Phantom Center sound better than a center speaker?

I was messing around with my HT setup last night. I have B&W 603S2's in the front with a B&W ASW600 sub. I picked up some Axiom speakers for surrounds and have a VP50 as a center surround speaker for my 6.1 setup. I currently do not have a center but will be getting a B&W LCR600.

Some of my rears have not come in yet so I figured I would break in my rear center surround by using it as my center channel front for a while. I knew the sound would be compressed since the VP-50 has small dual 4.5" mid's while the B&W's have dual 6.5" mid/mid-bass. However I was not prepared to have the sound literally shrink away. I watched TV (analog inputs) and DVD's for grins and came to the easy conclusion that the center I have is not up to the task of keeping up with my front towers.

However, here is my question:

Does a phantom center sound better than actually having a dedicated center speaker in HT? The LCR600 comes with dual 6.5" midbass speakers and a matching tweet but will it have the output to fill out the soundstage? My fronts are only 12' apart and the room floorspace is smallish 16x18 but there is alot of airspace due to vaulted ceilings and no wall between the kitchen and the family room.

Any help is appreciated.

Sorry for the long winded post.

Hi Jeff.

My experience is that if you sit right in the sweet spot, then the left/right main speakers image properly and the center channel is not needed. But if you're not in the sweet spot, a center channel "anchors" the dialog to the screen rather than appearing to come from the closest (left or right) speaker.

My center channel is identical to my L/R, except for the woofer (Dunlavy Alethas and SM-1 for the center) so I get a real uniform soundstage across the front. If your center is different than your L/R (and in most cases it is) if it's inferior to your L/R, you'll really notice it as there is a much greater amount of information coming the center channel than the L/R. That's one of the reasons some people advocate identical speakers all around.

The short answer is "No", but....

This assumes that the center front is the same as the Left and Right speakers. In many cases a solo performer is located in the center channel. It is amazing how well a center sound source images in the space between two speakers, but this is a trick that only works when the listener is critically located. A much more robust soundstage is generated when there is a center channel speaker to reproduce centrally located sound. Also, you can put your Left and Right speakers further apart, again providing a better soundstage.
Thanks for the input... here is some more info.

Since my Left and Right speakers are both tower style I cannot use the same speaker for the center however the center I am looking at shares the same mid-bass drivers and tweeter.

Unfortunately I cannot move my speakers farther apart due to room constraints (wet bar) and WAF :-(

Thanks again for the input folks!
I am using two speakers for my center channel, one on each side of the monitor. I never could get used to speakers above or below. It might be easier to get two smaller speakers of the same brand as your towers, as I did. You can use a Y adapter from your pre-pro, to a small stereo amp, to power each speaker. For me it's this approach or the "phantom" center ch.
Unless you've got your mains spread out pretty far and / or the mains don't do voice very well on their own, adding a center channel can make matters worse. If i had my HT system set up like most people do i.e. with their mains about 6.5 - 8.5 feet apart, i wouldn't bother with a center channel. Having the speakers that close together with a center speaker gives you more of a "wide mono" presentation than a R / C / L image due to the lack of separation and "colliding imagery". This might be different if using "micro" speakers in your system though, as the limited output from such a design will need as much help as it can get. Obviously, what works best is room / system dependent.

For sake of reference as to where i'm coming from, my mains are about 14' apart ( center to center ). The center channel uses identical drivers for the tweeter ( .75" dome ), upper mid ( 2" dome ) and two mid-woofers ( 8" each ) to what the mains and the rears have. The mains also have have two 12" woofers per cabinet with the surrounds having dual 10's per cabinet. Obviously, adding either of these woofers would be somewhat "overkill" for the center, especially since the center can do 35 Hz with authority as it is.

Having said all of that, i think that you'll find that it is very important to have the "voice" of the center channel speaker match that of the mains. On top of that, proper time alignment in terms of when the sound arrives at your ears from the L / C / R must also be properly dialed in. Otherwise, you end up with different parts of the audio spectrum sticking out from the various speakers AND the sound itself is not coherent since the imaging is disturbed by various arrival times.

Our brains localize sound by the differences in arrival times, frequency responses and reflections. By having different dispersion patterns, frequency responses and time coefficients, a center channel that is not well matched and properly "dialed in" can surely "shrink" your soundstage and upset the cohesiveness of the presentation compared to what you would otherwise hear with two speakers and / or three speakers that are operating properly. Sean
sean...For large musical ensembles, a symphony orchestra or the like, lack of a center speaker is not significant. However, where there is a solo performer, vocal or instrumental, or movie dialogue, and that performer is isolated in the center channel (per usual practice) I find a center channel speaker to be essential. Somehow, having two Joan Baezs singing in opposite corners of the room, and asking my brain to pretend she is only one is distracting.
Hiroshima - See my $.02 on this subject under the "Question re: HT furniture setup" thread. I vote "yes" for using a center-channel speaker for HT! Incidentally, the "LCR" model designation for that speaker stands for "Left-Center-Right". You can either use 3 of them up front or mix one in with your 603's. They are voiced to blend very well with any of the other models in the 600 series B&W's..
Thanks for all the repsonses. I think I have gathered that some like the dedicated center and others don't but it seems to depend on how many people are watching the movie. Since my audience varies, I will try to audition the center before I pick it up and see what sounds best.

Thanks again all.
El: the fact that you have your speakers spread out in opposite corners tells me that you probably do need a center to fill in the gap. Like i said, the closer that the speakers are together, the less likely you are to need a center channel. Sean
sean...True, my speakers are further apart than I would put them if I didn't have that center speaker. (The geometry of the room dictates wide spacing, and hence the center channel). However, even with "normal" spacing, I find the "phantom" center to be unsatisfactory unless the listener location is fixed and optimal.