Center channel speakers are specifically designed to provide clear and accurate sound. They excel at reproducing dialogue and thus are tailored to provide accurate midrange and upper frequencies. The best center channel speakers can improve the presence of vocal frequencies in your home theatre setup, adding a layer of immersion and improving the separation of frequencies, particularly those mid to upper frequencies. They also help to improve the soundstage by assisting in the transition of sounds between your left and right channel speakers.
Most 3-Way Speaker
The Monolith THX-365C is one for the audiophiles. While it is more expensive, the quality of life additions such as the magnetic grille, in combination with outstanding sound and 3-way design, make it a great choice.
Bowers & Wilkins HTM72 S2
The monochrome, sharp-edged appearance of the Bowers & Wilkins HTM72 S2 is the cherry on top of what is already an outstanding speaker that offers detailed sound with a noticeable depth.
Polk Audio Blackstone TL1
Even though the Blackstone TL1 isn’t the most compact speaker on the list, the design makes it easy to mount. Whether you’re placing it on a shelf or directly to the wall, it makes the process simple.
Center Channel Speaker Overview
|1. Klipsch R-52C||95dB||100W RMS|
|2. Sony SSCS8||88dB||100W RMS|
|3. Bowers & Wilkins HTM72 S2||87dB||120W RMS|
|4. DT ProCenter 1000||90dB||150W RMS|
|5. Elac Debut 2.0 C5.2||87dB||100W RMS|
|6. Monolith THX-365C||89dB||300W RMS|
|7. Q Acoustics 5090C||90dB||100W RMS|
|8. Polk Audio Blackstone TL1||90dB||120W RMS|
Incorporating Center Channel Speakers Into Your Home Audio Setup
Center channel speakers can be used in various ways. They are best incorporated into an extensive home theatre speaker setup or in conjunction with floor-standing or bookshelf speakers. Less commonly, they are used independently to improve the performance of your television’s built-in speakers. When used independently, the stereo imaging won’t be as good as it would be when paired with additional left and right-channel speakers. You will also sacrifice the width of the frequencies covered.
Because center channel speakers are built to reproduce higher frequencies, they will sometimes lack low-end response. This is particularly true for small center channel speakers with subsequent smaller drivers.
In many cases, a center channel speaker will be included in a surround sound bundle. Keep this in mind if you’re looking to buy center channel speakers but also need additional speakers for your home theatre system. It may be more affordable to buy a full surround sound system that includes its own center channel speaker.
We’ve included a range of center channel speakers from various audio brands, forming part of a larger home theatre system. For timber-matching and subsequent improved audio quality, you should pair these speakers with their matching left/right channel speaker models, whether that be floor-standing speakers, bookshelf speakers, or surround sound satellite speakers.
1. Klipsch R-52C
The Klipsch R-52C is part of the Klipsch Reference Series of speakers, one of Klipsch’s most popular home audio series. If you already own part of the Reference Series, the R-52C will be accurately timber-matched, offering a simple and effective solution for existing Klipsch customers.
The R-52C features 5.25″ copper spun injection-molded graphite woofers and a 1″ aluminum LTS tweeter, which utilizes Klipsch’s 90×90 square Tractrix Horn design. The woofers can produce a punchy and deep low-end response that, when combined with the clarity provided by the tweeter design, ensures a broad spectrum of frequencies that excel in clarity and depth. The rear-firing port positively influences the low-end response, which provides a more consistent bass.
In terms of design, it uses a medium-density fiberboard to reduce resonance while also improving the speaker’s durability. With the grille removed, these speakers sport the same brass-colored drivers, adding the flare that we’re used to from Klipsch’s reference series.
It has a sensitivity of 95 dB, making it an extremely efficient speaker capable of producing a lot of volume. With an impedance of 8 Ohms, it is easy to find the right amplifier to drive the Klipsch R-52C and allows it to fit into existing home theatre installations fairly easily.
