The DIY Sumiko Master Speaker Setup Guide

November 14, 2019


If you have a 2-channel speaker setup and you’ve ever Googled the best way to position your speakers, chances are that you’ve come across forums talking about the Sumiko Master Set Speaker Placement procedure. The basic concept of this approach is that it positions each speaker independently to sound best in your particular room rather than placing them based on generic manufacturer recommendations or a perfectly symmetrical configuration. This, in theory, should help those with asymmetrical and complicated listening rooms (like me) get the best performance possible.

The protocol takes patience to get it right (allow several hours if you are a perfectionist), as both speakers will require much trial and error to get positioned “perfectly” (subjectively speaking) within the room. The results, however, might lead you one more step toward Audio Nirvana.

According to Sumiko Audio, “The most important component in any audio or theater system is the proper placement and positioning of the speakers into the listening environment. Putting the speakers where they truly belong, so they don't fight each other, so they work in total unison not only with each other but also with the room, is the end all be all for proper music reproduction in the home.”

Becoming a true “master” of this process requires training or paid consultation and setup, so keep in mind that online guides are second-hand instructions, but there are several write-ups and audio forum threads that rave about the results by DIY-ers like us.

Below is the best step-by-step guide — supposedly presented by John Hunter, the owner of Sumiko Audio and REL — that I came across. I edited it for length and clarity and split some of the steps to make the process easier to follow. Another twist on this approach is this “light” methodology, which suggests toeing-in the “anchor” speaker directly toward the listening position from the start. I believe this approach could sacrifice good soundstage, so I prefer the approach below.

Sumiko Master Speaker Setup Protocol

Step 1 - remove any (easily) removable acoustic treatments from the room. Anything that is permanently fixed and all your furniture is OK to leave.

Step 2 - remove the speaker stand spikes to make sliding the stands easier, or at least level all the spikes so the speaker is completely level. If you own heavy speakers, use furniture sliders to make positioning easier. If you have hard floors, try setting the speakers on a soft towel to assist in sliding.

Step 3 - establish your listening seat. Optimally, you will set the speakers and your listening seat in the shape of a triangle. Space permitting, it is generally recommended to start with the speakers set at least 8-12 ft. apart and the listening seat 12-15 ft. back. An equilateral triangle arrangement is often advised as well. Adjust accordingly to your room constraints. When properly set, the speakers will likely be out at least 18 inches from the front boundary wall. Your listening seat likewise should be at least 24 inches from a rear boundary.

Step 4 - place both left and right speakers directly against the front boundary wall facing straight out into the room. No inward “toe-in” angle should be attempted yet. Generally, start with your speakers set 24-36 inches in from the sidewalls to limit early reflections (final positioning will change).
The left speaker is going to become the “anchor” speaker for the set up.

Note: If you have an odd shaped room, starting with the speaker that has the most wall to work along or shortest distance to a rear boundary may be beneficial.

Step 5 - get grooving. Proper speaker placement requires music. Hunter recommends using a Rob Wasserman song featuring vocals by Jennifer Warnes called “Ballad of the Runaway Horse” from his Duets album. You could also try streaming it or using this YouTube recording, although the quality isn’t as good. Another disc regarded for fine-tuning speaker placement is Chesky Records Jazz Sampler & Audiophile Test Compact Disc Vol. 1.

Now, begin playing the “Ballad.” What makes this song so effective for this setup protocol is that “the plucked string bass is at realistic volume at realistic timber.” So, the first goal is to get the bass properly coupled to the room and the drivers.

Play this track at volumes where you can easily detect bass quality, which is usually between 80-95 db. Hunter says sometimes you will need to crank it up a bit to fully engage the room.

Step 6 - get a helper if possible (it will make moving and listening easier). Have your helper slide your anchor speaker out into the room until the bass becomes solid and authoritative. Mark this spot with some painter’s tape.

Make sure your helper stands behind the speaker when he/she moves it and then steps away from it, because their body will affect the sound if they stand alongside the speaker.

Step 7 - slide the anchor speaker right and left (toward and away from the sidewall) to find the best bass quality. Mark this spot.

