How To

Finding the right speaker stand


I was wondering how much influence a loudspeaker stand would have under the Harbeth P3ESR loudspeakers in my smaller system in the study. The forums led me to expect huge changes in sound quality, I had my doubts but thought I would give it a try. I gathered three stands to see what differences they would produce.

The stands differ in every aspect. The first is an old Sonus faber Minima Fixed stand, consisting of a steel top plate, wooden legs and a stone base without any form of spikes. The next is a heavy Target MR60 ($579), same height, but this time with a steel top and base, each has four upright steel tubes, all of them filled with sand. The total weight is over 25 kilos per stand. The third pair of stands is quite the opposite. The Custom Design FS104 (£130) is an open stand without a top or base, and four slim columns and some steel bars to support the loudspeakers. I am aware that most users would choose the Signature version of the FS104 under Harbeths, but I opted for the contrast between stands. Both the Target and the Custom Design stands were on Soundcare Superspikes to protect my floor. Little silicone pads were glued on the top plates or bars to hold the loudspeakers. I made sure that the speakers remained at the same distance from the walls.


sonus faber minima pair


I chose five tracks that I use on a regular basis, the first is Allan Taylor with ‘The Beat Hotel’, it features a deep male voice, heavy bass and some nice spatial percussion in a well recorded stereo image. Next Stacey Kent singing ‘The Summer We Crossed Europe’, this chosen for its recording quality with piano and guitar amongst other instruments. Infected Mushroom’s ‘Avratz’ has bass punch, stereo image and a big soundstage, and Jane Monheit singing ‘Over The Rainbow’ is a difficult recording for a lot of systems since the female voice can be harsh and, depending on the system, finds Jane in front of, next to or even in the piano. Finally an old Dire Straits track ‘The Bug’, this one has fast and hard hit drums and is useful for judging speed.

Allan Taylor on Sonus faber goes deep in the bass, his voice is well articulated, placed above the loudspeakers in a wide stereo image which comes forward to the listener. On the Custom Design stand the voice is even better because bass energy is reduced. The stereo image, however, is smaller and further from the listener. The Target removes the ‘live’ from the recording, leaving a flat image that sounds dark, too dark.

With the Harbeths playing Stacey Kent on the Sonus faber stands the voice sits to the left of the virtual centre. Cymbals are lightly brushed in the background, the guitar stands free of the loudspeakers on the left and the piano is good. The sound is dynamic and escapes the speakers but has a rather flat image. On the FS104 the piano is a little better, more direct and punchier. But Stacey stands between the cymbals instead of in front of them and there is some emphasis on ‘S’ sounds. Even the guitar moves too close to the singer. Not surprisingly the Target makes the guitar sound warmer, but the piano is less prominent.


custom design fs104


‘Avratz’ with the Sonus faber produces a stereo image that reaches from extreme right to extreme left. There is deep bass but if you want punch the volume level has to be turned up, a lot. The Custom Design betters this performance with more impact, a faster beat, more detail and longer reverberation. The stereo image is smaller, yet better separated from the speakers. The heavy Target reduces image scale again, and sounds rather dull and slow when compared to the others.

Jane Monheit, where is she? Somewhere around the piano but it’s hard to say where exactly. Her voice is small, precise and well away from the piano on the Sonus faber stands. The Custom Design stands make her voice too hard with a nasty ‘S’ sound again, but the piano is more lifelike and better defined. On the Target Jane seems to be in the piano, her voice gets nasty and cymbals seem to totally disappear from the track.

Finally Dire Straits on the Sonus faber. This is completely free of the loudspeakers and full of rhythm with excellent separation of instruments and voices. It’s a pity that there’s not more impact. The Custom Design reduces the sense of drama as there’s even less impact, but this time the music is fast, very fast. A bit more weight would be nice to give it the live feeling that I am looking for. The Target stand muffles away a second voice, adds a lot of drive and takes away speed. In my opinion they actually sound a mess.


target mr60 pair

We can conclude that with the Harbeth P3ESR a light stand like the Custom Design FS104 adds to speed, while a partly wooden one like the old Sonus faber contributes to an excellent stereo image, while the heavy Target stand adds bass. This test shows what I at least had expected, that is I prefer the Sonus faber overall, although it has some limitations compared to the Custom Design, like less sustain and a bit less speed.  The influence of the stand is unmistakable nevertheless we must not exaggerate. Moving loudspeakers further from the wall will reduce bass and stereo image depends on tweeter radiation and likewise degree of toe-in. A different source or amplifier can make a bigger difference overall and even cables make more of a difference.

My conclusion after extended listening to the same pair of loudspeakers on different stands is that loudspeaker stands do not matter that much. I use the  Sonus faber most of the time under this small Harbeth, but give me less than an hour to get used to the lightweight Custom Designs and I’ll love them too. Or put the speakers in my main room on the Target for a little more bass energy. AB comparing seems to highlight differences between stands, but these highlights are less important than many like us to believe. Any decent stand that looks good under your loudspeakers and is well engineered should do the trick. It should be stable and filling tubes might be worth the trouble in order to reduce ringing or add mass, but listening to your favourite music is far more important and a lot more fun than searching for the best loudspeaker support.

Editor’s note: This review was submitted in July but various factors delayed its publication. RenĂ© has subsequently found the ultimate P3ESR stand, so those interested should look out for another stand review in the near future.



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