Overall, the Klipsch R-52C is a center channel speaker capable of producing accurate audio with a clear and detailed midrange and treble, along with a deep bass extension that provides more immersion and intelligibility to your entertainment experience.
2. Sony SSCS8
The SSCS8 from Sony is a moderately sized yet powerful center channel speaker from their Core Series of speakers. The SSCS series is one of Sony’s most popular surround sound speakers and is even featured on our list of the best floor-standing speakers. The SSCS8 is timber-matched towards the rest of the Sony Core Series of speakers, offering additional detail to your audio setup creating more immersion in your home theatre.
The SSCS8 is a 2-way speaker that has two 4″ reinforced woofers and a single 1″ polyester tweeter. The woofers are capable of reproducing good low-end frequencies, but lack some depth and are best used with movies and series, more than music. Still, as with most center channel speakers, you’re going to want to pair it with dedicated L/R channel speakers and a subwoofer to get the most out of your audio setup.
The SSCS8 is not an in-wall speaker and instead is best placed under your television on a cabinet or shelf. Because of the rear reflex port, it’s advisable to not install it directly onto the wall itself, as that can block this port.
With the grille on, the SSCS8 has an unassuming aesthetic that can blend into most decor. With the front grille removed and the drivers exposed, the speaker acquires some additional character, revealing the textured drivers.
The SSCS8 can be trusted to provide an accurate and detailed midrange, with enough vibrance in the upper ranges to promote a nuanced listening experience with more immersion. When combined with other speakers from the Core Series range, a comprehensive sound experience is possible. It has an impedance of 6 Ohm, with a peak power of 290W. The sensitivity of the speaker, however, is somewhat modest at 88 dB.
3. Bowers & Wilkins HTM72 S2
The Bower & Wilkins HTM72 S2 is a premium center channel speaker that forms a part of the Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series 2 range. If paired with other speakers from this range, you will get a perfectly matched timber that provides a seamless transition between your left and right channels.
This speaker is designed with accuracy and detail at the forefront. It features two 5″ Continuum Cone drivers that cover the low and midrange with a powerful bass presence. An aluminum double-dome tweeter covers the upper frequencies with pristine detail, giving additional nuance to music and movies. The tweeter uses the Bower & Wilkins’ Nautilus Tapering Tube technology, which assists in the reduction of unwanted sound artifacts, providing additional clarity. The sound profile on the HTM72 S2 is balanced and accurate, without much in the way of frequency peaks or troughs.
Visually, the design of the HTM72 S2 is nothing short of stunning. It features a clean design without any brand logo present on the grille. With the grille removed and the drivers exposed, this speaker really shows off its beauty. Void of visible screws, the textured drivers stand out enough to get any guest talking. The cabinet is constructed using MDF (medium-density fiberboard) along with additional damping materials to ensure a precise and distortion-free listening experience.
The HTM72 S2 has a maximum power rating of 120W with a sensitivity of 87 dB and a frequency response range of 48Hz and 33kHz. While the HTM72 S2 lacks some low-end depth, this is only a concern for those looking to use this speaker independently. When paired, as intended, with additional speakers from the 700 Series 2 range, this center channel speaker does precisely what it is intended to do, bringing lots of extra clarity and detail.
4. Definitive Technology ProCenter 1000
The Definitive Technology ProCenter 1000 is a relatively small center channel speaker that measures 5 x 14.75 x 5 inches and forms part of the ProCinema series. It features two 4.5″ midrange drivers, which are coupled with pressure-driven planar low-frequency radiators of the same size. For the upper frequencies, there is a single 1″ aluminum dome tweeter that can bring forward the small nuances in movie and music production.
For the best performance, the ProCenter 1000 should be paired with the ProCinema series of speakers. This will ensure perfect timber-matching, which subsequently improves the overall soundstage, especially with the transition of audio across channels.
The compact design allows for it to be used mounted against the wall, under your television, or placed on top of shelves and cupboards. At 5″ tall, it can obscure TVs that aren’t wall-mounted and are placed in front of them.
