Best Center Channel Speakers (2020) for Dialogue Clarity
Are you still struggling to understand what your favorite characters are talking about during intense action scenes? Undoubtedly, this can make a Netflix binge session very frustrating. Don’t worry. You’re not alone in this.
Whether it’s movies, concerts, or games, people all over the world struggle to hear the dialogue from time to time. Speech registers in a very specific frequency range.
And, no matter how much you tweak the equalizer settings, there’s only so much a piece of software can do to improve the clarity, especially when there are all kinds of other sound coming out of the front and surround speakers.
If there was ever a reason to get your hands on one of the best center channel speakers, this would be it.
12 Best Center Channel Speakers for Any Budget
Check out my top dedicated center speakers for home theater systems and find out why the center channel is really the core of any AV setup.
Table of Contents
- 12 Best Center Channel Speakers for Any Budget
- Where Does the Center Channel Speaker Rank in Importance?
- Look for Acoustic Compatibility
- Understanding Some Technical Specifications
- Other Features I Look For
- Don’t Be Afraid to Make the Center Speaker Your First Purchase
If you’re looking for something that lets you hear the human voice without resorting to blasting the home theater system to the maximum, this is a solid choice. The R-52C is not the most powerful but it still features a stripped down version of Klipsch’s well-known horn-loaded tweeter.
It uses the same Tractrix Horn to ensure even sound dispersion and does a good job at cleaning dialogue distortion. How exactly? – By reducing the amount of artificial reverb coming from indirect sound bouncing off the walls in your room.
The speaker is equipped with two 5.25” woofers which pack quite a punch. The frequency response range of 89 to 21,000Hz is typical in this price range. The R-25C is suitable for more configurations. Like all Klipsch, you don’t need a lot of power to play at ear-splitting levels.
The Elac Debut 2.0 C5.2 can be the midrange-oriented speaker around which you can build an entire home theatre system. It’s not the cheapest, but it has an impressive wide-dispersion waveguide, ideal for medium to large rooms.
Its Aramid-Fiber woofer is one of the best in the industry as it’s capable of delivering impeccable dialogue quality even in the most bass-heavy scenarios.
Whether you’re watching action-packed blockbusters or poorly mixed movies, the Elac Debut 2.0 center speaker can help enhance the vocals. It does so by emphasizing the midrange and projecting only the frequencies you need to hear coming from the central piece of your home theatre system.
One of the things I like most about it is its new and improved cabinet design. It’s low profile, easy to place, and helps widen the waveguide dispersion angle. The internal bracing design also fights off unwanted distortion to ensure smooth and consistent playback.
Furthermore, it’s pretty rugged, which ensures better longevity. The output volume is also impressive, especially if you’re a fan of front-firing ports.
What sets the T30 apart from the competition is not necessarily its amazing sound clarity but rather its compatibility with almost any AV configuration and receivers. Polk did a great job in designing the T30 center speaker and made it work with anything from 2.0 to 9.1 home theater configurations.
Of course, the unit will shine brightest when used in a 5.1 or 7.1 setup. I personally enjoy clear vocals rather than crisp vocals. And, this is exactly what the T30 offers at a very low cost. You get even more value for the money when you consider the Dolby and DTS compatibility.
With a peak power handling of 100W and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, the T30 can really fit any home media room. The frequency response is great. Although not fine-tuned to play prodigious bass, the speaker can still deliver quality outside its price range when paired with a good AV system.
The Klipsch RC-62 II is a pricey but fantastic center speaker. It is a valuable upgrade in most pre-configured home theatre systems due to its realistic soundstage and optimal dialogue projection.
It’s also a more energy-efficient speaker, which is never a bad thing, especially when you’re paying top dollar for the unit. While it may be over the top for the average homeowner, I do recommend the Klipsch RC-62 II to all audiophiles.
I like that you can even place this speaker very close to your TV. Thanks to its superior magnetic shielding, there’s little to no chance of interference.
The RC-62 II has a titanium horn-loaded tweeter and 6.5” woofers with an impressive output. With 600W peak sensitivity, this center channel speaker is ideal for large rooms and small venues.
Its frequency response range is 57Hz to 24kHz. Thus it is well-calibrated for what it needs to do – make dialogue audible and legible in any situation.
Affordable, stylish, compact, and surprisingly powerful. This is how I would describe the Yamaha NS-C120BL center channel speaker. It’s capable of creating a dynamic and well-balanced soundstage by minimizing dialogue distortion and enhancing the mid-range and high frequency response.
The speaker is equipped with a 7/8” dome tweeter. This makes it top out at 3.1 and 5.1 speaker configurations. Of course, this is great as these are the configurations most people use anyway. If you’re shopping on a budget, this is a reliable entry-level choice.
