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What center speaker has the *best* vocal clarity?  

post #1 of 123
Thread Starter 
Watching a movie tonight I was once again a little let down by the relative lack of vocal intelligibility in most DVD soundtracks today. Either the vocals are mixed too low or the soundtrack is too high, you have to keep on the volume throughout the entire film it seems.

In order to help control this, I'd like to upgrade to a very high end center channel speaker. I'd like something that has the absolute *best* vocal fidelity. Full-range reproduction is not as important - I will be using it in a 'small' setting anyways. Also, IMO tonal matching is not as important since I have to boost the center right now about 4dB anyways which kind of ruins that even with my same-manufacturer center. Not that there are ever vocal pans from the L/R to the center anyways 99% of the time.

I'm currently using a PSB C6 with my Stratus Golds. It seems to me the Aerial CC3 is very very highly regarded, and at ~$1500 is in the price range I'm thinking about for this. Would it fit the bill?

BTW, Would an electrostatic center be more or less intelligible?

Andy K.
post #2 of 123
Personally, I think it's the level mix and not the speaker. IOW, it's very common to run the center channel hot to be able to hear all dialog.
post #3 of 123
Yes to Aerial CC3b.

Yes to Nuke61s' post.

post #4 of 123

Meyer HD-1

End of story.
post #5 of 123
Ultra High Fidelity Magazine (which is on line also) has a review of center speakers in it's present issue.

Matching the fronts has usually been imortant though.

Peter m.
post #6 of 123
IMHO, having to adjust the center to get better dialog means your placement sucks. I'm not running high-end gear, and with a little judicious placement, I've never had to bump the settings on any speaker. The room (and speaker placement) is as important as the speakers...

As far as *best* center speaker: well *whatever matches your fronts*.

post #7 of 123
I use a C5i with my goldis and i can hear everything VERY clear, no adjustments whatsoever and i sit 17 feet away from it.....maybe it's your amp? i'm using a cinenova for my front....
post #8 of 123
Thread Starter 
Nuke61, I agree its the mix. Hopefully, however, I would like to try to minimize that problem while agreeing I cant get rid of it completely.

specco2003, very interesting recommendation, I'll check that out. Are you using this speaker? Anyone else heard this? (I hope I'll be able to find a studio speaker like this up in Canada...)

Sorny, sorry I just plain disagree with you. I have heard enough anecdotal evidence to know that its ultimately a problem with the sound mix on many DVDs.

I also disagree with the matching the fronts philosophy (heathen!) for a number of reasons:

1)My fronts are 4 foot tall tower speakers, its kind of difficult to place another one in the middle (besides the fact you cant even buy singleton PSB Stratus Gold speakers)

2)Dialog intelligibility is noticably improved from the center channel speaker I have then it is from either of the mains. Why would I compromise that just to get an even sound field?

3)My center channel is tonally different from the mains anyways, regardless of the fact they are all from the same manufacturer. How could it be any different? Its a completely different type of speaker. Also, since I need to goose the center channel anyways, any kind of a pan from L/C/R has a bump in the middle, destroying any kind of tonal matching.

4)Here's the kicker - I dont care! I almost never hear pans like this in films *anyways*, so why bother trying to match for something that rarely happens?

Andy K.
post #9 of 123
The Klipsch center speakers will offer some of the most detailed vocals out there. Check out the RC-7, it is exactly what you are looking for.
post #10 of 123
Originally posted by Sorny
As far as *best* center speaker: well *whatever matches your fronts*.
I'm going to have to strongly dissagree with this statement. While I certainly believe LCR timbre matching is important, if you focus is on reproduction of movie soundtracks or even multi-channel music, I would argue that the quality of your center should be the start of your loudspeaker search, not the end. I would flip the above statement around such that your best choice for mains are those which best match your favorite center channel.

I wrote a rather lengthy response (go figure:rolleyes: ) a month or so ago about selecting home theater speakers which covered the topic in great detail.

In my personal, not so humble oppinion, some center channels I have heard and find of very good quality in no particular order:
NHT M5/M6, Aerial CC3, CC5(significantly better than CC3), Revel Voice, Triad Platinum LCR, some of the PMC's, most of the 3 way Genelecs, and of course our own newer speaker the runt. ;)

Personally, there are few 2 way center channels which satisfy my expectations. I am curious about some of the new speakers Paradigm is offering, and Triad displayed one or two newer speakers which perked my interest.

