Should I Put My Center Speaker Above or Below the TV Screen?

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Q I am coordinating the install of my new home theater system with a floating entertainment unit and a 75-inch Sony TV. The system will use three MartinLogan SLM XL speakers for the front channels. My dilemma is whether to position the center-channel speaker above or below the TV. The bottom location is closer to ear level but will require mounting the TV 6 inches higher than I’d like (because of the floating entertainment unit). My idea is to locate the center channel above the TV instead, which also isn’t ideal, but I feel that my ears will be able to adjust better to the configuration than my eyes. What do you think? —Fred Bredemeyer / via e-mail

A Direct-radiating speakers like MartinLogan SLM XLs perform best when positioned at ear level. That’s because of two phenomena. The first is that as frequencies get higher, most speakers become more directional in their output. The second is that when multiple drive units are involved, their interaction changes at different angles. In general, if the speaker’s high-frequency driver isn’t radiating sound toward your ears, the sound quality will suffer.

Here’s my advice: If you decide to mount the center-channel speaker above, instead of below, your TV, look into a mounting bracket that lets you tilt the speaker so that its sound directs down toward your listening position. As for TV height, you’re on the right track in thinking that images will look best when viewed directly front and center. With many LCD TVs, both contrast and color can fade noticeably when viewing from an off-axis horizontal position. A number of LCD sets also have a similar issue with the vertical axis—even boosting the set 6 inches above eye level could negatively affect image quality.

Traveler's picture

Would using 2 centers, one above and one below, help or would it just be impossible to keep them perfectly synced?

TimmyS's picture

You will get comb filter frequency errors and this will contribute to dialog un-intelligibility and other frequency response errors.

Deus02's picture

In the past I have tried two center channels above and below and ultimately, problems arise in that even if they are the identical model, horizontal centers and their location are generally more susceptible to changes in the timbre of the sound. Also, in order to balance the volume of the two accurately, you have to have two amps with independent volume controls.

Since I now have a large flat screen 4K monitor that because of practicality and space issues had to install it on the wall so, I had little choice other than to place it on a stand directly below and in front of the monitor. Frankly, I much preferred the sound with my old RPCRT when I could place the speaker on top of the set and tilt it slightly forward.

In any case, if you have the space and only one center is really practical and need to purchase one, I would buy one of the larger full range horizontal models that several companies have in their product range. Regardless of their location, they tend to negate some of the issues of the smaller limited frequency range designs.

Puffer Belly's picture

You may find you don't need it, and many audiophile websites recommend against a center speaker because the L/R speakers should be creating a good center image already. The center speakers rarely has the same frequency response as the L/R, so it just smears the center image.

If you must have one, the rule is to have the L/R and center tweeters be no more than 18 inches difference in vertical separation of the horizontal planes each tweeter creates and point the tweeters at your ears. See the book Get Better Sound by Jim Smith for more details.

etrochez's picture

The position of the center channel should be based on the position of the right and left tweeters. Place the center speaker (above of below the TV) where the tweeter is closer to the tweeters of the right and left speakers.