The most important element in your immersive home theater experience is going to be the sound system you employ. Center channel speakers are the core of your system, but there are many great choices out there. After a month of researching, we've picked 5 out of 35 models as our best center channel speakers of 2016 based on certain criteria. We hope that this guide will help you decide which one is going to fit your needs the best.
There are a lot of options out there, and we tried to select the best center channel speakers in a variety of price ranges and specifications.
The Polk Audio CS210 was a great all-around speaker at a moderate price point. Similar in price to it were the Yamaha NS C210 and Pioneer SP C22 speakers.
The Yamaha's biggest advantage was its slim design that allowed it, at a mere 4.125” inches in height, to fit in a lot of places. It is well-designed to give a big sound for a small speaker, but without a subwoofer to get the lows, this speaker might be a disappointment used standalone.
The Pioneer offered some unique features in terms of cabinet design and its six-element crossover, unusual at this price point. As a cheaper option, the Micca MB42-C certainly won the price contest and was surprisingly powerful and rich. Users were pleasantly surprised that not only is this speaker inexpensive, but it has excellent sound quality.
Dialogue clarity suffers from the lack of a crossover, but you can purchase a crossover upgrade kit from miccastore.com or buy the MB42X-C which does include a crossover.
The three more expensive speakers were the Klipsch RP250C, the JBL LC2 and the Definitive Technology ProCenter 1000.
The strikingly beautiful Klipsch has an amazing sound and the highest reviews of all the speakers we looked at. The JBL LC2 is the only speaker we looked at with a separate mid-range driver, and also includes an ultra-high frequency tweeter, making it a four-way speaker.
The ProCenter uses Definitive Tech’s BDSS technology and two additional bass radiators to make this speaker sound much larger than it is.
Table of Contents
- Best center channel speaker 2016 - 2017
- What is a center channel speaker?
- What is the difference between a center channel speaker and a soundbar?
- What center channel speaker options are there?
- What to consider before buying a center channel speaker?
Best center channel speaker 2016 - 2017
1. Klipsch RP-250C - Best center channel speaker to buy in 2016 & 2017
Klipsch is a household name in speakers and many people hold this as the standard to which all other home speakers should be compared. Indeed, this speaker has a rating of 4.9 stars on Amazon, the highest of all we reviewed.
Paul Klipsch developed the revolutionary horn loudspeaker called the Klipschorn in 1946, which has been in continuous production ever since, the longest manufacturing run of any speaker in history. The RP250C (RP standing for Reference Premier) uses a newer horn design with a Tractrix flared opening that creates a more open sound quality. It pairs that with two 5 ¼” cerametallic woofers that produce a stiff, highly controlled cone movement, and a 1” titanium tweeter. The result is a sound that users without exception love. The mid-range is crystal clear, the bass is accurate and responsive with no distortion and the highs are effortless without being too bright.
The speaker itself is beautiful and unique, with the cerametallic copper woofers shining from a matte black face to create an instantly recognizable look. Reattaching the removable magnetic grille allows for a more discreet appearance, letting the speaker blend seamlessly into any décor.
The price point is the highest of the two-way speakers we reviewed, but the excellence of the construction and the consistent 5 star reviews extolling the incredible sound left us to recommend this speaker as our “audiophiles choice”.
2. Polk Audio CS10 - Best bang for your buck
An excellent speaker at an excellent price, the Polk Audio CS10 deserves your attention. Why? Let's talk about the brand itself first:
Polk Audio was started in Baltimore in 1971 by three friends – recent graduates from Johns Hopkins University with degrees in mechanical engineering and physics – with the goal of producing high performance loudspeakers that would be built with technology based on real science, would be compact enough to fit comfortably in the home, and would be affordable. Today, 45 years on, Polk is still following their mission of designing practical audio solutions that deliver lifelike performance.
The Polk Audio CS10 holds the coveted rank of #1 best-selling center channel speaker on Amazon. As one reviewer put it, this speaker isn’t only an excellent speaker for its price, it is an excellent speaker at any price.
