Center Channels sound crappy

Why do center channels sound so crappy with music?

This is something that absoilutly baffles me...

I was talking to a KEF rep at SoundTrack audio, he said it is becuase they are designed for dialogue more than anything else.
What im wondering, is why can alot of center channels only give marginal preformance with music?
My front KEF Q1's do a fantastic job creating a phantom center channel, the dialogue is crisp and clear. They do a fantastic job on music as well.

Wouldnt it make more sence to just get another KEF Q1 for $225.00 and use that as a center instead of paying 350 for a speaker that does great voice but crappy musical preformance?

I know it was not the "center channel" amp either, it is on a DENON 3803 and all channels are identical, i was playing it with the 5/7ch stereo mode and all the speakers sounded great for music but the center channel really really sucked..

i noticed this with my past DefTech setup as well...

has anybody done a serious comparison between a center channel and a monitor of the same brand with same drivers and heard any vast improvement with the center speak with dialogue?

does it have anything to do with sound dispersion?

----- Slappys disclaimer-----
It was not my intent to offend anybody with the above post, im genuinly curious and hope it does not offend anybody becuase that is clearly not the intent. If so, please reffer to "My Apologies" thread which explains more.

For music you should definitely get a matching speaker for the center. (I speak from 30 years of center channel experience). Although good speakers will image so well that it is sometimes hard to tell if the center is working or not, having the center speaker permits wider spacing of the Left and Right for a broad soundstage.

However it is also true that a speaker with limited and/or shaped frequency response will make dialog more inteligible.
Ideally you would have an elcheapo dialog speaker that you can switch in just for movies.

Oh, and by the way, you are forgiven. Go, my son, and sin no more.
I had the same situation and then I found a center channel stand the problem in my case was the center channel sat directly on top of the TV which caused a sypathetic resonance with the wood in the TV ,we spend so much money on speaker stands and spikes on our main speakers and then drop our center channel speakers sideways right on the old tube. Find some sort of acceptable means to get your speaker some isolation ie. cones ,vibrapods { don't let them touch the wood on the speaker or the tv } or a speaker stand and see if it improves I know in my case it made a world of difference
au contrair mon ami- the right center chanel can sound amazing! My previous HT setup included 5 identical full-range Totem Mani-2 speakers driven by a Theta Dreadnaught. The center channel being exactly the same and using the same type and amount of amplification was the key...
I think pro logic came out in the late 80's / early 90's (thereabouts). I was just wondering what the use for a center speaker one might have had in 1974?
Rives audio , an acoustical engineering firm , blasted Absolute Sound for a letter I sent the magazine the prior month regarding center channel placement issues. The misunderstanding was in the wording , not the concept. Widescreen Review printed a ground breaking article in its sept 95 issue { Star Trek generations } by the esteemed Peter Moncrieff [ editor and publisher of the International Audio Review : IRA ] , regarding the proper speaker setup of the home theatre . Concerning the center speaker , he suggests that "Our research shows that center speaker placement is the single biggest mistake people make in setting up home theatre or surround sound systems " . Most experts will tell you that the front 3 should be equidistant from the listener. Peter says that his research shows that the center be placed 4 feet back from that equidistant arc .... OR .... { not AND } use a 4 millisecond delay to achieve the same result. He goes on to say " ...the front stage space also suddenly became cogently real , all sounds in this space suddenly acuired a palpable solidity and three dimensional reality"..... The next issue is making sure the center is a good match for the mains. The exact same model is the best choice but most pick a dedicated center that the same company suggests to timbre match to your mains . Complicating things more is the display device that usually occupies a space near the center and that itself introduces its own pandoras box of evils like distorted imaging issues. Rives can offer some excellent solutions with a few new great products just hitting the market now as a matter of fact. Its terribly difficult to perfectly dial in just a stereo pair and in the past decade we have added a center , subs , and surrounds to the mix . Getting all of this right is a true challenge to put it mildly. Good luck and be patient. You will vastly increase your listening skills with the trial and error period you are in .
When you lay a speaker on it's side as most center channel speakers are designed for, you have created a problem for good music reproduction. If your L/R front speakers are bookshelf types, lay them on their sides and listen to them in two channel, sound quality will drop like a rock if they are of the type with bass drivers at both ends and tweeter in the middle which almost all center channels of close to full range output are. I also agree With Brainwaters post on placement of center behind the fronts, mine are two feet behind with vertical placement.
Once i get a center channel that is worth a damn i will probably give that a try.
I think im going to skip the entire "Center speaker" altogether and get anotehr KEF Q1 monitor and use that on the center channel...

