Center speaker OR Full range as Center speaker?

What is your thought on this subject?

For HT setup, center speaker is very important since ~70% of the recording consists dialogue, depending on whether or not the movie is action or drama. Some say this is why center speaker is designed specifically for such purpose. Some, on the other hand, recommend to use full range matching speaker as the center. For the center speaker in a HT setup, what would you do if you had to choose between a specifically designed center speaker and a full range speaker? May I consult with A'gon members for this trend of thought.

If you had big box like B&W or Wilson Puppy, would you pursue this option? If you have HT Magnepan, would you use MG center or MG full range to hang on the wall to improve the WAF condition? If you had Thiel monitor with stand, would you use all 5 matching Thiels? If you had Definitive, would you use all full range or its specifically designed center speaker? Would you change your system around to pursue this option?

What are the pro and con of using a full range as center speaker? How many have done so, and what is your opinion? Thank you for your input.
Without question, go with the full-range IF you can fit it. I use 3 Revel Studios across the front in one system and 3 Paradigm Studio/60s in the other. Various other configurations, in both systems, was less successful.

The only justification for a dedicated center speaker is to accommodate compromise for physical, cosmetic or marital constraints. (All of which must be acknowledged, of course.)

Kal is correct, but not all, but alot of Home Theaters cant do the 3 matching speakers because of height, the center channel is and will always be the compromise for space and placement...and WAF. On the other hand I think it would seldom mater if you had a full-range speaker in front, I just dont think there are alot of 20HZ material encoded on the center track. I would simply try to get atleast the same mid-range and tweeters and hope for the best, I always admired how Sean made his own center channel using the AR-9 as his mains.
There is only one real reason for the center channel speaker: to localize the voices for everyone seated off to the side of the screen! If you are seated in front of the screen with a high quality stereo system, the voices are centered.

Think about this for a minute, if you do go with a center channel speaker, what's the most important thing that you have to worry about? An object moving from one side of the screen to the other. Why? Because as the object moves from one side, across the center and onto the other side, if the center speaker doesn't match the left and right speakers, you'll notice the switch across the center.

If you don't have to use a center channel speaker, you save:
1. a possible mismatch with the front speakers
2. the cost of the center channel speaker
3. the cost of the amplification for the center channel speaker

If you put that extra saved cash towards your stereo speakers and amplifier, not only will you have a better home theater, but a better stereo as well.

It's not a question of music vs. movies. It's a question of how many discrete channels there are. If you have no center signal, well, you don't need a center speaker. If you have a real center channel signal, you cannot split it to the L/R and hope to recover it properly as a phantom center.

Of course, if you do the center channel poorly, it can be worse than not but that's not an issue of design or theory but of compromise.


Listen to Kal, fact is Kal should expand on just how good his Studio 60's work, better than 2 Studio 100's at the same price. Despite Krellman's erroneous suppositions.

Krellman is limited in his views and don't know why he even bothered to post, he couldn't be more wrong and would you expect someone with such low expectations to ever have anything good to say?

Last thing, Surround sound and subwoofers work brilliantly together so do not be afraid of subwoofing, there are advantages to this in medium to small rooms over having fullrange speakers everywhere.

B&W, Wilson, Thiel and Magnepan, do not make the strongest surround systems, B&W being the best of the 4.

You need to look at companies that have embraced multi-channel, not companies who accesorize their main speakers.
Well, I would not want to pick and choose among those companies, all of whom manufacture good equipment which can be used to make an outstanding MCH system. Of course, I'd take any one of the main speakers over any one of their dedicated center speakers with the possible exception of the B&W HTM1!

A well designed center channel speaker, driver and timbre matched is preferred. AS pointed out, it is easy to slip into poorly done center channel speakers which of course due stink heartily compared to using a fullrange speaker.

But I am referring to getting a center actually designed well, (not cheaply or offhand by a non-HT focused manufacturer) and matched. A good center is not a speaker on its side and is not designed that way. DTS concert DVDs are often produced to emphasize center vocals in balance with background vocals to the mains.A Center channel is necessary to hear the optimal intent of the sound engineer, because this is how it was mixed to be heard. And an intended center channel speaker is the best choice. Of course using a standard 80hz crossover makes a full range even less of a consideration. in that scenario signal frequency below 60 HZ ( 80hz is not a brick wall) is all gone to the subwoofer(s) so full range mains and centers in HT is largely a waste anyway.

I've set up HTs both ways with decent results in each case. But a dedicated center is definetly the way to go.
Rysa4, you make a good statement: "But I am referring to getting a center actually designed well, (not cheaply or offhand by a non-HT focused manufacturer) and matched. A good center is not a speaker on its side and is not designed that way." Unfortunately, this is a principle rarely adhered to. The vast majority of dedicated centers are inferior in design. Aside from specific cases, I'd sooner make the general advise I did than recommend the "matching center channel from the same manufacturer."

