Center channel speaker design

daddyora

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Old ears and damaged hearing. Looking for design characteristics for center channel speaker that might help me with dialog clarity. Currently have a 5.1.2 system using Elac Debut 5.2 bookshelfs and center across the front driven by a Yamaha Aventage RX-A660 avr. 80% TV/movies. Decent system but I am investigating what would make a step-up for L/C/R starting with the center speaker. Working with EQ and room acoustics in parallel. Willing to spend around $2500 for front L/C/R speakers IF the improvement is noticeable. First pass thru the options indicates that the higher-end centers are typically 3-way designs with a smaller mid-range driver but, of course, there are pricey 2.5-way and 2-way speakers around as well. One feature of the 3-way concept is the ability of the cross-overs occurring outside of the normal dialog frequency range leaving the mid-range to handle most of the vocals. The SVS Ultra is one example of this design that receives decent reviews. A surprisingly inexpensive speaker that also follows this arrangement is the Emotiva C1 or C2 and these two are also well supported on numerous forums/reviews. In a 2-way arrangement the Chane A 2.4 is popular too. Anyway, any comments or suggestions on my investigation or experiences with specific speakers that I should consider ?
 

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It's true that 2-way speakers crossover in the 2KHz area, which is the center of dialog, but 3-way speakers also tend to crossover in the same area.

First, I would increase the volume of the center speaker. Go into the speaker setup and then channel levels, or something like that. You'll probably have to select a manual calibration, then increase the volume of the center 2-3 dB.

Second, you can go into the EQ, assuming your receiver has that, and increase the 2-4KHz a bit, if the first suggestion doesn't help enough.

You can go with a 3-way speaker, but I can guarantee that won't magically fix the problem. there are inherent benefits to 3-way speakers but it's not going to make that much difference with dialog. My first two suggestions, especially the first, will make a big difference.

As far as 3-way speakers, if you want to go with them for the benefit you describe, you might consider the ELAC Uni-Fi line. They are not only 3-way, but the tweeter and midrange are concentric, meaning the tweeter is in the middle of the midrange. That makes the entire audio range from tweeter through midrange come from the exact same location, with the exact same phase. That can make a difference. the problem is, the Uni-Fis are extremely difficult speakers to drive, and you're best off using an external amp. Unfortunately, your receiver can't use an external amp.

I strongly recommend trying my first suggestions, which won't cost you a cent. There's no reason the Debuts shouldn't be able to produce better dialog for you. BTW, you said your budget for L/C/R speakers is $2,500. I would say that if you are going to spend that much on new speakers, do not drive them with the receiver you have now. You want to upgrade your electronics as well, but I doubt it's even necessary.
 
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Malcolm R

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Also check if your Yamaha AVR has a dialogue booster in the settings. Mine does, and I often boost it up when I watch movies as I find the dialogue in many film is mixed far too low (plus a lot of actors seem to whisper their lines these days). Helps quite a lot.
 
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...that too.

With some movies, especially action movies, the sound effects can overwhelm the dialog. Also, the surround channels could be calibrated too high, which makes dialog hard to hear during action scenes.
 

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Thanks John and Malcolm, good inputs. I'm taking the crash course on EQ and working with what little I know about the Yamaha and all it's features (134 page manual makes my head hurt !!!). Also working on the room acoustics, at least as far as my wife will allow. Just trying to gain all the small incremental advantages that I can muster. I'm looking at the Uni-Fi and know that the 4 ohm rating and my avr aren't a great match. That 3-way design and the coax drivers look like the "end all" for design optimization (if there is such a thing ...). Maybe my budget would allow an avr upgrade as well - and pick up a more advanced version of YPAO ! Sounds like an engineering garden of eden. Don't stop, keep the ideas coming, after all, it's just a hobby.
 

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BTW, if you really want to get into the technical weeds, coaxial and concentric drivers aren't the same thing. Car speakers often have coaxial drivers, which is a tweeter in front of a mid/bass driver. Concentric drivers are one physical unit, with dual drivers. A cone and a dome. When you're dealing with high frequencies and phase, there's a big difference in the result.

Though, the two terms do tend to be interchanged.
 

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I get the idea of two speakers on the same centerline (point source ?) but there must be disadvantages to having one in front of the other.
 

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I get the idea of two speakers on the same centerline (point source ?) but there must be disadvantages to having one in front of the other.
There are definitely disadvantages to having one in front of the other. That's a solution for car use, mostly, where size and cost are most important. The concentric design was developed entirely for the purpose of creating a more "point source" speaker. Phase coherence, off-axis sound benefits, and so on.
 

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It seems that the center channel speaker is mostly an afterthought when compared to L/R speaker selection. The music crowd gets real uptight about the nuances of sound when you compare speakers, they can obviously hear things that I can't (which is likely true). For me, buy the center for dialog and then match the L/R and I'm probably set. We don't really listen far off-axis so even dispersion isn't too critical, I just need the best clarity in dialog and most cc reviews will mention "clear dialog" or "crystal clear" vs for L/R speakers they will go on for paragraphs about the sound quality.
 

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You're over thinking it. There are voices in music too, and voices in movies aren't limited to the center. A good speaker is a good speaker. You want the speakers, especially the front three, to blend together as seamlessly as possible. Ideally, that means three speakers from the same series. In recent years I've been seeing this claim that a center speaker has some vastly different task from the others and should be considered entirely on its own, with no consideration to the other front speakers. There's a splinter of logic to that, but it's usually used to reach unsound conclusions. Get three good matched speakers in the front, and any complaints or tweeks with the center can be handled electronically in the receiver/preamp.
 

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Yeah, you're probably right John. I wanted to bounce the idea of a "perfect" cc off the community and see what response that it generated. It's not likely that I am the only person having difficulty with dialog and I haven't found too much info on the internet about the role of the center channel speaker and it's design. Despite it's low price, I think that my current Elac debut 2.0 series is a decent sounding speaker and I'm unlikely to find a significant step-up for pure dialog improvement. Big rug coming next week to cover a big portion of the wood/concrete floor and I'm hoping for some improvement here. But, if I decide to pursue a new front set of speakers I will probably go with a 3-way center with a 3-4" mid-range driver and cross-overs designed at < 500 hz and > 2500 hz or there-abouts.:)
 

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The ELAC Debut 2.0 is significantly better than decent. Don't be fooled by the price.

I'm just trying to direct you to what I suspect will help with the dialog issue.
 
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daddyora

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Ok, moving on from the speaker discussion and willing to work on improving what I have (Elac B5.2/C5.2/B5.2). Just installed large rug in front of MLP (see pic below). Hopefully, this will help with any reflections off the hard floor from the L/C/R speakers - TBD. Also, attempting to position side chairs to help with side wall reflections. Clutter on table is strategically placed to diffuse any reflections from that surface (not really ;) ). Will do a trial run tomorrow and continue to work on EQ for dialog. Suggestions are always appreciated.
 

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My 2 cents, your left and right mains seem far apart. Is it possible to move them closer together ? It might improve stereo imaging as well.
 

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They are approx. 10 ft apart and 10 ft from MLP. I can laterally move each about 1 foot and will try that. Thanks
 

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