Did you consider the possibility that there is an issue with the pre/pro? Try hooking one of your mains up to the center channel output and see if it helps. Worth a try.
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2 possible issues contributing to the problem.
1. The Sony, clearly you now have a difference of opinion with all its stellar reviews it didn't deserve.
2. The Sony, but try adjusting the distances on your center channel, your speakers since they are dissimilar you will always have occasion for the center to be a bit out of place. But dialog should be clear.
The 9C is an excellent center channel for interim duty, you couldn't have a better speaker until the Legacy center is in reach.
Update 1: About a year ago, I replaced the PSB with a Paradigm Studio Monitor cc570 version 3. This is definitely better and clearer than the PSB. It should be, as it is significantly more expensive. However, we still had a lot of problems understanding dialog in movies.
Update 2: Removed the spade connectors from the Speltz anti-cables, and connected the bare copper. This resulted in a definite increase in clarity. Much easier to understand dialog.
Update 3: Just yesterday took delivery of a single run of Alpha Core Goertz MI-2 speaker cable for the center channel. I also got some of their jumpers to jump down to the LF binding posts of the cc570, whereas with the anti-cables, I was just using the stock jumpers. I have only yet sampled one movie, but there does seem to be a difference from the anti-cables. It seems like there is more "presence" and "air". There seems to be more high frequency response and it is clearer(is that a word?). I do think this addition has improved the clarity of dialog even further.
This system is in the family room, and behind the speaker(which sits on top of the RPTV) there is a painted wall with ceramic plates and other knick knacks mounted. The wall also has "picture frame" paneling, so I'm not optimistic as to the WAF of hanging something on the wall, but I will look into it.
Presumably, you've calibrated the center channel with a SPL meter?
You have placement problems. Your RPTV is a big, reflective object near the center channel. The wall behind it is a big, reflective object.
Try moving the center channel to a stack of cinder blocks a few feet in front of the RPTV, aimed up at the listener.
You may have other acoustic problems. A coffee table in front of your couch will give you an early reflection from the center channel, especially with it aimed at the listener. You might temporarily move the coffee table or aim the speaker higher. Some people sit far from their speakers in a typical living room; and anything beyond the distance needed for the drivers to integrate (6'?) is just letting the direct sound drop farther below the reverberant field which hurts things. Sitting against the back wall is going to give you problematic reflections (and a bass boost).
Gotta tell you,, I have found many movies are not mixed that well all the time and the dialog is just killed by the other sounds sometimes even in a calibrated system.. However what I found that really seems to be the culprit in many cases is the match of the receiver or amp to the specific speakers used. I know its weird, but synergy comes into play with surround just as it does with 2 channel. I had an issue for a while with a very underpowered center it seemed. Well I pulled the speaker thinking it was just not efficient enough at lower volumes on movies as I don't listen to them at reference level, which most people do not, but then found I put it on a friends receiver and we were blown away how damn good the center sounded even with some questionable movies that were not always mixed that good. Otherwise you might have to get silly and try to do some type of room treatment or Center position, might have to build a shelf to get it up above the display and this will carry a more airy and clear dialog.
+1 for Drew's comments regarding SPL equalization. You may have to bump up the output level on the center channel as I'm assuming you adjust the volume like most of us based on all the loud sound effects coming out your larger mains. Even if you did balance it, bump it up a couple db's to see if that helps. It'll cost you nothing. Considering your mains aren't matched to your center there definetly could be a difference in "loudness" between the two. If this is a decent center channel then I would doubt the problem is the speaker, maybe it's just too quite in relation to all the SFX the studios seem to love these days.
Thanks, I did bump up the center channel to +1 today.
As to the room, there is no coffee table, but rather an ottoman we prop our feet on. It would probably absorb sound, rather than reflect it.
I can't really put that center speaker in front of the TV, as that is the traffic path in the room.
I sit on a sofa about 9 feet from the front speakers, and the sofa is about 5 feet from the back wall. It really is a terrible room for audio, but it is all I have.
I am just going to have to optimize my equipment and cabling.
The dynamic range and ambient sounds on movie soundtracks can be a challenge for voice on most consumer speakers. These soundtracks were originally mixed and mastered for high end high $$$ professional movie theatre sound systems(which have much bigger dynamic range). Unless they have been re-mastered (compressed) for consumers or you have professional gear then you will often run into trouble with audibility of speech.
Basically, mid range compression and mid/bass distortion in most consumer speakers will disguise low level vocals...
Unlike music, where voice can be easily compressed to make tracks uniformly loud and audible, the intonation and voice levels of actors in movies varies greatly, after all this is natural and a huge part of expressing emotion/acting....a movie sound track that is highly compressed will lose much of its impact.
This is most likely your problem - it is an all too common one.
At this point, I am beginning to agree with Shadorne, and I think I am going to give up on having a center channel speaker until I can afford a really good one. I got a deal on a Swans C3 center speaker, so I have been checking it out. I also have a new receiver, a Yamaha RX-V1800, which should have better decoding than the Sony DA4ES. The Swans is not bad, but it is smaller than the Paradigm cc570v.3.
Currently, with the Yamaha, it just sounds best to set the Yamaha to no center speaker and let my Legacy Signature IIs front L/R handle the job. The sound is just overall much better like that.
Actually, the Legacys do sound significantly more clear on dialog after I recently switched speaker cables to Morrow SP2, which is silver coated copper.