Like the Sony SCSS8, the ProCenter 1000 features a fairly standard appearance with the attached grille. When the grille is removed and drivers are exposed, the speaker struggles to carry across the same clean aesthetic as something like the Klipsch – primarily due to the amount of large, visible screws on the ProCenter 1000. It is something that won’t bother everyone but is worth noting, particularly for those who enjoy exposing their drivers.
It features magnetic shielding, which helps reduce interference with televisions. This allows you to place the speaker close to the screen, which is useful for setups with limited space. It has a maximum power output of 100W and operates with an impedance of 8 Ohm. With a sensitivity of 90 dB, it is also fairly efficient.
5. Elac Debut 2.0 C5.2
The Elac Debut 2.0 C5.2 forms a part of the Debut 2.0 series, where it is timber-matched for the best audio performance across your sound system. While it can be used by itself as a solo speaker, for the best performance, it should be paired with at least the Debut 2.0 left and right channel speakers or ideally paired with a full Debut 2.0 surround sound setup.
It is a fairly large and powerful center channel speaker, consisting of two rigid 5.25″ aramid-fiber cone woofers for punchy bass and low-midrange and a single 1″ silk dome tweeter, which produces stunning detail in the upper frequencies. ELAC has set a standard for accurate consumer audio reproduction, and the Debut 2.0 C5.2 continues this tradition with what is a generally balanced yet rich sound signature. The low-end is further enhanced by the two front-firing dual-flared bass ports, which are located on either side of the speaker’s driver array.
Visually, this speaker looks beautiful both with and without the grille. When the drivers are exposed, the tones of silver, gray, and black work well with the ash vinyl finish. The screw placement is not obnoxious and doesn’t distract much from the drivers, while the bass ports add a bit of post-modern flare.
It isn’t the smallest center channel speaker by any means, yet it is compact enough to be considered versatile.
The Elac Debut 2.0 C5.2 can add plenty of value to your existing Debut 2.0 stereo or surround sound setup, offering additional clarity and detail and improving the soundstage.
6. Monolith THX-365C
Released in 2019, the Monolith THX-365C is a fairly new release of center channel speakers. It is a premium speaker that features 6.5″ woofers along with a 2″ silk dome midrange driver and a 1″ silk dome tweeter. It is timber-matched to Monolith’s THX Ultra series. While it isn’t the most affordable speaker, the price is justified, with the Monolith THX-365C looking stunning and excelling in its audio performance.
It uses high-density fiberboard to construct the cabinet and features a magnetic grille that can easily be removed. High-density fiberboard (HDF) is different from medium-density fiberboard (MDF) in that it is stronger, making the speaker more durable. It also has a smoother finish than that found with MDF cabinets, which ultimately provides a better build quality. The design also features internal bracing, which improves the overall audio quality by reducing excess resonance.
The primary 6.5″ woofers utilize long fiber pulp cones and nitrile butadiene rubber, which helps improve dampening for a deep yet clean low-end. The midrange frequencies are covered with a single 2″ silk dome driver that uses a neodymium magnet and aluminum shorting ring. The neodynamic magnet offers improved efficiency and high flux density, while the aluminum shorting ring assists in reducing inductance.
While many center channel speakers focus on midrange and upper frequencies, the Monolith THX-365C has a wide frequency response, producing both impressively deep bass and highly detailed and clear upper frequencies.
Overall, the Monolith THX-365C justifies its relatively high price point with its premium construction and vibrant, wide sound signature. Because this is a 3-way speaker, it is more capable than most center channel speakers to be used independently. However, you’ll want to pair this speaker with other Monolith speakers with the best timber matching for the best performance.
It has a frequency response spanning between 20hZ and 25kHz, with an impedance of 8 Ohm and a power handling measurement of 150W RMS and 300W peak power.