Hey Brainwater, the more i think about your handle, the more it freaks me out. I mean come on. Brain Water. Eww.. Makes my eyes tear up just thinking about it. heheheh no offence intended!

"I know it was not the "center channel" amp either, it is on a DENON 3803 and all channels are identical, i was playing it with the 5/7ch stereo mode and all the speakers sounded great for music but the center channel really really sucked.."

I used to have a Denon 3802 with Paradigm Studio 60v2 fronts, Studio CCv2 center, a pair of Mission 700 bookshelf speakers for the rear, and a Paradigm PW-2200 subwoofer. I found that when I listened in the 5-channel "stereo" mode, the center channel sounded weak and somewhat "mushy" while the other 4 speakers sounded good. I, at first, thought that the speaker was defective. To try this theory out, I disconnected one of the Studio 60's and put the center channel in its place. Sounds good! What the hell is going on? OK, thought I, it has to be the center amp w/in the Denon. I took the Denon back to the audio store where I bought it and told them the story. They ran some tests while I was there and damn if the center channel amp was fine. About 10 seconds after the final test, the owner rolled his eyes and said that, yes, of course the center channel sounds relatively bad compared to the other 4 speakers. The center channel has to go through, by definition, a DSP from a stereo input. In other words, it is a half-baked blend of the stereo input!
That makes sense, thought I.


makes sense i guess.... ya know i really diddnt think of that...

The amps are all identical, so i ruled the reciever out of the problem, but you are right, for the 5ch sereo it has DSP it into a channel....

that must be some real CRAPPY dsp for that mode...

i think i might play around with that tonight. put one of my Q1s into the center position.

The center channel is only really used for dialogue on 5/6/7.1 setups, i never really checked to see if it plays with DSP modes, i really only listen to music in stereo without any DSP. normally with the PURE DIRECT function.

I bet that is it. I havent listened to any DVD-A on it yet, cause in dont have the 6 cables needed and dont have the cash to get em yet, so im using digital coaz which wont carry the DVD-A signal...

thanks for the info! that gives me more to think about

Following your DVD-A thoughts, I had a Sony SCD-C555ES multichannel SACD player hooked up into a Denon 3802 via the 6 cables. The recordings that were multichannel sounded just fine through the center channel.

1. Placement. Any speaker not designed to be placed on a TV or in an entertainment center will sound bad there - and most center channels aren't. Finally, a plastic TV cabinet is also very resonant.

2. The horizontal MTM orientation. There will be off-axis nulls of up to 20dB.

With many center channels, your best bet is to put it on an adjustable height stand (Sound Anchors) a few feet in front of the TV/screen, vertically, raised as high as you can without getting in the way of the picture. Or perhaps suspended a few feet from the ceiling - we can't localize height as well when sounds are coming from above us.

3. I used to think the center channel was only for movie dialog therefore making it less important (I figure that I don't know what actors & actresses sound like in the flesh - although I've heard plenty of musical instruments and know when they're off). One of the dipole list guys decided to do a survey - 14/15 movies he tried had music up there. I played with it in my system, found that this was mostly the case. After upgrading main speakers (Linkwitz Orion), the sound quality issues from an inferior center channel (Definitive C1) using a fabric dome tweeter (metal/fabric tweeter seems to make the biggest difference i ntweeter integration) are readily aparant; so I'll be building a shorter 3-way dipole center.
I rarely use my center channel when listening to music.

But when I do, I prefer the "DTS:NEO 6 MUSIC" setting, with my center physically about 1 foot behind the front L/R plane and the Delay set 2 feet further back. e.g. 12 feet for front L/R and 14 feet for my center. (my pre/pro uses feet for delay instead of millisecs)

It is a fairly timbre mathched setup, although the CDM-CNT(center) uses a different mid/bass driver than the CDM-9NTs(mains), they are at least similar, and they have identical tweeters. Two different amps are in use. Bryston on the mains and Rotel on the center/surrounds.

It sounds fine by my ear, articulate, and responsive, the soundstage is deep, and involving. I would say a highly intergrated sound.

