Question re: HT furniture/set up

As I understand it the center channel carries 60%+ of a movie's soundtrack. Its positioning is therefore critical and opinion is that it should be below/above the TV, about the same height as, and aligned with, the left and right speakers.

Which presents a problem to me as I try figuring out how to set up my HT gear. I'd like to support the following:

a) three components on LHS
b) three on RHS
c) Gap in the middle for the center channel speaker
d) On top of the above sits a 42" TV (LCD RPTV or plasma)

Its easy to find something that can do (a,b,d). The trick is to find something that will support my center channel. I can't seem to find anything that supports the center channel beneath the TV, leave alone bring it to the same height as the left and right speakers.

This must be a "solved problem" so please share your recommendations and solutions. Where should I look? what should I consider?

For context: The center channel speaker is 21"x17"x11" (HxWxD). So that center gap can be 23"x19" OR 19"x23" (as I can orient the speaker horizontally). The components are EAD PowerMaster 1000 amp, Krell HTS pre/pro, Marantz DVD player, Snell XA1900 LCR speakers all of which are equal sized (isn't the center channel usually smaller than the Left or Right?).

Thank you!
You have the same problem many of us have, our eyes and ears are pretty much at the same level. How to place the center of the picture and the center channel speaker at eye/ear level? Well, the best I could do was to raise the picture a couple of my center speaker below the screen and tilt it up towards ear level. This has placed my screen just a bit above the proper height and my center channel just a bit will have to bend on this one.

Consider NOT using a center channel. If most of the people watching are not too off-center from the screen there will probably not be a problem. Try it out: use the phantom mode or set the center speaker to off on your processor. Doing this blends all the center channel audio to the main LR speakers. You still get the stereo effect on music and sound effects AND your center channel audio will sound like it's coming from the screen because it's between the mains. I prefer this setup.
I'm using a Synergy "Twin 30" rack by Salamander Designs in the same configuration you want and it looks/functions great! The only difference is your center-channel speaker is taller than mine, so you would have to use slightly taller uprights than I do to create the space for the speaker (placed above your components and just below the TV monitor).

I would recommend the Synergy model "Twin 20" with the TV support extension kit. You can easily fit 3 components on each side in the rack on their own (adjustable) shelves with room to breathe. You might have to specify 20" upright supports with the TV kit to get the height you need for the Snell. (I think the standard height supports included with the kit are only around 9" or 10"). You would end up with a total rack height of about 40" which is not too terribly high for a plasma or other tabletop monitor and your center-channel will be at just about ear-level when you are seated.

Check out to view their Synergy line. Mine is Cherry with frosted glass doors, black posts and black perforated steel sides for ventilation. The WAF (wife acceptance factor) is very high with this unit. It is a very nice looking piece of furniture once it's all together. I added black speaker cloth to hide the speaker and it really completes the look into a nicely integrated piece of furniture!
I echo the no center channel theory. No matter what center channel speaker I used, it didn't sound right with my main front Thiel's. Unless you are willing to go with a horizontal speaker ( which I would never consider) you are S.O.L.
While I agree that a phantom center image can sound terrific on a properly set up stereo pair AND it can be very challenging to get satisfactory results from a physical center-channel speaker relative to your mains, I think it's important to remember that the standard specification as defined by Dolby in a surround-sound playback system intended for movie soundtracks calls for a physical center-channel speaker. The Dolby spec will "fold down" information in the "phantom" setting to make recordings encoded in Dolby surround backward compatable with two-channel systems, but try inviting five or six friends over for a movie and trying to cram everyone into the (fairly narrow) sweet spot. In most rooms/setups this is just not practical. The center-channel serves to anchor the on-screen dialog and effects to the video image and broadens the soundfield dramatically. In fact, the original spec for what we now call "stereo" actually started out as a multichannel (3 or 4 channel) format used in the commercial theaters of the 40's and 50's. Two- channel stereo for music playback was a compromise made necessary by limitations of the good ol' needle-in-the-groove record. (they hadn't figured out how to encode a "quad" mix until much later). You can get the full scoop of the history and timeline the development of stereo and multichannel recording and playback on Dolby's website. It's an interesting read.

The point I'm trying to make is that a center-channel speaker can sound great when it's a good design and it's set up properly.

My center speaker is a horizontal design, (Hales Revelation Center), and I think it works very well with my floorstanding Revelation Two's. The designer Paul Hales added a midrange driver between the dual 6 1/2" bass drivers to alleviate most of the "lobing" you hear off-axis in the critical midrange on the typical "woofer-tweeter-woofer" designs that many others use. More expensive? yes. Worth it? YES.

One trick I'm using that I learned when I was 'in the biz' is to use acoustic damping material around the center speaker if it's placed in a cabinet as many people do. Remember that any speaker, even a monopole, actually emits sound energy in all directions. Lining the shelf on all sides with the right material will slow down soundwaves and make the speaker sound as if it's positioned in a larger space. I've found that this will reduce the "cupped" or "beamy" sound that is so common to center-channel speakers when they are positioned very close to acoustically reflective surfaces.

Owens Corning makes a product that works very well for this purpose and is fairly inexpensive. It comes in 2'x4'x2" sheets and is made of fiberglass that is compressed so it's fairly rigid and can easily be cut to size. The shop I worked for spec'd this material for their in-wall speaker installations to acoustically damp the area behind the speaker (most in-walls have an open rear (no box)) with very good results. This material can be messy so I covered mine with speaker cloth puchased at a local fabric store.

As I said, you may have to work at it, but the results can sound excellent!

P.S. I heard through the grapevine that Paul's right-hand-man at Hales (Larry Reagan) is now with Thiel. Maybe some great new product in the HT arena is in the works at Thiel!