I would caution that there are many rather average center channels out there. A good center and matched L/R with appropriate power can be quite a revelation.

post #11 of 123
Onecall.com has the Infinity Intermezzo center channel on sale for $576 incl shipping. It is a powered 3 way that is great with movies (and dialogue!) and really shines on HiRes music. Few center channels can match its lower freq reproduction also...
post #12 of 123
ACI Veritas, a three-way design with vertical midrange - tweeter flanked by a pair of powered woofers. It also has a ton of built in adjustability for tonal balance and woofer EQ. This will help it match up better with real world placement and matching other left -right speakers.

post #13 of 123
Except with

1. a very loud (60dBC) unhushboxed projector and lower listening levels (below reference -20dB instead of reference -40dB in a quiet room)

2. friends' HTIB setups

I've never had a problem with dialog intelligibility. A very high noise floor or poor equipment shouldn't be your problem.

I'd suspect a placement or room acoustics problem. Speaker response becomes less uniform and rolled-off as you move of-axis so aim the speaker at you. On top of a TV doesnt work well because TV cabinets resonate and the increased baffle area can give you an unwanted bass-boost. Placement near room boundaries or in an entertainment center has the same effect and hurts intelligibility from early reflections.

With high quality mains you also shouldn't notice a difference in clarity when you disable the center channel - just a change in placement especially if you're off axis.

Maybe your room is too reverberant?
post #14 of 123
I did not have a chance to listen to the Meyer Monitors but have read good things about them.

I would add Harbeth Monitor 30 or 40. Their rendition of voices is outright spooky. You keep looking for the guy hidden behind the speaker. I have not heard anything close to these.

As we all know this is a rather subjective matter and this is my personal experience. I still recommend you listen to them before you make a decision.


post #15 of 123
While you disagree with matching speakers (asinine as I find that), you should really look into your placement and room treatments before spending money on more speakers. Your gear is much better than mine, yet one of us has to goose the levels and one doesn't. Does that not suggest to you that placement and treatments could be a cause of your dissatisfaction?

Your anecdotal evidence suggests to me that many people have exceedingly poor placement of speakers/treatments and blame the mix instead of looking at the real fault: placement and the room! Keep in mind that folks who are content with something generally don't make a big stink about it like folks who are unhappy...

Your advice regarding choosing the center, then the rest to match is exactly what I did when I was purchasing speakers. I figured that since most of the sound comes from the CC in a movie, then I should find a CC that I love and build around that. Glad to see that I'm not the only one who thinks that way... My advice above was intended to let the thread starter know that it is preferable to have matching tone/timbre across the front...

post #16 of 123
I've read LOTS of replies that Klipsch centers are very good for dialog, so I'd consider them.

What I forgot to add in my previous post, when I commented about it not being unusual to run the center hot, is that I have a Paradigm CC-170 center and I'm very happy with it. I run it at exactly the same level as the other speakers (Paradigm fronts and Boston rears) and don't have any problems with dialog.

I just assumed that since you're running gear much better than mine, it must be the mix. However, Sorny has a good point about placement, and maybe it's the equipment. As I said, I don't run my center hot, and I don't have a problem with dialog.

BTW, I set my speaker levels with an RS SPL meter and Avia. How did you set your speaker levels?
post #17 of 123
Originally posted by Nuke61
I've read LOTS of replies that Klipsch centers are very good for dialog, so I'd consider them.
My experience has been breathtaking to say the least. I myself, my wife and guests have actually been scared at times due to the clarity and realistic dialog. This goes for the center channel as well as all of the surround speakers from the performance of the horns vs using a tweeter. A few have jumped off of the couch because of a whisper such as some of the "ghost" dialog in "The Haunting". Good luck and don't have a heart attack!!! :D :D :D
post #18 of 123
Originally posted by Nuke61
I've read LOTS of replies that Klipsch centers are very good for dialog, so I'd consider them.
I wouldn't comment except that I've had the exact opposite experience. I think they skew the vocal presentation fairly dramatically, so I'd listen pretty seriously before stepping in that direction. I think your center is pretty good, so I would check other causes first. Are there better? Sure. A Meridian DSP5500 HC for $7300 might sound a little better :)
post #19 of 123

If you think matching the front means using exactly the same speaker as you use for your L/R, I think doing a search on the basics of timber matching is in order. Also many manufacturers if they don't have a center speaker in their lineup for a particular model, will sell you a single if you ask them. Totem Acoustics is an example.

If your L/R speakers are forward of your center, when you do the spl readings for each speaker to your preference 75db as an example the distance that you set to the sweet spot for each speaker should equalize them, particularly if their timbre matched.