I prefer analog bypass 2 channel however.
Hey Slappy. My handle is stupid but its my first initial of my name run together with my last. I do in fact have water on the brain however!!!!
david berry...Today most people drive their center channel using a SS processor, which, as you say, involves digital processing. However, digital processing is not absolutely necessary. My optimum way of getting a center channel is to drive one channel of a stereo amplifier out of phase, and bridge the amp with the center speaker. This was very easy to do with an LP source, simply by reversing the pickup connections of one channel. Usually with this system, the center speaker seems a bit too loud, but this is very easily corrected by a "blend" pot bridged across the two signals at the preamp output. With 4 ohm speakers you probably have a low impedance problem for your power amp, but in my experience even relatively low power amps can handle 8 ohm speakers without difficulty.

Of course, if you are playing a CD the signals are already digital, and if you feed digital into the SS processor, so that no extra A/D is done, your Center channel ought to be just as good as the Left and Right.

I diddnt mean to say your handle was stupid, i hope i did not give that impression...

your handle is rather disturbing though.
Slappy, It's really quite simple. The left channel plays the left track, the right channel plays the right track, and the center channel plays them both, severely smearing the soundstage. This situation cannot be fixed short of SACD or DVD-A multi-channel music.
Avguygeorge, people with corner horns and a large room would use a center to fill in because the speaker spread was to wide for a good image.
hey slappy . you are disturbing my water flow to the brain , whats left of it . not right. yea , thats right. no. I mean left.
I hated CCs for the longest time and just used a phantom center channel mode for 5.1 HT stuff--works exceedingly well if you have speakers for 2CH that image well. I eventually ended up buying a CC, but only because HT seems to involve other people in the room, and not everyone can sit on-axis. While this isn't usually a problem with 2CH, people severely off-axis get weirded out when the dialog is coming from somewhere other than the TV.
edesilver...When playing stereo source material it is true that if your speakers image well, and you can sit in the right place you can't tell if the center speaker is playing or not...even if you walk up to it and put your ear near it (at least with Magneplanars). Even with stereo source material, the center channel has some benefits in a broader and more stable (less sensitive to listener position) soundstage.

However, when you are dealing with multichannel source material, matrix or discrete, the center channel carries sounds (especially dialog) that are greatly attenuated or completely missing from the Left and Right channels. If you play multichannel material with the center turned off you are missing something.
Eldartford... I'll agree that a multichannel source has a specific feed for the center channel, and that its unsatisfying to disconnect your center channel if your system is set up that way. My guess is that most processors allow you to create a phantom center, as mine does, which means you aren't missing anything if your system images well. Frankly, given that most center channels underperform as compared to the L & R front channels, my point is that you are better off with a phantom center than a crappy one, since the center channel carries more information than probably anything else in multichannel set ups.
Edesilva...I think we have a semantics problem. When I say "center" I mean where the thing is located, and when you say "center" you mean a particular design of speaker. For music I use, and advocate a center (located) speaker that is identical to the others. I agree that speakers designed for dialog in a HT set up (which may work well for that purpose) are poor for music.
You are incorrect in saying that you are "missing" something with a phantom center channel. Let me explain. If the center channel option is turned off in the pre/pro then it will re-direct ALL of the center channel data to the L & r channels. If the system is set up properly and you are sitting in the sweet spot I doubt you would notice a difference. Just as an experiment I turned off the center channel (not disconnected it) in my pre/pro set up menu and wouldn't you know it, I had perfect center channel sound with no center channel! Most of the time, though, this is not feasible because it requires one person to sit in the sweet spot. Anybody sitting off at even a small angle would not get the full picture. Richard Hardesty who writes the Audio Perfectionist Journals has an excellent article on this. Here's the link.

Mborner...Semantics again! I took "phantom" to mean the sound image that occurs naturally between two good speakers that play the same sound, and which can be very convincing. I think that a better word for what you describe would be "synthesized".
I seem to recall you saying that "something was missing". I simply meant that all the center channel information is re-directed to the L & R channels so I could not understand what could be "missing". Perhaps you could elaborate so that I might have a better understanding of what you are hearing or not hearing.
Mborner...If this "redirection" was not being done, center channel info would be missing. In other words, if you were set up for 5 channels, and the speaker wire fell off the center front speaker, something would be missing.
Yes you are absolutely correct! As a matter of fact you would be missing more than "something", you would be missing almost everything including all of the dialog of a film soundtrack. That is why you don't want to just disconnect the center channel. "Disconnecting" the center channel and telling the processor that you don't have one are two, very different things.
I use two center channel speakers,on both sides of the monitor. The tweeter and smaller driver are now in the same plane as the main speakers. I have a Y adapter from the center channel out, into a stereo amp so each channel drives one speaker. I tried all the other placements, and they just didn't cut it. Also, my CC speakers are smaller bookshelf versions of the mains, the brand that I have doesn't make a "center channel" speaker.
The center channel for home theater is meant for dialog only. You really don't need a center channel speaker for TV if the two main speakers are on line with the TV screen. You will never get the dialog image right with a center speaker unless you don't mind if the center speaker is directly in front of the TV screen. It's best to have two center channel speakers on both sides of the screen for that purpose. Digital processors are not designed to have the center channel for music unless you want to spend megabucks for a top of the line Lexicon processor.

