Phantom or Mismatched Center - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 5 Old 06-27-2012, 01:36 PM - Thread Starter
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I know this has been beat to death, but I'm setting up my HT and this issue has come up, so I thought I'd float it out there...

It is physically impossible to install a center that matches my LR (Pioneer Elite In-Wall, S-IW871). They are due to be installed next week and hooked up to the Elite VSX-52 AVR.

It IS possible to mount a Center ON the wall below the TV, but not IN the wall. So, I'm considering trying a phantom center initially and if not satisfied, looking into a mismatched Center. I've read soooo much conflicting info ("you'll love the sound of the phantom center" / "NEVER use a mismatched center" / "It doesn't matter if it's mismatched as long as it sounds good to your ears", etc.)

If I do go looking for a mismatched center, is there anything in particular I should be trying to "match"?

I'd love your feedback.

Thanks,

Jim
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post #2 of 5 Old 06-27-2012, 01:48 PM
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Well I say the center does need to be matched to the L&R. BUT I also say in-walls for any of the front 3 speakers is not good either.

My opinion either don't do inwall L&R speakers and get 3 matched fronts or just get a mismatched center cuz the inwalls aren't gunna be that good anyway.

Shawn
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post #3 of 5 Old 06-27-2012, 02:16 PM
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The phantom center works well in direct proportion to your relationship to the center axis. If I were always by myself sitting directly in front of the screen, I wouldn't even bother with a center, assuming my mains were great-sounding, robust, full-range speakers.

The best timbre-match you can possibly have is achieved with a phantom center.

But if you have seating for several people who will be off-axis, not anchoring the dialog to the screen can become distracting. And if your mains are limited in their power-handling and dynamic range, then the missing center channel speaker becomes an issue, because at any given moment in a movie the CC may contain most of the energy in the soundtrack.

In that situation (which is your situation), any credible CC will be better than none. You're going to end up pushing those in-walls too hard (and possibly driving the AVR into clipping) because you're pouring energy meant for the center into the mains while trying to get an overall SPL in the room that needs an additional speaker to achieve.

If you can identify the exact drivers the in-walls use, see if you can find out if Pioneer makes a CC using the same drivers. Or a bookshelf. Or see a woodworker about building a cabinet you could install a third S-IW871into.

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post #4 of 5 Old 06-27-2012, 02:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim1961f View Post

I've read soooo much conflicting info ("you'll love the sound of the phantom center" / "NEVER use a mismatched center" / "It doesn't matter if it's mismatched as long as it sounds good to your ears", etc.)

Well, everybody has different priorities, as well as sensitivities to various issues. smile.gif

Phantom centers should sound fine if you're sitting in the sweet spot, but those who are sitting to either side of the center will get some "phasing" in the center channel content, which negatively impacts clarity. While some degree of this is unavoidable in the general case, what an actual center speaker offers is dialogue that virtually always (with some exceptions, as with anything) comes from a single speaker, which helps improve dialogue intelligibility for movies. While this is negated somewhat by the horizontal MTM configuration of most center speakers, they still work significantly better than phantom centers in this regard.

There is also the issue of the soundstage shifting to the side on which one is sitting, with sounds being imaged in the wrong locations/directions relative to the screen--having a center speaker does not eliminate this issue entirely, but it does substantially improve things. Some folks may not be very sensitive to (or even aware of, since they normally sit in the middle) these issues, so they may consider center speakers superfluous, while others find these issues bothersome, and recommend using a center speaker whenever possible.
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Originally Posted by Jim1961f View Post

If I do go looking for a mismatched center, is there anything in particular I should be trying to "match"?

The goal is for a center speaker to match the "timbre" and the capabilities of the left & right front speakers. Without going into great detail, "timbre" is basically how a speaker sounds, and it involves more than just frequency response. All three front speakers having the same (or sufficiently similar) timbre allows them to work together more seamlessly, and precisely place sounds across the soundstage and even in front of the speakers, to your perception (known as "imaging"), without calling attention to any particular speaker. Mismatched speakers image poorly, resulting in what some would call a broken soundstage.

As with the issues of phantom centers, perhaps some folks aren't as sensitive to them as others. I suppose that it is also possible that low-end systems could benefit overall from devoting more of their limited budgets to a significantly higher quality, albeit mismatched, center speaker. Such systems may image poorly to begin with, for example, so you wouldn't be losing much while gaining higher quality sound for a very large portion of most movie soundtracks. Then again, it could be argued that it would be better, given a limited budget, to forgo the center speaker entirely so that you could spend more on the left & right fronts (and use a phantom center, of course).

Which option would be the best overall depends on the individual case. Hopefully the overview here gives you some idea of the factors involved, though.
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post #5 of 5 Old 06-27-2012, 04:11 PM - Thread Starter
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Wow, you guys are giants compared to my tiny little AV brain.

@flick: These particular speakers, though not $4,500 B&W, sound very good to me, and wifey likes the idea of in-wall.

@rdclarck: Again, I respect yours and Robert's depth of knowledge on this topic. I have read that In-Walls are designed specifically to use the average sized stud cavity as it's "box". Is it possible for a woodworker to re-create that in a box (that is not 8' x 16")?

@Robert: Your point is well-taken. I talked to a Pioneer Tech who uses a mismatched Center with his Pioneer LR's. He said that if the quality of the Center was equal or greater to that of the LR's, I shouldn't be disappointed.

Thank you all again for your input.

I bow to your expertise.

Jim
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