It includes a 1” diameter silk dome tweeter and two 5 ¼” diameter woofers. The silk dome tweeter gives clear performance at high frequencies and high volume without fatigue, avoiding the sound breakage that some metal tweeters experience. The woofers use Polk’s proprietary Dynamic Balance® technology to help ensure high quality sound. This speaker handles the mid-range exceptionally well, leading to clean and crisp dialogue with good off-axis dispersion. The low bass is also clean and surprisingly full-bodied and musical with no distortion. The flared port venting system is carefully tuned to smooth turbulence in port air flow, which minimizes chuffing at loud, low frequency sound effects.
The speaker is a hefty 16 pounds because the speaker enclosures are made of extensively braced solid MDF and have ¾” baffles. The result is a speaker with no vibration and no internal resonances, and is the kind of attention to detail that is not normally found in a speaker at this price point.
The case can be mounted either above or below your television, and has an angled cabinet which makes it easy to align the sound along the correct vertical plane. If you are setting a speaker below the TV, you still want the sound to reach your listeners at ear height if possible. The angled cabinet helps raise the angle of the sound up while keeping the speaker securely seated.
It comes with a 5-year non-transferrable warranty and is offered in black and cherry, with a removable grille. Polk didn’t skimp on the looks either; with or without the grille, the pewter accents and high-gloss piano finish black top plate make this speaker look as expensive as it sounds.
3. JBL LC2 4-way - Easily hit the entryway to audio nirvana
JBL has been building powerful and impressive loudspeakers since its founding all the way back in 1946. Some of their proudest achievements are being selected by the Fender Guitar company as the ideal driver for electric guitars, being the most-used monitor by recording studios – more than all the other brands combined – based on a Billboard survey in 1977, and serving as the basis for the THX loudspeaker standard used in cinemas everywhere.
The JBL LC2 speaker is the only true three-way speaker we included in the review. Three-way speakers include, in addition to the dual woofers and a tweeter, a separate midrange driver. They are significantly more expensive than two-way speakers that only include the woofers and the tweeter, but can be worth the cost in certain circumstances. This speaker from JBL actually calls itself a four-way, because it includes not one, but two tweeters, the second at ultra-high frequency levels (starting at the upper range of human hearing and going way beyond).
Several purchasers of this product pointed out it seems a little silly to have an ultra-high frequency tweeter that only reproduces sounds heard by dogs, but the truth of the matter is, this is the realm of high-def audio recordings and frequency response of high-res sources such as Blu-ray. In other words, the sources you are going to play through this speaker have digital signals that cannot be expressed without the ultra-high frequency tweeter.
At the other end of the listening spectrum, the bass drivers use JBL’s patented PolyPlasTM material in the woofer cones along with JBL’s IsoPowerTM baffle design and ultra-rigid enclosures. The result? Beautiful, rich, crisp bass tones that sound full and natural at both quiet and loud volumes.
The speaker is beautiful, with the two 6” woofers balanced on either side of a vertically oriented tower consisting of the mid-range driver and the two tweeters. This is the ideal design for a center channel speaker to eliminate acoustic “lobing”, the audible cross effects that can occur with two speakers transmitting at the same frequencies and creating phase cancellation or augmentation. The speaker can be wall- or shelf-mounted (although you need a vertical clearance of over 12”) and is available in black or cherry.
4. Definitive Technology ProCenter 1000 Compact - Best under $200
The number of industry awards and accolades Definitive Technology has won since their inception in 1990 is truly impressive. It is interesting to know that Sandy Gross, one of the co-founders of Polk Audio, also founded Definitive Technology and the two companies are now owned by the same parent company.
Definitive Technology has positioned themselves in the high-end audiophile-grade market and their ProCenter 1000 speaker is part of their home-theater line. While they sell complete pre-packaged home theater systems under the “ProCinema” model line, the ProCenter combines with the ProMonitor and ProSub models to allow a user to customize their setup however they wish.