There is another way to have a center speaker for music. Instead a using a home theater processor, create a mono channel by fusing the left and right channels together. Paul Klipsch designed a very simple channel fuser back in the 60's to fill in the hole between two Khorns requiring a 90 degree separation at two corners of the room. This was the main reason for creating the Belle speaker. With most main speakers set apart with a 60 degree separation, a center speaker is not really needed for music.

However, if you insist on having a center speaker for music, try the following. The center amplifier and speaker should be identical to the main channels. Build a center channel fuser as mentioned above. Call or email Klipsch about getting the schematic diagram for putting together this very simple unit. You will need some soldering experience. If you have a high end system, use Vishay S102 1/3 watt resistors, and substitute the pots with a high end volume control which can be found on the internet.
Correction on my behalf; it was not Rives who took me to task in AS but Norm Varney at A-V RoomService. My apologies to Rives ; the industries most respected acoustical engineering firm.
I recently went out to buy a center channel to match up with my Thiel CS3.6's, and my first thought was to get something respectable, but not too heavy on the budget. After listening to a number of models, I liked the larger of the two NHT center channels (I forget the model name). I was about the plunk down my $400, when I asked if we could take the NHT into the other room and compare it to the (far more expensive) Thiel SCS3 (which is designed to be either sold in pairs as a main speaker, or separately for use as a center channel). I should have known that this would be a mistake (economically, that is!). I have never made a quicker decision on a piece of audio gear. Literally 15 seconds was all it took to convince me that the Thiel was worth the extra dough. The difference was incredible. The NHT sounded like a speaker, whereas the Thiel just seemed to pass along the musical content without really making its presence known. All in all, I continue to be very impressed with the SCS3, and although it is pricey, I would encourage those of you looking for a "non-crappy" sounding center channel speaker to check it out.

Hope this helps, Tom.

2 channel imaging - keep it simple

5, 6 or 7

smear smear smear
Ho hum- One more time guys- GET RID OF THE CENTER CHANNEL SPEAKER; IT'S NOT NEEDED (IMHO based on six plus years experience starting with a laser disc player in '97). Use your processors phantom mode; no missing info even for way-off center listeners if you have (real) good imaging L and R speakers.
Right - no center channel needed for music, but it is necessary for movies if you want to hear the dialog clearly
It's a shame that Dunlavy is no more. Their HRCC center channel is phenomenal with music/HT. It is essentially as SC-IVa "squished".

Dynaudio also makes a monster center, but it is even more money than the Dunlavy was.

Both of these demonstrate that it can be done, but it ends up just being a huge full sized speaker when done right.
Thanks for clearing the center speaker usage 30 years ago, thing. First on your block I'll bet. --- I had Aerial 10ts and the cc3. Sold that stuff. Got Montana and VonSwierket lcr35 as a center.---So much for matching the center--- Made the Aerial sound like a toy speaker. So there are some good center speakers out there.
Avguygeorge...30 years? I have been using a center speaker (same model as left and right) ever since I moved into my house in 1961. The living room has two french doors in the wall, and the doors are right where stereo speakers would go. This leaves three narrow pieces of wall. Speakers on the left and right wall sections would be too far apart, but a third speaker in the center solves the problem.

Even further back in time, say 1947, a "High End" system that I heard often (was forced to listen to) had two speakers, positioned as we do now for stereo, although the program was only mono.
Most cc speakers are designed with two mid/bass drivers and a tweeter in the middle allowing for easier placement on top of tv's. This is your basic d'appolito configuration. The problem is that freq. response changes as you move either left or right of 0 degrees on axis due to differing distances between the two woofers. It's convenient for placement and that's about all. Years ago I was a factory rep for "Allison Acoustics" and they had us use a demo of all three drivers in their system in separate enclosures. As soon as you would move the midrange driver back an inch or two from the rest of the drivers the sound changed completely. Also, having the speaker placed on top of something causes reflections off of what it's on
I had a KEF reference 100 center working with Totem Mite T and it sounded crappy. Replaced it with a Totem Mite TC and the sound improve greatly