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post #1 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 05:45 AM - Thread Starter
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How Can Ctr Be Most Important if Phantom is Viable Alt

In attempting to argue for larger vs smaller center my wife asked a question this newbie was ill prepared to answer.
How can the center channel speaker be the most important speaker in a HT set up if phantom is a viable alternative?
Does it have to do with the mains imaging / proximity to each other ie 2 ch sound stage / imaging is a good indicator of phantom center performance?

Try to establish credibility with the wife and not doing such a great job
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post #2 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 05:55 AM
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with stereo, and you sitting in the sweet spot, there is an "even" sound stage.
when you move out of the sweet spot, the stage shifts and the stereo center goes away.
a center speaker puts the center sound back towards the middle.

hope that helps, i could explain better, but i just got up.
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post #3 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 06:26 AM
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I've been running in phantom mode for several years now. Before doing so, I was using an Aerial Acoustic Model 5 (matching the other Aerials in the system). It had to sit on the top, middle shelf of the Salamander Synergy cabinet I'm using. In that position, it sounded boxy. When I had it out of the cabinet, it sounded great. But, this was a temporary position using a box to place it on at the same height as the cabinet shelf. My pre/pro has the ability to store several setup configurations, so I set it to include and exclude a center speaker. In the phantom mode, the sound came from the center of the screen. With the center speaker engaged, it dropped to the bottom. It sounded better to me in phantom mode.
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post #4 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 06:50 AM
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Op,

First the "Center Channel" is only important in Movie/TV content. Music not so much.

The "Center Channel" is used to produce the majority of Dialog in a Movie/TV show and it helps anchor the front sound stage. Some experts say the Center Channel caries 80% of the content of the front three speakers in a HT environment (FR, C, FL). Movies are producing more and more sound effects and wider dynamic range at an ever increasing rate.

Being able to clearly hear the Dialog in a Movie or TV Show is of upmost importance. The single Center Channel must be able to keep up with and at times outperform the output of the remaining 5.1 Speakers. Otherwise dialog clarity is lost. As you increase the number of speaker channels to say 7.1 or an Atmos setup of 7.2.4 or 7.2.6 you can see how important the Single Center Speaker becomes.

I hope this has helped give you some more information to share with that Smart Wife of yours. Good Luck Sir!
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post #5 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 06:55 AM
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It depends on what you mean by ‘viable’. As mentioned above, phantom center is only going to work well in the sweet spot. It also requires that you have capable LR speakers that are positioned optimally.

Too many people compromise on their center channel - they succumb to aesthetic concerns over performance when it comes to speaker selection and/or positioning. If you have excellent LR speakers and pick a small MTM center with tiny drivers and then stick it in a cabinet, you’re going to be less than impressed with the results.

If you do it right, get a center that matches your LR speaker, preferably a three-way WMTMW or WMTW design, and position it properly so that it isn’t stuck inside of a stand or pushed way back against the wall with stand/table in front of it, you’ll get better results than you will with phantom center.

The ideal solution is identical LCR speakers, but if you aren’t running a projector with an AT screen that can be difficult to achieve. Second best is a big three-way center mounted on a stand in front of any TV stand or wall mount.

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post #6 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 07:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Adamg (Ret-Navy) View Post
First the "Center Channel" is only important in Movie/TV content. Music not so much.

The "Center Channel" is used to produce the majority of Dialog in a Movie/TV show and it helps anchor the front sound stage. Some experts say the Center Channel caries 80% of the content of the front three speakers in a HT environment (FR, C, FL). Movies are producing more and more sound effects and wider dynamic range at an ever increasing rate.

Being able to clearly hear the Dialog in a Movie or TV Show is of upmost importance. The single Center Channel must be able to keep up with and at times outperform the output of the remaining 5.1 Speakers. Otherwise dialog clarity is lost. As you increase the number of speaker channels to say 7.1 or an Atmos setup of 7.2.4 or 7.2.6 you can see how important the Single Center Speaker becomes.
Yes, all of this! And of course it depends on the source material, but an incredible amount of content (not just dialogue) can be intended for a center channel, so I'm going to re-emphasize the importance of a quality center. And with content that does a full front stage pan, the proper center (and properly placed as already mentioned) becomes more seamless and convincing, at least in my experiences. Not that this necessarily happens all the time, but still....

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post #7 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 09:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2dflyer View Post
In attempting to argue for larger vs smaller center my wife asked a question this newbie was ill prepared to answer.
How can the center channel speaker be the most important speaker in a HT set up if phantom is a viable alternative?
Does it have to do with the mains imaging / proximity to each other ie 2 ch sound stage / imaging is a good indicator of phantom center performance?