So this means I have tried: PSB Image Series C9, Paradigm cc570v.3, and Swans C3. All are supposed to be decent speakers but both me and my wife still cannot make out dialog in movies. Yes we have typical over 50 year old hearing loss, but not terribly so.
As a last ditch attempt, I did order a run of the Morrow for the center speaker to see if this will clear up dialog a bit. If that doesn't do the trick at all, I am just going to sell the Paradigm and the Swans and try and save up for the big Legacy center channel speaker. I can still use the Morrow cable later if I get another center speaker.
For dialog a speaker with restricted and contoured frequency response is most inteligible. Lousy for music though, where the center speaker should be as good or better than the Left and Right speakers.
Maybe you need to DOWNgrade the center speaker."
Thanks for the tip. Unfortunately, in addition to home theater, I have gotten into multi-channel audio with DVD-A and SACD. Musical selections that include male vocals concentrated in the center channel REALLY illustrate the importance of a large center speaker. No matter what settings I select in the setup of the receiver, much of the character of the male voice is lost when using the center speaker. This is clearly noticeable by setting the receiver for no center speaker, which send the vocal to the front L/R speakers. Then you hear the voice properly.
I am on a mission to save up for a big center speaker that can both reproduce dialog and singing vocals with great clarity, and at the same time is as close to full range as I can set on my TV. I just don't yet know how much that is going to cost.
Make sure the spkr distances are set correctly and then do a channel balance on all spkrs using recvr test tone and spl meter (radio shack). Easiest way to set levels is to set channel levels to lowest setting (say -10 when range is -10 to +10), turn master volume to -10 and play test tone. Bring up channel levels until spl meter reads about 75db. This is 10 db below reference setting so you won't hurt your ears or your tweeters. Do this for all channels. Now that all spkrs/channels are in balance when watching a movie you can tell at a glace what your volume is in relation to Dolby reference level. Ex: -10 on volume during Iron Man will be 10db below reference of 105db which should be yielding approx a 95db output during movie which is quite loud. I listen at about -20 through -15 or so. Making sure the channels/spkrs are balanced is crucial. The distance is important so that the soudntrack data is delivered at the correct time to your ear thus the distance settings. If it still sounds crappy try a newer blockbuster type film...Transformers, Lord of Rings, Master and Commander etc.
Thanks for the recommendations. My speaker distance settings are correct, 10 feet for each of the front 3 speakers. I also calibrated all speakers with my Radio Shack sound meter. The way I was given to understand to do it, and the way I did, was to set the receiver master volume setting to 0db, and then calibrate each speaker to 75db. I am not sure of what advantage your suggestion would offer me, as I would just end with a different master volume for regular listening.
The settings I was talking about, with regard to my dissatisfaction with the sound from the center, are speaker size and crossover for the center speaker. It doesn't seem to matter what crossover settings I select, in that whenever I switch the center speaker selection from "None" to "small" or "large", I lose all the bass out of male voices. I had thought that the sub would pick that up, but it just doesn't, and I have the crossover setting on the sub turned up as high as it goes, and have tried all the crossover frequencies available on the receiver.
This is why I am thinking a really big center speaker is indispensable for accurate movie dialog reproduciton.
The way I understand bass management is that either the xover in the pre or at the sub will determine what goes to/played by the sub. Does your sub have xover on/off or a disable/enable...? Set to disable/off and this lets the preamp/recvr do the crossing over. Do you have ability to set diff xover points for each spkr or is it a specific xover freq that applies to all the spkrs? If you can set individual points set to just above the spkrs lower limit and all spkrs to small. Otherwise most suggest setting xover to match the spkr/s with the highest...low end capability which is usually the surrounds. My center and surrounds freq response are rated at 65 and 55hz respectively. My xover oint via prepro is set at 60 which applies to all the speakers even though my mains (biamped nht classic 4's) are more than capable of playing solid/tight down in the 30's or better with the side firing 10 inchers being biamped. Nonetheless, basically everything at about 60hz and below is sent to sub with this setup. Spkrs are all set to small. How loud do you turn it up with everything balanced as you say it is? -15...-10db...? My buddy has a single really big Klipsch Belle that would kick things up a notch :}
Okay my prob is similar and has been so with 2 amps HK avr 110 and avr 320 and two centers Wharfedale modus and nht vt1c . I have lived in different spaces and had various DVD players. I want to get to the bottom of the often times muffled or unclear center channel when hearing voice on dolby 5.1 my wharfedale surround speakers are otherwise killer and my placement wiring levels speaker size selections and placement are fine. My movie for testing purposes is Lord of the Rings. I am beginning to suspect the DVD mastering on certain dvds or the harman kardon processing of the digital? I am using coaxial from the DVD to amp, i can try my optical cable. I know i dont have superior hearing or anything.
I believe i have tried all ive read on this thread. Pretty sure all my equipment should be good "nuff". I Will retry resizing the center.
Muffled center brought up many threads in various forums so it seems common. Putting the center channel level up just makes things louder.
I think I now have the best sound so far from my center, which is the Paradigm cc570v3. I sold off the Swans speaker, as it had an obvious mid range resonance. I am using a Yamaha RX-V1800 as a pre-pro, and powering my front L/R and center with a Sherbourn 5/1500A power amp at 200wpc. Plus, I am using Audio Art ics from the Yamaha to the Sherbourn, and Morrow speaker cable. I think there may be something to burning in cables, because the sound is much clearer after a week or so of playing the system. This is the best center channel clarity I have had so far, although I am still not sure the Yamaha is providing the best decoding possible.
I am still lusting after a higher end center speaker and better processor at some point.