Center Speaker Review
Center Speakers: The Centerpiece of Sound
How to Choose a Center Speaker
The top performers in our review are the Polk TSi CS10, the Gold Award winner; Yamaha NS-C444, the Silver Award winner; and Polk CSi A4, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.
If you are looking into purchasing a center speaker, you have likely made the decision to turn your TV room into a home theater. This usually includes purchasing an AV receiver, left and right speakers, bookshelf speakers and a dedicated center speaker. With these components in place, you can create a true movie theater experience, and a quality center speaker is the centerpiece to your home audio system.
The center channel speaker might be one of the smallest in your home speaker setup, but it has an important job to do. The center speaker is responsible for the majority of the dialogue you hear in movies and video games. When you watch movies, you want the dialogue to be front and center, not lost in all the action. A dedicated center speaker projects dialogue clearly and prominently so you don't miss a word.
A center speaker is designed to complement a full stereo system, often one containing surround speakers. Without other speakers, a center speaker won't do much for the overall audio quality of your home entertainment center. You should combine it with at least an AV receiver and a pair of left and right speakers. The AV receiver powers all of the speakers and connects them together so you can control your audio system with a single remote. The left and right speakers can handle the majority of sounds, including bass and high-pitched frequencies for ambience, leaving the center speaker to do what it does best – deliver crystal clear dialogue.
If you would prefer to upgrade your home audio without buying a full stereo system, one of the most popular solutions is a sound bar. A sound bar is a single unit – sometimes accompanied by a subwoofer – that you place in front of your television. Sound bars contain multiple drivers, which are often pointed in different directions to simulate surround sound. Since there aren't multiple speakers placed around the room, all of the sound is coming directly from the center. This can lead to unbalanced volume and uneven sound quality, especially for those not sitting directly in front of the television. A whole home entrainment speaker system coupled with a center speaker provides great sound quality no matter where you are sitting in the room.
We recommend buying a center speaker made by the same brand as your other speakers. This uniformity will help to produce the most natural sound possible. When you stay within the same manufacturer, you have a better chance of getting the same tonal quality from your speakers and a more uniform sound. For more information on this topic, visit our learning center for articles on center speakers.
Center Speakers: What We Evaluated, What We Found
We reviewed some of the best center speakers available and have made a side-by-side comparison you can reference. You can also read our detailed reviews of each product, along with articles about center channel audio. We evaluated each speaker's performance qualities and how they will benefit your home entertainment center. This will help you find the best center speaker for your needs.
You should find a center speaker with a wide frequency range. The center speaker handles roughly 70 to 80 percent of the sound when you are watching a movie or listening to music, and it is the bridge between all of the surrounding speakers in your sound system. When your center speaker has wide dispersion, it provides clear dialogue for people sitting outside of the center of the TV. This means if you watch TV with others who are not sitting directly in front of the television, they will still be able to catch all the dialogue.
Look for a speaker with a high sensitivity rating. Sensitivity is the speaker's ability to turn power into sound. Generally, when a speaker has high sensitivity, it takes less power to make sound. Speakers sound best when they don't have to work hard. A center speaker with a high sensitivity rating will produce less unwanted noise and better sound quality.
Impedance is an important specification to pay attention to when you are pairing an amplifier to a speaker. When a speaker has low impedance, it allows more power to go to the speaker. You want to pair your speaker with an amplifier that has the same impedance so you don't damage your speaker or your amplifier. Too much power from your amp to your speaker can damage your speaker. Conversely, your amp can become damaged if it produces too little wattage to power your speaker.
Other Things to Consider
Woofers come in various sizes. Generally, larger woofers can handle lower frequencies better than smaller woofers, but smaller woofers do a better job at reproducing higher frequencies. Depending on your system configuration, you may want to consider a center speaker with large woofers if you don't have a subwoofer. On the other hand, you might want smaller drivers if you don't have small surround sound speakers to handle higher frequencies.
When a speaker frequency is set to 3,000Hz, or 3kHz, it means that anything below that frequency will be sent to the woofers and anything above it will be sent to the tweeters. The higher the crossover frequency, the more natural and better your speaker will sound.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Center Speakers: Our Recommendations
The Yamaha NS-C310 is our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner. It has a wide frequency response range and good sound dispersion so it doesn't matter where you are in the room – the sound quality will be great. It features a high crossover range so your center speaker sounds more natural. It's also an efficient speaker, which translates to better sound quality. This is the best all-around center speaker for a home entertainment center.
The Polk Audio TSi CS10 is our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winner. This is one of the most efficient center channel speakers we reviewed, which helps it produce great sound quality. It has a low crossover range compared to the rest of the speakers, which isn't ideal, but it does boast two 5.25-inch woofers that can produce low 53Hz frequencies. This Polk center speaker is an excellent choice to include in your home theater setup.
The Yamaha NS-C444 takes home our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award. This speaker is not as efficient as either the NS-310 or the Polk TSi CS10, but it does have a higher crossover frequency range than the TSi CS10. This two-way speaker is also magnetically shielded to prevent interference from nearby electronics. This speaker can handle a lot of power and has the potential to produce the dialogue quality you want from a center speaker.