The Best Center Channel Speakers

4 Driver Center Channel Speaker Up Close

Choosing the right speakers for your home theatre can be a daunting task. There are more numbers to look at than a math textbook, firm opinions about everything, and prices that range from affordable to astronomical. One of the best ways to tackle this task is to break up your options into manageable pieces, and the start to any great home theatre is the center channel speaker.

This is the speaker that will carry the workload of your system; providing you the focal point to the action, effects and, most importantly, the dialogue. A strong center channel speaker needs to keep up with the rest of your system, but it can also stand by itself and become the first building block to your home theatre.

So, what is the best center channel speaker? This depends on your needs, expectations, budget, and even style. Below are a few notable contenders divided into categories to help you narrow down your choices.

Best Value
ELAC Debut 2.0 C5.2

Best Value Center Channel Speaker

One might overlook ELAC’s Debut 2.0 C5.2 as a speaker from yesteryear by its plain looks alone, but there is nothing boring about the sound it reproduces. When the original Debut series from ELAC came out it was met with praise and acclaim. ELAC has taken this success and invested into its latest design by completely redesigning the series from the ground up to reach the next level of performance.

Two 5.25” woven aramid fiber cones with oversized magnets offer greater rigidity that is superior to traditional paper or polypropylene cones, resulting in a smooth low-frequency response. They moved the dual-flared ports to the front to provide greater punch while offering more options for placement without negative effects to the low end.

The 1” cloth dome tweeter delivers crisp natural highs up to 35kHz. The C5.2 is hefty, weighing 18.3lbs. This weight is generated from the use of internal bracing and thick CARB2 rated MDF for greater stiffness and strength, reducing vibrations that compromise sound quality.

This Speaker is For:

Someone who is looking for a great sounding speaker at a great price.

This Speaker is Not For:

Someone who is looking for style along with function.

Best Budget
Polk CS10

Best Budget Center Channel Speaker

It is easy to start planning out your new home theatre only to get scared away once you have added all the component costs together and seen a number with more zeros than you expected. But there is no reason for you to sacrifice audio quality because of budget when there are products like Polk’s CS10 to consider. Utilizing two 5.5” bilaminate fiber drivers to carry the lows and mid punch with a 1” silk dome tweeter for the highs, the CS10 delivers a natural even sound. 

Polk took their time developing efficient drivers for the CS10, giving it a great sensitivity of 91dB, allowing it to make the most out of every watt of power given to it. A unique design feature is its ability to sit flat on one side or flipped to sit on an angle to help direct the sound to the listener if placed low. The CS10 design is sleek and simple without being plain, while its high-gloss black piano finished sides match nicely to most flat screens.

This Speaker is For:

Someone who prizes sound quality and appearance, but wants to get the most out of their budget.

This Speaker is Not For:

Those that are striving for the best audio experience.

Best Hi-fi
KEF Q250c

KEF Q Series Center Channel Speaker

KEF is a company founded on innovation that first began in the early sixties when they partnered with the BBC to develop reference monitors. This passion for innovation has fed the past fifty years of developments leading to their latest Q series of speakers. The Q250c marks this list’s best high end center channel speaker by its stunning soundscape that is natural and accurate to the original source.

At the heart of the Q250c is KEF’s Uni-Q driver. The Uni-Q places the 1” aluminum dome tweeter in the center of the 5.25” aluminum midrange/bass cone, creating a single point source for sound to radiate from; creating a linear, clear, and focused sound. Instead of a traditional port, KEF uses two 5.25” Auxiliary Bass Radiators to assist the low end, creating an opportunity to place the speaker in a cabinet or tight space without affecting the low end. 

They placed equal care and attention in the sleek visual design of the speaker; from its elegant looking Uni-Q driver with its tangerine waveguide, to its flat finishes coming in black, white, or walnut that have a modern feel. The grill is magnetically held on when in use and leaves a smooth face without grill holes when taken off.

This Speaker is For:

The person who is looking for the best sound quality with no compromises.

This Speaker is Not For:

Someone budget-minded or with limited space.

Best Looking
Klipsch RP-500c

Best Looking Center Channel Speaker

With the Klipsch RP-500c you will be making a statement both in your style and also your love for audio. This speaker is simply gorgeous, but underneath all the looks is an impressive speaker that uses the latest technology to deliver uncompromised crystal-clear sound. 

