Center Channel Amp Recommendations

OK Gang. I never thought I'd be initiating a forum post under "Home Theater", since I am a die hard two channel lover but here goes. I'm entering into the home theater arena and am interested in recommendations on single channel amps to drive my HT center channel.

Before any of my fellow two channel audiogoners commit hari-kari over the loss of another music lover, please note that I'll maintain my two channel system with preamp intact and use the HT processor with a pass through configuration so as not to degrade the two channel system quality. (Not that anyone will really loose sleep over my plans.)

Currently I'm using Pass X600 Monos for my main channels and will use, at least for now, a X350 for my rears. At this level, the "out of control" recommendation would of course be to add a single X600 for my center. It would sure look cool, but one deterent is the pretty absurd cost for just a center, assuming I could even find a single X600 amp (on the secondary market). The second deterent is that I would think that the power rating would be excessive given the more limited importance and frequency range of the center channel (compared to my main channels for music).

So where do I go from here. I'll probably be powering a B&W HTM-1 center, although I'd be interested in recommendations on very good center speakers as well.

Here's where you guys can help:
(Consider the cost of one, used X600 mono to be the upper limit.)

1) Do I go with a "bridgeable" stereo amp, vs. mono? (Simply because single monos are hard to find.) In either case, how much power would be practical or ideal for the center.

2) Is it more important that I select the amp based upon charateristics of the other channels' amps and speakers, or more important to match the amp charateristics with the sonic and frequency demands of a center channel's source material? In other words, are there any amps that work particularly well with voices?

3) Are the HT channels, unimportant enough that I am better off to simply look at replacing the X350 in the rear with a three channel amp to handle the rears plus center?

4) Finally what center channel amps (and/or three channel amps) are working well for those of you doing this?

Thanks in advance.

Having been a HT fanatic for some time, I can tell you the front three channels, especially the balance between them, is CRUCIAL to a good HT, as it is in 2 channel, but you've got more variables to worry about here.

I have several things to inform you of to make the HT as enjoyable as possible....

1) THE CENTER CHANNEL IS THE MOST IMPORTANT CHANNEL IN YOU'RE HOME THEATER!!! It produces ~60-70% of the output........DO NOT SKIP ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS CHANNEL! Or you will just need to upgrade it later....

2) All amps seem to respond differently to different (volume)level pre outs, this even goes for different amps from the same manufacturer.

I've had problems using different (rated power output) amps from the same manufacturer in home theaters, they will sometimes work, but sometimes the center becomes prominent at low or high volumes relative to the fronts or vice versa. This becomes especially annoying while watching dynamic movies, it even can be an issue when adjusting the volume, depends on how far off the response curve is.

This all goes for the rears as well, though in my experience, this isn't as big a problem, but still is an issue... I currently run all speakers on the same amps, I've not had an issue with bi- or tri- amping with all the same amps, the balance seems to stay the same.

3) All speakers respond to different amp output differently, as such, try to buy a center channel that is matched to the fronts, ideally with the same drivers the fronts have. Obviously the rears should match as well. an X600 too much for you're center channel??

Absolutely not! If you can, buy one of the same speakers you will use as your fronts for the center (room permitting), if not, get a matched center channel from the same manufacturer (You never stated what your fronts will be so I don't know if it exists.)

Yes, it may be hard, or impossible to find a X600....but I think you'd be happiest with it!
First you need to decide your seriousness about this home theater. Is it just a fancy to have and use occasionally? Or is it going to be a serious theater? This has a great deal to do with the answers to your questions. While I agree with most of what KennyT says, he is assuming you will be as serious about your theater as he is.

I have all Pass Labs equipment throughout my two channel stereo (except source, cables and speakers) and you can use an X1 or X0 as a great pass through piece. My theater is seven channels with good sound, but theater is secondary. I have thought about buying a Pass X5 (5 channel amp) or an X3 and going back to 5 channel theater. I don't see the seven channels being worth it in my theater/ listening room. Its not worth the given real estate of the room. Again for me the Lexicon is just a theater piece. Its not a serious piece of audio gear. (No debate on this please.)

Now if I (or audiopman) were going to be very serious, I'd say get the X600 for the center.

The next answer similar in cost, but potentially better performance) would be to buy a second center speaker( or compatible bi-ampable center)and use the X350 for that using both its channels. Then that would leave you with a lower grade amp (X150,X250) to run the rears. This would be very feasible to you as you already have the X350 and X600s, and the X150 is inexpensive and would be more than adequate for most rear speakers.

Next choice (and least expensive)for you would be to buy an older Aleph O monoblock for the center. It is not voiced just like the X600, but close. And they are very nice for dialog (human voices; singing or speaking)and would be fairly inexpensive. My thoughts have been- it is inexpensive enough to buy a pair that I feel I (or you) could put one in storage, or sell it to a fellow AudiogoNer like me whom feels he also needs a mono Pass amp for his theater's center channel.

As you can see, I've mulled this over a few times since purchasing my Pass system.

I'm very much looking forward to others' input.

Best Regards, Aaron

I was hoping for a couple of posts as constructive as these. You both make very good points.

As for my seriousness about HT, it is hard for me to say until I actually start experiencing it. That being said, however, I usually end up ears deep in just about whatever I dwelve into, so I will probably lean toward the more serious end of the spectrum.

I will soon be incorporating Avalon Eidelons as my front channels (replacing 802Ns) and will move the 802s to the rear. The processor will be an Meridian 861. I was leaning toward B&W's HTM-1 for the center, and may still go that way.

Kenny: I like your points on matching the speaker qualities and keeping them at a high level; and given the fact that the Avalons are very fast and throw a fantastic soundstage I'll look into Avalon's upcoming center speaker (due in September) before making a final center speaker move.

Aaron: Equally good points. I like the idea of using my X350 up front. I never considered it. Could I simply split a single processor output to the X350 and then run the X350s channels to each of the B&W's two sets of bi-wire posts?

On your final note, however, you both confirmed that an additional X600 would make great sense. Aaron, by all means let me know if you would like to split the purchase of a pair of X600s. If we found a good opportunity, I'd be very interested.

Thanks again gentlemen. I'd hoped that I'd get some quality advice. (I did!)

Best regards,
why not get another pair of x-600's, using one for your center and the second for an unpowered sub? 'course you'll likely need an excellent outboard xover, but, hey, you've already been committed (i mean that in the nicest possible way). -kelly