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The Keystone of Any Surround-Sound Setup Is a Good Center Channel – These Are Our Favorites

What is it that makes the moviegoing experience so exciting? Part of it is certainly the smell of popcorn and seeing the visuals on a big screen. But you can get a pretty big screen in a home theater, as well as some decent microwave popcorn. The thing that really sets the theater experience apart from the home experience is the sound. Whether it’s an arthouse film with a moody score or a tentpole superhero movie, the sound is the thing that truly immerses you in the cinematic experience.

The thing about theater sound that makes it immersive isn’t just the fact that it’s loud. Rather, it’s surround sound that truly makes a movie pop off the screen. The key to getting surround sound right is that different sounds have to come from different places. A door creaking in a horror movie might sound like it’s coming from the left of your seat, and an explosion in an action movie could sound like it’s happening all around you. But, when it comes to dialogue, you want it to be front and center. Spoken words should sound like they’re coming from as close to the screen as possible. In order to do that at home, you need a center channel speaker.

Naturally, a center channel speaker should be placed near the screen. If it’s a perforated projection screen, you can place the center channel behind the screen. If you’re using a TV, placing the speakers below will be the best way to accomplish the desired effect. Additionally, you’ll want the speakers to be angled toward where people are sitting. Placing the speaker correctly will make the dialogue sound like it’s coming from the people on screen. Whether you’re making up a simple 3.1 setup, a robust 5.1 setup, or an immersive 7.1 setup, the center channel is going to be an absolutely essential component.

While no movie buff would want to give up the theater-going experience, having a great home theater can make home-viewings as close to the director’s intention as possible. Even if you’re not an audiophile or a movie obsessive, a center channel can still be a solid investment if you constantly find yourself straining to hear the dialogue. If turning the volume way up in speaking parts and way down when there’s action sounds like a familiar problem to you, your viewing experience may very well be enhanced by a center channel speaker. We’ve rounded up affordable picks for the casual viewer and high-quality speakers for the armchair audio engineer.

1. Micca Center Channel Speaker

This listing lets you choose between a variety of speakers, including several different sets of bookshelf speakers, as well as this center channel speaker. Micca may not be the best-known name in audio equipment, but its quality compared with the cost has made it a highly coveted option. The woofer is made from durable carbon fiber and the tweeter has a silk dome. It has an 18dB crossover, providing dynamic sound.

Pros: Reasonable cost for a high-quality speaker. Compact but powerful 4-inch carbon fiber woofer and silk dome 0.75-inch tweeter. Small, space-saving speaker. Good crossover.

Cons: Could have clearer highs.

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2. Sony SSCS8 Center Channel Speaker – Black

Across the board, Sony is known for making high-quality electronics, and this center channel speaker is no different. This listing includes subwoofers, bookshelf speakers, and floor-standing speakers. The center channel speaker has two 4-inch woofers and a 1-inch tweeter. This speaker provides clear dialogue when watching movies or TV shows, but it also produces good sound quality when listening to music. For some technical details, it has a 55 Hz–25 kHz frequency response range and a 145 watts maximum-input power.

Pros: High-quality two-way speaker from a well-regarded brand, good for dialogue in movies as well as listening to music.

Cons: It’s larger and heavier than some speakers with comparable woofer sizes.

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3. Polk Audio Blackstone TL1 Speaker Center Channel

This center channel has two, 2.5-inch drivers and one 0.5-inch tweeter, and the curved shape is designed to reduce distortion by aligning the acoustic centers of the driver and tweeter. The aperiodic-tuned rear port extends the bass response for room-filling sound. As for the dimensions, it’s a compact size and light, weighing in just under four pounds. That’ll make it easy to mount it or put in a media console without any worries about fit. As is the case with most speakers in a 5.1 set up, it’s best to match the speakers to the same brand and product line.

Pros: Compact, space-saving speaker with a silk dome tweeter and two drivers. Aperiodic-tuned rear bass port.

Cons: Smaller tweeters and drivers than some of the other options on this list.

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4. Pioneer SP-C22 Center Channel Speaker

In terms of looks, this option from Pioneer takes the cake. It has a rounded speaker grille in a rectangular frame with curved sides, blending straight lines and curvatures for a sophisticated look. The textured wood design also sets a nice contrast with the modern shape. It has two 4-inch woofers and a soft-dome tweeter. It has a 6-element crossover and a frequency range of 55 kHz to 20 kHz. 

Pros: 4-inch woofers are larger than some of the other options on this list, and the speaker is designed by one of the most renowned audio engineers, Andrew Jones. The design has a sophisticated and stylish look.

Cons: Large dimensions may make it harder to place without blocking anything.

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5. Polk Signature Series S35 Center Channel Speaker

A more powerful option from Polk is this center channel speaker featuring six 3-inch drivers and one 1-inch tweeter. Despite the fact that it is more powerful than many of the other options on this list, it features a space-saving design. At just over 4 inches tall, it’s compact enough to not obstruct the view of the TV or screen, and it can be placed in even the most narrow media consoles.

Pros: Good value for a speaker that is as powerful as this one is. Speaker has six drivers and one tweeter. Its slim design makes it easy to place on a media console or mount under a TV.

Cons: Not as strong bass response as some might hope for.

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6. Klipsch R-52C Center Channel Home Speaker

When it comes to high-quality audio equipment, Klipsch is a name that will come up a lot. But that name does come at a premium. This sleek setup from the brand features two 5.25-inch copper woofers and one 1-inch aluminum tweeter. The medium-density fibreboard construction is designed to reduce vibration and maintain accuracy. The grille is magnetically attached, making it easy to remove if so desired. The sound is clear for dialogue and will also enhance the music listening experience.

Pros: High-quality build consisting of large, 5.25-inch spun-copper injection-molded graphite dual woofers. Good for music and movies. Magnetically-attached grille makes it easy to have the drivers exposed or covered.

Cons: Expensive.

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7. Polk Audio T30 Center Channel Speaker

Polk has been around for almost 50 years, and they’ve built a well-earned reputation for being a brand that makes affordable and quality audio equipment. This model, called the T30, is a center channel speaker that features a 1-inch tweeter and two 5.25-inch dynamic balance drivers. It’s constructed from a medium-density fibreboard that is designed to reduce unwanted distortion and rattling, and it’s designed to be able to be easily paired with most TV systems.

Pros: Good value, available with a variety of standing speakers or bookshelf speakers to create a surround sound experience without having to use multiple brands. Produces clear dialogue and is suitable for listening to music as well.

Cons: Somewhat bulky and heavy.

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