The RP-500c is striking with two 5.25” proprietary cerametallic copper woofers that stand out but also stand up to the demands of delivering lower frequencies. To help reduce port noise and “chuffing” generated by low frequencies, a custom port was designed to improve air flow with less turbulence, creating punchy powerful bass. 

The 1” titanium vented tweeter is mounted on Klipsch’s 90×90 Tractrix horn to reduce resonance, smooth out frequency response, and efficiently cover the listening area—making it one of the best center channel speakers for dialogue. Using furniture grade materials and finishes, the RP-500c is available in scratch resistant ebony or walnut vinyl. If you choose to remove the grill to show off all the copper accents, you will find it is held on with magnets, leaving no grill holes to pimple its smooth face.

This Speaker is For:

Someone who favors bold style and admires quality materials as much as quality audio.

This Speaker is Not For:

Someone who wants their speakers to blend quietly into the background.

Best Compact
Polk S35

Low Profile Center Channel Speaker

Standing only 4” tall and 6.1” deep, Polk’s S35 will be the perfect fit for anyone who wants to upgrade from a sound bar but doesn’t want to, or can’t, give up the space needed for other speakers. Though the S35 may be slim and trim, it doesn’t sacrifice tonal quality—maintaining a wide frequency response from 53Hz – 40kHz to deliver a clear balance sound across the frequency spectrum. 

Polk accomplishes this by trading the conventional two mid speakers for six 3” mica-reinforced polypropylene drivers arrayed together. This array helps to push the same amount of air as larger drivers would. To take care of the highs, Polk employs a newly designed Terylene dome tweeter. 

Whether you’re going for a more subtle look with the grill on or striking look with the grill off to expose a gloss back front with silver cones that pop, they look great. They’re available in a washed black walnut or classic brown walnut finish. The S35 works well as a standalone, but three can also be used as a Left/Right/Center set up. It can also sit in the center as you pair it perfectly with the rest of Polk’s Signature series.

This Speaker is For:

The person looking to upgrade from a sound bar for better performance to one of the best low profile center channel speakers.

This Speaker is Not For:

The person looking for audio to take the center stage of their home theatre set up.

Honorable Mention
Pioneer SP-EC73

Best Three Way Center Channel

In a market dominated with two-way center channel speakers, the Pioneer SP-EC73 steps out of the pack by being a true three-way speaker. By adopting the use of a three-way crossover, the EC73 allows each driver in the speaker to be tuned to perform best for its given frequency spectrum. 

Handling the lows is a 5.25” aluminum cone woofer with a second 5.25” acting as a passive radiator. A passive radiator takes the place of a typical port, offering a tighter sound. A 4” concentric aluminum driver carries the midrange with a 1” soft dome tweeter taking care of the highs. The concentric driver offers a focused natural sound giving clarity to dialogue and effects. 

With an impedance of 4 Ohms, instead of the more common 8 Ohms, you will want to make sure your receiver/amplifier is rated to properly power this speaker. The SP-EC73 sits on adjustable feet that allow you to accurately tune the vertical coverage to exactly where you need it.

This Speaker is For:

Someone who wants to hear the benefits of a 3-way speaker and concentric driver.

This Speaker is Not For:

Someone who wants to stick with the standard speaker configurations.

Center Channel Speaker Buying Guide

If you’re in the market for a center channel speaker, you’ve come to the right place.

The center channel may be the most difficult of any speaker in your system to select. Most look quite similar, and yet price and performance specifications can swing wildly. 

If you are not a professional audio engineer, or experienced audiophile, it might be difficult to select the right product, so join me for some insight into how to select what is appropriate and, ultimately, the best bang for the buck.

It may seem intuitive to pick a complete “system” at the outset, as this would provide greater assurance that everything is designed and “voiced” to compliment the other speakers in the system, but this is not always the case or is it necessary. 

Understanding the performance needs of a center channel while having some idea of the specifications versus its price, you can pick something that can complement the rest of your system. So, what is the function of a center channel?

Theatre Sound in the Comfort of Your Home

The primary function of the center channel is for the mono placement of movie sound when played back through modern surround sound systems. When you watch a movie in a theater, much of the dialogue is coming from speakers placed directly behind the movie screen. 

They do it this way so that the ear/eye correlation is correct. Watching and listening to a movie with the dialogue coming from a left/right speaker location conflicts with what the eye sees. 

