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The best center channel you've ever heard.


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37 replies to this topic

#1 of 38 OFFLINE   EdNichols

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Posted January 24 2005 - 12:23 AM

I am looking to the future and trying to budget for a dedicated theater and one of the most important speakers for sound is of course the center channel. So I want to build my speaker system around that. I have heard some very nice mains but the center just didn't cut it for me. I know I can use a third main for a center but I want a speaker designed to be a center and not a main sitting on its side. That being the case what is the best center channel you have heard?

#2 of 38 OFFLINE   AlanZ

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Posted January 24 2005 - 12:27 AM

I don't use a center, but I recently heard the Magnepan CC3......it was awesome.
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-Dustin Hoffman as 'Bernie Focker'

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#3 of 38 OFFLINE   Eric:F

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Posted January 24 2005 - 12:48 AM

the best center i've heard is in my system:
http://www.salksound.com/htshome.html
Jim Salk will customize a center to work well with your set up. superb quality, prices are reasonable and a $ back guaranty.
best,
eric

#4 of 38 OFFLINE   Philip Hamm

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Posted January 24 2005 - 01:49 AM

Quote:
I know I can use a third main for a center but I want a speaker designed to be a center and not a main sitting on its side.
Why? I'm using a main on it's side and it's spectacular.
Philip Hamm
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#5 of 38 OFFLINE   Mark Seaton

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Posted January 24 2005 - 02:38 AM

Philip-

It may sound spectacular, but it is a lucky occurence, and not something most should expect without trying it first. This is not much problem for some speakers, and is a major issue with others.

Ed-

I suggest you find some good center channels to listen to at local stores by which you can start to judge others. While there are certainly some exceptions, I am a strong proponent of a 3 way center. Some of the center channels that come to mind to give a listen would be Aerial's CC3 or the even better CC5, NHT's M5/M6, Revel's Voice or the better value centers they offer, and I would also include Snell's larger LCR's if you have a local dealer. There are many others good examples, but these are a few I have heard personally and would at least help you establish some base line upon which to compare.

Note when demoing these ALL should be set to "small" with a capable subwoofer crossed in at 60-80Hz. Listen for vocal clarity as well as composure through very busy, loud scenes, especially where vocals are overlayed with many other things going on.

I have long supported the action you are following. Regardless the order you purchase your system; be it in pieces or whole, start by selecting a great center channel for your room and desires, which has matching L & R which you are happy with. Then select the subwoofer(s), followed by appropriate surrounds.

Enjoy your hunt.
Mark Seaton
Seaton Sound, Inc.

#6 of 38 OFFLINE   MikeDuke

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Posted January 24 2005 - 02:50 AM

The JM electra 901 center is very good in my view. Vocals are always clear, even during loud movie passages. Sound pans in the front are seamless. It can handle the dynamics of HT with no problem.
http://www.focal.tm....ctra/ecc901.htm
2 7in woofers, one 4.72 in midrange and one 1 in tweeter 91.5db. Or for much more money the Utopia center is most likely very good. But much more than the Electra cc-901.Just another options. Options are good. And would echo what Mark said about how to build your system. If I were starting from scratch again and building a home theater only set up, that would be the way I would go.

But if you wanted to use your system for 2 channel and HT, like the way I use mine, I might do it differently. But thats just me.
I know what I like when I hear it

#7 of 38 OFFLINE   MarkRose

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Posted January 24 2005 - 03:35 AM

Check out the Onix Rocket RSC200 at AV123.com. It's affectionately and accurately known as "Bigfoot". Awesome sound for $600(less when part of a package) and a an absolutely stunning appearance.

#8 of 38 OFFLINE   John-Tompkins

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Posted January 24 2005 - 03:51 AM

The best center Ive ever heard is the one I have..Once I heard it, I knew I had to have it. I now have an all Aerial setup ( except for the back 2 in a 7.1 setup )

Aerial CC-5 ..100 lbs of pure elegance Posted Image

Before this, I had NHT M5 and NHT AC-2 centers and they are very nice .. I auditioned just about every center channel I could and the cc-5 was superior.. (I didnt get to audition the Revel Voice, which probably rivals the cc-5.

