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Thread: Center channel or not?

  1. #1
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    Oct 2017
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    Default Center channel or not?

    I'd be very interested in hearing opinions about using a center speaker vs. going with a "phantom center" arrangement (at least for my particular set-up). I'm looking at getting Sierra Lunas and a Rythmik L12. It will be a 3.1 (or maybe 2.1) arrangement. I mostly listen to music, but would appreciate better sound for movies too. The area is open floor plan, but seating for music/movies is within eight feet of the speakers and pretty well centered. L/R speakers can be placed 9-10 feet apart at ear level on shelves on either side of tv. I'm sure my wife would like the clean look of no center speaker (and it would keep me from having to re-install the tv about four inches higher, though I don't mind if it really improves the sound). I've read all I can find about using a phantom center, and it's intriguing, but I would love to hear what you guys think. I'll be using a Denon AVR in the 100 watt range, probably. Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
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    Dec 2016
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    Default Re: Center channel or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by SteveM View Post
    I'd be very interested in hearing opinions about using a center speaker vs. going with a "phantom center" arrangement...
    You can of course use a phantom center. Your AVR will basically send the center channel to both L and R, and it will sound like it's coming from the center of the sound stage. To a person sitting in the main listening position. To people sitting on either side of the main listening position, it will sound like it's coming from their side of center, whereas using an physical center speaker it will sound like it's coming from the center speaker no matter where the listener is sitting. So that's one advantage of a physical center speaker.

    A second advantage of a physical center speaker is clarity. By sending the dialog to the center and music/effects to the L/R pair, dialog gets cleaner. This is similar to the effect you get by offloading the low frequencies to the sub -- your main speakers suddenly sound cleaner.

    A third advantage is that most AVRs will let you control volume on a physical center channel independently from the other channels. So if you want a touch louder dialog in the mix, you can run the center "hot" just like people often run their sub(s) "hot".

    I spent years listening to HT through a full range L/R pair. When I finally got around to adding subs, I was startled by how much cleaner my L/R pair sounded. Then I replaced that L/R pair with L/C/R Sierra-2s and I was startled again. Dialog was much cleaner, and I can run the dialog +1.5 dB hot to make my wife even happier.

    Bottom line: if you can swing a physical center channel, you'll likely be happy you did it. But if you can't, phantom center works. Just not as well.
    "If it sounds good, it is good." -- Duke Ellington

  3. #3
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    Apr 2014
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    Default Re: Center channel or not?

    I agree with Bruce here on everything except the cleaner dialog part:

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Watson View Post
    A second advantage of a physical center speaker is clarity. By sending the dialog to the center and music/effects to the L/R pair, dialog gets cleaner. This is similar to the effect you get by offloading the low frequencies to the sub -- your main speakers suddenly sound cleaner.
    The addition of a subwoofer will in almost any case give you a cleaner sound in the low frequencies, when watching movies, even if the main speakers are quite capable towers. This is because a good subwoofer will be in almost all cases much more capable than bookshelf speakers or towers speakers as mains. The cleaner sound coming from the woofers in the mains no longer being pushed up to or past their capabilities. You might be able to find some very high output speakers like those from JTR or Powersound audio, where they still sound clean when watching an action movie asking for big dynamic range in the low bass, but they certainly don't have the extension of a good subwoofer.

    However, I would say that if you are using Ascend speakers with the Raal ribbon tweeter, then I'm not sure if you will find much of a discernible difference in dialog clarity with a dedicated center channel speaker, if you are listening in the main listening position. If you are off axis, then yes I agree the center channel is nice to make the sound come from the center. I have had the Sierra 2s for almost 4 years now and have been using a phantom center ever since, because I am only sitting in the main listening position and nobody else that watches movies with me cares about the sound like I do. I can put on the third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, and Bane's voice comes in loud and clear regardless of any other sounds going on around him at the time. I remember watching this in the movie theater and couldn't pick up half of what he was saying. It really is astonishing how well the Sierra's with the Raal ribbon tweeter can resolve detail and delineate sound in the soundfield.