Try to establish credibility with the wife and not doing such a great job
As others have noted, a phantom center can work okay if one is positioned halfway between the right and left speakers. If one is off to one side, then one will tend to hear the speaker that is closer to one more than the other speaker, and so the "phantom" center will be moved toward that side (for that listener) and not be centrally located. So that sounds that should be centrally located will not be.

The ideal is identical speakers for the front three channels (movie theaters do it that way), and although many seem to think that it can only be done with a front projector and an acoustically transparent screen (as is done in movie theaters), I have done it with a flat panel TV. I use identical bookshelf speakers for all non-subwoofer channels (because I use subwoofers anyway, it seemed pointless to buy speakers that could go deeper when the subwoofers are perfectly capable of handling everything below 80Hz; my bookshelf speakers are rated 50-40kHz +/-3dB and I use an 80Hz crossover). The three front speakers are mounted at almost exactly the same height, at about the recommended height for them, with my TV just barely above the center speaker.

Now, to do it that way, I first selected my speakers, and then selected the furniture for the TV and speakers (if I had not been renting, I would have just mounted the TV on the wall, and used an ordinary speaker stand for the center channel, which would have been easier to find than what I have). Many people buy a piece of furniture first, and then try to find a speaker that fits the furniture. To me, that is a backwards way of doing things, like buying speaker stands and then looking for speakers to fit them. It means that they typically are compromising the sound, as they generally have a different speaker in the center, so that when a sound pans across the front, it changes not just because of the location, but also because the different speaker sounds different. Even if it is supposedly "voice matched," it typically will sound different (if you would not use one of them for your right channel along with whatever you are using for your left channel, then, by your standards, they do not really match). And it is usually worse than just a different speaker; it commonly is an inferior speaker. This explains why there are so many people who prefer phantom centers, because they don't like having a mismatched set of speakers across the front. I don't recall ever encountering anyone who preferred a phantom center over having three identical speakers across the front. Usually, they have tried the supposedly "voice matched" center speaker for their right and left speakers, and found it not a satisfactory match for the right and left speakers.



Others have said that the center is only important for movies. I disagree. I have some old "RCA Living Stereo" SACDs that are three channel, and the center is a good thing for music, when it has been recorded that way. But with 2 channel sources of music, I play it back with the right and left (and subwoofers) only. I have never liked artificially added channels to music; though it sometimes can sound good with an added sense of spaciousness, sometimes it sounds very wrong, since it is sending sounds to places that were not intended in the original recording, and both can occur in the same piece of music. But you should choose regarding that for yourself, as it is a matter of taste.

I also disagree with the claim that the center channel is the most important. I would much rather have just a right and left front speaker than any two other places, even with movies. But I do think that if I am going to have one, I will have it right. I used to have a "voice matched" surround system, with the front right and left speakers different from the center and different from the surrounds, and I will never go back to that. Identical speakers in all channels (except subwoofers, obviously) is the only way I will ever have a surround system. With my system, when a sound pans from one channel to another, the only change in sound is due to the different location, and not due to a different kind of speaker producing the sound. You, of course, are free to choose as you please regarding such things.
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post #8 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 09:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2dflyer View Post
In attempting to argue for larger vs smaller center my wife asked a question this newbie was ill prepared to answer.
How can the center channel speaker be the most important speaker in a HT set up if phantom is a viable alternative?
Does it have to do with the mains imaging / proximity to each other ie 2 ch sound stage / imaging is a good indicator of phantom center performance?
I would argue that the L/C/R as a "system" interacting with your room is what is important. You need these three speakers balanced and placed properly to have a clear front sound stage. An unbalanced and improperly placed L/C/R is going to get you muddy sound and dialogue all the way around. You need three properly balanced and placed speakers to maximize your experience.

And I know people have reported good results with a phantom center, but I have never been able to get this to work for movies except for maybe one seat. Move left or right and the balance is off. I also suspect people who prefer this method have reflection problems where the center is placed making it worse to have a center for reasons that are room related.
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post #9 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 11:33 AM
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The best argument for having a center speaker for multi channel audio is that you can adjust the volume for dialog. Try that with a phantom center.