#9 of 38 OFFLINE   AlbertD

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Posted January 24 2005 - 07:24 AM

The best center you will ever hear is one exactly like your front mains. There is no substitute for three matched speakers across the front soundstage. In the first 5 years of my HT experience I had 5 center channel speakers. Everything from Axiom to Infinity, to NHT, etc. I even changed out my mains three times. I had three way towers with built in subs, I had towers without subs, I spent anywhere from $1,000 a pair to $5,000 a pair for mains and mixed and matched for years. Finally, on advice from a custom installer and finally following THX advice, I added a powered sub to catch the low end, set all speakers to small (as THX suggests) and went with three matched monitors across the front. I happened to select Dunlavy SC1-AV's, but suspect that any three exact speakers would have sounded better than any of the configurations where the speakers were not matched. My Dunlavy's serial numbers were in sequence so as far as timber matching I believe they are as close as one can get. Obviously, I calibrated and the difference in my system, especially the center channel was huge. And I mean huge. The entire front sound stage came alive. All speakers are at the same height, exact configuration, and all are placed the same,(verticaly) calibrated, set to small, (and so are the rear speakers as well) and I have never looked back.

IMO it doesn't matter what the specs are, how much you spend, etc. the speakers will never blend seamlessly unless they are perfectly matched.

Of course many (most) may disagree, so why don't you do a demo and get your local boutique to set up a system with three matched speakers accross the front, same height, same placement, and see if they don't blend seamlessly.

Tom

#10 of 38 OFFLINE   David Bikeman

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Posted January 24 2005 - 07:53 AM

"The best center you will ever hear is one exactly like your front mains."


But the center dosen't need to be physically like the front mains to be acoustically like the front mains.
This is probably a good time to re-post Dave Fabrikant's response to this issue from a previous thread on this Forum.
Dave F. is addressing the issue of the Ascend 340 center and the 170 mains.

David




I thought I would chime in here and address the issues you bring up.

First off, and I want to make this perfectly clear, the CMT-340 center was designed specifically to match the in-room response of the CBM-170 when used as a left/right. I believe I should know this, as I designed the speaker

quote:the CMT-340 uses a different and less accurate tweeter than the one used in the CBM-170.



Actually, this is absolutely not true. The tweeter we used in the CMT-340 is a better performing tweeter (not that the tweeter in the 170 is any slouch ). The 340 tweeter uses the exact some diaphragm as the tweeter used in the 170 (thus optimizing tonal/timbre balance between the two) with a few optimizations. The optimizations worth noting are:

1. A much more powerful and larger motor assembly (ferrite magnet vs. small neo). The stronger magnetic field allows greater high frequency extension while it also allows higher power handling due to much better heat dissipation (think less compression at louder levels). Extremely important for a center channel where the demands on the speaker are far greater than any other speaker in the system.

2. This tweeter uses a metal alloy faceplate which almost completely eliminates resonance (lowering distortion, think clear and articulate, natural sounding vocals).

3. The 340 tweeter uses what is sometimes referred to as a “dispersion lens”. This “lens”, which you can physically see on the tweeter, is used to help disperse the smaller wavelengths, which tend to beam straight out like a laser. These are broken up and dispersed thus offering wider dispersion (perfect for center channel usage). Try this; in a quiet room gently rub your fingers together on one hand directly in front of your face. Listen carefully… now move your hand to the side of your head and do the same and listen carefully. Hear the difference in high frequencies? The differences are because the smaller wavelengths (higher frequencies) beam straight forward. Using the dispersion lens on this tweeter helps keep the tweeter response linear both on- and off-axis.

This tweeter has lower distortion, higher power handling, extended frequency response and wider dispersion and you are calling it “less accurate”?

The very slight rise you see in the response of the 340 center is not due to the tweeter at all, it is by my design, and is carefully controlled by a circuit in the crossover known as a Zobel Network (an impedance compensation network). If you were to place the on-axis graph of the 340 on top of the 170, you would see 1 dB more output at approximately 14 kHz and 3dB more output at 18 Khz. Most adults can not even hear past 14 kHz.

In hundreds of hours of measuring, I found that this very slight rise in the response helps compensate for all the various high frequency reflections that a center channel is subjected too (sound bouncing off your TV, your entertainment center etc.) that a left/right speaker is generally not subjected too. Again, that slight rise you see is there by design.

The most critical of loudspeaker measurements is known as the sound power response. It is an extremely complicated measurement and can take a few hours to accomplish (also requiring the right equipment). It is computed by measuring the speaker’s response at 144 different horizontal and vertical angles (5 degree increments). These measurements are then combined using a complex weighted average formula, thus resulting in the “sound power” response. These measurements take into account 1st, 2nd, and 3rd order reflections and are considered to be an accurate representation of how a loudspeaker actually sounds in a room. The sound power response of our CMT-340 center (when used as a center) very (and I mean VERY) closely matches the sound power response of a CBM-170 when used as a left/right… Even closer in response then when a CBM-170 is used as center (on top of a TV)!