7. Q Acoustics 5090C
The Q Acoustics 5090C forms a part of the Q Acoustics 5000 Series of speakers and is timber-matched to precision with the rest of this speaker range. The 5090 has a distinct design, with rounded corners, and the speaker looks relatively inconspicuous with the grille on. When the grille is removed and drivers exposed, the true nature of the design can be admired. What sets this speaker apart from most center channel speakers on the market is the range of four color variants that you can pick from. It is available in black, light wood, dark wood, and white finish.
Regarding the drivers, it features two 4.5″ drivers, which cover the low-end and midrange frequencies, while the upper frequencies are covered by a single 1″ hermetically sealed tweeter. It has a lowered crossover point, which helps smooth the transition between channels.
This speaker produced incredibly clear midrange and upper frequencies, with lots of detail. The cabinet utilizes medium-density materials to improve dampening and refine acoustic properties. The design results in a tight yet full bass response and a lack of unwanted resonance. The midrange is balanced and warm, while the high frequencies are bright, balanced, and detailed.
It has a sensitivity of 90.5 dB, with a minimum impedance of 3.2 Ohm and a nominal impedance of 6 Ohm. It has a maximum power output of 150W.
8. Polk Audio Blackstone TL1
The Polk Audio Blackstone TL 1 is a compact center channel speaker that integrates seamlessly into Polk’s Blackstone TL series of speakers, with perfect timber-matching that ensures a smooth transition in sound between channels.
At 6.5″ tall, 3.125″ wide, and 3.125″ deep, this is an extremely small speaker, and there are limitations that come with this form factor. It features a 2.5″ full-range driver for the low-end and midrange, with a 0.5″ silk dome tweeter for the high-end frequencies.
The full-range driver can produce quality mid and upper bass response, along with clear midrange – but it lacks a deep low-end extension. Despite not having the same depth as larger drivers are capable of producing, the bass is still punchy and authoritative. A standout feature of the Blackstone TL1 is the detailed sound, which is further assisted by the Time Lens technology, which is designed to improve imaging.
Because of the size, this speaker is more versatile than many others in the center channel space. You can easily move this speaker around and won’t need to install it inside of the wall, though mounting it on the wall is the recommended mounting style, depending on your setup. It is even compact enough to be placed on a small shelf or TV cabinet. The presence of magnetic shielding also allows this speaker to be placed close to your television without interference.
The Blackstone TL1 is best suited for moderate audio requirements. It holds value for its clarity, detail, and ease of use. However, it is still a passive speaker and requires an amplifier to drive. It has a maximum power rating of 125W and operates with an impedance of 8 Ohm.
Buyer’s Guide to Center Channel Speakers
Center channel speakers can be identified by their unique horizontal driver alignment. Traditional speakers have a vertical driver alignment, with woofers and midrange drivers typically being positioned at the bottom, while a tweeter is most commonly placed above it. In center channel speakers, there are most commonly a series of between 2 and 5 drivers that span horizontally, with tweeters centered between them.
There are hundreds of center channel speakers on the market, making it challenging to know what separates them from each other. In this buyer’s guide, we touch on some of the crucial considerations customers need to make to ensure they buy the best center channel speaker for their intents and purposes.
Mounting & Placement Style
Center channel speakers come in a few different mounting styles. Some form a part of an in-wall installation and can be paired with traditional left-right channel in-wall speakers to improve the transition between channels and provide a more immersive audio reproduction. If you opt for an in-wall center channel speaker, consider the installation requirements, as you’ll need to mount the speaker above or below your television, and depending on your existing furniture, this can cause problems for some.
Other center channel speakers may not require an in-wall installation and are made to be placed above or below your television on top of a shelf, cabinet, or mounting bracket. These solutions are easy to set up while not affecting the overall audio performance in any way.
Timbre Matching Center Channel Speakers
Timbre matching is the process of ensuring that the center channel speaker is capable of matching the same tonal qualities as the rest of the speakers in your audio setup. While the concept of timbre matching isn’t exclusive to center channel speakers, it is the most important speaker to consider timbre matching with.
