Do you ...Center Channel?


Hello,

To me it is difficult to set a center speaker in the living room. Underneath the TV would be too low. On top of the TV (LCD) would be unpractical because in may case the center channel would be fairly big and heavy.

I imagine that most of you, living in homes with a dedicated room, you have no issue. How about all the others like me, with limited space, would you have the center channel at all and go with a four speakers setup and set the preamp to 'No Center'? Or would you compromise in some other ways?
Thanks.

Regards,
baam23f
I have a dedicated sound/ht room, and I don't use a center channel speaker,instead using 4 channels + the LFE channel. I have no problem with doing that. In my upstairs family room, I've tried it both ways, and now do not use a center channel. I find it too annoying, on mono movies, to only have sound coming out from on top of the tv. It sounds better to me, to have sound coming out of both main speakers. Do whatever feels good for you!
The only reason I know of, to have the center channel, is for people sitting off-center, to have the sound anchored over the tv. No one has ever complained about my setup, even tho upstairs the chairs are not centered.
If you are not seated off axis no center can actually work better than having a center. My reference system has no center. Almost all of the time it is either just myself or one other person watching with me and using a phantom center works very well in this instance.
in my family room system I have no center speaker - just run in "phantom" mode. In my dedicated home theater, I use a center speaker, but there are times (ie on some material) I wish I was running in phantom mode.
I use one, I could live without it though (depending on where I'm sitting).

Dave
I could live without it for TV/HT but find it essential for MCH music.

Kal
I always use one for HT, but not for music unless listening for 5.1 SACD, which I normally listen to in two channel as well.

I have an entertainment center which surrounds my TV. Equipment in the side tiers and center channel above. There is a gap between the top of my TV and the center speaker of ~ 4". I angle the speaker to face my listening position.
I'm with Rives & Sid 100%. Many sound engineers don't like mixing for a center anyway. At the end of the day Phantom works very well provided you are directly in front and not far to one side or too close to either left or right channel (small room). You need speakers with good dispersion, which is most audiophie speakers.

If you can't get the center mid driver and tweeter to be at the same height as the L and R channels then it is actually questionable whether a center is better. In fact,for this reason, I think it is often better without one - provided you have the sweetspot and sit well back.
if you go phantom mode, make sure your left and right speakers are full range... and most center channels suck....unless you spend big money

+1 for what everyone says about using phantom unless you have people off center. even then my system is so much better than their home systems they don't know what they are missing..
I also run with a 'phantom' center channel.
Jack_dotson wrote: "I always use one for HT, but not for music unless listening for 5.1 SACD, which I normally listen to in two channel as well."

Well, of course. Why use a center speaker if there is no center channel signal?

OTOH, creating a phantom center when there is a discrete center signal creates inevitable phase/time errors in the process. This is noticeable even on-axis but mostly with music sources.

Kal
The purpose of "stereo" is to create a holographic image. (Otherwise, mono would do just fine.) So if your left and right fronts are set up properly, they will be creating a centrally located image if that is what was recorded. There would be no need for a centre because the stereo effect would be producing an image in between the fronts. Of course you have to be sitting in the sweet spot and you must not be using a discrete mutichannel source.

Also, if you have good full range fronts, you do not need a subwoofer.
Nope I dont have a center ear. 1 speaker for each ear is all I can handle.
Markphd, I find your answer simplistic since the inventors of stereo (which means solid) found that it required a minimum of three channels across the front but, due to the technical limitations of the media of the time, only two were used in the commercial applications. There is a need for a good center channel, even if one sits in the "sweet spot," because the center signal information limits the spatial resolution to the sides.

This is not to say that 2channel stereo cannot be impressive and satisfying.

Kal
05-29-07: Slikric3000 wrote: "Nope I dont have a center ear. 1 speaker for each ear is all I can handle."

I miss your smiley. Otherwise, this is a common and silly idea.

Kal
OTOH, creating a phantom center when there is a discrete center signal creates inevitable phase/time errors in the process. This is noticeable even on-axis but mostly with music sources.

Really? How?
Of course you have to be sitting in the sweet spot and you must not be using a discrete mutichannel source

Most DSP's handle even discrete data and will allocate the information to the speakers as necessary.

Obviously if you don't have a DSP and you are competely missing Center information then it will sound terrible. The same applies if you have a 0.1 channel and are not using a sub or do not have the ability to program the DSP to send 0.1 channel to your main speakers.

