While a lot of manufacturers offer pre-packaged surround sound systems right out of the box, you won’t get the level of value or fidelity from a boxed model that you will from building your own. And starting with a center channel speaker allows you to upgrade and expand at your own pace. But whether you’re looking to construct your first surround sound setup or simply upgrade your existing kit, you deserve the proper advice not just to identify the best center channel speaker models around but also to know what qualities makes them so great.
That’s why we’ve reviewed 10 of the best center channels speakers available in 2020. We’ve also provided you with a detailed guide to understanding the most important specs and features to look for.
TL;DR - 10 Best Center Channel Speakers:
- Pioneer SP-C22 Andrew Jones Designed Speaker
- Polk Audio Signature Series S35 Center Channel Speakers
- Micca MB42-C Center Channel Speaker
- Yamaha NS-C444 2-Way Center Channel Speaker
- Sony SSCS8 2-Way 3-Driver Center Channel Speaker
- Klipsch R-25C Center Channel Speaker
- Cerwin-Vega SL-45C Quad 5 1/4″ Center Channel Speaker
- JBL Arena 125C 2-Way, Dual 5.5″ Center Channel Loudspeaker
- Dayton Audio C452 Dual 4-1/2″ 2-Way Center Channel Speaker
- Definitive Technology Procenter 1000 Compact Center Speaker
1. Pioneer SP-C22 Andrew Jones Designed Speaker
Andrew Jones is perhaps the biggest all star in the world of speaker design, and by drawing on decades of Pioneer technology, he's developed one of the slickest and most high performance center speakers around while maintaining a tight $100 price point. This is a great looking speaker, sporting an understated and rounded off design with dark grain wood surface, but that curved design is about more than just aesthetics. It dramatically reduces the standing sound waves to produce some clear and impressive sound performance across the board.
The sense of balance here is what's really extraordinary. The 4 inch woofers provide a satisfying thump to the bass that doesn't overpower the mids and highs from the 1 inch soft dome tweeter, and the overall results are almost neutral enough that they could serve as a monitor speaker. The other standout is the beefy six element crossover system.
2. Polk Audio Signature Series S35 Center Channel Speakers
The Polk Audio S35 is normally $300, but you can find it on Amazon right not slashed down by a hundred bucks. That's not due to a lack of confidence on Polk's part. This is an exceptional speaker that's well worth the initial price and capable of handling the needs of even the most complicated and powerful surround sound systems. It also features an incredibly slim design that makes it one of the top choices if you have limited space in your home theater.
The terylene tweeter produces the highs and mids with crystal clarity thanks to a whopping 40 KHz frequency response range. In fact, it offers some of the best dialogue you'll find in a speaker (at least one at a reasonable price), but the bass is no slouch either, thanks to the inclusion of Polk's patented Power Port technology. And the Dynamic Balance technology makes sure that there's a great sense of continuity across the entire frequency range.
3. Micca MB42-C Center Channel Speaker
We generally exercise caution when shopping for a speaker that features a $50 price tag, but while the Micca MB42-C features a tantalizingly low price tag, this isn't a cheaply slapped together piece of equipment. In fact, it's one of the best options for customers looking to construct a surround sound system on a tight budget. They manage this by prioritizing what's important: utilizing a a carbon fiber woofer and a well designed silk dome tweeter to produce some excellent crossover that exceeds the price.
What you're left with is strong imaging and a great sense of neutral and impressive crossover that can properly anchor other budget models while still working respectably well if you decide to accompany it with more high-end speakers. And the muted and slim design allows it to fit anywhere in your home entertainment system without sticking out like a sore thumb.
4. Yamaha NS-C444 2-Way Center Channel Speaker
In matters of raw performance, the Yamaha NS-C444 is the most middle of the road speaker on our list. It offers neither the best nor the worst quality sound, but in terms of value, it truly delivers more than you should expect from a $100 model. The first thing you'll notice is the aesthetics, and here the NS-C444 really sings. It's a really great looking speaker with a notably vintage design, although you may have to actively seek out matching components if you want a sense of aesthetic continuity throughout your system.
And while the build materials of the drivers here can't match some of the competition, Yamaha has made some smart choices to keep sound quality strong while still keeping costs low. The aluminum tweeter can really perform, and the presence of waveguide horns ensures that the reflected sound is focused and directed straight to your ears.
5. Sony SSCS8 2-Way 3-Driver Center Channel Speaker
The Sony SSCS8 would be easy to recommend at its standard $150 price tag, but with a current discount to half of that, it's a model worth enthusiastically endorsing. There's a richness to the sound quality here that few speakers can match. The mica diaphragm of the woofers ensure a deep and satisfying bass, but Sony has exercised restraint here. It's never so overpowered as to be distracting, and the sound performance is all around very well balanced so that vocals can shine through without interference.
The crossover here really stands ahead of the pack. Different frequencies are very well defined and each get their own opportunity to take the stage, and the network itself is mounted directly to the interior of the body to prevent vibrations from ruining the performance. But what really stands out is that wide dispersion tweeter that results in a rich and full bodied soundstage.