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post #10 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Knucklehead90 View Post
The best argument for having a center speaker for multi channel audio is that you can adjust the volume for dialog. Try that with a phantom center.
Not necessarily..... I believe some AVRs have a center *channel* adjustment (not center speaker) that can boost center channel.
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post #11 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 12:38 PM
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Not necessarily..... I believe some AVRs have a center *channel* adjustment (not center speaker) that can boost center channel.
I've owned some top of the line AVRs and processors over the years and have yet to see an adjustment for boosting the center channel when no center speaker is present.
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post #12 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 12:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2dflyer View Post
Try to establish credibility with the wife and not doing such a great job
I don't know why the wife would even be allowed to ask you about such things. Do you ask her about her cooking endeavours? Home video/audio is the domain of the man and shall not be questioned.
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post #13 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 01:00 PM
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When my wife and I view a film we prefer the phantom mode. When guests come over the center speaker is activated.

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post #14 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 01:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2dflyer View Post
In attempting to argue for larger vs smaller center my wife asked a question this newbie was ill prepared to answer.
How can the center channel speaker be the most important speaker in a HT set up if phantom is a viable alternative?
Does it have to do with the mains imaging / proximity to each other ie 2 ch sound stage / imaging is a good indicator of phantom center performance?

Try to establish credibility with the wife and not doing such a great job

Running a phantom center for home theater duty limits the placement options you have with your front speakers. They MUST be placed with center imaging in mind, or central sounds will not be properly anchored to the screen. In some theater setups, this isn't possible. A center channel does the job of centering sounds on the screen and allows the main speakers to do other things (mainly a soundtrack or score and panning directional sounds, handing them off to the surrounds)

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post #15 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 02:05 PM - Thread Starter
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So much help! Many thanks. Much of this will have to be filed away for when I'm able to start new but a couple of basic themes came though: Center performance is subjective with phantom center limiting main speaker placement and performance limited to +/- the sweet spot. A good system relies on well placed and matched/same speakers in all locations to prevent sonic discontinuity - I guess in the same way well designed speakers / crossovers seamlessly transition through the complete frequency range. Don't forget the room!

So many great points I don't mean to limit comment to a few but these kinda stuck out.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack D Ripper View Post
Many people buy a piece of furniture first, and then try to find a speaker that fits the furniture.
Exactly where I am. The furniture has been there which I'm having to work around. Much of everything I'm considering now from speakers (except the mains that I'll be quite pleased with) to stands to AVR is an exercise in aesthetic / sound quality compromise. When I'm able to devote a dedicated space to music / HT it will start with 4 bare walls.

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Originally Posted by theaterofpain View Post
I don't know why the wife would even be allowed to ask you about such things. Do you ask her about her cooking endeavours? Home video/audio is the domain of the man and shall not be questioned.
Because as Ret-Nav said, she's not just wife she's Smart Wife and Smart Wife never forgets anything. Anyway the hard part is done. Like the motorcycle trip I took to Sturgis a few years back, the conversation of new HT gear had to start with her getting over the initial shock. For the trip it was me on a bike for a long time far from home. What could possibly go wrong? For this it was the sticker shock of what I think now is a moderately priced system. To her speakers and gear should be small and inexpensive but she's come to accept it'll be somewhat pricey and expect reciprocal and equally pricey home furnishings.

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post #16 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 03:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2dflyer View Post
In attempting to argue for larger vs smaller center my wife asked a question this newbie was ill prepared to answer.
How can the center channel speaker be the most important speaker in a HT set up if phantom is a viable alternative?
Does it have to do with the mains imaging / proximity to each other ie 2 ch sound stage / imaging is a good indicator of phantom center performance?

Try to establish credibility with the wife and not doing such a great job

Just to repeat a couple posts by others:

Get a three-way center channel speaker, not a small two-way MTM speaker.
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post #17 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 06:00 PM
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Phantom can only do so much.
Do you have AT screen? If not, everything else is a compromise.
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post #18 of 22 Old 03-03-2018, 08:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2dflyer View Post
So much help! Many thanks. Much of this will have to be filed away for when I'm able to start new but a couple of basic themes came though: Center performance is subjective with phantom center limiting main speaker placement and performance limited to +/- the sweet spot. A good system relies on well placed and matched/same speakers in all locations to prevent sonic discontinuity - I guess in the same way well designed speakers / crossovers seamlessly transition through the complete frequency range. Don't forget the room!

So many great points I don't mean to limit comment to a few but these kinda stuck out.



Exactly where I am. The furniture has been there which I'm having to work around. Much of everything I'm considering now from speakers (except the mains that I'll be quite pleased with) to stands to AVR is an exercise in aesthetic / sound quality compromise. When I'm able to devote a dedicated space to music / HT it will start with 4 bare walls.



