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Better for movie dialogue -- LCR or just LR with phantom center?

post #1 of 71
Thread Starter 
I'm thinking about buying some wall mounted speakers to go with a plasma TV, but I've ALWAYS had difficulties understanding dialogue with most LCR setups. I understand a lot of it has to do with the room acoustics, but I cannot change those in this particular room. I suspect some of it has to do with the drawbacks of the MTM design center speakers I've always had.

So I was thinking, would it be better to get only left and right speakers and forego the center? Would that make dialogue in movies better?
post #2 of 71
What was your previous setup that you had a problem with?
post #3 of 71
Costs nothing to try.
post #4 of 71
There are a lot of options you can try to improve the dialogue from movies with you system.

Just using a stereo configuration can help at times, but depending on how some movies are mixed, the dialogue can still be inaudible. I had this problem a lot. i find with a center channel speaker, I have an easier time hearing the dialogue than without. You can also turn up the center channel indpendantly from the other channels.

Depending on what kind of AVR you posess, you can mess with the sound processing to attempt to get the dialogue to come in clearer/louder. The process that seems to have the largest effect on this is dynamic range compression. With an Auddyssey enabled AVR this is called Auddysey Dynamic Volume. In my case, this helps the most out of everything. I usually set mine to the "Day" setting and suddenly I can hear the dialogue much clearer than before. Your AVR is likely to have some form of Dynamic Range Compression. Play around with this setting to see what the best setting is for your situation.

Another sound process that you can mess with is the matrixing algorithms. You can switch between Dolby Digital, DTS and various other matrixing options. One that I find that works well for a lot of content is All Channel Stereo, that outputs a stereo signal through all your surround speakers. So all your left channel speakers (FL, SL, BL) will output the left channel material and vice versa for your right channel material. The center channel should output a mono signal outputting both left and right channel material. This has the tendency of making the dialogue more audible as it is being output by many speakers at once. In the case of someone with just an LCR setup, All Channel Stereo will output from all three speakers, generally giving you louder dialogue. The disadvantage of using this option is that you aren't getting a proper surround mix from your audio. However if one only is using LCR setup, surround is obviously not a concern, so that would make All Channel Stereo an attractive option.

Gotta go. more later.
post #5 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by beezar View Post


So I was thinking, would it be better to get only left and right speakers and forego the center? Would that make dialogue in movies better?
Worse. Dialog is panned to the center speaker, L/R sounds to those speakers. When you forgo the center the dialog is routed to the L/R, where it has to compete with the rest of the L/R content.
The usual reason for poor dialog reproduction is simply a poor center speaker. To some extent you can compensate for it by turning up the center channel level.
post #6 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Fitzmaurice View Post

Worse. Dialog is panned to the center speaker, L/R sounds to those speakers. When you forgo the center the dialog is routed to the L/R, where it has to compete with the rest of the L/R content.
The usual reason for poor dialog reproduction is simply a poor center speaker. To some extent you can compensate for it by turning up the center channel level.

This isn't accurate...the center can produce up to 80% of a movies effects plus dialog...and that is just one speaker!You saying in just a stereo setup that the L and R has to fight for the rest of the content isn't accurate either...it really comes down to how good you L and R speakers are and how well they image.I'll agree that a poor center will give poor performance but as an example my mains are definitive 8060-st's and I owned the matching 8060 center.My mains do such a great job with imaging a center in my case wasn't needed...for this placement of the L and R was key but not as dramatic as you may think.I sold my center and haven't felt I need one at all.Granted this is my situation but it works just fine in many other systems aswell.
post #7 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Fitzmaurice View Post

Worse. Dialog is panned to the center speaker, L/R sounds to those speakers. When you forgo the center the dialog is routed to the L/R, where it has to compete with the rest of the L/R content.
The usual reason for poor dialog reproduction is simply a poor center speaker. To some extent you can compensate for it by turning up the center channel level.
Yes. I've noticed that in all of the 2-channel music produced in the last 100 years. Can't understand a word they are saying.

Hey: remember that century of movies that had only two (or more often only one) channel? Unintelligible right?

This is one of your more outlandish claims, Bill.
post #8 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by JerryLove View Post

Yes. I've noticed that in all of the 2-channel music produced in the last 100 years. Can't understand a word they are saying.

Artful use of sarcasm here. Love it.