6. Klipsch R-25C Center Channel Speaker
Klipsch is well known for their reference style speakers, and that's an ideal you should be looking for when seeking out a speaker that can serve as the hub for your surround sound system. But even if you decide to use this as a standalone component, it can provide you with remarkable coverage for your home theater. The side mounted tweeters deliver an arc of 180 degrees, while the Tractrix horn deliver thudding performance straight ahead to make explosions, gunfire, and other deep level bass really stick with you.
The imaging here is just as great as the soundstage. You'll get little to no reflection from the floor and ceiling, resulting in a crisper sound and frequencies with a truly strong sense of placement. Each titanium tweeter is incredibly efficient, resulting in more juice per watt than you'd get in a more traditional tweeter setup.
7. Cerwin-Vega SL-45C Quad 5 1/4″ Center Channel Speaker
While the Cerwin-Vega SL-45C probably isn't going to be the ideal speaker for listening to music, its strong performance in the mids and vocals makes it a great mid-price choice if you want a center speaker for your home theater system. Five distinct and powerful drivers handle the vocal performance, and although the bass performance is a little lackluster, that's not what this is built for. In terms of serving as the hub for film dialogue, this is one of the top choices available in its price range.
And while it might not be your top priority when shopping for a speaker, this is a great looking piece of gear as well. The black and red design is bold but classical, although the larger design means that you'll need a decent amount of space to fit this powerful piece of equipment in your home theater.
8. JBL Arena 125C 2-Way, Dual 5.5″ Center Channel Loudspeaker
If you're an action film aficionado, you'll find a lot to love in the JBL Arena. Despite its relatively petite design, this speaker offers some serious strength. JBL makes some quality reference speakers, and that technology has been injected confidently into this model. That means that you get access to the truly top shelf High Definition Imaging waveguide technology that truly provides one of the most realistic soundstages you'll find in any model.
The driver placement here is also exceptional. It's been computer optimized to ensure that it really breathes life into your room and creates an experience that comes close to matching the real thing. And while this model is great in its own right, it really comes into its own when paired with the entire JBL Arena 5.1 surround sound set.
9. Dayton Audio C452 Dual 4-1/2″ 2-Way Center Channel Speaker
The B452 is the center component in Dayton Audio's phenomenal AIR series, and while it works at its strongest with the other components in the set, it can stand proud in its own right as well. It sports a classic and great looking design accented by a black vinyl finish, but it's more than just a looker. The polycarbonate tweeter is barely over a half inch, providing the sort of texture and clarity you need to really get the most out of TV and film dialogue.
It includes rubber feet to make sure that it doesn't scratch the surface of your entertainment center as well as a bracket if you decide that you'd rather use it mounted against your wall. And the transparent black cloth grille can be removed completely if you want a more industrial look for your TV room.
10. Definitive Technology Procenter 1000 Compact Center Speaker
u won't find a smaller speaker than the Definitive Technology Procenter 1000. With a maximum dimension of ten and a half inches, it's the perfect choice for customers who are trying to achieve cinema level sound performance in a more cramped space. And the glossy black design and angled positioning will look great while still delivering audio directly to your ears even in smaller rooms.The aluminum tweeters offer pristine sound performance, while the 4.5 inch radiators help fill out the bass significantly.
The bass here really stands out, but it offers a significant frequency range across the entire spectrum. And the PolyStone cabinet is designed to reduce the resonance that results from deeper bass vibrations significantly.It's also video shielded so it can be safely positioned near your TV without having to worry about any unpleasant interference.
Center Channel Speaker Buyer’s Guide
Regardless of how many speakers you’ve managed to pack into your surround sound stereo or home theater system, the center channel is going to be its beating heart. It anchors the music you play through your speaker system and ensures that everything from dialogue to the film’s score in your favorite movies has the clarity and balanced sound you need. That makes a center speaker arguably the most important purchase a customer can make when developing a speaker system. The following guide will help you understand what specs you should be paying attention to and how you can read the difference between quality performance and over-hyped nonsense.
The Purpose of a Center Channel Speaker
If this is your first time trying to craft a surround sound experience, you may not understand what role a center channel speaker serves. But you definitely need to know. That’s because this type of speaker is the most important when developing a surround sound setup. While the other speakers in your lineup are going to provide the illusion of surround sound, a center channel speaker processes the vast majority of dialogue as well as half or more of the overall soundtrack to a movie.
Other speakers may enhance the experience, but the cross channel speaker creates the core experience in the first place. Even if you’re not ready to expand to a full surround sound system yet, the center channel speaker is still the most important place to start, as it can work as a standalone speaker for watching movies and listening to music.
There are some brands that are just synonymous with quality. The simple fact is that if you invest in a Klipsch, Polk, or Pioneer speaker, you can rest easy knowing that you’re going to get great performance. But the downside is that the added clout these brands have means that sometimes they come priced at a premium. Investing in the best means paying a little extra. That’s not to say that there aren’t lesser known brands that offer cutting edge technology or top notch sound quality. In fact, we have quite a few lesser names included on our reviews list.
