Tempting Fate?

Another view of Stirling working underneath the left-hand speaker. Note the tape which denotes the original position of the front/inner cone and shows how large an outward movement was necessary.

I’m not going to enter into a detailed description of the sonic and musical differences. I’m going to leave that to Denis – the only judgement that actually matters. But what I am going to do is point out just how small the adjustments were – in contrast to the scale of the musical changes. Once the initial, major positional shifts had been made (out on the left, back on the right) the positional and angular changes can be measured in millimetres and fractions of a degree. Yet the increase in musical and temporal coherence, dynamic range, weight, scale and impact, but above all, musical and artistic expression, was little short of transformational. More like people. More like people doing something that really matters. Yet compare the ‘before and after’ numbers, both for value but also consistency and after you’ve listened to the results and I suspect you’d be astonished:


The two speakers are now higher off of the floor and sit at exactly the same height.

L/R offset from the centre line is within 2mm.

Distance to the sidewalls is within 10mm.

Distance to the virtual baseline/rear wall is identical.

In terms of attitude, both speakers are now raked back (rather than forwards) and sit within 1.2 hundreths of a degree fore and aft, four thousandths of a degree laterally.


These numbers are not attempts to achieve identical, symmetrical placement. The distinctions have been exhaustively trialled and finalised. These settings are arrived at by ear, rather than by trying to mirror the position of one speaker with the other. The fact that they are so close to each other simply demonstrates just how discerning our hearing is, especially if it has been trained. What the settings show is just how precise speaker set up needs to be if you are going to realize maximum performance in any given situation. What they show is that optimum results are the result of experience, a methodical approach and the best and most accurate available tools. They also show just how much you can achieve through speaker placement alone. But what they really show is the difference between ‘pretty close’ and ‘spot on’ – both in terms of the tiny dimensional and attitudinal shifts necessary and the really significant increase in musical and expressive range that results.


Distance (inner edge of baffle to virtual centre line) Distance (outer edge of baffle to wall) Distance – baffle to rear baseline Height off floor Rake angle (Degrees) Azimuth Absolute height in space Distance to Seated Ear Ratio of width to listening distance
Left Speaker (Original) 37 3/8″ 949.25mm 17 7/8″ 453.75mm 34 1/2″ 876.25mm 54.5mm 0.084 Forwards 0.065


Plus 3/16″   4.75mm
Right Speaker (Original) 42 1/4″ 1073.25mm 11 1/2″ 292mm 35 5/16″ 912.75mm 53mm 0.051 Forwards 0.028 Outwards 63.30%
146″ 3708.5mm
Left Speaker (Final) 43″ 1092.25mm 12 1/4″ 311.25mm 34 5/8″ 879.35mm 57.5mm 0.074 Rearwards 0 Plus 1/8″     3.175mm 67.9%
Right Speaker (Final) 42 15/16″ 1090.75mm 11 15/16″ 303.25mm 34 5/8″ 879.35mm 57.5mm 0.062 Rearwards 0.004 Inwards


Denis’s comments on the sound of the system, after adjustments to the speaker position:
  • The depth of the soundstage is now breathtaking. It’s something that I did not spot or fasten on right away, when Stirling was still at my place. It was already great, but it is now in a different league.
  • Though the rear corners of both loudspeakers are almost touching the sidewalls, I’m not hearing any limitation in terms of width. The soundstage extends out beyond the space between the loudspeakers. It’s almost as if there are no sidewalls. When I close my eyes, the location of the loudspeakers disappears.
  • When we discussed the sound of the system as originally set up, I asked Stirling if it might be possible to raise the soundstage? The image now sits that little bit higher and fills the whole front space in the listening room, without being over-sized or too forward. I listened to Nick Cave’s ‘Idiot Prayer’ (Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace) that is beautifully recorded. Nick’s voice just fills the space, accompanied by a beautiful Fazioli concert grand piano.
  • One example of a disc that I previously found frustrating is the Buxtehude cantata Membra Jesu Nostri by René Jacobs and the Concerto Vocale. Well, it’s frustrating no more. Now I can easily pinpoint each of the five vocalists, where before the voices became confused, yet the system performs this trick without ever becoming too analytical.
  • The same goes for the Pergolese Stabat Mater by René Jacobs and Sebastian Hennig. The voices of the two singers are now properly balanced and integrated. Before, they were either way too “left and right” or an unbalanced mix, giving too great a prominence to the countertenor over the soprano.
  • The integration of the left and right channels is seamless. This is particularly striking with keyboard music (piano and harpsichord), which I play a lot. Haydn’s Piano Sonata N° 50 by Alfred Brendel is utterly immersive, the dynamics, attack and drive are jaw dropping. Piano quartets are often a challenge for audio systems, especially getting the correct balance between the piano and strings. On a favourite record of the Mozart piano quartets (Decca 643361 AZ, with Georg Solti and the Melos Quartet) the dialogue between piano and strings just flows, with an ease that makes you regret the fact that Mozart wrote just the two piano quartets.
  • The timbral balance is excellent.
  • Bass from the speakers was never shy, but now has far more scale, weight and impact, wit more percussive capability.
  • I can now crank the volume several notches loader without reaching saturation.

But, having listed the sonic highlights, it’s the performance as a whole that matters and truly impresses. Overall, I have to say that I’m as surprised as I am delighted by the outcome achieved by Stirling. The improvement is substantial. His experience and meticulous approach have been able to unleash the full potential of my loudspeakers: Greater potential than I dared to hope.