Missing channels DO need to be added back in to whatever you have in terms of speakers in order to mantain balance of the sound field (this is important if you have LESS speakers than discrete channels and is another reason why surround gest a bad rap from stereo people, as they don't do it justice by making sure they are using ALL the available information)
My system consist of 4 full range speakers. The problem with the center that I am considering (Vienna Acoustics Oratorio) is that it's shape is not the conventional rectangular box but the front side is angled toward the top so that the speaker can be positioned on the bottom of the tv without the need to angle the speaker toward the top. But that positioning would be too low according to what has been said around. The front speakers are 52" tall. And the center would sit well below. My impression is that the oratorio was designed with the HT in mind more then the MC music. So far I am listening multichannel music with four speakers.
Yes, own a center channel and use it both with music and HT. Why it is a no brainer for HT, using it on music, especially product done on SACD 5.1 disks, can give you sound stage that 'phantom' will never provide. An ideal way to give this a try is Miles Davis, kind of Blue. The original master tapes were three channel, mono. The 5.1 disk re-creates the master tape, three channel. The same material is available in regular SACD and regluar CD. Spin each CD and see what the difference can be.
If your speakers are set up for multichannel, the left and right are too far apart for stereo. With a 2-channel source like a CD you must come up with a center signal/speaker, or be faced with moving speakers around when playing a stereo recording.

I have yet to find a 2-channel recording that is not improved by using a center channel. This is not true about matrix-generated rear channels, although a very few stereo recordings respond well.
Baam23f

The front speakers are 52" tall. And the center would sit well below. My impression is that the oratorio was designed with the HT in mind more then the MC music. So far I am listening multichannel music with four speakers.

Provided your DSP is adding back in the Center channel information to the L and R main speakers (phantom) then you are certainly doing the right thing in your case, IMHO.

A perusal of most recording studios will show that, for those with a surround setup, they all seem to prefer to mix/master with five speakers of the same type, with the mid range and tweeter drivers all at the same height.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself how many people have you ever seen listening to stereo with Left and Right channels at different heights from the floor, or one speaker turned upside down and the other the right way up?

Common sense should tell you what is best...inspite of the marketing hype and sales people which often advise differently on a center channel.(I wonder why?)

BTW: Kudos to Rives for telling things like it is, which just shows that some companies can be trusted to look after their customer's best interests....these companies obviously seek repeat business and word of mouth recommendations, rather than focussing on one time sales!
Kal: Why do you find the center essential for multi-channel music? Assume the context of one person listening--so no issues with being off axis. I would have thought that in that context a "phantom" center would be fine. Are there phase variations that are extracting more information than that which would be effectively summed from the left and right speaker? I value your experience in MC music.

Now, I want to take it one step further. Let's say the center channel is not identical to the mains as is the case for most home theaters. In that context, is using the center for MC music still the better way to go--or is 3 channels matched essential to good MC music?

Last question--and then I'll let you go. How imporant is matching the rear speakers for MC music? I know 5 matched channels is the best way to go for this application, but few people have this set-up and typically invest far more heavily in the left and right mains. So I'm just trying to understand the relative compromises in your experience.

Sorry--didn't mean to turn this into an MC music thread--but it is relavent to the importance of the center channel.
05-29-07: Shadorne

OTOH, creating a phantom center when there is a discrete center signal creates inevitable phase/time errors in the process. This is noticeable even on-axis but mostly with music sources.

Really? How?
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The 'phantoming' is a purely algebraic process in which the center information is electrically split between the L and R channels. As a result, sounds which reached the center microphone at a different time than they reached either the right or left are now combined into a simultaneous signal and reproduced from a single speaker. Such center sounds will be reproduced from an inappropriate distance and/or the incorrect time and they will also interact, electrically, with similar (but significantly different) signals in the left or right channel resulting in unpredictable summation/cancellations.

Kal
If your speakers are set up for multichannel, the left and right are too far apart for stereo. With a 2-channel source like a CD you must come up with a center signal/speaker, or be faced with moving speakers around when playing a stereo recording.

Or move your seat. ;-)

Kal
If your speakers are set up for multichannel, the left and right are too far apart for stereo.

Good Point...obviously the lack of center channel is a form of compromise, otherwise studios would not mix 5.1 with five identical speakers of equal height.

