Any system is only as good as the weakest link in the chain and audio systems are certainly no exception to the rule. Assuming that your music system is producing reasonably pleasant sounds, you may never stop to give it a second thought, but with a few simple tests you can check to make sure that your speakers are wired correctly and that you’re getting the best out of your system.
Attaching speakers to your Hi-Fi system usually only requires a few cables. You wouldn’t think that getting these cables mixed up would present much of a problem would you, providing your music plays back OK and no smoke comes out of the system?
Well, under most circumstances you’d be right, with a simple channel mix up being the most likely probable outcome, but if you have a real knack for getting things back to front, then you could have your speakers wired out-of-phase, which while it won’t do any damage, certainly won’t help you to get the best out of your system.
These potential problems are easy to spot with a few simple tests and luckily the corresponding remedies are equally simple.
Left and Right Tests
In the grand scale of things, getting your left and right speakers mixed up is not a major problem. If your left and right speakers are mixed up, your music will still come out in wonderful stereo (providing of course that you’re listening to a stereo track) it’s just that what should be coming out of the left-hand speaker is actually coming out of the right-hand speaker and vice versa.
Record producers and mix engineers spend weeks mixing and producing an album and as part of the process they will decide where in the mix to place certain instruments. So if you have a favourite track that has an instrument panned (music speak for stereo positioning of sounds) to one side, wouldn’t you prefer to listen to it as the artist intended rather than topsy turvey?
You would? Good.
Then try the following two fairly self explanatory tests on your music system. Listening to the left speaker test, you should hear Winnie’s voice coming out of the left hand speaker (or headphone) only and vice versa for the right speaker test.
Left Speaker Test:
Or, download: left.mp3 [0’ 04”, 68kB]
Right Speaker Test:
Or, download: right.mp3 [0’ 04”, 80kB]
If things don’t go according to plan, then you have either got your speakers wires mixed up (or headphones on the wrong way round), or the audio cabling (shown right) from your playback device to the amplifier crossed over.
Normally audio signal cables (as opposed to speaker cables) are colour coded with the red plug going to the red socket and white to white at each end of the cable.
You will need to check the wiring of your system, rewiring where necessary and then repeat the two tests to make sure that both channels are working and in the correct order.
The following diagram shows how to wire your speakers to your amplifier:
Now that you’re happy that you have your left and rights sorted out, the next thing to check is your speaker balance.
When you listen to the following test, place your head as centrally as you can between your two speakers; you should hear Winnie coming from the dead centre of your speakers. In this case you are hearing equal amounts of Winnie from both speakers.
Centre Balance Test:
Or, download: centre.mp3 [0’ 04”, 67kB]
If Winnie sounds to be coming either to the left or right of the centre position, you may need to check to see if your amplifier or system has a balance control. If it does, ensure that the balance control is in the centre position.
If after checking the balance control, things still sounds one sided, you may have a more fundamental problem with your system that requires investigation or professional attention. This could be as simple as a dirty connection or a dodgy interconnecting cable, or if things are worse it could be a more ingrained electronic or speaker problem.
Alternatively, if you can’t pin point the sound as definitely coming from the centre, you may have a phasing problem…
Speaker Phase Test
A phasing problem with speakers is very simple to fix, but can significantly degrade your system’s sonic performance.
Trying to describe how out of phase speakers sound is a little difficult unless you’ve experienced it first hand. You’re likely to hear significantly less bass and instead of producing a strong centre image, the sound appears to stay within the speakers, making things sound rather disconnected.
Listen to the following and you should be able to hear the difference for yourself:
Speaker Phase Test:
Or, download: out-of-phase.mp3 [0’ 07”, 128kB]
If the above test sounds perfectly fine, but the previous centre channel test sounded really odd, then your speakers are out of phase.
Fixing the Problem
Thankfully, while the effect can be quite strange, the fix is really simple.
Pick a speaker, but not both, this must only be done on one speaker. Now swap the two wires on the back of the speaker around. Usually the speaker will have two connections; one black (the negative or – connector) and one red (positive or + connector).
That should be it, job done. Now listen to the centre/balance test and phase test again to confirm that you have everything working hunky dory.
Sit Back and Relax
Now that you have your speakers wired up correctly with your lefts and rights where they should be and no strange out of phase effects, you can lie back, put your feet up and listen to my latest podcast in knowledge of a job well done.
You had no problems; excellent, so there’s no reason not to listen to my latest podcast either!