It’s passable, but it becomes crystal clear which way is better when compared to hearing dialogue front and center in a location where the eye can align the sound with the mouth movement. 

Acoustically, it is vastly superior since there is no negative interaction between the speakers when listening to mono sources. We refer to this negative interaction as “comb-filtering” which degrades the received sound. 

A brief summary of this effect is that any mono source being created from multiple locations introduces comb-filtering effects. Comb filtering is a series of peaks and dips in the frequency response. 

Since this effect is based entirely on different arrival times between the speakers to the listener, it changes every time you relocate your position, so it is impossible to correct for. For this reason, it is best to place mono signals in a mono speaker – the center channel.

Now that you understand the advantages for using a center channel speaker, let’s consider some criteria for selecting the right one for you.

Considerations for Selecting a Center Channel Speaker

Size and placement considerations are the primary criteria to consider first because it won’t matter how good the speaker is if you cannot place it properly in your space. Placing the speaker as close to the visual source as possible keeps the ear/eye relationship synchronized.

Here are some considerations:

  • Is your TV mounted to a wall, or standing on a pedestal?
  • Will the speaker block part of the screen or even the remote-control sensor for the set?
  • Will it look integrated into the entire setup, or will it stand out like a sore thumb?

Everything, including the overall industrial design of the speaker, can have an impact on whether something looks purposeful, or hobbled together. Only you can make those initial choices based on your space and personal taste in decor.

Selecting a Center Channel Speaker for Dialogue

Given the primary function of a center channel speaker, the performance specifications can be narrowed down from what is required from the rest of the system. With dialogue being the most important aspect, it does not necessarily require the broad frequency response necessary in the left/ right speaker, and obviously, it is not tasked to create sub bass unless you plan to only purchase a center channel speaker.

This is when I shift from calling it a center channel to calling it a “sound bar”. For this article, I am assuming you are after a true center channel so you can focus on the critical voice range (between about 200 Hz-8 kHz) as the most important range of frequencies to be considered. A flat frequency response through this range is going to be especially important.

Mounting Considerations

Since these center channel speakers are almost always horizontally elongated and many are low profile, you can expect some level of line array effect. Line array refers to the directivity or narrowing of the speakers’ sound dispersion in the direction of the elongation. 

A speaker box that is horizontally long will have narrowing of the coverage in the horizontal dimension and the opposite is true for the elongation being placed in the vertical. 

A good rule of thumb is that more Low Frequency drivers compacted in the speaker will have a narrower coverage window than fewer of them. So, a string of 8 drivers, closely spaced, will have a narrower listening window than a speaker with 1 or 2 drivers, spaced further apart.

Selecting the Best Center Channel Speaker

Since most of us will be making our selections via published specs and ordering from places like Amazon, I thought I would put myself in your shoes and choose a center channel speaker exactly how you would do it. 

I do caution anyone using this method that “specifications” are easy to manipulate, and until you have heard the speaker in person and in your space, you’ll never really know if you’ve bought the best center channel speaker for the price. 

We see this manipulation of specs routinely in the professional audio space so assuming that numbers are “bumped” to make a product more compelling to the buyer in the consumer market, is not a stretch by any means.

I went on Amazon and did a simple search for “center channel speakers” and came up with a lot of results. Prices started as low as $25.00 and went as high as $2000.00, so you can easily see how difficult it can be to pick a candidate. 

I strongly suggest having some criteria in place for the decision. You should also consider reading customer reviews and they are plentiful on Amazon. Afterall, you are not the first person to purchase the speaker, so you can use their experiences to narrow down your selection.

For some, brand name recognition and industrial design will play a big role in the decision but do yourself a favor and look beyond that. No single brand has the market covered for every use case, and brand interpretation of customer needs is why we have so many choices. Let’s look at a few samples.

A Final Word – Your Budget

Ultimately, your wallet will be the first determining factor, but if you put aside some common myths about speaker design, you may very well find yourself with an exceptional product and as you can see from my analysis, it doesn’t necessarily need to break the bank.

About The Author

Jack Nemo is a professional sound engineer based in Alberta, Canada. He’s managed to make a career out of his love for music while working with artists from around the world. When not behind a soundboard he can be found taking things apart to see how they work and attempting to put them back together again.

About The Author

Bernie Broderick is a veteran audio engineer and sound system designer.