The highly regarded ProCenter speaker is well-liked by users and is a mid-sized center-channel speaker with two 4 ½” mid-range woofers and a 1” aluminum dome tweeter. What makes the sound on this one really stand out, though, is the additional two bass radiators it has on either side of the case. Essentially doubling the amount of bass coming from this speaker, it packs a punch that you would typically only expect in a much larger speaker. They also include Definitive Technology’s patented “Balanced Double Surround Sound” technology in this speaker, which allows for higher output from smaller drivers. Their 4 ½” driver has the output one would expect from a 5 ¼” driver!
Definitive Technology believes that technology and beauty can co-exist and that beautiful products can sound as good or better than unattractive ones. They offer this model in both white and black high-gloss finishes, with great attention to detail. Given the design of the speakers with the extra bass radiators, it can only be mounted sideways. It has a built-in foot that can be adjusted to tilt to speaker so that the sound reaches the listener at ear height if placed below your television. Optional ProMount 80 articulating wall mounts can also be used to mount this small but mighty seven-pound speaker.
5. Micca MB42-C - Best cheap!!
Very cheap, this speaker packs a surprising punch for its price. This speaker is really only intended for a small room, with a ¾” silk dome tweeter and two 4” carbon fiber woofers. It doesn’t have crossover technology to help with off-axis sound where the woofers overlap with the tweeter, but Micca does offer a crossover version of this speaker, MB42X-C, or offers a crossover upgrade for this model for $30. If you purchase the upgrade, you’ll get a kit with detailed instructions on how to install it, no soldering required.
This isn’t a high-end speaker, but it receives strongly positive user reviews and a fully-featured center channel speaker at such a ridiculously low price deserves a spot on our list. This speaker is designed to be placed above or below the television, or mounted vertically, meaning you could buy three and use them as your left, center and right speakers, and do it all for less than the cost of one of our other choices.
What is a center channel speaker?
Dolby Digital and DTS are the primary methods for encoding audio into multiple tracks, or channels, that can be sent to the various speakers in a home theater system to create a surround sound experience. The typical 5.1 support is for 5 channels (left, center, right, left surround, right surround) plus a subwoofer for the low bass sounds. Most of the dialogue in the movies you watch is going to come through your center channel speaker, but don’t think that is all. It is also the most important source of music and effects, as in total 50- 75% of the audio gets routed through that speaker.
What is the difference between a center channel speaker and a soundbar?
Center channel speakers are designed to be the heart of a surround sound system that uses multiple separate speakers placed around the room to create an immersive listening environment. Soundbars are long bars with multiple speakers that are centered horizontally above or below your television. They don’t create a surround sound effect, but they offer an improvement upon the television’s own built-in speaker.
Soundbars do not require a separate amplifier, unlike center channel speakers. Essentially, you just plug them into the wall outlet and connect them to the TV and they are good to go. All the center channel speakers we looked at require a separate AV receiver or amp/pre-amp setup that powers the speakers and interprets the signal.
What center channel speaker options are there?
Center channel speakers typically include a minimum of three speakers: two ‘woofers’ and a ‘tweeter’. Woofers play low-frequency sounds and tweeters high-frequency. Dialogue typically crosses the mid-point between the woofer and tweeter ranges, which can be difficult for a center channel speaker to handle in some situations.
More expensive designs therefore include four speakers: two woofers, a tweeter and a mid-range speaker that covers the role of reproducing the dialogue. Most center channel speakers purchased for home theater use are arranged horizontally so that they can be placed below the TV rather than being forced to be off to one side.
What to consider before buying a center channel speaker?
There are a lot of considerations that go into choosing the best center channel speaker for your application, and it is nowhere near as simple as ‘best sound’ or ‘best price’. Here are some of the things that will matter to you, and we will go into more detail where necessary later:
- Your room size matters, along with your seating arrangement.
- The arrangement of the speakers (vertical or horizontal) matters.
- Volume capability; it depends on how loud you want to listen to your movies or music.