I prefer to use a center channel as it does separate the dialogue a bit better in my room. However, I have used a stereo setup for movies and was always able to clearly hear the dialogue. Thinking back, maybe I should have put all of my budget into my LR and forgotten about the center channel...
post #9 of 71
When Bill doesn't respond to someone, I'm guessing it's beneath him.
Yeah, soundtracks are mixed specifically for 5.1 so why would you need a center channel or a subwoofer or surrounds?
So Jerry why do you use 2 speakers for 2-channel?
Why not just position one speaker in the center of the room?
You can save 1/2 on speaker purchases that way.
These center channel questions are as dumb if not dumber than "do cables make a difference" threads.
Hey, suit yourself and bath in the 4.1 sound.
post #10 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by beezar View Post

I'm thinking about buying some wall mounted speakers to go with a plasma TV, but I've ALWAYS had difficulties understanding dialogue with most LCR setups. I understand a lot of it has to do with the room acoustics, but I cannot change those in this particular room. I suspect some of it has to do with the drawbacks of the MTM design center speakers I've always had.

So I was thinking, would it be better to get only left and right speakers and forego the center? Would that make dialogue in movies better?

A good LCR setup beats a phantom center setup, especially if you can use an AT screen. smile.gif
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post #11 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Fitzmaurice View Post

Worse. Dialog is panned to the center speaker, L/R sounds to those speakers. When you forgo the center the dialog is routed to the L/R, where it has to compete with the rest of the L/R content.
The usual reason for poor dialog reproduction is simply a poor center speaker. To some extent you can compensate for it by turning up the center channel level.

Agree with the above,
also it could be poor placement.
Too much inside a cabinet, not tilt properly.
On my set-up, I finally got the center sticking about 1/2" in front of the 2 subs it was between and 2" higher and the sound improved a lot.

Ray
post #12 of 71
Another possibility might involve distance settings in speaker management. If you have sound hitting you at slightly different intervals, poor dialog intelligibility can be a result. I've recently been playing with my settings and found that the auto-calibration on my Parasound had them off by a foot or two. Doesn't sound like much but getting it right helped immensely.

I've also toyed around with the phantom center and definitely didn't like it. My L/C/R tower speakers are a matched set which does wonders for dialog.
post #13 of 71
The whole purpose of the creation of the center was to anchor dialog to the center of the screen.If your mains do not image that well dialog will seem low or muddy IMO.Everyone can use what he or she feels is best...:)Opinions will always differ on this subject but its up to the individual on what sounds best.
post #14 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by josh6113 View Post

The whole purpose of the creation of the center was to anchor dialog to the center of the screen.If your mains do not image that well dialog will seem low or muddy IMO.Everyone can use what he or she feels is best...:)Opinions will always differ on this subject but its up to the individual on what sounds best.

Are you saying your setup with the phantom is better than when you had the dedicated center? I can see where the loss wasn't great so you rather save the money, but I can't think switching from discrete to stereo imaging can be better for a 5.1 mix. I can also see quality LR speakers with good imaging can do better than a 3 front setup of lesser quality, where the center is a dud, but I can't think a phantom center will beat a dedicated center as an absolute statement.
post #15 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by hdnewbie21 View Post

..............but I can't think a phantom center will beat a dedicated center as an absolute statement.

Where did anyone say that as an "absolute statement"?

As the discussion in the thread indicates, most center channel issues are due to poor or inadequate center channel speaker designs. Poor placement is another culprit.
post #16 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by hdnewbie21 View Post

Are you saying your setup with the phantom is better than when you had the dedicated center? I can see where the loss wasn't great so you rather save the money, but I can't think switching from discrete to stereo imaging can be better for a 5.1 mix. I can also see quality LR speakers with good imaging can do better than a 3 front setup of lesser quality, where the center is a dud, but I can't think a phantom center will beat a dedicated center as an absolute statement.

Yes...in my setup a phantom sounds better to me...and what I said was in my opinion...not an absolute statement for all...smile.gif...but if I had the room I sure would use another tower front and center...smile.gif
post #17 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by josh6113 View Post

Yes...in my setup a phantom sounds better to me...and what I said was in my opinion...not an absolute statement for all...smile.gif...but if I had the room I sure would use another tower front and center...smile.gif

It disconcerts me a little when you say phantom is as good or better in your setup when using a discrete source. But if that is your experience with your system, I respect it.