If you can splurge and you want something to go with a 7.1 system, there are other options on this list. Back to the NS-C210BL, its slim design makes it a breeze to install in a home AV configuration. It also has a neutral look which works well in modern and retro living rooms.
It’s also worth noting that Yamaha generally puts out expensive audio equipment and musical instruments. Finding something as reliable as the NS-C120BL is a win in and of itself.
With 5.5” drivers and a folded motion tweeter, the Motion 30 by Martin Logan can be a very impressive centerpiece for a home AV setup. This speaker’s design and technology are all about improving the quality of the dialogue while also maintaining a good balance across all frequencies for a complete soundstage.
Martin Logan’s folded motion tweeters are designed for minimum distortion. Like the company’s high-end electrostatic speakers, they need less excursion to push out air. Combined with an increased surface area, this creates a controlled and balanced sound dispersion and less dialogue distortion.
With the Motion 30 center speaker, you can improve both music and movie soundtracks. And yes, it may seem a bit expensive but it’s also half the price of Martin Logan’s ESL center speakers. This is for those who are serious not just about the audio performance but also when it comes down to durability, style, and reliability.
If the 5-year warranty proves anything, it’s that the Motion 30 is built to last.
This is not only one of the cheapest high-performance center channel speakers but also one of the best at improving the definition of low frequencies. The SP-C22 gives as much attention to dialogue distortion as it does to creating a fuller sound by balancing out the bass and midrange.
Its frequency range is between 55 and 20,000Hz. This shows an amazing low-end extension not only for this price range but also for a small center channel speaker. What’s also surprising is the quality magnetic shielding that protects against potential interference with other electronic gadgets.
The SP-C22 also does something different for the crossover. It features a 6-element setup with quality inductors and capacitors that cut down on bandwidth losses. This is not something usually seen at this price range. It gives the dialogue a crisp and more realistic effect.
Considering Klipsch’s reputation, it shouldn’t surprise you that I chose another one of their center channel speakers for this round-up. This model is mainly designed for Dolby Atmos systems. The idea is to squeeze out as much bass definition as possible for a fuller sound while also enhancing the dialogue.
Aesthetically speaking, the RP-450C is easy on the eyes. It has a modern look and you get your choice of walnut or black ash veneer. The build features four 5.25” woofers which have plenty of power and definition for midrange and low frequencies.
This wide and heavy speaker can complete almost any Dolby Atmos system and help create an immersive listening experience. The sound quality is ensured by Klipsch’s Hybrid Tractrix Horn technology that integrates Klipsch’s high efficiency horn-loaded tweeter with the aforementioned dynamic woofers for even sound dispersion and enhanced intelligibility.
The frequency response range of 58 and 25,000Hz is enough to cover your cinema and gaming needs. The 5-year warranty is also a nice touch from Klipsch, although the build quality may make it unnecessary.
The Polk CS10 center speaker is more than just looks. Granted, both the cherry finish and the black ash finish look very polished. The CS10 is the matching center speaker for Polk’s TSi Series of floorstanding and bookshelf speakers.
The speaker design promotes smooth airflow and very even soundwave distribution. This helps reduce reverb, distortion, and other unwanted effects that hinder your ability to fully understand movie or gaming dialogue.
The emphasis on vocal clarity is one of many features to enjoy on the CS10. Almost equally impressive is the low frequency extension. It is a surprising quality considering the standard-size 5.25” woofers. The cabinet is well-braced and shaped to enhance the definition of high frequencies by eliminating internal reverberation.
This Fluance centerpiece is available in black ash and walnut finishes. It is stylish and easy to blend into various decors.
As the remaining members of the Fluance Signature Series, this speaker uses only premium components to achieve precise vocal reproduction and high-end sonic accuracy. The neodymium tweeters emphasize the midrange and higher register to create an open soundstage less affected by heavy bass tones.
The 5” drivers feature a unique dome design, patented and only available in Fluance audio equipment. This design helps project sound waves straight from the glass fiber cone, making them faster and less susceptible to interference.
I also like the inert acoustics of the cabinet because it makes it less of a factor for sound clarity, while also minimizing the risk of distortion.
11. Polk Audio TL1
Setting aside for a moment the fact that the audio quality is way better than I have anticipated, the first thing that intrigued me about the Polk Audio TL1 was its power potential considering its very compact design. As you can tell from the 2.5” twin woofers, this is a tiny center speaker, easy to fit in just about anywhere.
Due to the size, the frequency response is 95 to 22,000Hz, so you’ll have to set your center speaker to small and let your processor reroute the bass to your subwoofer or front speakers.
Some of you may be overly cautious of the little woofers. However, the TL1 speaker is designed for a small home media room. For example, it’d be perfect for a surround sound system in the bedroom. Once you hear it in action, you can’t argue with the vocal clarity.
