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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Not sure if there will be a definitive answer to this, but hopefully some interesting comments.

I've spent many hours recently trying to get my head into HT center channel speaker matching vs phantom etc, and something isn't quite adding up for me.

Something I see quite a lot is folks still talking about their 'mains' as though movie sound engineers view them the same way - as the main place to send big sound that isn't dialog. I've read numerous comments that suggest a center channel is critical, that it should probably be up to the same level of quality as your L/R, but that it is pointless to get one that is any better.

I wonder if this is actually true, or if it is simply a legacy problem because so many people are wedded to the idea of a 'main' pair of speakers? Isn't it far more likely that movie engineers focus most of their energy on a primary central/mono mix, and treat the front L/R kinda like 'front surrounds' (ie only incidental/spacial stuff goes there)? In which case, are the vast majority of people doing HT all wrong by focusing on a rock star main pair and begrudgingly getting a center that 'kinda' matches?!

Obviously for a lot of HT owners, our AVRs are altering what goes where and sending plenty of program to our 'mains' because they are usually better speakers. I doubt many of us have monster premium center channels and subpar 'mains'. But part of me wonders if this is actually a compromise, and that a more center-heavy approach (ie, using a large/premium center channel and sub/s with lesser 'mains' and 'surrounds') might actually be closer to the intended soundstage?

Should true HT aficionados be choosing their center first, then worrying about matching it?

Should we be bi-amping our center speakers via high quality external amps, before we worry about trying to do the same with the L/R?

Might we see a time when much larger and more sophisticated center speakers become the norm, and front 'mains' shrink into satellites in the corners of the room?
 

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You're right, there is no definitive answer nor agreement on the subject. Mostly because people have different needs and priorities.

Those who go with a stereo pair of speakers and use a "phantom center" are those who tend to prioritize music listening, with HT more of an afterthought or at least, a clearly secondary concern. So the phantom center is often good enough or even quite satisfactory for them. Especially when it's only a single or couple seated in a center location across from the screen. Or they may simply opt for a lesser quality center channel in relation to their superior quality stereo speakers. Because they don't do much home theater viewing.

If HT is your primary focus, then absolutely. Don't skip (or skimp on) the center channel. It is the most important speaker (with subwoofers being next highest or equal on the list).

Speaker budgeting for the front three speakers will be or should be dictated by these relative priorities.

One thing you may or may not already be aware of; if utilizing a center speaker, the gold standard is to have 3 matching speakers across the front. Which typically means 3 vertically oriented speakers across the front. For obvious reasons, that is not often feasible. The horizontal "dedicated center" speaker was borne only in response to a practical need for horizontal placement under a screen.
 

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I use the term "mains" for the front speakers because decades ago when I was doing live sound that's what all the engineers I trained from and worked with called the (main) front speakers. The side and rear speakers (if present) were to fill in the sound for the rest of the audience but the main sound was from up front. This was long before HT and I just kept the terminology. Old dog...

I agree with @CruelInventions that three matching speakers across the front seems ideal. That way sounds panned across the front do not change (there always seems to be a little, even for dialogue, as folk move around on the screen and the sound follows). Actually, all matching speakers would probably be ideal, but few of us have the funds and space for that.
 
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