- Crossover coverage; how the switch from woofer to tweeter is handled as frequencies change.
- The intended use of the speakers: movies or music.
- The brand you intend to purchase (or already own) for your other surround sound speakers
Let's break each one down:
- Room size and seating arrangement
The issue with seating arrangements has to do with how much of an angle listeners are to the speaker. Speakers are intended to be listened to ‘straight on’, sitting centered directly in front of the speaker. If listeners are seated off to one side of the room, the angle between the listener and the center of the speaker could be extreme.
The problem with this is that listening at an angle will create some degree of audible cancellation or augmentation as the sound waves cross each other to reach the listener (called “lobing”). In an extreme case, the dialogue might become choppy or even incomprehensible, simply because of where the listener is sitting and the fact that the crossing soundwaves either cancel each other out or reinforce each other at different frequencies. Some center channel speakers do a better job than others at compensating for this.
- Speaker mount: vertical or horizontal
The ideal design for a center channel speaker is to stack the various components (tweeters, midrange, and woofers) vertically behind the screen, as they would be in an actual movie theater. However, behind the screen is rarely an option in most home theater settings, and so most center channel speakers sold for home use are stacked horizontally instead.
Some center channel speakers that are made to be mounted horizontally can actually be turned on their sides and mounted vertically for a much better experience. If you happen to be reviewing this post because you are having trouble with your current setup, maybe try that first before coming to buy new speakers!
- Crossover coverage and two-way vs three-way speakers (WTMW vs MTM)
The most important aspect of the center channel speaker when it comes to sound fidelity is in how it handles the key frequency range where the woofer and tweeter crossover. Many speakers use proprietary technology to make the transition smoother, and lack of such technology is usually quite noticeable.
It is particularly vital that the crossover be handled well for movies, because the range of human speech is typically in this crossover range and a poor crossover will affect the intelligibility of dialogue.
In addition, off-axis listeners can be greatly bothered in this same crossover region by how the speakers interact. If this is a particular concern for you, using three-way speakers can also help with the sound fidelity in this key range:
The best design for center channel speakers is two woofers separated by a tweeter and a mid-range speaker stacked on top of one another (a three-way speaker). This design format does a better job (compared to the more common woofer-tweeter-woofer arrangement) of avoiding audible cancellations when listening to the movie from off-center.
Three-way speakers typically run twice or three times the cost of two-way speakers, and for many home applications, the extra cost isn’t worth it. Although off-axis listeners are likely to be bothered by two-way speakers, most rooms aren’t set up in such a way that off-axis becomes a big problem.
For example, the typical 3-seater couch arrangement 12’ from the speaker means the people seated on the ends of the couch are only 20 degrees off-center. To have significant issues with audible cancellations for most MTM speakers, you’d have to be 40 degrees or more off-axis.
- Intended use of speaker
If you are planning to listen primarily to music on your speakers, be aware of two things:
First, most CDs are stereo sound, so they have a left and right channel. They are not recorded as multi-channel. You can still use a surround sound setup, including a center channel speaker, to play them, but you may have to change the settings for your receiver or pre-amp to recognize that there is only stereo sound, and the center channel will play a blend of the left and right channels.
Speaking of ‘receivers’ and ‘pre-amps’: center channel speakers require a receiver or a pre-amp to read and distribute the signal to the appropriate channels. Receivers combine the function of preamp processing and amplification. But if you want to use a more powerful amplifier than the one included in the receiver, you can buy a pre-amp separately from your desired amplifier. For the generation used to the simplicity of Bluetooth speakers and soundbars, the requirement to have a receiver or a pre-amp might be unexpected.
- Brand consistency
Because the sound in the left, right and center channel speakers should flow seamlessly from one to the other, you’ll get a better result if you use the same brand for all speakers in a system that is set up to work together.
But if cost is an issue, then as long as your right and left speakers are the same brand, it is generally okay, even if not ideal, to have a different brand for the center speaker. The key is to aim for similar range of frequencies handled by all speakers and similar decibel outputs.