Step 8 - slide the anchor speaker further out into the room to find other points where the bass couples properly in your room. Mark these positions with your tape.

Note: There may be a dozen spots within a three-foot zone of your first spot. This is where the process can become tedious, because Hunter says as little as one-third of an inch can differentiate good bass quality from lifeless bass.

Step 9 - listen to all the good bass points until you find your favorite. Mark it.

Remember that steps 6-9 are all done with just the anchor speaker playing straight out while the other speaker is playing straight into the room from its position against the front wall.

Step 10 - establish the “toe in” angle of your anchor speaker toward your listening seat.

You want the widest possible soundstage without the sound becoming too thin. Hunter says he usually ends up seeing about two-thirds of the inside wall of the speaker cabinet when it is positioned about right.

Do not toe in or toe out excessively, which ruins the soundstage. The sound will be very natural when the angle is right — too wide or too narrow will make the sound thin or seem like it is coming from two speakers instead of the space between them.

Your anchor is now set. Mark this spot.

Step 11 - reinsert the anchor speaker’s spikes and level the speaker.

Step 12 - set the second speaker’s position. Move it slowly out into the room while listening for the soundstage to line up equally in front of you. By this, Hunter means the soundstage is flat in front of you, not tilted like one speaker sounds closer than the other.

Remember to keep this speaker oriented straight ahead.

Step 13 - move the speaker right and left until you hear the soundstage become cohesive — Warnes should sound like she is standing between your speakers.

Step 14 - toe in the speaker very slightly until you hear Warnes’ voice become a “body” centered in the soundstage. You will hear the sound “congeal nicely” when this is right. It may be necessary to make very minor angle adjustments to get her voice centered. Be patient and you will be rewarded.

If the soundstage is not linear, meaning one speaker sounds more forward than the other, then simply slide the second speaker front or back slightly until the soundstage is “level.” Moving it right or left adjusts the centering of Warnes’ voice.

You should now have accomplished sound coupling of the speakers to your room boundaries. To test if this is the case, you should be able to stand directly over either speaker and clearly hear the other speaker.

Step 15 - mark the final location of both speakers.

Step 16 - reinsert the second speaker’s spikes.

Step 17 - begin adjusting the critical rake angle of the anchor speaker.

If your speakers or speaker stands do not have adjustable spikes, you can try using door shims or wedge spacers. Adjust the spikes to get the speaker level across the front and raked back to get the beam of the tweeter firing an inch or two above your ears when seated in your listening position.

Listen to the quality of Warnes’ voice. She should appear to be ear level or slightly above ear level in the soundstage.

Remember, this is a personal choice. Many audiophiles prefer ear level because the sound is slightly fuller. A little above ear level may sound more natural or like a live musical event.

Step 18 - begin adjusting the spikes on the second speaker to match the “height” of the anchor speaker.

Step 19 - once immersed in eargasm-inducing sound, take measurements of the speaker locations from the walls. Take digital photos. Map it out. Eventually, your setup will get shifted out of place somehow. You need to have these measurements so you don’t have to repeat the setup process (except for when you get new speakers).

Step 20 - reinstall any acoustic treatments you removed (or experiment with some new ones) to see if you can improve upon the room’s sound, but don’t touch the speakers’ locations.

If your ears aren’t fatigued by this point, Hunter says he likes to follow up with some confirmation tests using the Chesky album previously mentioned. Track 10 is great for confirming left and right positioning: “On cut 10, the speaker starts out two feet from the microphone in center stage. Then he moves mid-way right, full right, and off-stage right. He then repeats this on the left. Simply slide your right speaker right or left to get the sound staging perfect.” Track 11 verifies your rake angles with “Over, Lateral, Under, and Up” tones.

While completing this process may not make you a true Sumiko Master, what you have done, hopefully, is couple your speakers to your room based upon your primary listening position.

If this seems too involved, check out these other speaker placement calculators and guides.

Let me know your results, tips, and tricks. As I setup my new listening room, I plan to try several configurations to figure out which approach is really the “master.”

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