I would say that the extra cost may not be worth it. You need to ask yourself, "how many times do I actually need it"? then go from there
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In home theater, the center channel becomes the most important channel in the room. That's where the dialog and most of the foreground action is played, and it's a lot of the ambience that gets pushed into the other speakers. If you try to save money you may regret it or think your HT system is less than stellar. Either that or you'll phenomenal front ambience but less-than-focused dialog.
I decided to leave my 2-channel system in the living room and go with a completely separate system for HT in the family room. It really doesn't cost anywhere near as much for great HT gear as it does for good two-channel equipment.
You deffinitely get more info in movies in the center than L&R. On the otherhand if your not a videophile and don't have much multichannel music it may not matter.
In movies the purpose of the center speaker is to lock the dialogue in the center for off axis viewers. If this is not an issue and you don't have multichannel music, then you can eliminate the center altogether.
I'll also concur that, if you are a film buff and will be using your system for regular movie viewing, you would most likely be well served by a nicer center channel. As previously stated, much of the dialogue and crucial info originates from the center channel on 5.1 soundtracks. Then you have those old films that are in mono which are often ONLY in the center channel. I picked up a Criterion disc recently that was a reissue of an old Italian movie in Dolby 1.0...center channel only. At any rate, if you can afford the extra expense, give it some consideration. Of course, you should probably listen to both if possible first...
Well--I'm going to offer a completely different opinion here. If the priority is 2 channel listening and it's typically used as an HT for 1 or 2 people, use a phantom center, where the center channel is divided amoungst the mains.
Here are the advantages:
1. Less expensive
2. No speaker in the middle that corrupts your 2 channel performance
3. No issues with timber matching mains to center and getting the tweeter height of the center the same as the mains. With a good 2 channel (mains) set up this can sometimes be a more seamless soundstage than when using a center speaker.
Here are the disadvantages
1. Your mains have to work harder--they have to do the work of the center speaker. For movies this is often 70% of the sound, but your mains are porbably much higher quality than you would have for a center--so this works in a way. It is possible you won't be able to achieve the volume that you want if your mains have to work too hard--but this is room and speaker dependent.
2. If you seat many people and they get off axis, the dialog will not appear to be coming from the center without a center speaker.
I own Martin Logan mains. I have the Martin Logan Logos center channel. Given my current configuration--the logos is in the box, not being used, and I don't miss it a bit. I am close to not having enough power on the front soundstage and could use a center just to achieve higher levels, but I don't listen at THX volumes (I need my ears long term).
Did you end up gettting the oratorio or stay with the Maestro?
I have a pair of the VA Mahlers for the front and waltzs for the surrounds and a Maestro for the center. I have been wanting to get a Oratorio center, but not quite certain if it is worth it.
I am using Mcintosh MC-207 amp and MX-119 pre along with a Denon 3910.
I actually had the Maestro and upgraded to the Oratorio, but have since sold te Maestro and went with the phantom center. Fronts are the Aerial 10-T's. The Oratotio did offer a significant level of improvement over the Maestro, the first movie we watched with it my wife commented on the difference and she normally does not notice when I make changes to the HT setup. With your current setup go ahead and put the processor into center phantom mode, sit where you normally do to watch the movie and compare the dialouge and overall ambiance with the center channel activated and then with the phantom. If you definately prefer the center playing then you will probably want to spring for the Oratorio. If you find that you like the phantom mode just as much as when the center is activated, there would be no reaseon to upgrade. Your speakers have more than enough ability to handle complex symphony arrangements and place the various instruments in a compelling soundstage. They will have no trouble creating the same environment for most HT soundtracks, all of corse
Agree with you that using a range of material with the cmparison is prudent. In my personal situation I give a clear edge to no center with most of the concert videos I have heard. Across a spectrum of other movies, (Gladiator, Remember the Titans, Terminator 2, Seabiscuit & Shawshank Redemption, & Finding Nemo) I don't feel like I was missing out on anything I would have gotten in the theatre. In the instance of War of the Worlds, (the new one) the home experince had much more of a "jump factor" than the theatre, a concensus shared by the number of times my daughter flew out of the couch during this presentation. With the cost of additional amplification, cableing, and the center taken into account. In my instance I found that I could get a better return on my investment by sinking thes dollars into a better processor or amplifier. For me to add a speaker that would compliment the Aerial 10-T's, additional wiring and an additional channel of amplification to match the Ayre, would run at least $3,000 and this is assuming I can find some of it here on Audiogon. In this instance I just do not see the rerurn in enjoyment of the movie experience to be anywhere near the needed expenditures.