As for the choice between full range and one with limited bass (regardless of physical configuration), my choice is dictated by the fact that I am more concerned with SACD and DVD-A reproduction of music than with HT. So, for me, full range or pretty close to it.

Thanks Kal. I agree with your post entirely. For multi-channel audio, fullrange is obvious and also assume dipole/bipole is out as well in that instance for surrounds.

WE have been so focused on left and right channels for so many decades and its gotten to where there is some really nice stuff out there at many price points. It really isn't suprising that quality enginerring for a center channel speaker simply lags in the majority of cases in the consumer market.
Hi all,

Thank you very much for your responses. I really enjoy reading all these interesting responses. My current HT setup is a 5.2, and I do have a dedicated center. Similar to the B&W wall series, my full range speakers are the AR Phantom 8.3 series. They are ~ 4" thick, 28" long, 12" wide. Drivers are 1" titanium tweeter, 2" magalloy mid, 8" Illusion Audio TM carbon woofer. FR 45Hz-20kHz, 89dB sensitive, 50-250W power handling.

At this time, all full range speakers are mounted vertically on the wall. If I mount another full range as the center, it has to be mounted horizontally for the WAF. What this means to me is that midrange will be center while the woofer will be to the left as the tweeter is to the right, or vice versa. I listen to DVD-A & concert DVD in DTS. I am wondering if mounting the full range horizontally will have any sonically adverse affect?

How do you guys do it? I have a 42" plasma. Would you please advise me on what to do, i.e. to use the full-range center or dedicated center? Thank you all for shedding some lights on me.
My experience has been that, ideally, 3 matching across the front is best. That however needs to be quantified in the context of the system/room/setup. Basically, a lot of full range speakers, or mini's for that matter, aren't really all that capable of producing solid, dynamic, coherent, and focused sound, period!...inlarge, they make ineffective movie speakers IMO. And I've sold alot of audoiphile speakers over the years.
There is something to be said for a good speaker for movies vs. just for music. Dual midrange/bass woofers, or others.
Having reinforced midrange, bass and treble drivers, either using horns, or dual/multiple mid/bass drivers, multiple tweeters, large pannels, and/or high efficiency designs in general(like active's, horns, multiple driver array's, etc) often make for a more solid home theater speaker. This is especially true in the critical center channel, where a lot of action is mixed!
Basically, there are a number of designs that are just to week, laid back, uninvolving, "open", and polite sounding do to true justice to what I call "the hard stuff"!
But, there are considerations.
If you have to use a traditional designed stereo speaker for HT dubties, they most always work much better not only crossed over as "small", but used in a smaller setting, or where you sit acoustically "closer" to the speakers...thus you hear more dirrect sound vs. reflected sound from the room boundaries. This tends to "reinforce" the sound from the speakers more for your ears.
Still, all things equal, I'd say it depends greatly on the design of the speakers.
Also, since most typical full range consumer home audio speakers are passive, and low on efficiency/sensitivity, it often makes for better control and powerhandling when you cross over the speakers as "small", and dictate the more demanding dynamic bass info for an "active" speaker, like a powered subwoofer.
Now I have head some full rangers that do pretty darn well as "full range", and as center channels. Big Dunlavy's, Avantgard horns, PSB Stratus Gold's, Infinity Prelude MTS's,NHT VT3's(powered subs) and other powered models, maybe a wilson WATT PUPPY, and other larger, higher efficiency designs.
Ok, this is all my experience, and you can really do what you want. I just think some designs don't do it so well.
I use a dedicated center for HT. It is placed on a non-enclosed shelf with tweeter near the level and in plane with the tweeters on my mains. There are also stands for the center alone as an alternative.

I use an entirely different rig and room for 2 channel audio. HT mixes I found required different positioning than 2 channel audio. Also signal processing for HT by a Denon is needed for my HT ( or any A/V receiever- I just use Denon). My audio rig is driven by a dedicated class A amp. Neither could do the others job very well.

For the HT- I use two subs, in the front corners facing each other behind and to the side of the mains. The mains and center use identical drivers, both tweeters and woofers. Extension is to 45 HZ which I dont consider full range. Subs flat to 25hz, usable to 24. They are sealed.
Surrounds use same tweeter as the rest, but a smaller woofer.

I do not listen to much multi-channel music. The DVD-As I do have I listen to the DTS track instead.

I guess it’s time to dispute Cinematic_Systems and explain to you what I meant. I’m 51 and have played music since grade school, so I’m biased towards quality. It has nothing to do with being negative, and certainly nothing to do with being limited in experience or expectations.

Nine or ten years ago I got into HT in a big way and it sounded pretty darn good:

Processor: Lexicon CP-1.
Left Front: Definitive Technology BP-20 driven by an Adcom GFA-555 bridged mono.
Right Front: Definitive Technology BP-20 driven by an Adcom GFA-555 bridged mono.
Center: Two Definitive Technology BP-10’s, one on each side of the TV, driven by an Adcom GFA-555.
Rear: Definitive Technology BP-10’s driven by an Adcom GFA-545.
Subs: Snell subs driven by an Adcom GFA-555.

