Certainly not your run-of-the-mill question, this episode of Ask The Expert sees Otto discuss the somewhat niche topic of the acoustic benefits and drawbacks of hanging your prized loudspeakers from the ceiling instead of mounting them.
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Does hanging a speaker from a steel cable affect its sound?
This is an interesting question in a lot of ways, and there's a few things to unpack here, so let's get straight into it.
Taking the specific wording of the question, step-by-step, we can start by ignoring the steel cable part – since the material of the cable is not all that relevant. However, hanging a speaker specifically from one cable is a relevant point because, if it's hanging on only one cable, the speaker could begin rotating by itself. To elaborate; the air in your room is not static, due to differences in temperature, and this can actually cause the speaker rotate – especially if it's playing. Therefore, if you want to hang a speaker from the ceiling, you should do it with three or four cables and not just one.
The next question is then: is it actually a good idea? And does it affect the sound?
The main reason for hanging a speaker is to decouple it from walls and ceilings, so that when the it's playing, it doesn't cause the walls and ceilings to vibrate. This can help spare your neighbours from the annoyance of loud music, for example. And that same logic even applies for outdoor PA systems, where suspending the speakers decreases the amount of vibrations being sent into the ground, therefore making the whole thing less bothersome for neighbours.
Will the affect be audibly negative?
Among the above-described scenarios, you may find good reasons to justify suspending a speaker. However – as with just about anything to do with speaker-placement – this will affect the sound that the speakers are producing. Let's explore this point further: although hanging a speaker serves to decouple it from surrounding surfaces, one of the main drawbacks – somewhat paradoxically – is that it's also not fixed in any way. This means that it can move freely, as discussed before, especially when the speaker is playing, and the sound energy that is being emitted form the front of the speaker will, in turn, push the speaker in the opposite direction, i.e backwards. This is not a desirable scenario.
It might seem surprising that it's possible for such a heavy object to be moved, simply by sound energy. But since a speaker driver in itself is quite light, moving that driver can that actually create enough energy to move the speaker as a whole. As we established in an previous article where we discussed how sound travels through walls, sound energy is essentially a series of vibrations. If that energy is capable of making a wall vibrate, then it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that it can also cause a speaker to vibrate.
This is something that is both audible and measurable and this additional movement will muddy-up the bass response of the speaker, which is less than ideal. So yes, the audible affect of having a speaker floating in free air whilst it's playing is largely negative.
Will it ruin my speaker?
Aside from the sound, another thing to consider is what you have to do to the speaker in order to hang it. One thing is mounting the speaker to a stand using screw-holes on the bottom of the speaker, but it's another thing entirely having to place those holes on the top of the speaker in order to suspend it from cables.
Drilling four holes in the top of the speaker could affect the resale value of a speaker somewhat, and if doing it has no real audible benefit, you may want to consider carefully whether you wish to "mutilate" your speaker's cabinet, simply in order to annoy your neighbours a little less!
if you're using the speakers as rear speakers in a surround sound system, then hanging them could indeed seem tempting, since you're typically going to want to place them high anyway. But again, there's no real benefit to the sound. Besides, rear speakers often produce less bass energy, and therefore, the modest decoupling benefit doesn't really apply here anyway.
The same argument could be used when referring to down-firing speakers in an Atmos setup: hanging them from the ceiling comes with no discernable benefit, so it's best to avoid doing so.
In summary, we wouldn't recommend hanging your speakers from the ceiling using a cable – steel or otherwise. Just use a normal mount to mount your speakers to the ceiling in situations where they need to be up high. Thanks for reading!
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