But there’s another factor to take into consideration. Not ever central speaker is going to work with every other component in a surround sound system, so if there’s a brand you particularly like, you may be better off spending a little extra on their proprietary central speaker so that you can find the perfectly accompanying speakers for the rest of your surround sound layout. In some instances, speakers are part of a larger set, and purchasing the accompanying speakers to go with them will result in the best sound performance possible.
The drivers for most center speakers are going to consist of two bass radiators or woofers and two tweeters. The former drivers handle the bass performance, while the latter drivers handle the mid and high level frequencies. In some more advanced center speakers, there may be additional mid range drivers to help do some of the heavy lifting for the tweeters. Ideally, you want to look for cerametallic woofers and a soft dome tweeter for optimal performance, but keep in mind that a center speaker works best at dialogue, so finding a tweeter with a higher rating is more important than focusing on the low or mid drivers.
The frequency response range of a speaker refers to the spectrum of frequencies that a speaker can deliver with clarity. A lower minimum frequency response will result in a deeper and more nuanced bass sound, while a higher maximum frequency response will naturally deliver mid and treble performance more adequately. Naturally, the latter is going to be the top priority with a center speaker since these speakers are focused on delivering quality vocal sound.
While the human hearing range falls between 20 Hz and 20 KHz, you can benefit from having a speaker with technology that features a range that goes beyond these standards. The wider the range, the more realistic the sound quality is going to be, and the better your speaker can offer a clean soundstage and a sense of meaningful imaging.
Most center channel speakers need an external amplifier to work, and that means that power handling is something you should be paying attention to. Power handling is the maximum amount of power that a speaker can handle, measured in wattage. If you really want to make the most of your speaker, you’ll want to find an amplifier that can support the maximum wattage. That will ensure that you can get maximum volume and performance.
Unfortunately, there aren’t established standards for power handling, and most manufacturers are making ballpark guesses regarding the actual power handling level. If you invest in an amplifier in the general range of the listed wattage for a speaker, or slightly higher, you should be fine.
Speaker sensitivity, measured in decibels, tells you the maximum volume for a speaker. If you really want to experience movies in a way that resembles a serious movie theater, you’ll want to find a model that features a high sensitivity level. Most speakers fall in the range of roughly 90 to 100 decibels, but you likely won’t find yourself listening to movies at that high a volume regularly. Extended exposure to volumes over 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing damage.
With that in mind, most speakers you’ll find are going to comfortably accommodate what you need. For the most part, if you want good and loud volume that’s comfortable for listening and free of distortion, a sensitivity of 92 or above should be the high water mark to look for.A
Size and Weight
A full surround sound system can take up a lot of space, so you need to take into consideration the dimensions and heft of the center speaker if you’re planning on building it out into a full system. The center speaker is best situated directly above or directly below the TV itself so that you can create an authentic replica soundstage, so a customer that measures the space they’re working with will be assured to have have plenty of room. Also factor in the fact that you need a decent amount of space between the speaker and any solid surfaces to minimize the risk of the bass radiators bouncing off sound from the acoustics of the room.
One of the better choices is to mount your center speaker over your TV. But for that to work, you’ll need to make sure that it’s not too heavy to safely be positioned against your wall.
A good speaker features a component known as the crossover, but it’s especially important with a center channel speaker since these devices are designed to provide the maximum amount of clarity and distinction between the low, mid, and high frequencies.
The crossover filters the sound into various frequencies that are then distributed to the packed in drivers, making sure that a titanium tweeter properly processes treble and a woofer cone processes the lower lows. A good crossover system will increase the fidelity across the entire frequency range and result in more authentic performance no matter what you’re listening to.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Use Any Speaker As a Center Channel?
Any speaker that isn’t a subwoofer can be used as a center speaker, but that doesn’t mean that any speaker should. Just because a model works well as a bookshelf speaker doesn’t mean it will suit the needs as the core of a surround sound system. If you want a great result, check the guide above where we break down the stats and features that you should prioritize when shopping for a center speaker.
What is a Center Channel Speaker?
A center channel speaker serves as the central hub for a surround sound setup. Most models are focused on creating a neutral sound profile that can deliver crisp and easy to comprehend dialogue to complement the more boisterous bass reflex and wider frequency range you’ll find in the accompanying speakers.
Do I Need a Center Channel Speaker For Music?
That depends on what you’re trying to do. If you want to set up surround sound music, then a center channel speaker is a necessity. If not, you should be fine without one. While the surround sound experience is typically focused on delivering a high rating of TV performance to the customer, that doesn’t mean that your music listening experience can’t benefit from it as well.
If you’re looking to create a surround sound system, a center channel speaker is going to be a necessity, but it can work well as a standalone device if you’re not ready to make the jump to a full cinematic home theater experience yet. Regardless of your needs, the models on our list should fit you like a glove. And if you decide you’re looking to expand your existing stereo system, be sure to check out our guides to the best standing speakers and the best bookshelf speakers of 2020.If you liked our article on center channel speakers, please share and comment below what your favorite product is.