Because as Ret-Nav said, she's not just wife she's Smart Wife and Smart Wife never forgets anything. Anyway the hard part is done. Like the motorcycle trip I took to Sturgis a few years back, the conversation of new HT gear had to start with her getting over the initial shock. For the trip it was me on a bike for a long time far from home. What could possibly go wrong? For this it was the sticker shock of what I think now is a moderately priced system. To her speakers and gear should be small and inexpensive but she's come to accept it'll be somewhat pricey and expect reciprocal and equally pricey home furnishings.

Interesting discussion going on.

I'll echo what others have said and advise against running a phantom center. There are just too many issues.

Having said that, I don't place as much importance on your front three speakers being identical, or even familial for that matter (and yes, I sometimes take heat for that view around here). Room correction has really gotten good, and as long as they are all high quality speakers, that's really what matters most. If you're bound by using a certain piece of furniture, or (like in my case) mounting it in a very specific way, buy the highest quality speaker within your budget (for center speakers, this almost ALWAYS means a three way design that is also capable of digging down to at least 80hz with some real power) that will accommodate those restraints. You'll be better off than buying the same manufacturers speaker as your mains if it is clearly not as good of a speaker, but it does fit the hole/mount. The center channel really is its own thing, and your system during films/sports/video games etc will sound mostly like your center channel and subwoofers, with the mains and surrounds mostly filling out musical scores and effects and such.

Finally, it is my experience that while Smart Wife never forgets, she can be negotiated with (like your furniture deal). Just enter into discussions cautiously and well prepared.

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post #19 of 22 Old 03-04-2018, 06:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2dflyer View Post
In attempting to argue for larger vs smaller center my wife asked a question this newbie was ill prepared to answer.
How can the center channel speaker be the most important speaker in a HT set up if phantom is a viable alternative?
Does it have to do with the mains imaging / proximity to each other ie 2 ch sound stage / imaging is a good indicator of phantom center performance?

Try to establish credibility with the wife and not doing such a great job
A point I haven't seen made here yet. The center is the most important channel in home theater. If you're running a phantom center, then your left/right are the most important speakers. All great. Now if you run a *cheap* center channel this will be much worse than running a phantom center. Because the center is the most important speaker (most the dialog and actual movie sounds come from it), you dont want to skimp on this channel. If you have exceptional front speakers for left/right, you can get away with phantom center because you're playing the most important channel over exceptional speakers. Of course like others said, phantom center only really works well if you sit in the center sweet spot.
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post #20 of 22 Old 03-04-2018, 12:02 PM
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Short answer, phantom center only works if you have 1-2 people always listening (for HT) at the sweet spot. If your space may have more people or more listening positions, it doesn't work as well as having a center.
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post #21 of 22 Old 03-04-2018, 08:07 PM
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Chiming in @John Schuermann
Remembering him saying that movies are mastered with center channel in mind (except those stereo classics). It will sound different (dynamics) without a center channel despite one sits at the perfect center.
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post #22 of 22 Old 03-05-2018, 05:20 PM
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Just about all movies are mixed with three identical speakers, left, center and right.

It is absolutely correct that the center speaker carries somewhere between 70 - 80% of the movie soundtrack, not just dialogue. For example, if there is an explosion or gunfire happening screen center, the center speaker is going to be called on to reproduce it.

Having a GOOD center speaker that's timbre matched to the left and right speakers means that sound pans will be seamless and you will have better "coherence" in your front soundstage. Most films also have music elements in the center channel as well, so a good match in speakers is essential for a good blend at the front of your room.

As many have already pointed out, a phantom center is only good for ONE listener, positioned precisely between the right and left speakers. But there are other issues as well. Stereo sound results in an "interference dip" right at 2 khz as the sound from the two speakers intersects and creates a "null" right in the critical range of the human voice. When mixing for stereo, a mixer can try and compensate in a variety of ways, but as mentioned above, essentially all films are mixed with a center channel speaker and sounds are EQ'd for that particular setup.

I've included a few screenshots of actual film mixes so you can see how much energy there actually is in the center channel of a typical Hollywood blockbuster. The channels are broken out as follows:

1 - Left
2 - Right
3 - Center
4 - LFE
5- Left Surround
6 - Right Surround

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Cliff Chase:



Star Trek (2009) - Enterprise goes to warp:

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John Schuermann
The Screening Room Home Theater Sales and Design
JS Music and Sound Film Scoring and Sound Design
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