Improving 2- Channel Soundstage

I don't know if I'm asking my question in the right topic area but I figured folks with HT experience may be able to help. It may also sound like an odd/stupid question so please bear with me. I'm a 2-channel/stereo audio guy and I'm trying to improve the soundstage in my listening experience. Has anyone tried a set up where you put another pair of (smaller) speakers between the (front) 2-channel speakers, closer together and pushed further back behind the two main speakers, sort of like deeper into the soundstage. I suppose using a "center" speaker/channel is another option. Now, would using the main speakers as front and the two behind them as rear/surround or cenetr speakers and apply an EQ such as "Hall" or "Concert" help with creating a deeper soundstage? This is of course assuming the source material is just 2-channel audio and the EQ choices are based on what the HT receiver can offer. Thanks.   

There’s three things to try

  • Electronics
  • Acoustically
  • Speaker adjustment.

I think acoustics and speaker placement is where you should go first. I find that if your imaging is lacking you need to add acoustic damping in that dimension. For instance, if you don’t feel your images are deep enough, add panels behind the speakers. Not wide enough? Add to the sides. Not tall enough? Add carpets and panels above. Best place to go is GIK Acoustics. They give great advice and products are all effective and affordable.

The acoustic method is the best sounding and will yield many results besides just center fill. You’ll get smoother frequency response, better bass, etc.

Of course, speaker placement width and toe-in matter a great deal. Start with your speakers firing at 90 degrees, then experiment increasing toe-in, so that at first they cross behind you, then at your listening location, and finally in front of you. I use a laser level to get the angles precise, as well as ensure the speakers are not tilting left to right.  What I normally find, given good room acoustics and appropriate spacing between the speakers and listener is that you'll discover 3 different states:

  • Distinct L and R with no center
  • Distinct L and R, and Center, but nothing in between
  • Indistinct L and R, with a stage that extends smoothly between the speakers.

Electronically the center channel option is most supported. Neo6 and Dolby have "music" modes that will help you fill out the center. My Oppo BluRay supports Neo6 and it’s pretty convincing, but you would need a receiver or processor that supports that. I really think this is your least beneficial direction unless you want to start incorporating movie watching, and then you get into a whole new realm of listening and evaluating a market flooded with cheap sounding crap. Not that the "high end" 2 channel gear is that much better, but at least you have less variables when buying.


Erik - Thanks. I've tried the speaker placement approach and did get some improvements and will play some more with room acoustics. I was just trying to see if there was a way to cheat Abdul get even deeper soundstage by using an HT receiver. Regarding panel locations, does your advice also apply to bipolar type speakers like ML or only dynamic designs?
Properly set up electrostatics throw a huge sound field. There's no reason at all you should be forced to supplement them with an extra speaker.

The advice is still solid, but you should need less of it to the sides and above/below. Behind however, where you are complaining about, that can be a real mess, especially if they are close to the rear walls.

I'd talk to GIK still, they may recommend diffusers as a better alternative than absorption.

In terms of speaker placement, the further away from the rear walls the better you'll be.

If you want to know how good those speakers can image, put them 2' in front of your chair. :) The difference between that and what you are hearing now is room acoustics.

One last thing, while ML's are known for fantastic imaging, and mid-range transparency what they usually are not is smooth across the frequency spectrum. After assessing placement and room acoustics I'd consider some sort of EQ solution. Either from a receiver with it built in, or an after market solution from miniDSP.


You might consider trying the Live End / Dead End approach to room treatments the electrostatic master, Dr. Roger West of Sound Lab recommends. See the setup tips page on their website. 

To Eric's point, with electrostatics, they interact with side walls(and to some extent ceilings and floors) far less than dynamic speakers, but their rear-facing sound must be firmly dealt with.

If your MLs have dynamic woofer like more of their models do, then you're likely to want bass traps in the front corners to smooth out bass peaks that will smear the details that provide you with the clear soundstage you seek. Cheers,
Thanks. Sorry if I'm asking the obvious, but by front corners I assume you mean the corners behind the speakers not the corners near or on the sides of the listening position. By the way, I'm also having the same (soundstage) challenge with my Def. Tech. bipolar speakers in a different room and will also try the corner bass traps.
 Bass traps are great, but one step at a time. :)

I really think you should reach out to GIK Acoustics. You can send htem pictures and drawings and they'll give you excellent advice.