This is what the 340 center was designed for….. And we took designing and optimizing this center to far greater levels than simply “using the same drivers”. That would have been easy and we could have released it perhaps a year or two earlier, not to mention the cost savings involved by this far more common method, which I like to call the easy way out...

Since you claim to be have experience in loudspeaker design, you would know that 2-3dB more output on-axis in a very limited (and often unheard) frequency band is more than just acceptable, it is quite remarkable considering the completely different cabinet shape, different driver configuration and different placement.

Take ANY loudspeaker, measure it as a left/right speaker than place it on top of a TV and you will see a MUCH greater difference in frequency response than 2-3dB. In fact, I have measured loudspeakers from many “high-end” manufacturers whereby one speaker in the pair will measure 2-3dB off (and even greater) from the other.

This is one of the problems of posting response measurements as we do (and why most manufacturers don’t even bother to post them) They are seldom understood and most average consumers do not know how to interpret the information. We are proud of our loudspeakers’ measurements; these are some of the most linear measurements you will ever see for a loudspeaker AT ANY PRICE POINT.

-or-

We could simply not post measurements and just say “this is the timbre matched matching center”, but then we would be like everyone else….. And as many of you know, we are not

Thanks for your time!

PS. Bryan, please feel free to contact me privately if you wish to further discuss loudspeaker design.. as many have suggested, it is my passion and I take it very seriously.




Kind Regards,
ASCEND ACOUSTICS, Inc.

David Fabrikant
davef@ascendacoustics.com

#11 of 38 OFFLINE   AlbertD

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Posted January 24 2005 - 09:32 AM

Exactly what I meant when I said the most would disagree. For every point there is an effectice counter point. But for the record, I do mean the exact same speaker. Positioned the exact same way. There are more than a few experts that belive that no speaker will ever be a prefect acoustic match unless it is the exact same speaker. Even to the positioning. Take a speaker, turn it on its side, and its acoustics change. But I realize that effecive arguments can be made, and have been made, for the opposite. I am not normally an "ears" person. But this is the exception. Try it and let your ears be the judge. (Man I don't believe I just wrote that!!!)

#12 of 38 OFFLINE   DonnyD

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Posted January 24 2005 - 09:44 AM

I'm using an old set of Energy RVS speakers which are 3 matched front/center with the matching RVSS dipole/bipole surrounds........... I use the word "old" since Energy no longer makes them but they are definitely some fine speakers........ stong midrange and crisp, clean highs.
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#13 of 38 OFFLINE   David Bikeman

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Posted January 25 2005 - 12:31 AM

"Exactly what I meant when I said the most would disagree."

You put yourself on the same level as a professional speaker designer who has some of the most sophisticated measuring software available? Not me. I know when I'm in over my head.
A problem with three exact speakers is what to do with the television. In most cases, the television prevents us from placing the center speaker in the same position as the mains. There are workarounds but all workarounds have compromises and that is what Dave F. and many other professional engineers in the audio industry are addressing with their designs.
The exact speaker in a less than optimum position is no longer an exact speaker acoustically.
Using the exact speaker in the optimum location can be done. It's just not practical for those of us who don't have a purpose built home theatre room.

"Try it and let your ears be the judge. (Man I don't believe I just wrote that!!!)"

But don't use only our ears. Perceptual psychology shows time and again that our senses can't always be relied upon. We all think we have open minds but that's not the reality. What we hear and see is very much dependent on what we think. YMMV.

David


David

#14 of 38 OFFLINE   MikeLi

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Posted January 25 2005 - 03:36 AM

I will second the Rocket AV123.com 200 center (bigfoot) I had a huge NHT before this one and no compairison. No more turning up and down the volume during the dialog to explosion sceens. Things roll off great. I am a happy camper.

#15 of 38 OFFLINE   Mikey B

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Posted January 25 2005 - 06:34 AM

One of the best I have personally heard is Mirage's HDT series ($1250 each). These are matched LCR, but the tweeter & two mid-range drivers are aligned such that they will give identical dispersion patterns regardless of vertical or horizontal placement...pretty cool! They also have cut/boost controls for achieving the best results based on where the speakers are placed (inside a cabinet for example). Also pretty cool! And they sound awfully good as well!