Then I walked into a stereo store where they had set up a hi-end Krell stereo system running Dunlavy SC-IV’s. The singer sounded like he was sitting on a stool in front of me with his guitar singing to me. I traded and sold everything and bought that system. I don’t know how many times someone would ask me where my center channel was. I’d tell them that I didn’t have one, and inevitably they’d get up and look around and behind the screen for the center channel speaker, because they “knew” that it just had to be there because of the way the soundstage was.

It boils down to “Quality” over “Quantity”. I realized that for myself and most people, it’s easier to come up with the money for a piece or two here or there. But if someone was in the position in the beginning to lay down the cash for a really good stereo, they’d be surprised with what they’d have.

I realize the young kids in their cars with the “boom, boom, boom” rattling everything around them think they’ve got it, but if they were musicians I think they’d realize that had noise rather than music where you can point to the performers layered in a soundstage from left to right and from front to back. The same goes for really enjoying a movie.


I do not doubt your observations and, in fact, I am not surprised by them. Using 6! bipolar speakers is a sure way to have amorphous imaging and, more than that, using 2 together as a center-channel is going to give you less specific of the center image than no center speaker. (Note, I did not say anything about the relative quality of the individual components compared to your Krell/Dunlavy system.)

I would love to have your system, but it will take me a long time before I get up to your par. I would love to be able to experience what you described, i.e. the singer sitting on a stool playing a guitar in front of you. I recognize and acknowedge your statement regarding the difference between the rattling noise and the musical bass. In this particular case, are we still discussing the center speaker for HT and DVD-A, or are we discussing primarily 2-channel music w/ redbook CD, unless you are suggesting to improve on the 2-channel system and play movie using phantom mode?

Personally, HT setup is much more financially feasible for me and my family at this point. We have the Fosgate pre/pro and Marantz amp to drive out HT system w/ dual sub. Room is well calibrated to avoid the boom boom. Of course, there is plenty of room for improvement. However,I wouldn't spend too much more. I rather spend money on acquiring a 2-channel system in a dedicated room. I stopped by a local hi-fi store and listen to the ML Ascent i. I love all the rigs that they have. I am now in love w/ the MCintosh tube amp, Jolida tube rigs, and huge biwiring cable from that store. B/c of the Ascent's capability and the ML CLS w/ Vandersteen sub, I am now obsessed with the ML Prodigy and possibly the Odyssey. However, that is another story after I won the lotto. Until then, sweet dream is my driving factor that compels me to show up to work each morning. Any suggestion regarding the full range center speaker setup?
In the mean time, I like to thank all the A'gon members who have taken the time to provide your inputs.
It's funny, when everyone was trying to find my 'missing' center channel speaker, it was actually before the days of DVD's and I had a nice Hi-Fi Quality VCR hooked up.

Once DVD's came in, I bought a simple but nice Pioneer DVD and with the Dunlavy SC-IV's, it was so clean people's jaws would drop, and the bass would shake the nicknaks off of my shelves in the room.

My B&W Silver Signature's don't have that kind of bass, of course, but the midrange is a lot more natural. Now that the kids are in college, my wife and I have actually started having dates once a week and going out to eat and to the movies, munching down on the popcorn, Milk Duds and Cokes.

My stereo/HT is more of just a stereo again.

Krell man and Kr4, I concure and relate to your experiences entirely. I've sold Dunlavy in the past, as well as Mirage. You both understand what's happening by-enlarge there.
The Dunlavy using multiple woofers in a coherent time aligned array definitely reinforces the frequencies, and proves very fast, coherent, and solid in imaging, not to mention great dialog inteligibility. Thus my findings that these designs most often have an advantage over single driver designs vs, say Dappolito, Horns, THX, plannars(sometimes), etc. Also, active help. Nonetheless, the Dunlavy's indeed make a potent enough sound for movie mixes I've found. There's a lot to be said for that design.
Still Krell Man, may I strongly suggest crossing over the Dunlavy's at least at 65hz or 80hz, over to powered sub(s)!?
I could easily bottom out and distort even that efficient design SCIV speaker in my systems. And I found better to cross over to "active woofers". That was my finding anyway...which is consitant with other lesser efficient designs as well IME.
Anyway, I think you'll get better dynamic range and capabilities ultimiately that way. Some will find the bass and volume levels they chose adequate full range however with the SCIV's, and that's fine of course. Still, at closer to THX levels, you will reach limitations.
Would I use Dunlavy's like this for HT if needed? I would indeed. My only problem with Dunlavy's now-a-day's is matching drivers when they go south(if). That was the design of that speaker, matching tolerance drivers.