Can you give more detail about your equipment, cables, etc. and also your room dimensions and setup?  And no, putting another pair of speakers behind your front pair to achieve depth of stage or anything else is not a good idea.  It would be an absolute mess. 

By the way, having a lively debate in AA about Neo 6 and using a center channel for music. I't snot a bad idea, but ML's should have great soundstages by themselves, so I wouldn't go that route until that's improved. :)


@kalali Yes, bass traps in the corners behind the speakers. 

Check out Ethan Winer's writings on AA for good explanation of why bass traps are helpful in many(I might argue MOST) rooms. Cheers,
@kalali I'm curious about the progress you've made over the past few months. Erik has been spot on. I hope you've seen positive result by implementing his advice.

Just saw this thread.  Instead of trying to put more speakers in-between or behind and using HT modes to artificially create a larger soundstage/ambience (such as HALL mode, etc.), I would try putting some diffusor panels on the front wall in between the left/right speakers.  Try looking at the GIK Acoustics Q7d diffusor.  Two or three of these mounted up on the front wall vertically about the listening level should make the room sound a lot larger.

Beyond acoustics, I found that quality electronics can affect soundstage. Look towards upgrading power cords connectors, fuses, interconnect connectors.  Go for rhodium plated Furutech all the way through (including the fuses).  This should significantly improve the resolution and soundstage depth of your audio.

Trying to use surround modes such as HALL or ORCHESTRA can make it sound like your in a large venue or echo chamber, but it lessens the attack and impact of sounds, which is important in my opinion. 

Dealing with the acoustics is the best solution as @auxinput and others have mentioned.

When you begin mixing 2-channel and HT concepts, it quickly feeds the notion that HT can't accurately playback stereo information...which is true when you don't know what you're doing...and most don't. The vast majority of the HT products don't have "surround modes" equipped to accurately reproduce the nuances of the recording. I'm not persuaded spilling rhoduim everywhere will do the trick either...but to each their own.

@kalali Taming your acoustics will produce noticeable results. I would recommend staying away from the surround modes unless you're willing to invest in the electronics that will do the jobs correctly.

I've found that a center does more harm than good with what is traditionally considered the 'soundstage'.

The autocalibration routines in most AVRs are going to set the center volume to be equal to that of the fronts because from an HT-centric perspective, dialog is equally important as L/R content.

But for music, what ends up happening, from my experience, is that this is too high a level and the soundstage becomes non-descript, almost 'mono' sounding.

For multi-channel music, or some of the HT modes (such as NEO6 or PLII, etc, et al), I manually lower the center level until some semblance of L/R separation and soundstage 'returns', then save the setup in one of the memory settings.

For 2-channel, all the funny sound modes get turned off and I get much better soundstage results with just L/R.
@erikt That seems to be the trade off when dealing with today's HT equipment. I’m a firm believer that only a few companies have gotten their sound modes correct. Everything else is exactly how you described it, funny sounding.
Consulting with an experienced stereo professional (not a Home Theater installer) may provide the quickest outcome you're looking for.

If you have experienced great two channel sound staging at a store or a show one should take note of the environment, equipment, and most importantly the recording. With that recording you now have a sonic baseline tool to begin with since sound staging is very recording dependent. 

I have found that the delicate two channel sound stage always suffers when Home Theater equipment is present between the Stereo mains. I have much greater two channel staging by a majority of reflecting rather than by damping the output. The opposite works better in my dampend 7.1 HT room where multi-channel SACDs are much more enjoyable to listen to compared to the two channel room. 

I always begin a two channel setup by dividing the room into thirds and placing the speakers without toe-in on the front third line and a wheeled office chair at the rear third line. Experimenting with speaker location along the front line and rolling the listening position in and out can give you a basic idea of how YOUR room and locations can affect the presentation.

Room correction equipped Home Theater can be far more forgiving compared to a two channel system. Even so, by keeping the HT speakers at constant hight and distance from the listening position uses much less room correction and will usually provide an amazing suround experience even with a very modest system. Remember is only TV.

Good luck with it.