Another is the ACI Essence (starts at $900)...all 53 pounds of it. I have never said this about another center, but it is the most musical center I have heard (not that I have heard hundreds). And if you like to tweak, the ACI Veritas (starts at $1400) offers all of what the Essence is PLUS the woofer section is powered and has dual parametric EQ. Very cool!

#16 of 38 OFFLINE   Evan S

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Posted January 25 2005 - 07:52 AM

Quote:
Another is the ACI Essence (starts at $900)...all 53 pounds of it. I have never said this about another center, but it is the most musical center I have heard (not that I have heard hundreds). And if you like to tweak, the ACI Veritas (starts at $1400) offers all of what the Essence is PLUS the woofer section is powered and has dual parametric EQ. Very cool!

I have the ACI Essence, and it rocks. In fact, all of ACI's speakers are superb (I have a Titan II/Essence/Sapphire/Emerald(x4) setup). You really should check them out if you get a chance, but I know not everyone can stomach buying internet direct, so to each his own.

www.audioc.com

searching for that elusive, "perfect" sound.

#17 of 38 OFFLINE   David Bikeman

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Posted January 25 2005 - 08:21 AM

"(I have a Titan II/Essence/Sapphire/Emerald(x4) setup)."

I have speaker envy. Posted Image

David

#18 of 38 OFFLINE   AlbertD

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Posted January 25 2005 - 09:01 AM

Hey David: The poster specifically stated that he was building a dedicated HT room. Your arguments seemed to have more to do with how hard it was to place three exact speakers and not with the advantages of how they would sound. In a dedicated HT room where placement is not an issue, I would still argue that three exact speakers placed the same way are superior to two mains and a horizontally placed center. By the way, when I lived in Colorado Springs, I spent more than several days at Dunlavy's main headquarters (while they were still in business) and I put Dunlavy up there with any speaker expert anybody wants to trot out. He spent a lot of time proving to me the superiority of three exact same speakers across the front. Of course I didn't listen until years later. My comment about ears was tougue in cheek. I actually agree with with you 100% on your position that ears lie. That's why I couldn't believe I said that. I am pretty much a science guy that goes with the facts that an electron is an electron, a wire is a wire, and an amp is an amp. But that's another post.

Anyhow, if placement is not an issue and if all three speakers can be placed at the same height in the same alignment, then assuming good quality speakers, three matched speakers will sound better than two mains and a horizontaly placed center. IMO and a LOT of other people's opinion as well, including many "experts"

#19 of 38 OFFLINE   David Bikeman

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Posted January 25 2005 - 09:49 AM

"Anyhow, if placement is not an issue and if all three speakers can be placed at the same height in the same alignment, then assuming good quality speakers, three matched speakers will sound better than two mains and a horizontaly placed center. IMO and a LOT of other people's opinion as well, including many "experts"

We agree on this. It's just not the norm and just because someone is building a dedicated HT room dosen't mean that they can accomplish anything they want. Many folks put their decicated home theatre in the basement and ceiling height becomes an overriding factor. If the ceiling isn't high enough, puting the center at an ideal level isn't the best option.
In most set-ups I've seen, the center needs to be placed above or below the screen and not in-line with the mains. That's my experience.
Also, an opinion from an ackowledged expert that's backed up with the math (Dave F's) is way better than an opionion that lacks the math. Dave F. is working from the premise that the speaker will be placed in a less than optimum position. You still have the option with Ascends to do exactly what you propose if the situation allows it. Again, it's just not the norm.


David

#20 of 38 OFFLINE   AlbertD

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Posted January 25 2005 - 11:14 AM

David:

I agree. I know of quite a few people who have elected to not use a center channel at all due to the acoustic issues surrounding trying to get a match from a horizontaly place center speaker. They choose to go with a phantom center and are very passionate in their arguments that a two speaker system across the front without a center is superior than a three speaker setup. In fact several years ago I started a thread at AVS on this issue that spanned a half dozen pages before the moderator shut it down. I personally don't agree but they have some significant science on their side and make very logical arguments. In fact I probably would have elected to go that way myself if I had been forced to continue to have a mismatched center. By the way, I actually put my SC1-AV vertically on top of my RPTV and raise my mains to the exact height with custom speaker stands. Looks butt ugly but as I am more concerned with the sound than the looks I can live with it. This is also a true dedicated media room and I have no children (all grown up and moved on) living at home. So I can get away with something that most people can't. All speakers are angled down to hit the exact spot where we sit, calibrated and eq'd.





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