The need for a center channel speaker is one of the most significant changes when transitioning from stereo to home theater surround sound.
A center channel speaker is an important part of a home theater system model. And it provides roughly 70% of the dialogue from movies and television shows.
You’re losing out on important sections of what you’re watching if you don’t have one. Believe us when we say we know what we’re talking about, especially when it comes to this subject.
So, this blog post will be revealing to you why a center channel speaker is needed in surround sound.
Center Channel Speaker And Stereo
Stereo audio was intended to split recorded sound into two channels (the term “stereo” means “two channels”), having left and right channel speakers positioned in front of the room.
Some sounds are only heard through the left or right channel speakers. But the majority of dialog and vocals are blended into both speakers.
The vocals are mixed to originate from both the left and right channels, yielding a “sweet spot” that is evenly spaced between the left and right channel speakers.
The voices appear to be coming from a phantom center point between the right and left channel speakers. This gives the listener the impression that they are emanating from there.
Albeit, this is an efficient way to illustrate vocals. And as you adjust the listening position from the sweet spot to the right or left, despite the dedicated right and left sounds remaining in their respective positions set by the right & left channel speaker, the point of vocals will adjust with you.
You can as well listen to this effect with the amplifier’s balance control or stereo receiver. When you dial the balance control to the right or left, you will hear the vocals switch positions respectively.
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Center Channel Speaker And Surround Sound
Surround sound delivers an efficient solution to the center channel challenge presented by two-channel stereo listening.
Contrary to stereo, in a real surround sound format, there’s a minimum of 5.1 channels with speakers assigned as follows:
- Front L/R
- Surround L/R
- Subwoofer (.1) and
- Dedicated center
Surround sound setups like DTS and Dolby feature sounds that are incorporated into each of those channels. This includes sounds particularly directed to a center channel. The encoding is available on Blu-ray/Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, as well as some broadcast & streaming content.
Due to the way sounds are incorporated for surround sound, the dialog/vocals are positioned in a dedicated center channel rather than having them positioned in a phantom center.
As a result of this positioning, the center channel speaker needs its speaker.
Despite the additional center speaker yields a little extra clutter, there are striking benefits:
- Flexibility: Even though surround sound has its “sweet spot”, it delivers an extra flexible listening experience. Sitting in the surround sound “sweet spot” is enjoyable. And as you adjust your listening position from right to left, the dialog/vocals will still seem to come from its center position.
This is quite the way it would sound in reality if someone was singing or talking in that position while you walk around the room.
- Adjusting volume levels: The speaker is differentiated from the right and left front channels. Hence, its volume level can be adjusted without adjusting the volume levels of the right and left front channels.
This is helpful when making up for vocals/dialog that is extremely high or low in a movie/music soundtrack. It is because you can change the volume coming from the center channel speaker independently from the remaining speakers.
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Surround Sound Without Center Channel Speaker
What if you don’t have or don’t even want to have a center channel speaker in a surround sound format? Well, there’s still a way out. You could “tell” your home theater recipient through its speaker setup options that you don’t have any.
This is what will happen when you use that option; the recipient “folds” what is likely to be the center channel sound into the right & left front main speakers. Just the same way it would be in a stereo format.
Because of this, the center channel does not have a dedicated center anchor position. And it agrees to the same restrictions for dialog/vocals in stereo formats. Hence, you cannot change the center channel volume level independent of the rest of the other speakers.
What a Center Channel Speaker Looks Like
Aside from the subwoofer, you can use any speaker for your center channel. However, you would use a speaker having a horizontal, instead of a vertical, or square cabinet structure. Check this example from Aperion Audio.
The purpose for this isn’t much technical, but artistic. A horizontally-structured center channel speaker can be easy to place above or below a video projection screen or TV.
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If you want to upgrade from the stereo system to a complete surround sound system, keep the following in mind:
Regardless of your position as the listener, a center channel speaker makes the vocals/dialogs appear from the center.
You can independently change the volume level from other speakers in the system.
Ensure that the speaker is related to the front left and right speakers in the system if you’re purchasing one. They must complement each other.
A horizontal center channel speaker will be easier for you to position below or above the TV/projector screen. At the same time, it will be equidistant from the front right and left speakers.
Only if the center channel is voice-matched, or much better, similar to the stereo pair, is it worth it. There will be many debates over room size and where to sit in the sweet spot.
The Center channel speaker. Each speaker in a 5.1 home theater or other system has a role. But the speaker tops as the most important.
Aside from a subwoofer, you can use any speaker for your center channel. But you should look for one with a horizontal cabinet design instead of a vertical or square one.
The optimal spot for the center channel speaker is usually right below the TV. This should be at about ear level and will best replicate sound from the television. If you can’t put it below the TV, just above it is the next best option. The most important thing is to keep it as close to the television as possible.
- klipsch.com – what is a center channel and why do I need it
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