- Best Mid Range Center Channel Speaker
- Best High End Center Channel Speaker
- Best Budget Center Channel Speaker
Best Center Channel Speaker
The importance of center channel speakers is a matter of much debate among audio enthusiasts. For those not prepared to invest in a full system, or using their speakers in a smaller room, money may be better spent on higher quality floor or bookshelf speakers, or a good 2.1 system if extra bass is desired. On the other hand, no truly high end system is complete without a good center, which helps vocals and dialog remain clear over powerful subwoofer bass, and enhances the dimensionality of sound in larger rooms and home theaters.
Ultimately this is a matter of preference, and anyone looking to invest in a good system should try before buying if at all possible (looking up a local HiFi shop is the best place to start), but the size of room the system will be used in should certainly be taken into account. However few shops with speakers available for demo will be the exact size of your room, so when in doubt, assume that larger rooms to be outfitted with a subwoofer(s) will benefit from the additional midrange emphasis provided by a center channel, while smaller rooms typically require fewer speakers.
The speakers listed here are recognized for their price to performance ratio, as well as their ability to lift vocals above the mix to create a more realistic, 3-dimensional sound. Pick your price range and enjoy!
Best Mid Range Center Channel Speaker:
Stepping into the mid-range of full surround sound systems yields access to some of the world's most prestigious brands, and unveils sound in speakers that is "entry-level" by audiophile standards, meaning that, at this price point, we begin to experience true aural fidelity. Realistic and natural 3D sonic imagery, and full, undistorted extension at both high and low ends of the frequency spectrum are the hallmarks of truly high-end speakers, and though the systems referenced here are not the absolute best of the best (see our High End Speaker reviews for a true summit-fi experience), they are capable of producing sound that will satisfy all but the pickiest ears without exhibiting the audible flaws and limitations of lower-end systems. Subtle changes in sound can be achieved using different amps and setups, but the center channel exists mainly to provide clear vocals and enhance 3D imaging; though most full systems incorporate woofers, the center channel's duty is to provide low-frequency body to mid-range sounds, rather than capture the truly deep bass notes of explosions, drums, and synthesized bass tones. For these prices, you should expect true sonic realism, and the center channels listed here deliver the goods; please note, however, that, as both realism and price climb, so too does the need for proper speaker placement and acoustic treatments for your listening space. These speakers will offer substantial improvements over lower-end setups, but need to be properly set up to reveal their full potential, and have been selected for this list based on their levels of detail and distortion, as well as their ability to play at high volume, add vocal clarity and soundstage depth, and of course their overall bang-for-buck ratio when properly aligned with a full system, unless otherwise noted.
Earning its price with its convincing soundstage and excellent performance with movies, the Revel Concerta series promises a fully-capable surround sound experience. Music sounds great through the Concerta, but others sound better; however, if your are designing a setup mostly for movies, this Eric Harman-inspired system is sure to impress. Read Full Review
The Paradigm Monitor series, from top to bottom of the range, represent great values for home audio, and the Center 3 is their TOTL center channel. With the flexibility and dynamism to match the Monitor 7, 9, or 11 floor speakers, the Center 3 does not overwhelm with bass nor provide overly forward mids or treble; it is an easy-going, natural-sounding center, the price of which might be hard to swallow for some, but those with deep enough pockets will be rewarded with a deep soundstage and a very easy-to-like sound that does little to offend with either music or movies. Read Full Review
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A substantial upgrade over the RC-42, the mid-range center channel in the Klipsch's Reference series shows up its younger sibling with a fuller, more detailed sound and wider sonic stage. This is another winner from Klipsch that deserves full consideration from anyone wanting explosive, truly theater-like sound from their home system. Read Full Review
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Known the world over by audiophiles, producers, and home theater enthusiasts alike, Bowers and Wilkins produces some of the finest audio products in numerous segments of the market; they are best known, however, for their speakers. The 600 series offers remarkable sound quality, and is sure to please anyone with a wallet deep enough to complete the system, with the HTM61 serving as the centerpiece to this analytical yet extremely musical set of speakers. Read Full Review
A smaller, more affordable alternative destined for apartments and balanced checkbooks, the Mirage OS3-CC offers the same level of audio quality as products costing hundreds more. While aesthetics are not quite on par with the likes of B&W and Klipsh, Mirage's OS3 speakers more than earn their price with an impressive soundstage and even-handed presentation that works well for both movies and music. Read Full Review
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Best High End Center Channel Speaker:
Don't kid yourself - if you have come to this page, expect sticker shock. The speakers listed here have been chosen because they are the best mass-produced center channels on the market, and the prices fit their reputation. Don't come here expecting to cough up less than $10,000 on your whole system, and at least $1,000 on whatever you choose from this list.