However, having a center channel at a different height from the main speakers is surely a compromise too, This was Rives point, I think, as our ears have a pretty clever way of sensing the direction of sound (try covering one ear and you will still find you can tell if a sound is above, below you ,to one side or behind you....amazing but you can). Since most setups (plasma/LCD/CRT/rear projection) preclude the option to match center channel height to the other speakers (unless you want the odd impression of the sound to come from below or above the image)...surely phantom center is a pretty solid sensible recommendation in many cases?

I agree, however, that if you can place a center channel speaker, at the correct matching height, behind an acoustically transparent screen (for example) then you certainly have a much better setup than one without a center channel and using phantom - this is without doubt. (But how many people have this option available compared to those with plasma/LCD/CRT/Rear Projection?)
Kr4, you're the Kal from Stereophile, no?
kr4 = Kal Rubinson
For video, a quality center channel speaker really improves dynamics & realism vs. the crappy TV speakers, IMO. Plus, if you use timbre-matched L, C and R, you are further ahead of the game.

I just hung mine on the wall over the TV, w/supplied mounting bracket, tilted down at proper angle. My home theater is separate from my 2-channel big rig.
Well, after days of auditioning I decided that 'no center' works better for me. If sitting not too off-axis the sound is indeed more pleasant because the overall sound retains uniquely the quality of the front speakers that I like. The sound seems indeed coming from the TV (I realized that my new speakers focus very well) and not from the bottom or the top of the video image. Oslo is not boxy sound as my center channel did.
The only caveat: when playing a test dvd (avia) in Dolby Digital, while simulating a center channel during speakers level test (per-pro B&K set to no center), that simulated center signal through the mains sounded few decibel less loud compared to the rest of the system. Is that normal?
Thank you for your informative inputs.
Regards,
glad it's working for you...triode has it right. find some way to mount a center or even get a different speaker entirely. imo, the center channel is very important in anchoring dialogue during 5.1 movies, esp when off axis. what if you get guests that can't sit in position A or B? i also have seperate rigs but i swap out front speaker cables for dual use of mains R/L. the decrease in dec. in center will bother you down the road. center CAN be boxier sounding than mains but most dialogue is in center anyway and it is worth the tradeoff to me, esp when watching dialgue oriented films without big sound effects.
Does anyone know if the Outlaw Audio ICBM-1 can be used without the center channel in a 4.0 configuration for multichannel music?
Baam23f,

Huh? That is an analog device...forget it.

You need a DSP....this will allow you to precisely configure what you send to each speaker, including how you roll off each individual speaker and how you treat center information, subwoofer information and matrix process the surrounds...no way I would use an analog device for this purpose....forget it...the filtering and processing (none)is so limited on an anlog device!
Yes. The ICBM is usable in almost any configuration you might want.

Kal
Really? It is an analog device specifically because it can take multiple analog inputs and bass manage them. That's all! There is no matrixing or other processing included or needed.

Any DSP device to accomplish the same or more would require additional A/D/A conversions which would be redundant and compromising.

Now, if you can come up with a DSP-based bass management accessory that will handle CD, DVD, SACD and DVD-A sources, let us know.

Kal
Any DSP device to accomplish the same or more would require additional A/D/A conversions which would be redundant and compromising.

I am not aware of any current consumer HT multi-channel source that is not digital (DVD, SACD).

It begs the question as to why would you use analog bass management or combine analog signals to generate a phantom center channel when digital processing is much more flexible, precise and low cost (can do almost anything mathematically that software will allow).

As for A to D conversions - these can be done extremely accurately and without loss/compromise, given today's electronics (for example you want to get bass management from two channel analog data from an old analog two channel source such as a casette deck or TT). However, for digital devices, taking a digital out to a DSP from a digital source is probably the most sensible option rather than an A to D conversion.

Personally I don't think the compromises are so significant as the limitations of an analog filtering circuit and analog mixer. I don't have a stigma about digital being bad but I understand that many audiophiles feel that digital is the dark side...if you feel digital is the dark side then I agree that you should go with an all analog setup.
The whole ICBM issue begs the question about deriving a center channel since it will not do that nor, I think, does Baam23f think it does. The ICBM is sorta off-topic in this thread.

In the (near) future, when all MCH formats can be transferred as digital signals to AVRs and pre/pros, this will become less and less of an issue. In fact, Outlaw has discontinued the ICBM in recognition of the declining need for it. That said, I do not believe there is another product that will do the same job, except the MartinSound ManagerMAX. Certainly, no digital device is available, AFAIK.

And I do agree with you about the relative transparency of the A/D/A conversions if done well. For example, SACDs fed into the 24/96 A/D inputs of my Meridian 861 still sound excellent. But, frankly, the A/D conversions of most AVRs are not to that standard, in my experience.