The Arena 125C is definitely one of the best budget center speakers on the market if you own or plan on buying a JBL audio system. The 2-way design features two port at the back of the speaker which extend the bass of this smallish speaker.
Of course, the main goals of the Arena 125C are to reduce dialogue distortion, as on average, the center speaker handles at least 70% of the audio during a movie. Unsurprisingly, this speaker scores off the charts in both categories.
The speaker is somewhat bass shy as you’ll see from the frequency response. However, it’s nothing too annoying to warrant passing on the sound clarity. A sensitivity of 89dB and a frequency response of 90 to 40,000Hz are typical for small center speakers with 5.5” woofers.
What’s equally important is that the speaker comes with JBL’s trademark durability and classy design. It’s easy to build an AV home system around the Arena 125C speaker and make it look good in a modern or retro décor.
As an added bonus, you get to make full use of JBL’s computer-optimized driver positioning. The acoustic superiority of JBL shows even in the affordable price range.
Where Does the Center Channel Speaker Rank in Importance?
Whether it’s a car audio system or a home theater system, many people still want to hear that bass over everything else. There are so many poorly configured home theater systems that it’s no wonder people complain that they can’t hear this or that.
Instead of trying to vibrate your neighbor’s molecules with your powerful bass on your expensive 7.1 system, try paying more attention to your center speaker. Why? – It’s the heart and soul of any surround sound setup.
The center channel speaker gives you most of the sound and most importantly, it’s responsible for dialogue enhancement. That’s why you can’t properly enjoy the “witty” dialogue in Michael Bay movies but you can always tremble at the sound of explosions.
You either have a poorly configured center speaker or an average quality one that isn’t capable of giving you vocal clarity.
Look for Acoustic Compatibility
This may seem like a fancy term for a non-audiophile but it’s actually a simple concept. Not all center channel speakers will be compatible with your other speakers. The compatibility ensures a balanced soundstage and smooth transitioning for the sound as it bounces between speakers.
Sometimes the best way to ensure compatibility is to buy a center speaker from the same manufacturer and series of your other speakers. Note that the compatibility of a speaker with certain pre-configured systems won’t always be obvious or listed. Do take the time to check with customer service, if possible, to ensure the best fit.
Understanding Some Technical Specifications
Any electronic device is usually accompanied by a list or sheet or specs. Speakers are no exception. But you don’t have to understand all of them to make a good purchase. You just need to know the most important specs and how they fit into your configuration.
Ratios should be easy to understand – 3:1, 5:1, etc. – these let you know what type of configuration the center speaker is designed for. The first number tells you the number of speakers and the second number represents the number of subwoofers.
Most center speakers are 2-way speakers but there are some massive and even full-range center speakers that feature 3-way designs with real woofers of 7 inches or bigger (5.5 or 5.25” cone drivers are more of a midrange driver than a woofer). You might also want to keep an eye out for bi-wire capability.
This feature isn’t usually found on low-end or even mid-range speakers. However, it is desirable as using two sets of speaker cables theoretically can better isolate the tweeter and woofers. It also allows you to use two channels of amplifier to power the high and low separately.
Other Features I Look For
The most important step is figuring out if a speaker you like is compatible with your system. Once that’s settled, there are other factors that can weigh on your decision.
Placement, size, and even orientation can be important. They determine whether or not you can achieve a perfect configuration and balanced sound dispersion in the room. Good magnetic shielding is also important if you plan on placing the speaker near your TV.
The frequency response should also factor into your decision. Most center speakers are not full-range, so you’ll have to set your system to route the low bass to your subwoofer or front speakers. This shouldn’t affect the sound as bass frequencies are not directional because of the extremely long wavelength (a typical 40Hz frequency has a 28ft wavelength), unlike high and midrange frequencies.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make the Center Speaker Your First Purchase
If you don’t already have a home theater system, then building one from scratch is a nice alternative. Instead of trying to find a center channel speaker to match the other speakers, why not get the best center speaker you can and build an AV configuration around it?
You’ll find that you can even end up saving a lot of money by taking this approach. At the same time, you’re guaranteeing yourself excellent dialogue clarity and intelligibility.
Time to Stop Blasting the Speakers to Beat the Dialogue Distortion
The center channel speaker is more important than anything else in your AV configuration. If you want a truly immersive experience, a believable soundtrack is mandatory. Even the best VR-oriented home media room is nothing if the soundstage is not balanced and you can’t feel like the characters are talking next to you.
Impeccable vocal clarity is achievable. But you have to remember that it relies more on your hardware than any fancy audio software or presets. The center channel speaker may be asked to produce up to 80% of your sound. Nail that component right, and you’ll probably never go to a movie theater for the rest of your life.