If you check the guidelines for authentic surround sound, you’ll see that all of them require at least five or seven speakers, depending on the setup (5.1 or 7.1) with an additional subwoofer (hence the .1). However, you can’t or won’t install a center speaker on your home theater setup.
To set up a home theater without a center speaker, use a 4.1 or a 2.1 speaker scenario. Although not using a center speaker is not recommended, with the right adjustments to levels, it is possible.
In this article, we’ll be tackling the importance of the center speaker and the implications of its removal. To know more, read on.
A Surround Sound Setup Without A Heart? Home Theater Without A Center Speaker.
Some people consider the center speaker as the “heart” (although the receiver acts more like the heart) or the “central powerhouse” (no pun intended) of the entire surround sound setup.
However, removing this “central powerhouse” does not mean that maintaining a home theater surround sound setup would be impossible. Although challenging, having a surround sound setup without a central speaker is possible.
Know What You Are Losing
To set your centerless surround sound system up, you must first know the limits of your expectations; in other words, know what you are losing. In this section of the article, we will discuss the cons of losing the center speaker to limit your expectations on the result.
Movies won’t be as good as before
In a proper surround sound setup, a minimum of five speakers is required. On movies encoded for surround sound, you may notice a stark difference in the listening experience, especially when it comes to the dialogues.
Since most dialogues are routed towards the center speaker, having an uncalibrated receiver will result in you barely having any audible dialogue or none at all!
However, this does not mean that you can’t remediate it. To solve this problem, just set up your home theater receiver in the sense that there are only four speakers required (with no center speaker).
You would need to rely on the phantom speaker phenomenon.
Although it may sound like something straight out of a horror movie or a poltergeist, the phantom center speaker phenomenon is an event that refers to a psycho-acoustic phenomenon wherein a listener will have a listening experience as if there are two center speakers even though there is only one.
When you remove your center speaker, you may need to rely on the phantom speaker phenomenon to achieve a “central” sound. Achieving the phantom speaker phenomenon is extremely difficult and needs you to be in a particular sweet spot.
Because you don’t have a central speaker, you may need to stay in a specific spot at all times to keep your listening experience optimal and balanced. Moving from one side to another may result in an unbalanced listening experience wherein one channel is louder than the other.
Moreover, to retain the phantom speaker phenomenon, you would also need to retain your position in a center position at all times.
If you value flexibility more than other features of a surround sound experience, or if your home theater is made for many people, you may need to reconsider your removal of the center speaker.
Can You Have Surround Sound Without A Center Speaker?
Since you will be removing the center speaker, you may ask yourself if it is possible to have a surround sound experience without the said center speaker. The answer to that question is yes. However, if you are looking for a real surround sound experience, then the answer is no.
Authentic surround sound needs a minimum of five speakers, including the very crucial center speaker. This section of the article will discuss the types of surround sound setups that accommodate the lack of a central speaker.
4.1 Surround Sound Setup
This setup is very similar to that of the 5.1 surround sound setup, except that it only has four speakers, minus the (you’ve guessed it right) center speaker. In this setup, you will need a front left, front right, rear left, rear right, and a subwoofer.
The 4.1 setup does work pretty well. In my experience, it sounds pretty good, but it does depend on the quality of your amp and speakers and the settings thereof.
If you don’t have a center speaker, consider that you want to turn off a particular automatic signal splitting on your amp. Amps that will send particular frequency groups (like 4k – the human voice frequency) to the center might sound weird if missing from the left and right.
2.1 Surround Sound Setup
This setup is short of just a stereo sound setup. It has the left and right channels with the additional subwoofer. If you are on a tight budget, maybe try considering this setup.
Having a 2.1 surround sound setup is suitable for those who casually watch movies or have powerful left and right speakers already and think that the resulting experience on two speakers is more than enough.
Three Frequently Asked Questions About A Centerless Surround Sound Setup
How can I make my centerless surround setup sound as good as one with a center speaker?
Although it will be difficult to replicate a center speaker’s effect with just the left and right channels to compensate, having strong left and right drivers is undoubtedly an excellent first step.
Another thing to ensure is that you have calibrated your home theater receiver properly for your centerless setup. Moreover, having a good audio signal is key to a good listening experience.
How essential is the center speaker?
The center speaker is significant, especially when it comes to consuming movies and other dialogue-centric content. However, it is not as essential all the time. As long as you have competent front speakers, the center speakers may not as well be there.
What do the front left and right speakers do?
These speakers are essential for the soundtrack and sound effects. In a centerless surround sound setup, these speakers are tasked with the additional load of the dialogue.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.