I was struggling with dialogue clarity early this year. I had an entry level Onkyo HTIB. First I upgraded my L C R speakers. Big change. Then I upgraded my AVR, another change. (having room correction helps). Also, the Yamaha I chose has the feature "dialogue lift". I can't say it is night and day, but it helps. (keep in mind my center is set -2db in relation to my fronts). I could even it up to 0db, but i don't want to upset the balance at the front.

I also discovered that, other than room acoustics and speaker quality, the blu-ray sound mix has a lot to do with it. I guess they preserve the original theater mix, which is not optimal for home/living room theater. I don't remember this being much of an issue in the Dolby digital DVD era as I experience it with the uncompressed formats. Unless you can play at close to reference levels (which i guess most of us not having a dedicated home theater can't), it's hard to get good dialogue listening level without compressing the audio source will all this DSP stuff. (night mode, etc)
Edited by hdnewbie21 - 7/16/13 at 12:13pm
post #18 of 71
BTW, I found that for stereo music, my fronts put out decent imaging. (have not compared them to better speakers, but I'm sure there are better options out there than what my speakers can do). Having being comfortable with the overall imaging of my speakers, I tried phantom center just for kicks. It did good, but it is not the same (in my experience with my system) as having a dedicated center.
post #19 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by josh6113 View Post

The whole purpose of the creation of the center was to anchor dialog to the center of the screen.
Stereo, from the Greek 'sterios' means solid, as in 3D (like the image you see under a stereo-microscope). It has nothing to do with 2 channels or 2 speakers or 2 of anything.

I mention this because when Bell Labs was inventing stereo in the early 1930s, they found that a minimum of 3 channels/speakers were needed to create a believable wavefront that mimicked the original sonic event. So the centre speaker was created neither for dialogue nor movies but instead for realistic (stereophonic) reproduction of music. To that end, there are plenty of 'early stereo' recordings that were 3 channels (available now on SACD).

As for movie use, the first one to employ 3 speakers across the front was Disney's 'Fantasia'. Certainly not the type of film that needs to anchor dialogue to the centre of the screen.
post #20 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by Milt99 View Post

When Bill doesn't respond to someone, I'm guessing it's beneath him.
That's one interpretation. Fear would be another.
Quote:
Yeah, soundtracks are mixed specifically for 5.1 so why would you need a center channel or a subwoofer or surrounds?
Technically you don't; but without very precise control of the listening environment (think headphones), it can be quite difficult to position a sound behind you with speakers in front of you.

And actually: most (historically) are mixed for 1-3 channels, and most (modern) 9.2 or higher, as that's what's in theaters. 5.1 is a down-mixing (kind of like the phantom center process)
Quote:
So Jerry why do you use 2 speakers for 2-channel?

Because it improved the quality of my dialog. I ran two paradigm sets of 3 fronts (one Studio, the other Sigs) and had difficulty understanding the dialog. Moving to a phantom cleared that right up. I ended up doing the same in one of the surround setups at my parent's house (energy bookshelves) for the same reason.
Quote:
Why not just position one speaker in the center of the room?
You can save 1/2 on speaker purchases that way.

Because, while it's quite simple for two stereo speakers to project a soundstage between them, it's quite impossible for a single speaker to project a stereo sound-stage. If I ever tried it and it sounded better (or even as good) I would do exactly that.

Why aren't you running 9-channel?
Quote:
These center channel questions are as dumb if not dumber than "do cables make a difference" threads.
Hey, suit yourself and bath in the 4.1 sound.
Actually: It's still 5.1, coming out of 4.2 speakers.
post #21 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by Milt99 View Post

When Bill doesn't respond to someone, I'm guessing it's beneath him.
.
Or they're on my blocked list. Some come here to learn, some to teach, some just to argue. I don't have any interest in the latter, especially when a google search of their name turns up absolutely nothing that would give them any credence as audio professionals.
Quote:
Yeah, soundtracks are mixed specifically for 5.1 so why would you need a center channel or a subwoofer or surrounds?
+1. x.1 media is mixed for x.1, so that's how it will sound best. Stereo is mixed 2.0 or 2.1, so that's how it will sound best. I listen to HT in x.1. I listen to music in 2.1.
post #22 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Fitzmaurice View Post

I don't have any interest in the latter, especially when a google search of their name turns up absolutely nothing that would give them any credence as audio professionals.1.
as opposed to people who google searches bring up lots of sites they themselves made to hock their wares claiming that they themselves are experts? I see the same thing all the time with evolution denying "scientists", miracle cure "doctors", and secrets-of-chi martial artists.
post #23 of 71
It depends on the setup. If one has a single seat or sweet spot then phantom centers work well. If one has a crappy center channel compared to their mains then a phantom will sound better in the sweet spot.
post #24 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by beezar View Post

I'm thinking about buying some wall mounted speakers to go with a plasma TV, but I've ALWAYS had difficulties understanding dialogue with most LCR setups. I understand a lot of it has to do with the room acoustics, but I cannot change those in this particular room. I suspect some of it has to do with the drawbacks of the MTM design center speakers I've always had.