Since center channel speakers act as a bridge between your left and right-channel audio, when there is a vast difference in the tonal qualities of your L/R channel and center channel, it can become easily noticeable.
When opting for a center channel speaker, the safest option for timbre matching is to purchase one from the same range as your left and right-channel speakers. This will ensure a good tonal balance, and the audio will blend seamlessly.
Not all center channel speakers are tied to a large surround sound configuration, however, and may require you to try and match these tonal qualities through other’s experiences and manufacturer recommendations.
Sensitivity, Power Handling & Impedance
Sensitivity, power handling, and impedance are distinctly separate topics, but all fall under the umbrella of amplification. These values, which you’ll find in the technical specifications of a center channel speaker, refer to how much resistance, power, and capabilities your speakers have in relation to your amplifier.
Sensitivity relates to how easy the speaker is to drive and, subsequently, to its volume potential. In the speaker specifications, you will most commonly see sensitivity referred to in the following way (as an example): 90dB (1W @ 1m). This tells us that the speaker produces 90dB of volume from 1W of power when measured at a distance of 1 meter. A higher sensitivity doesn’t necessarily mean it will have a higher ceiling for volume. Still, a speaker with higher sensitivity will require less power to reach the same volume output as a speaker with lower sensitivity.
For center channel speakers, you’ll find sensitivity ranges, most commonly between 85 dB and 92 dB. A sensitivity lower than 85 dB is considered low and will require more power to get it loud. Sensitivity between 85 and 90 dB is considered average, and most speakers fall into this range, usually on the higher side of this range. A sensitivity of more than 90 dB is considered high, and these speakers are very efficient in turning power into volume.
Center channel speakers, like most high-quality home audio, are typically passive and require an amplifier to power them. This is where power handling becomes important. Power handling requirements tell you how many watts your amplifier needs to be able to support. Consider both the peak power and the RMS, as center channel speakers need to be able to be powered sufficiently without being overloaded.
If you already have an amplifier, you may wish to match your center channel speaker to your existing amp to save costs. Pay attention to the channel output of the amplifier, and opt for a solution that matches. For example, if you have an amplifier that has 150W per channel, you’ll ideally match it to a 150W or slightly higher than that (eg: 180W).
Impedance matching is important for center channel speaker installations. Impedance refers to the resistance of alternating current and requires consideration when buying center channel speakers, especially if the speaker isn’t from the same model range as your existing home theatre installation. Amplifiers will often support an impedance range (most commonly between 4 and 8 Ohm). However, this varies between amps and should be confirmed prior to purchase.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a center channel speaker?
A center channel speaker is a specific speaker type with a horizontal design, typically consisting of two or more drivers. Usually, a couple of midrange drivers and a dedicated tweeter. These speakers are made to assist in the transition of audio between the left and right channels and provide better clarity and distinction for midrange and upper frequencies, specifically dialog.
Where should I place my center channel speaker?
A center channel speaker should be placed in the center point between your left and right-channel speakers. When speakers are placed in the correct position, this usually translates to the center channel speaker being placed in line with your television (assuming you’re using it in a home theatre environment).
They can be placed either above or below your television. The best performance will be if the speaker is aligned at the same height as your head, again, in line with your left and right channel speaker’s drivers.
Do I need a center-channel speaker that matches my existing speakers?
You don’t necessarily need to use the same center-channel speaker model as the rest of your home theatre system, but doing so will ensure the best compatibility. If you opt for a speaker that is different, you need to ensure it is timber-matched to your existing speakers to ensure a balanced transition between channels.
Should I get in-wall center channel speakers or regular ones?
Whether you opt for an in-wall center-channel speaker or one that is placed on a surface is ultimately your choice. In-wall variants have the benefit of taking up less room but are more complicated to set up initially. If you have an in-wall speaker system already, opting for an in-wall center channel speaker will tie your room together better than a standalone variant.