Kal
I too was in a situation of whether or not to keep my center channel. I am running B&W 802's in the Front, HTM1 Center and 805's rears. All powered by Rotel Gear and Audioquest cables.

My problem came with space limitations with my Plasma screen. I can't wall mount my plasma due to a water pipe in the wall of my Condo, so my Plasma must sit on the buffet table. My HTM1 is 12" tall, so I'm left with either having to build a stand for my Plasma to sit on, or doing away with the HTM1. I've run the sound with both 5.1 set up and 4.1 (creating a Phantom Center). I have SPL metered both set ups as well.

My findings is that as long as I'm sitting on the sofa in front of the TV, I prefer the Phantom Setup. In fact, the SPL meter is higher/louder with just dialog scenes in Phantom Center mode than in 5.1 mode. The Dialog seems richer and less mono, as well as the TV is at a more natural viewing height.

The only reason I could see keeping the Center is for SACD and 5.1 Music recordings, which I rarely listen to. I prefer 2 channel music anyway.

I wish I had known this, I would never had bought a center channel to begin with!!! The HTM1 is mammoth!!!

I'll be selling my Center HTM1 soon either here or on eBay. I guess I'll use the money to upgrade my Rotel Receiver to Arcam!!!

My recommendation, and I'm no expert, but think I can appreciate good sounding audio is as follows:
If you have a processor/receiver that can produce 4.1 with a Phantom Center, good imaging speakers with a wide soundstage and good cables that really open up that soundstage, then run your system in Phantom mode and save your money.

This of course is if you are planning on sitting in between the L/R speakers.
What's wrong with Mono dialog? Last time I checked people had only one mouth, a perfect point source.
For me, the issue of a CC relates in part to the general poor design of most CC speakers. One primary reason for a CC, at least for HT, is to anchor dialog to the screen for those seated off center. Yet the majority of CC designs are a horizontal D'Apolito configuration using either three or five drivers. How can this possibly come close to the timbre of the L/R speakers? And how can it work for anyone not seated on center, where the CC then becomes redundant?

At present, the design limitations of my condo mean I drop a 6' screen between my floor-standing speakers which are 8' apart. I find I can greatly enjoy movies and music DVDs in only two channel audio with this set up.
I'd like to issue an update to my post a few days ago. I had mentioned that the Phantom Center sounded better than having a dedicated Center Channel and that I would be selling my B&W HTM1.

That is no longer the case. Phantom mode is good and the dialog does seem to come from a center image when seated on Axis. However, I just finished a bi-wire configuration of my Center Channel with the bass cross over set to 60Hz and my Center turned up 2+ louder than my fronts. I prefer loud crisp dialog for 5.1 movies.

The differences now are apparent to me. After watching movies in Phantom mode and then watching full movies with the bi-wired speaker, I can honestly say that a good Center Channel is a must for 5.1 Home theatre.

What I noticed is that Dialog is clearer and requires less strain to hear it. Separation of front sound is better and less muddy and the front sound stage is much wider.

Can you have good sound from Phantom mode? Absolutely. But can it beat a 3 channel setup up front? No. I initially thought it could, but the difference is greatly apparent.

I had to custom build a stand to raise my TV in order to place the mammoth B&W HTM1 speaker in front, but I see myself enjoying home audio, especially movies a whole lot more.

If it is a money issue, buy the better fronts for now and run in Phantom mode. This is a good option especially if you like listening to music and want better performance. The great thing about home audio is that you can slowly upgrade and eventually bring in a solid Center if you chose.

Spacial issues, I'd recommend the same and run in Phantom Center. If you have the room though, and can afford a top notch Center Channel, I highly recommend it.

I really wanted to not have a Center channel, recoupe some cash and put it toward an ARCAM AVR350. I guess I'll have to wait, because my B&W Center Channel is staying put. That is, until I am fortunate enough to upgrade my system againd down the road... - :-)
I ran without a center channel for years, in Phantom Center mode. The only time it was an issue was with certain DVDs, Highlander Special Edition comes to mind, that were poorly mixed to begin with, and the dialogue was subsumed by the music and effects tracks. Most of the time, it was fine, though.
Miamicane94...A center channel speaker that is expressly designed for HT will have a restricted and taylored frequency response which makes speech more easily intelegible. However, such a speaker is not good for multichannel music, where the center (and surrounds) should be the same as the left and right fronts.