Center Channel Dialogue

I am looking for suggestions to increase the comprehension of vocals for my center channel. I realize many movies and programs are produced such that understanding the dialogue can be a challenge. 

My home theater is mostly Martin Logan: Summit X front, reQuest surround, LX 16 rear surround, SVS and Velodyne subs, and a Stage center. The amp for the Summits is a Pass XA30, all others use an Earthquake Cinenova Grande amp with over 300 watts/channel.

My issue is that I have to cup my hands over my ears to understand the dialogue. I have adjusted the Marantz 8801 pre/pro to maximize the output. I also use one channel of an equalizer to further increase output, and have also adjusted the different frequencies trying to improve dialogue.

I've angled and raised the Stage center the best I could. 

My question is, should I look at different center speakers? I like having all electrostats, and wonder if a substitute non-electrostat would match? Would a horn center like Klipsch make sense? 

Recently I considered a DBX expander, but don't know if that would help or hurt.

BTW, it's tiring holding my hands over my ears to understand the dialogue:)

I appreciate any suggestions.




I had the same issue when I had a Def Tech center. I replaced it with a KEF center and the improvement in dialogue was substantial.  I think their concentric design is the reason. 

My experience, with a lot of measurements, is that where you put the center matters a lot. If you stuff it in a shelf it’s going to be very bassy, but there's a lot of other things to look into.  Lets start with basics.

1.  Speaker

Make sure it's operating correctly.  Turn off any auto-EQ/room correction and listen to it up close.  Does it sound good with your head 1' away?  You can also try hooking it up temporarily as a main speaker, as a diagnostic.

2.  Room and placement

With an ESL center you also have the issue of that rear reflection. My suggestion is to focus on eliminating rear reflections first, try to raise it as close to the bottom of your TV, and then take a surgical scalpel to excess bass resonances.

Use a comforter/blanket behind the speaker to experiment and see if that’s your problem.


Same problem with old Infinity Video one, wife had trouble with dialog. Just upgrade to a Kilpsh KCF C-5. Wife loves it. I am not a big fan of horns but in this case the horn tweeter works great for vocals. And the C-5 must be pretty damn efficient as I had to turn down the dialog lift on my Yamaha AVR.

Good suggestions, and I can clarify a bit...

I have experimented quite a bit with levels of the front and surround speakers, and the level output of the center is much more. 

I have also compared large and small settings for the center, but it did not improve.

Very important is the mention of age/hearing. I'm almost 68 and am sure high frequencies left town years ago. However, some movies I watch have little issue with dialogue making my hearing less a factor. It's more that quieter dialogue is hard to comprehend unless I cup my hands over my ears. 

Yes, it is my concern about mixing technologies (electrostat vs dynamic) would sound wonky, but when I listen to music, I listen in stereo only, unless it's a SACD with surround capabilities. 

The electrostatic panel sits 28" from the front wall. I have a 85' TV panel wall mounted. I have also tried a piece of sound proofing board behind the panel, but it sounds better without.

So far, the only thing that helps is cupping my hands over my ears, which is why I thought of a horn based center.

@erik_squires made some really good suggestions to try.  If they don’t work I’d recommend doing a trial of this SVS center speaker.  They offer a very generous 45-day trial period including shipping both ways so no risk whatsoever to see if it works for you in the context of your excellent system.  If dialogue isn’t clearer through this you’ll at least know your problem lies elsewhere, but my guess is this will fix your issue and at only $800 won’t break the bank either.  If you do this I’d suggest listening with the grill off, and let it break in at least 100 hours before making any firm assessments.  Hope this helps, and best of luck.