Critic's Center Position Clarified
Recently I've begun configuring some review systems to eliminate the horizontal center speaker in favor of a matching left/center/right array. The specific weakness of horizontal centers lies in their dual woofers. They bring on an effect called lobing--that is, sum-and-cancellation effects that cause uneven response at the listening position. However, my preference for identically matched speakers across the front is causing consternation to some readers, especially concerning placement.
Anthony Pasquini of Fort Myers, Florida wrote to the print version of Home Theater: "I was wondering how Mark Fleishmann [sic] arranged the front speakers for his review of the Canton GLE 403 system. He enjoyed the fact that the Cantons had no dedicated center speaker and stated that he prefers to arrange the front three speakers in an arc equidistant from the listener. Where does this leave the 'center' speaker? If it is on the stand the speaker is about 30 inches off the ground, which would put it directly in front of most TVs."
Following is the response I submitted to our letters editor:
"If positioning the center speaker 30 inches off the ground blocks the screen, then don't do it. It is fairly obvious that the center should go above or below the screen. Unless you've got a perforated screen--then it should go behind the screen. If you want side-to-side pans to be continuous, it is also a good idea to keep all three front speakers on the same level, or at least firing toward the same listening position. They might be angled upward or downward as needed. When I used a small direct-view TV, my center speaker was on a shelf below the screen, angled upward toward the listening position.
"Because horizontal centers are typically the weakest link in a surround speaker system, I am trying to eliminate them from at least some review systems. I urgently suggest to all my readers that they reconsider their attitude toward the supposed necessity of a horizontal center speaker. Your system will sound better with identical speakers across all three front channels. In the rear, where imaging is less critical, you can afford to be more flexible--monitors, bipole/dipoles, or (as in the Canton review) on-walls. The use of non-horizontal centers is quite easy with large front-projection screens--my own stand-mount monitor-size center is just below the bottom border of a wall-hanging screen and this placement works extremely well."