. One essential thing about room acoustics is that your speakers interact with whatever space they’re in. 

Large Speakers in Small Rooms

Many of you reading this may have heard the rumor that larger speakers sound terrible in smaller rooms. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of truth to that. One crucial factor in a sound’s clearness and fidelity is reverberation. 

Large loudspeakers often sound terrible in smaller rooms because they’re too small for sound to disperse (or rather decay) properly. You may end up with overly thick, booming bass. The soundstage may suffer as a result of being shoved into an insufficient space as well. 

Small Speakers in Large Rooms

Tiny speakers in larger rooms pose the opposite problem. Smaller speakers may struggle to fill a loud space, and you may find yourself driving them too much to achieve a good sound and volume.

The lopsided size difference between your speakers and room would result in too much reverberation; the sound would take longer to reflect off items in the room and its walls. The much greater reverb time can result in music sounding distorted from its original sound. 

Your music’s soundstage may sound like it’s spread too far apart as opposed to too close together in an area that’s too big for the speakers. 

Your Room Decor Matters

Many people assume if they buy a great-sounding speaker, they’ll get great-sounding music. That’s not entirely true, though. A good loudspeaker will produce good sounds, true, but the room’s decor and layout matter a lot.

One general rule of thumb to remember is that hard surfaces can make sounds muddied and hard to hear. This problem goes back to what we discussed about reverberation: sound being reflected to you. 

What’s Wrong With Having Too Many Hard Surfaces?

We’re not here to judge anyone’s choice in aesthetics, but if you have a lot of harder surfaces — like glass, hardwood, or tile — you’re going to end up with a lot of reflective surfaces for your music or TV speaker to bounce off. 

Reflecting sound is what allows us to hear from our speakers. However, it becomes problematic when the same sound is coming from multiple directions repeatedly; it’s going to do so at different intervals and off of various objects. When all of this noise hits your ear, it becomes muddied.

When a sound becomes muddied, it loses clarity and detail. Specific instruments can become lost, lyrics may be hard to make out, and the overall fidelity becomes lost amid the combined reflections. 

What Decor Works Best With Loudspeakers?

Shelving units and softer, upholstered furnishings work best with speakers. Carpeting and rugs can dampen reflections from hard flooring, and acoustic panels reduce the number of sound waves that bounce off the walls. The point is to add cushioning to soften sound when it bounces from your speakers to your ears and limit the number of areas it can reflect off of. 

Be conscious of how you position your furniture too. If you have a glass table that you love to pieces, make sure it’s not too close to your speakers. Any solid surfaced items, like coffee tables, shouldn’t be near speakers. If you remove any overly reflective surfaces from around the speakers, you’ll find a noticeable increase in sound quality. 

Tips for Choosing Speakers

Everything we’ve shared above may have (hopefully) given you a general idea of what size and type of speakers you want for your small room. But there are a few more things that you need to consider. As it turns out, purchasing speakers is more involved than measuring your space and researching the kinds of speakers available for you to buy. 

Cube Speakers Are Likely Less Impressive Than What the Ads Say

Cube speakers are exactly what they sound like: speakers shaped like cubes. People often see them as a replacement for bookshelf speakers due to their small size, which is problematic because they aren’t. To specify, cube speakers can’t replicate sound with much fidelity because they can’t play much under 150 Hz (Hertz is the number of times a sound vibrates per second).

Any ad that says their cube speakers have “accurate” sound is automatically untrue. The bass module that comes with the speakers can’t reach low frequencies very well and often sound muffled without that physical thumping sensation you typically get with good bass. 

Buy According to What You Like

If you’re a hardcore movie buff, then really consider getting a quality subwoofer. If you combine it with a high-quality bookshelf speaker, you can hear all the noise your movies have to offer with plenty of clarity. If you’re more musically inclined, then you can opt for four matching towers or bookshelves. 

If you didn’t know, matching speakers is when you pair them with the proper amplifier. The speakers don’t need to be big (you likely couldn’t fit speakers that are too big into your small room, anyway), but they do need to be correctly matched to ensure you get the proper power output. 

You Have To Buy Around Kids and Pets

If you have children or pets, then you’re better off with tower speakers. Kids of any age can be rambunctious, and so can pets, for that matter.

If you have a pair of bookshelf speakers on a couple of stands, they could potentially get knocked over and break. Your floors can end up damaged, and in the worst-case scenario, someone could get injured if the speaker falls on them. Towers are bigger, heavier, and less likely to go tumbling with a careless shove.

Plan for the Future Before Buying Your Speakers

If your ultimate goal is a snazzy little surround sound system, then consider buying a pair of bookshelf speakers with a subwoofer. Once you’re ready to get more speakers, you can move the previous pair you bought further back into your room and purchase a pair of towers. You’re not obligated to build your surround sound system this way, but getting the bookshelf speakers and sub first makes creating the rest cheaper with time. 

Consider How Much You’re Willing To Spend

Speaker prices range across the board, so you need to know which loudspeakers you want and how much you’ll need to spend on them. Usually, it’s not a good idea to buy cheaper speakers with abysmal sound right away. Your best bet is to pay more for speakers that provide better, louder sound. 

If you don’t immediately have the funds to afford your dream speakers, just wait until you can. No matter how little you’ve spent, there’s no point in wasting money on speakers you know you’ll be looking to replace right away. 

Know Your Speaker Specifications

You need to know what kind of wiring you’ll need to connect your speakers. If you’re hooking them up to an older stereo system, then you’ll need speaker wire specifically. Modern speakers, however, come with newer cables or can be connected to Bluetooth or your home WIFI. Be sure to know your speaker amplifier power so that you can properly match it, the speaker power output, the sensitivity, and the impedance number. 

Don’t Commit to Speakers Without Testing Them

Sometimes, products just don’t work properly for whatever reason, so test them before committing. Knock on the frame to test for a hollow sound. If it’s hollow before you play music, it’ll be hollow while you’re playing music, affecting the sound if they pass the “hollowness test,” play your music to see how it sounds.

If the instruments or vocals sound strange or the sound quality is terrible, you may not want to keep them. Make sure to try various kinds of music to get an accurate idea of anything wrong. 

Conclusion

Small rooms provide limited options for speaker placement, but hopefully, this article provided some assistance. You may have to compromise certain things, like soundstage and seating, but you can make yourself a comfortable space for music or TV with enough effort.