Center Channels – Are They Worth It?
Whether you’re starting from scratch building a sound system or you already own left and right speakers, the necessity of a center channel comes into play.
Center Channels Are Your Left and Right Speaker's Best Friend
Let's pretend you already have left and right speakers. Immediately you will notice a difference when you move outside the spot in between those two speakers, or your main listening position. That’s because the left and right speakers create a phantom center or a “sweet spot” where the sound is balanced. When you install a center channel it acts as an anchor between the two speakers. The center channel widens the range of sound while maintaining quality, eliminating the need to sit perfectly in the center of your left and right speakers.
The next benefit of the center channel is control over dialogue volume. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a dramatic scene only to pause and rewind because you couldn’t catch what was said over the other sound effects. Modern movie sound is mixed to toggle back and forth, creating a richer experience, such as a train passing. If you have limited speaker capacity, this means that the mixing (modern films can operate on 5.1+ channels) gets lost. The center channel is mixed as the anchor for dialogue. By having control over the center channel audio, you can raise the volume to hear the dialogue better. This also works well in the inverse scenario where you may want to tone down the sound effects of an action movie as to not disturb your sleeping family.
If you have just a left and right speaker in a small room, close to the TV, you can get away without a center channel because the phantom balance of sound. However, if you have a large room and left and right speakers that are far away from the TV, the “sweet spot” referenced earlier is harder to create. In this scenario, the center channel is a must as it will anchor the sound to the screen.
Now What About Placement?
Ultimately, no matter the room size or speaker set up adding a center channel will enhance your blockbuster movies with richer, well-balanced sound.
Ideally, the center channel should be placed at the same level your ears are at. You can have standing, mounted, or in-wall speakers. The center channel must be aligned with the center of your screen, either below or above it. If you’ve mounted it above your TV, angle it down slightly. If you’ve placed your center channel below, make sure it’s angled up. If you’ve placed the center channel standing, such as on a TV stand, make sure to use feet to raise the channel off the surface. Don’t block the speakers with anything! An in-wall center channel eliminates these issues completely.
Your center channel should match the quality of your other speakers. Newer center channels are great in that they can be calibrated to the room they’re placed in. Check your manual and consult with your retailer.