Bookshelf or Floorstander?

Many a time a beginner on a budget tends to believe a floorstanding(tower speaker) would be a more “value for money” option for him given the fact that he may have to spend additional money on a speaker stand if he opts for standmounts.

This unfortunately is a very incorrect method of thinking. One must understand that the choice of speaker (floorstander or a bookshelf) is a function of your room and listening tastes rather than budget
In fact a standmount(bookshelf speaker) in general performs far more superior than a floorstander on the same budget.

A floorstander tends to “boom” in a small room. In addition to that its power demands are higher and it is more difficult to control. On the same budget a good bookshelf generally has far better mid range (which is where 85% of the music lies ) with bass response being more accurate.

1. Do I need speaker stands?

If your speaker is not at the optimum listening position specified by manufacturer by itself, you need a stand. Ask the speaker manufacturer what the recommended listening axis is, and the total height of the stand, spikes, buffers should add up to the deficit between the recommended axis and its location from the bottom of the speaker.

For example, if the listening axis is 8″ from the base of the speaker and your sitting position levels your ears at 28″ from the ground, the total height of the stand including all accessories should be 20″.

2. Why can’t I use a stool/table/shelf, why should I invest in a dedicated speaker stand?

The idea of any loudspeaker is to produce sound only from the front of the cabinet, where the drivers are located. Because of the laws of physics, the cabinet moves in the opposite direction and the stray vibrations cause the entire speaker cabinet to want to move. A good stand or support will prevent this movement, coupling the speaker directly to the ground beneath. In addition, it will transmit to ground or absorb some or most of the stray vibrations, depending on its design.

With a dedicated stand you should perceive a tightening of the bass and better overall image stability. Stands also make it easier to perfectly align the speaker axes horizontally, creating a more precise soundstage.

3. How much should I spend on speaker stands? Which design is right for me?

Most speakers in the lower end of the budget range benefit from heavy and massive stands because their cabinets are poorly designed and marginally constructed. For these you should look for stands that have thick and solid columns, typically made of steel. For better speakers with relatively inert cabinets, you can focus on appearance and transmissive nature of the speaker stand – typically lighter and more rigid columns will work better for these situations.

Typically you can expect to spend between 20 and 30% of your speaker purchase price on appropriate stands.

4. Four spikes or Three?

Three spikes – easy adjustability and zero chance of movement. Most stable vertical geometries are based on tripods, which are inherently stable.
4 spikes – more suitable for very heavy speakers or if you have designed a stand with a lot of overhang. Overall more difficult to set up correctly than a tripod, but will carry more weight and be a little more stable especially if the weight is unevenly distributed.

5. What makes a good speaker stand and why do they cost so much?

Maybe it’s better to look at the flipside. What makes a bad speaker stand? Maybe there isn’t any. Again, the picture of matching comes in. A speaker stand that sounds bad with a particular pair of speakers may work wonders with another pair of speakers. The reason for this is simple. It all has to do with how efficient the stands can drain away the vibrations created by the workings of the woofers. If your sound system is muddy-sounding, lacking in focus and booms- your speaker stands could be at fault. If the stands are solid, of high quality and expensive, and your system still sound this way ,it could be due to misuse because of a poor understanding of how the stands work.

If your speaker stand is one of those cheap, lightweight affairs and thus not too efficient at the transfer of energy, the speaker it is supporting tends to trap the vibrations in the speaker’s cabinet creating that boomy and muddy sound. This is especially so if your speakers are of moderate quality where the cabinet construction are often lightweight. This problem affects not only the bass but also smear the highs as well. The tweeter produces frequencies whose wavelengths are in the regions of microns. If the entire tweeter itself is vibrating due to the woofer ,it will not be able to recreate those fine , delicate high frequencies properly. This situation is similar to the common experience of trying to read in a moving vehicle. The attempt will most likely give you a headache unless if you ride in a Rolls-Royce.

If your speaker stands are supposed to be the Rolls-Royce of stands and your system still sounds muddy , then maybe you are not using them properly. Maybe you used incorrect coupling under the speakers. Or instead of hard spikes on base of the stands, you have replaced them with something that’s not so unfriendly towards your expensive floor. Most likely something soft again or simply a stud flat booster or even an incorrect spike. Using a soft, dead material between the speaker and the stands, or between the base of the stands and the floor results in decoupling. This impedes the efficient transfer of vibration energy from the speaker to earth , which provides an infinite mass to absorb such disturbances. Replace these with some hard cones such as ceramics, hardened steel, crystals or tungsten carbide bits. Cones commonly make from aluminum, brass or mild steel are not really hard but are still better then blu-tack or rubber feet for the job of maximal coupling.

In certain situations, a “bad” speaker stand may actually sound better than a high pedigree unit. I can see this happening in some hifi system where the equipment have a tendency to sound thin, bright and without much bass weight. If the stands are too efficient at draining away vibrations away from the speakers, they may exaggerate the problem. Thus it may be a good idea to use blu-tack, rubber feet, sorbothane or some other soft compound to decouple the speaker from the stand. Personally I do not see this as a long term solution to such a problem because the speakers will never get a chance to sound their best.

