Limiting the widespread use of 24-hr pH monitoring is the necessity of manometrically placing the pH probe 5 cm above the proximal lower esophageal sphincter (LES) border. Therefore, we prospectively compared LES localization by gastroesophageal pH step-up with manometry in 71 patients and 14 asymptomatic volunteers. The gastroesophageal pH step-up significantly correlated with the proximal LES border in patients (r = 0.53, P less than 0.0001) and volunteers (r = 0.91, P less than 0.0001). Based on previously published criteria, the pH step-up value was considered acceptably accurate if it was within +/- 3 cm (6 cm total span) of the manometrically determined proximal LES border. In 58% of patients and 29% of volunteers the pH step-up occurred outside this accuracy range. Esophagitis (P = 0.015) and abnormal reflux parameters (P = 0.002) were variables contributing to this error. Subsequent analysis found that the pH step-up overestimated the proximal LES border and occurred at the midportion of the sphincter. The pH step-up still inaccurately located the mid LES in 34% of patients. Therefore, manometry should remain the standard for accurate LES localization prior to placing the pH probe.