Centers - Go big or go home

Dear readers,


Some of you may know that I spent a few years working in the motion picture equipment / audio industry.  As much experience as I had there, I still sometimes feel like a newbie dealing with the limitations of a home theater.  For instance, in theaters we always had 3 or more identical speakers BEHIND the screen.  These were full range speakers meant for high efficiency, high power and broad dispersion.

In the home we usually compromise with the center significantly, and try to make weird compromises for surrounds (remember di-poles?). 

I am posting here to say my position on using a center channel speaker in the home has evolved a great deal after experimenting with a new much larger center than I had before.

Here is what I used to believe was true:

A center channel is modestly better than a phantom center

This was based on the size of TV's we have at home vs. a theater,  and knowledge about how head related transfer functions affect how we perceive a phantom center vs. a real one, both in terms of listening area but also in terms of perceived frequency response. 

First, I was wrong.  I'll rephrase it now:

A small, 2-way center channel is modestly better than a phantom center. A large 3-way center channel is a glorious addition to a HT system and feels like adding a subwoofer, even when that 3-way is low-frequency limited.

I'm listening to a 3-way center with 2x 7" woofers and a 4" midrange and it's amazingly better than the 2-way with 5" woofers even at modest volumes.  First, all 2-way center channels suffer from a high crossover frequency, around 2 kHz.  This means the mid-woofers carry almost all of the signal, diffusing the location of the center.  Having a midrange seems to focus the dialogue exactly in the center of the screen, no matter where you sit.

The part that is really new and noteworthy to me is that the sound feels as if I added a subwoofer exactly in the middle of the speakers, despite the fact that the speaker is not a full range speaker and high passed by the processor at 80 Hz.  It's a huge difference, and it brings all the benefits we associate with an excellent subwoofer, including transparency and depth which seems to open up the midrange and treble. 

So, that's my new advice.  If you have a choice between phantom and small centers stick to phantom.  If you can get a 3-way center then you absolutely should.


Very interesting!  Always love hearing new thoughts/info like this, especially when it’s born out of actual hands-on experience and based on something real.  Can’t wait to hear more!

Aha.  I've been looking at a 3 way center channel.  Seems I should act...I'm pretty busy with my 2 channel system for a bit longer.


I agree...I just went from a Monitor Audio Gold C250 to a Monitor Audio PLC350 II. Although both are 3-way center channel speakers, the dialog is clearer and the overall sound is fuller. 


Interesting confirmation! I wasn't sure how much was due to going from a 2-way vs. the larger woofers.

I had the Sonus Faber Cermona a few years ago and sold it when I went full on 2-channel.  I've revived my home theater system since I got a new TV and I miss the Cermona.  it was almost like they took the floor standing version and chopped it in half.  It was pretty massive (64 lbs 30" x 8.9" x 17" (WxHxD))  - the detail it provided was nothing like what I'm getting from the in-ceiling speakers. So - I totally agree with you.


Very interesting. I looked at the SF Cermona center, and the version with similar sliced-paper drivers to mine in particular.

When I wrote "go big" I meant the diameter of the woofers mattered, BUT I deliberately did not do what the SF Cermona did, or many similar designs do. I did not use a ported cabinet. As big as my new center is, it’s sealed for a reason.

The temptation whenever you use those 7" Scanspeak drivers is to put them in a ported cabinet. They perform amazingly well (ask Fritz!) for the size. However to get that low end you double or triple the cabinet size. At the same time you lower the dynamic range of the speaker. You get lower bass but less of it. This is a compromise that works really well for my mains, but in the center, which is always used with a subwoofer, it was just not needed. Why make a huge cabinet for an extra 30 Hz which you aren’t going to use?

As a result, my center is much smaller (24"x12"x12" than similar configurations from SF, Troels Gravesen, Legacy, and ATC. A similar configuration is probably the Revel (which seems super inexpensive) .

This thread reminds me that I haven’t reconnected my KEF Reference 204/2C center speaker. It got disconnected when I consolidated to a single rack of Ayre gear for 2 channel. I’ve decided to use a small rack to hold the pair of NAD Class D amps that drive 4 LS50s for surround; the Bryston SP3 processor will sit atop the rack. I use a Parasound JC-1 to drive the monster center speaker. For TV, the audio of the 85" Sony TV is so good I don’t bother with the audio setup, and eARC to the SP3 requires an adapter.



Good for you! I do encourage you to use a little EQ to match your sides AND deal with the usual center channel resonances. It can really help fill in and clarify the experience.

Here's a unit I just re-ordered.  Use the second channel to EQ your sub and you'll be in heaven.

The front LR speakers are KEF Reference 1s that match the KEF Reference 204/2C center well, although at over 3.5’ wide and nearly 100 pounds with 5 speakers the 204/2C seems designed to match the large KEF Reference 207/2s. It is a handsome piece of furniture that sits on stands above an Ayre VX-5 Twenty flanked by a pair of Parasound JC 1s.

@dbphd - Sounds awesome!!

The reason I suggest an EQ for the center is that the placement of the center channel often leaves resonances that the sides don’t deal with. Cleaning that up can have big improvements on clarity.  This is true even if you have a matched center.

This is from personal experience and a lot of measurements and listening tests. Especially if your center is space restricted like on a shelf (like mine) or up against the wall.

The exception to this rule is if you use 3 floor standers placed reasonably similarly into the room.