So I was thinking, would it be better to get only left and right speakers and forego the center? Would that make dialogue in movies better?

Back to the OP, I don't think it is a matter of dedicated center or phantom as it is an issue of volume levels and sound dynamics and source mix. If you already have 3 speakers, you can try the phantom vs the LCR setup and see if it improves. I doubt it, but like Jerry Love said, it cost nothing to try.

Assuming you have decent speakers, and not much more you can do with room acoustics, I think your options are either good AVR calibration + plus applying DPS modes that constrain dynamic range/levels like night mode, etc OR press the volume up to where you are comfortable with the dialogue and be ready for sudden peaks of sound (soundtrack, special effects, etc).

Disclaimer: I am not a sound expert like Bill and others around here, this is just my opinion based on personal experience and hours of research and suggestions from great people here at AVS and other sites.
post #25 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by MKtheater View Post

It depends on the setup. If one has a single seat or sweet spot then phantom centers work well. If one has a crappy center channel compared to their mains then a phantom will sound better in the sweet spot.

Works well yes, but still not as good from what I have compared. I am talking about using three identical speakers with tweeters at ear level for all three and using an AT screen. Compared to center turned off and using phantom center. i have tried this with RBH speakers, Klipsch speakers, JTR speakers and DIY. Phantom did not sound as good with any of the speakers and that was with me sitting dead center of screen. Now I am talking movies, not music.
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post #26 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by AV Science Sales 5 View Post

Works well yes, but still not as good from what I have compared. I am talking about using three identical speakers with tweeters at ear level for all three and using an AT screen. Compared to center turned off and using phantom center. i have tried this with RBH speakers, Klipsch speakers, JTR speakers and DIY. Phantom did not sound as good with any of the speakers and that was with me sitting dead center of screen. Now I am talking movies, not music.

I agree 100%, but I bet the ones that say phantom is better is using a lesser quality center. Not quite the same.
post #27 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by JerryLove View Post

as opposed to people who google searches bring up lots of sites they themselves made to hock their wares claiming that they themselves are experts? I see the same thing all the time with evolution denying "scientists", miracle cure "doctors", and secrets-of-chi martial artists.
You might want to read this thread:
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1353217

The DR200 and DR250 are Bills designs.
As for Bill being an expert, his name is on the masthead of AudioXpress magazine, and before that Speakerbuilder, right along with Vance Dickason and a dozen other noted experts. Yours isn't. mad.gif
And now you're on my blocked list too. wink.gif
post #28 of 71
That thread was fun and it was the opinion of 7 people. It could have changed with others so not a definitive fact. We are not experts and just people having a good time. All I know is that the DR system I own is the only system that can beat a great IMAX theater which uses great horn speakers with expensive drivers. I use all identical speakers so dialog is perfect with perfect panning to every speaker. If one is using two full sounding great towers and a center channel that is less quality then phantom might be a better choice but only for the sweet spot of the stereo image. I have 7 seats and two rows and a phantom center does not sound good on the outside seats compared to a matching center channel.
post #29 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by MKtheater View Post

I agree 100%, but I bet the ones that say phantom is better is using a lesser quality center. Not quite the same.
Paradigm signature , paradigm studio, bowers and Wilkins nautilus series, and energy c series were all tried.

In some rooms, it works better with the center. In other rooms it worked better without. I am not sure of the reason.
post #30 of 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by AV Science Sales 5 View Post

... I am talking about using three identical speakers with tweeters at ear level for all three...

Exactly and that's my case and so far, no complains whatsoever. Oh, BTW, my front array has 3X SVS SCS-02 (1st. gen.) and dialogue has never been a problem, though.smile.gif
In my case, due to space constraints/rack design, all 3 speakers are horizontally layed over the racks's top (not recommended, btw), but I still have a pretty darn good sound all'round though cool.gif
Edited by Avliner - 7/17/13 at 11:03am
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