To sum up the discussion so far, a pair of speakers sounds best on stands that drain away just enough vibrations. Not removing enough results in the system sounding muddy and boomy. Remove too much and the sound becomes overly tight, lean and less musical. The audiophile’s best bet is to buy the best pair of stands he can afford that is one that is extremely efficient in removing vibrations, at the risk of making the speaker sounding lightweight. Then it is relatively easy to tune the efficiency of the stands down to a point where it matches the speakers. Whereas it is much harder to improve the efficiency of a poorly made stand.

Tip: How do you tell whether your present speaker stands are doing a proper job.

Play a piece of music with very strong bass. Place your hand very lightly on the speaker’s side which has the most vibrations. Place the same hand on the middle of speaker stand’s pillar. Compare the vibrations that you feel. You may have to do this several times to have an accurate assessment.
If the vibrations on the speaker is stronger than that on the stand. Your stand is not too good at its job.
If the vibration feels about the same, your stand is doing a decent job.
If the vibrations are stronger on the stands then on the speakers, you have one hell of a stand.

The general perception is that a good speaker stand must be heavy and well damped so that it does not ring. Less well known is that the type and grade of metal used affects its performance. This is why some stands cost a lot more than others. Other less obvious characteristic would be the effectiveness of the design in removing vibration from the speakers. . A good stand is thus able to efficiently remove vibrations from the speaker and sink this into the stand itself, which thus has to be heavy.

Everyone (or most Diyers ) can make a stands; it’s how you execute it is what matters How you have planned to drain vibrations, how different material vibrate, their resonance characteristics, their inherent properties even the manufacturing process used – all play a part

Selecting a Good/Best Speaker stand.

Many serious audiophiles prefer buyng bookshelf speakers rather than large floorstanders.These are serious speakers and require the right stand.
Selecting and buying the correct speaker stand in India is not easy, especially since most dealers and Hifi stores have limited knowledge on acoustics and positioning. Most only feed us excerpts from various places on the internet.

Now what does one look for when selecting a speaker stand?

We have complied the following excerpt that was originally written by our founder and was posted on a thread in a famous Indian hifi forum.
As you all must be aware of there are loads of stands available in the market today. There are also loads of DIY options. This article helps you know your stands and some basics to lookout for when selecting the correct stand and positioning them.

Design of a Good Speaker Stand

One of the most basic (& famous) DIY attempts to build a stand is the Flexi stand By TNThttp://www.tnt-audio.com/clinica/stubby_e.html. The basic construction is of a hollow pipe that is sandwiched by two plates held together by a central tie rod that extends from the top plate to the bottom and is then fastened with nuts.

For the price (50$), no doubt its a good beginning ,but in no way is this tension/tie rod design the correct way to execute a stand.

First off, it’s inconvenient to assemble and disassemble especially when filled. Add to that the fact that all that’s keeping the central column in place is “friction” between the top and bottom plates that sandwich it. In effect there can never be sufficient rigidity or coupling between the parts

No commercial or pro stand maker uses this amateur approach. (At least I hope they don’t)

One of the more popular approaches used by many budget stand makers is a system where the top and bottom plate bolts onto the central column. This is achieved by many ways .The cheap budget way is by welding a plate to the column or using a washer. This is used in most Chinese made stands that I never recommend.

Pro stand makers actually use castings or a TIG seamless welding where the column appears to be a SOLID steel pillar that is threaded at both ends. This requires some serious equipment.E.g Dyna Audio Stands

Another approach is using Aluminum Extrusions for the columns wherein the extrusions themselves have the fixing holes. These just line up with the holes in the top and bottom plates. Its one of the cleanest approaches. However this requires considerable investments in extrusion dies etc. e.g. stands by B&W

Yet another approach is bracketing using connectors. Few stand makers use this since this is used to make “lossy” stands that are recommended to be used with speakers such are Harbeth and Spendor.e.g Harbeth and Spendor stands

Construction of Speaker stand

Many commercial manufacturers (by commercial stand manufacturers ,I’m referring to the various so called branded stands that are manufactured in the PRC by companies that are more often furniture builders than actual audio enthusiasts – this includes even the famed stand&deliver brand and even some Atacama outsourced stuff) use 3-4mm thick steel sheets for the top and base of the stand. This is basically nothing but cold rolled Sheet Metal. The column used is nothing but a pipe probably 18-16 gauge thickness (which, once again is incorrectly described as heavy gauge- what’s heavy about 1.5mm?) These have to be filled to even be acceptable

A truly heavy gauge column is one that would be “ring free” even if unfilled. Here we are talking about 4-5mm.Base and top plates at least 6-8mm thick would be far better

Another grouse I have is the use of cheap studs that are described has isolating carpet spikes. Well most often these are nothing but grub screws(bolts) or Allen screws whose heads have be pointed off.