Peter m.
post #20 of 123
My recommendation is to look at Klipsch as well, the RC-7 has a very effortless sound. I use the older version, the KLF-C7.

Is there a possibility of use another full range speaker as a center?
post #21 of 123
Thread Starter 
I dont *disagree* with matching fronts and center, I just find its not the most important criteria. besides, as I've said before, how the heck can you match the mains when the mains are 4ft tall towers? Even though I have an FPTV, my screen is <4ft from the floor and I'm not getting an acoustically transparent screen. Besides, PSB does not sell singletons. So the point is moot.

I will admit that perhaps my hearing is not quite 100%, I do go to a lot of loud concerts :) Also, my FPTV fan is kindof loud (old DILA) and only partially noise-treated (theres only so much you can do in an apartment). Lastly, my room is partially acoustically treated but again only so much you can do in an apartment.

peterm, my current center is supposed to be timbre matched to my mains. I can tell you it sounds completely different. If you do a white/pink noise sweep across L/C/R, the center sounds completely different. Can I say for certain that this is the rule and not the exception? No. But at the same time it seems obvious to me that it would be impossible to exactly match the tone without reproducing the entire speaker.

Thanks for the Klipsch recommendation, I'll take a look at that one too.

Andy K.
post #22 of 123
please let us know what you find with the Klipsch, it is always interesting to hear what others think after being recommended to a particular speaker.
post #23 of 123
ACI's have gotten raves for their centers. Decent prices too.
post #24 of 123
Some speaker types do require more concern for the mains than others when trying to integrate the L-R-C.

I have full size electrostatic tweeter/transmission line woofer mains and I think that anything less than another hybrid electrostatic for the center would have been a tough integration. An option might have been a standard box cabinet center channel with cones that was being offered by a supplier that was also offering electrostatics as you would have to believe that they would have taken the idiosyncrasies of electrostatics into account. In reality the center channel that I ended up with has 3 cone tweeters, 2 cone woofers and an electrostatic panel that covers the mid-range of the speaker's frequency band.

If your system is really biased toward HT as opposed to audio I would have to agree that the center channel is absolutely critical and finding a center channel that you are happy with and then matching mains to it sounds like a very logical approach to me given that the information going to the center is so important to the overall presentation.

It does really make me wonder where I would have landed if I had decided to focus primarily on HT and as a result started with the center channel.
post #25 of 123
I've the exact same front setup as you kromkamp - Stratus Goldi's and the C6i, and I don't have any problems with dialog. The C6i's are pretty capable center channel speakers.
post #26 of 123
Well, to date the Revel voice is the best I've heard.

However, let's not forget the room effects on such.

From my personal experience, my NHT center in my previous highly reflective family room with the ony absorptive area being a large rug was pretty unintelligeable. I always had to boost the center and silibance was always pronnounced. I knew it would have to be upgraded someday. So I did! I purchased the flagship Mirage and dialogue was helped but not to the degree I expected as this was supposedly a nice center.

Fast forward to my current Citation LCR. Smae room. Same problems. The centers...alll required center boosting and were plagued with intelligibility problems. As I built my new HT, I knew it too would need to be upgraded.

Placement wie, the NHT and Mirage were a top of the TV and the Citation was on a stand below the TV.

Well, low and behold, that same center in an acoustically treated room is pretty amazing now in tht the sibilants are minimal and dialogue intelligibility (with no boost) is perfect.

The point being that an upgrade may or may not help but placement and room acoustics also have a significant bearing on performance.
post #27 of 123
I'm biased ... but make sure you also try a Thiel MCS1.
post #28 of 123
Do I have a twin?

Peter m.
post #29 of 123
Thread Starter 
jnug, I love my Stratus Gold's too much for music to consider replacing them for HT :)

thebland, I agree with what you are saying. However, in my situation I've pretty much maxed out my opportunities to tame the room (since it is my living room in an apartment). The room has a relatively good RT60 and somewhat flat response except for a couple of nasty bass modes.

The particular sound I would attribute to the center that bothers me is a kind of muffled humming sound, almost like the box is resonating. But its on a pretty solid stand by itself inbetween the mains.
post #30 of 123
My vote goes to the B&W HTM1 but it is out of my price range.

My mains are Paradigm Monitor 11's. I originally purchased the CC370 with them but sold it because my AR2C sounded better than the CC370.

One day I was playing around and inserted a surround (Polk RT25I) for the center. I noticed a substantial improvement. Vocals are very clear and the sound is deeper. For some strange reason my sub sounds entirely (as in better) different with the RT than with the AR2C.

Has anyone experimented with using something else for a center channel?
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