Center Channel Speakers

The center channel speaker is arguably the most important speaker in a surround sound system. That’s because it handles most of the on-screen dialog and many special sound effects. It’s advisable not to go cheap on this component so you get the most accurate and clear voice reproduction you can afford.

The center channel speaker’s primary purpose is to clearly reproduce movie dialog and vocals so it’s an essential component of your speaker system. In a movie theater, the same effect is produced by speakers behind the screen.

If you have a center channel speaker, the left and right front speakers will be used for off-center dialog, music, and effects. In fact, it’s estimated that around 70% of the energy goes to the center channel in a typical movie.

If you have to choose where to invest a limited speaker budget (and who doesn’t!), spend more on the center channel and subwoofer. Also, if your left and right front speakers are large, you’ll want to get a large center channel to have a good seamless sound field as the action and effects move across the screen.  If you buy too small a center channel speaker, the sound may not match well with your front speakers and could actually distract from your listening enjoyment.

Center channel speaker placement

The optimum position is right in the middle of the screen. Since that’s not practical try to center your speaker either above or below the screen, and aim it at ear level in the primary viewing position. Tilt the speaker if necessary to direct the sound properly. Many center channel speakers are constructed with an angled edge for just this purpose and can be flipped to angle the speakers up or down.

If you have a sonically transparent projection screen, see if you can center the speaker behind it — that would be ideal.

Which speakers to buy first

If your budget won’t accommodate buying all the speakers in a 5.1 or 7.1-channel system at one time, consider making your purchases in the following order. It will still give you a nice balanced sound while you build out your system:

  1. Front left and right speakers
  2. Center channel
  3. Subwoofer
  4. Left and right surround
  5. Left and right back surround

Matching sonic qualities

If you’re like me, you started with a decent pair of stereo speakers and used them for your front left and right main speakers. When you’re ready to buy a center channel, try to closely match their sonic qualities.

The easiest way to ensure tone-matched front speakers is to stick with the same manufacturer and model line. In my case I had some Polk Audio Monitor 10’s that I loved and had that characteristic bright Polk sound.  I choose a current model Polk Audio center channel (CS10) that I decided matched nicely after some listening tests.

For the absolute best seamless sound buy your front three speakers in a matched set all from one manufacture in the same model series. You’ll be pleased with the effect.