See here: http://www.tvstands.co.uk/Atacama-Audio-Top-Spikes-ATA1055.html

Or: http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?VISuperSize&item=390315690635

This can normally be confirmed by looking at the tech specs or user manual. Good spikes can be found by googling

Materials

This is quite a debated topic but most audiophiles agree about the ill effects of glass. Fortunately none of the pro stand makers use it. Many others who did use it have also discontinued its use.

Glass is/was used only because of its low cost to machine into any shape. One could probably get a top and bottom plate for 3-4$ however its ill effects on acoustics (harsh sound signature) and its tendency to chip or break has discouraged many makers to stop using it.

Most agree on the use of Metals, some use exotics like marble and some use combinations of wood and steel.

Mass & Weight of a Good Speaker Stand

This is one of the most important aspects of a stand that is ignored by many manufacturers only to save on shipping costs. But this is what makes and breaks a stand. Always try and find out the nett weight of the stand. Under 6-7 kgs per stand and it will have stability issues. I am more comfortable with a stand that at least weighs twice or bit more than my speaker (unfilled). This provides for stability and prevents it from tipping over easily. Mass adds to “weight” and a feel of presence and authority in your music, light stands well, just sound “hollow”. The weight of the stand will also give you a hint about its construction and gauge (is it really heavy gauge construction? etc)

Features

Many stands offer different features. But these are exactly what they are-”features”. They are not as important as the aspects described above
Some offer spikes on the top plate and some offer affixing screws where bye you can bolt your speaker to the top plate(ofcourse the speaker must have a provision for this too)Spikes on the top plate work for some and don’t in other cases. It all depends whether you are from the “isolation” or “coupling” school.

Some stands offer wire mgt.However this is a highly debated topic .Many Purists hate wire mgt. Infact they use ceramic or porcelain pucks and tweaks so that their speaker cables don’t even touch the floor! Let alone allowing a cable that carries the audio signal to pass through another electrically conductive column. Even practically while switching cables; cleaning etc wire mgt becomes a headache.

However Home theatre enthusiasts who are not so picky sacrifice all this for the neat clean look, hence stand makers design so as to satisfy both clubs.
Remember a good stand is something you don’t upgrade and hence spending money on one is not a waste since its payback with regard to the improvement in SQ is phenomenal
Here are some examples of stands that make it to my list

http://www.usheraudiousa.com/products/accessories/rws-708-speaker

http://www.dynaudio.com/eng/systems/lines/accessories/stand4.php

Sand Filling a Speaker Stand

Most of our speaker stands do not require sand filling due to their design and build quality. However we always tend to recommend it for better results. I have had good experiences with “Circa” which is nothing but the “attabites” used by Atacama. The advantage of using circa is that is does not absorb moisture. We use this for clients that live close to the ocean. White river sand is another filling I recommend my clients. It is cheap and easily available and we normally offer this for a very nominal cost. Lead is expensive and posisonous.Hence hazardous in homes with children.I very rarely recommend it.I normally recommend that the stand is filled 3/4th to lower the centre of gravity which in turn stabilizes the stand even more.

I get a lot of queries regarding sturdiness and stability

Stability of a stand is not a function of the number of columns but of the centre of gravity of a stand when the speaker is loaded on the top.Hence heavier speakers require stands with heavier bases/stands to keep the CG as low as possible.CG then is also a function of the footprintA correctly designed footprint will help so a stand doesn’t topple even if accidently pushed

As for sturdiness

A well built single column stand ( having used correct thickness and manufacturing process )can support upto 65 kgs with no problems

Therefore my higher end stands ( the cheapest being the SAL alif ) use cast pillars rather than regular tube construction for the columns

Speaker Stand Positioning

One of the most highly debated topics in Hifi.A science that requires a lot of experience to master.Currently I am writing only about guidelines and a practical approach.
Most may have already read that speakers need to be at ear level for best results ( imaging and soundstage).However what part of the speaker?

Experts say that the centre of the tweeter must be at ear level.I tend to agree with this generalization but with certain caveats. While calculating I observe that most of my clients sit up straight and get someone to measure the distance between their ear from the floor. Then they deduct the distance from the centre of the tweeter to the base of the stand mount to arrive at the stand height. However they forget to account for the fact that no one hears music sitting up straight. One invariably slouches or tends to lean back. This accounts for almost 8-9 inches. Such a large miscalculation is unacceptable.

Also one should note: different speakers are designed differently. Though the above is true in most cases there are speakers whose design dictates that the tweeter should be fairly above ear level(in the case of Tidal) or even at times below ear level (a couple of Harbeths).In general I find that having the tweeter 1-2 inches above ear level is better than below.
However too high and you will lose the lower end.

Toe Ins: This is entirely subjective, However I have seen that most Brit speakers normally require very slight toe in. They are designed to be relaxing and easy sounding and must be placed accordingly. Some dynamic American speakers require a fairly large amount of toe in. I find that Toeing in may give you a very accurate sweet spot but also constricts the soundstage; hence I say that this part is very subjective.

I hope the above helps audiolovers
K.Tajir
(Founder – SoundFoundations)