Why a Center Channel Speaker is needed in Surround Sound System

Gone are the days where speakers were used for music listening only. Today, the trend has shifted towards multichannel surround sound systems that are fully dedicated to music listening and movie watching as well. Home theatre enthusiasts find it important to have systems that have support for more speakers, new audio formats and receivers that will create movie theatre sound experience at home.

Center Channel vs. Stereo Systems- how a center channel looks like

Initially, the idea of a stereo audio system was to distribute sound into two different channels. Such an arrangement requires two speakers, right and left speakers, positioned in front of the room. Both speaker channels are responsible for the production of principle vocals, although there are specific sounds that come from individual channels.

Vocals coming from both channels give the listener the illusion of a center spot that is equidistant between the two channels. Although this appears as an effective way of audio reproduction, the center spot remains in its relative position in the event the listeners move the listening position. This means that you cannot independently control both the position and volume levels of center channel vocals from both channels.

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This is, however, possible when you have a fully dedicated center channel speaker that is separated from the left & right front channels. You can use any speaker as a center channel apart from a subwoofer. Ideally, you should consider using a speaker with a horizontal orientation to vertically design one as the flat one aid in maximum localization of sound and to broaden the soundstage. It is also easy to place such a speaker either above or below your TV or any other projection screen.

What does a Center Channel Speaker do?

An effective surround sound has a minimum of 5.1 channels (front L/R, surround L/R, subwoofer (.1)) and dedicated center which acts as an effective solution to the listening problem created by two-channel stereo setup. Sounds are mixed in each of these channels while some is dedicated to the center channel. So what exactly does a center channel speaker do?

Sound Balance

The primary function of a center channel speaker is to provide the perfect balance between the left and right set of speakers. The result of this is seamless sound across all your speakers. It also gives you a natural sound although all these will down to your setup.

Audiovisual Dialog

Most of the movie dialog is reproduced from the center channel. The aim of this is to provide a clear dialog. Watching movies is not going to be enjoyable if you can’t hear the words clearly. It also helps to reproduce sound effects, and it has the same frequency response as other speakers in the 5.1 setup. This is the main selling point of a center channel speaker.

Wide Soundstage

The best center channel speaker will have multiple woofers and tweeters that help to widen the sound stage and at the same time, optimize the localization of sounds. This is magnified further by the horizontal placement of the tweeters, which also helps to eliminate phantom sounds experienced in speakers that are not precisely placed.

Shifting Listening Positions

A center channel speaker creates a sweet spot that provides you with a more flexible listening experience. While it is more convenient to listen to the music while sitting in the sweet spot, a center channel makes it possible to move from one listening position to the other with the vocals still appearing to come from a central point.

Independent Controls

Center channel speaker is an individual unit that stands independent of other speakers in the setup. With this, you can perform various controls such as adjusting the volumes without necessarily changing the volume levels of other speaker channels.

Some important considerations…

While choosing a center channel speaker, go for;

  1. Similar model and series if you are adding one to an existing speaker setup. If this is not possible, try as much as possible to look for one with similar mid-range and high-end frequency response as your other speakers. This helps to ensure that the speakers don’t sound different from each other.
  2. You can also opt to use an equalizer to bring a tonal balance if you are unable to get similar sounding speakers. However, the sure bet is buying a center channel speaker from the same brand or manufacturer. Likewise, you can buy the entire surround sound system with all components.

When is a Center Channel Speaker Needed?

The importance of having a center channel speaker for the vocals and dialog is undeniable. In some cases though, you can get away with the phantom center created by your left and right speakers. This is especially true when you are in a small room or when the speakers are close to the source of audio.

However, if the speakers are spread apart in a big room, a good quality center channel speaker will come in handy in ensuring that there are no gaps in your sound. Failure to this, the center sound will be weak, and the dialog in your movies will not be as clear.

Concluding Thought

The main idea behind a center channel speaker is to provide specific anchor location for both vocals and movie dialog. This is a crucial aspect in your surround sound setup, but it will all comes down to how you set your system regardless of whether you are upgrading an existing system or building a new system.