    My suggestion is that if you can only afford some of the speakers right now and plan to expand your setup as you save up more money down the line, and you only care about the sound in the main listening position, then the center channel speaker is probably the least important speaker. To me the order to give the biggest impact would be: 1) main speakers 2) subwoofer 3) surround speakers 4) another subwoofer 5) center channel speaker 6) surround back and Atmos speakers if you are interested.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Center channel or not?

    With Ascend speakers, I’m in agreement with N Boras.

    The advantage with the center channel is anchoring the center image/dialogue for those that sit off axis.
    -curtis

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
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    Default Re: Center channel or not?

    I literally just finished setting up a better AV setup an hour ago, replacing some old Polk bookies with my Sierra 2's. I thought I would need a 3rd Sierra for the center, as have an older Polk center and figured it wouldn't match. After running Audyssey the soundstage is fantastic. Putting my ear to the center speaker, the dialog isn't the best, but evidently the Sierras are more than making up for the deficiency. Bottom line, I don't think a center upgrade would make a big difference for me, and frankly it seems the Sierras are more than capable of handling this end of it all. Having experienced the wide off-axis soundstage in a critical listening room (with the Sierras) I can't say I'm surprised.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Center channel or not?

    I'm with N. Boros also. I just put together a 3.1 system with RAAL Horizon and when I play stereo music it honestly sounds like the music is coming from the center channel. I've checked several times because I just know the center is playing, but it isn't. Think it's because of the superb sound stage of the RAAL Towers.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Center channel or not?

    Very helpful! Particularly interesting to hear about the soundstage of the Sierras. I've been under the impression the RAAL tweeters, while producing exquisite sound, have a more limited sweet spot. I wonder how off center one needs to sit to be "off axis?" I think my situation is a bit like that of N Boros. Typically, my wife and I will be the only ones watching movies, and I'll be the one most into the sound.
    Would others go with a second sub before adding a center? That's interesting (a 2.2!). Adding surrounds is probably out for me, at least in the near future.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Center channel or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by SteveM View Post
    Very helpful! Particularly interesting to hear about the soundstage of the Sierras. I've been under the impression the RAAL tweeters, while producing exquisite sound, have a more limited sweet spot.
    That is a fabricated falsehood (typically from competitors). RAAL ribbons have far wider and more linear horizontal dispersion than dome tweeters...
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    Good Sound To You!

    David Fabrikant
    www.ascendacoustics.com

  9. #9
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    Oct 2017
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    Default Re: Center channel or not?

    Thank you! Do I remember reading somewhere in the forum that a new center is under development at Ascend (that would match in height the Luna turned on its side, but perhaps be wider)? I'm having thoughts of beginning with Lunas L/R (plus L12), see how I feel, then think about a Luna center or the new center (if I'm not just dreaming that up).

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Center channel or not?

    I went without a center channel for years. After reading from certain true experts how important a center channel can be for movie mixes, I finally tried one out about a year ago (actually started by using a bedroom Sierra 1 as a center for my main A/V setup, just to see what all the fuss was about).

    On stereo music it obviously makes no difference.

    On movies, however, it took just a little getting used to before I became completely hooked on having the center. Unless you sit in *exactly* the sweet spot, the center really does help anchor dialogue to the screen. And for multichannel movie mixes, when you don't use a center but instead just L-R, the mono center channel gets split and sent to the L and to the R. That split mono signal, now coming from two separate speakers a distance apart, then gets comb-filtered when it reaches your ears, somewhere around 2kHz (depending on setup distances). I think Toole explains this in one of his books. So even for the sweet spot, a center is better.

    But the downside to having a center, to me, (besides cost and clutter), is that now for some movies the L and R speakers don't do so much - because so much of the mix comes from the center. It just seems kinda wasteful. :-) It's true that for movies the center is the real 'workhorse' speaker.

    Whether to get one or not depends on how much you value movie sound (get one) or just music (don't get one), and whether or not you watch movies alone in the sweet spot (maybe get one) or watch with others around the room (definitely get one).

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