These speakers earn their price, though. The center channel is largely responsible for producing a sense of depth, giving listeners a sense of how close or far in front a particular sound might be. Smaller satellite speakers typically satisfy to render sounds from behind, but producing a truly realistic center image can be a struggle for any speaker below a certain price; some specialists will recommend forgoing a center channel for all but the most expensive systems, simply because cheaper mids can be shouty and have a hard time producing enough dynamic depth to really add to the sonic image produced by standing speakers. But once you get to this price point, you should expect serious realism and depth, and the options listed here will do that and more.
JTR has risen rapidly to the forefront of high-end audio since splashing onto the scene in 2006 with their incredibly smooth and coherent house sound. The Noesis 212HT is the pinnacle representation of their signature musical delivery; though they are not the most aesthetically pleasing option available to buyers, they are definitely the most effortless, and perhaps the most versatile as well. Read Full Review
As one of the original "big three" speaker companies, KEF is easily the least well-known; Bowers and Wilkins is a hifi mainstay, and Celestion has branched successfully into car and professional audio. When it comes to true summit-fi, however, KEF has the advantage over even B&W, and produces one of the most effortless sounds on the market. Read Full Review
While easily the most expensive speaker on this list, the HTM2, the center channel for B&W's renowned 800 series, is not the best. It is very close, and puts much of its self-proclaimed competition to shame, but does not quite sound as effortless as the JTR 212HT's center channel at the very limits of its capabilities, and is (barely) more harsh at times. That said, anyone looking for the best AND most attractive mastering-grade speakers could hardly be disappointed. Read Full Review
Some audiophiles reserve their ears for electrostatic sound alone, and with good reason: no other type of speaker can reproduce such speed and accuracy, with clear treble and detailed upper midrange. In this respect, the Stage X has little to no competition from its dynamic competition. Read Full Review
Putting much-needed pressure on its more expensive competition, the Totem Model One delivers incredible sound for the price. Its smooth signature and great dynamics make it a great lower-cost alternative to the center channels from JTR and KEF, and anyone looking for a top-notch center channel for a little bit less money than absolute summit-fi will be very pleased with the Model One. Read Full Review
Best Budget Center Channel Speaker:
A center channel speaker, if chosen properly, can add great depth to music and movies, and can really enhance sound realism, especially for movies that require a lager, more 3D sound presentation. At lower price points, money is typically better spent on higher-end floor speakers, but if you are not extra picky about minor nuances in sound or achieving a particular presentation or sound signature, and simply want a complete 5.1 or 7.1 system, the speakers listed here will do your system justice.
Please keep in mind that one of the most important aspects of choosing speakers is to match their sound signature, or tonal balance, with the other speakers in your system. It is usually best to simply buy the center channel that goes with whatever system you have chosen. The options presented here are solid budget options, and have been chosen based on their ability to present distinct, easily audible dialog and vocals, and their contribution to a more dynamic, 3-dimensional sound in the context of a full speaker setup. I would encourage potential buyers to look at the systems they have been designed to compliment in order to achieve a complete audio experience. Enjoy!
While the Primus series is a bit more expensive than the other systems mentioned in this review other than the Klipsch Reference series, it delivers superior sound with a smooth, warm signature that is easy to like. With excellent vocal performance and a great, room-filling sound, the Primus PC351 is sure to keep vocals clear and deliver well-balanced sound for all but the largest rooms. Read Full Review
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Known for their impactful, exciting house sound, Klipsch's speakers are likely the most popular choice in the world for home theater systems. Their Reference series is world-renowned as an excellent solution for home systems, and is even used in some studios. The RC-42 II is the lower-end center channel in the Reference series, and even though it is more expensive than other "budget" models, it earns its price, and the Klipsch name, with a full, exciting sound that will please nearly anyone when properly set up. Read Full Review
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The Boston Acoustics A series is an excellent choice for any low- to mid-range budget for a home theater system, and excels with both music and movies. The 225C does its part to keep vocals up front and add space to music and movie sets, and doesn't do anything noticeably wrong or have problem frequencies, an impressive feat for its price, making it a reliable, safe choice. Read Full Review
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Polk Audio is a well-known brand in high-fi, and nearly everything they produce performs at or above price standards. Their TL3 series speakers are a great choice for a brighter, more exciting sound, and the center channel helps convey energy and great soundstage width that exceed their price point. Read Full Review
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