Sure, it’s all great when you’re watching TV with your 2.1 audio system, with excellent immersion and great sound. Your TV by itself could never match that audio experience, right?
But what if we told you that you can take that up a notch? And what if we told you that the price to do so is surprisingly reasonable, too? Well, that is the case, because just about any good 2.1 system could use a good center speaker.
Now, of course, you might be thinking that you already have great left and right channels and a punchy subwoofer, so why would you need a center channel speaker?
The thing is, when you’re watching TV you’re listening to a lot of dialogue.
Whether it’s a movie that has talking in it or a talk show you’ve wanted to catch for a few days already, there is almost always someone talking.
And with any well-mastered movie, engineers make sure that you always feel like the dialogue is happening right in front of you.
And in this regard, a center channel speaker will always make it sound more lifelike than two left and right channels combined.
A good center channel will make the entire atmosphere vastly more immersive, and deliver clear audio, without taking up the space a soundbar would.
And what’s even better, you can get one that’s rather wallet-friendly today, while still being a good performer. Let’s take a look at a couple of such options below.
Things to look for in a center channel speaker
As with almost anything else, there are plenty of choices to be made when you’re choosing a center channel speaker. Therefore, let’s take a look at some of the key things you should be careful about when you’re shopping.
Compatibility is critical
The first thing you should be paying attention to is compatibility.
When you’re building an audio system, one of the main goals of having a complete system as compared to one single speaker is that the sound will flow from one speaker to the other, depending on what type of sound it is and where it is positioned.
Therefore, it’s key that the center channel speaker you choose is compatible with the other speakers you have.
It’s best if they share the same acoustics and sound signature because you’ll notice no difference when the sound starts coming from a different speaker.
If you aren’t sure what center channel speaker would be compatible, the safe way to go about it is to choose a speaker that’s from the same series as your other speakers.
For example, if your 2.1 system is made by Klipsch, a Klipsch center channel speaker will work best, especially from the same series.
Pay attention to balance in size
The other thing is the size. Even though center speakers vary greatly by size, a larger speaker will make everything more spacious and nicer.
That’s why we’ve got a few different sizes for you below, so you can get the largest speaker that would fit in your room.
And if you do have the room, don’t go for a small speaker, the difference is very much worth it.
On the other hand, the size of your center channel speaker must match the size of the rest of your speakers. If you have large, floor-standing speakers, a compact center channel will be overpowered and you’ll find the dialogue lacking.
With compact speakers, however, a large center channel will overpower them, and things won’t be as nice as you expect them to be.
Best Center Channel Speaker 2021 Review Guide
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the options.
Polk Audio Blackstone TL1 – Best Budget Center Channel Speaker
Polk Audio has somewhat of a reputation when it comes to excellent budget speakers, and they always tend to deliver excellent audio in compact packages that end up costing a fraction of the competition.
That’s no exception with the Blackstone TL1, one of the best compact center channel speakers that won’t break the bank.
So, what is the TL1? Well, first of all, it’s compact. It’s made to fit in rather well with a more compact audio system and comes with two 2.5” drivers, as well as a 0.5” silk dome tweeter and cones that have been injection molded.
Even though “only” a center speaker, the Blackstone TL1 does come with an aperiodic-tuned rear port which helps quite a bit with bass, making it rather punchy.
This is even better if you were to mount the Blackstone TL1 on a wall.
The design is pretty neat, and the slightly curved shape actually does have a great reason for being there.
Polk Audio claims that the acoustic centers of the tweeter and the mid-bass are aligned in the same plane, which helps reduce distortions and diffraction. It does work pretty well, too.
Furthermore, the Blackstone TL1 is as simple to connect as it gets – just hook it up to your receiver like any other speaker and it works great.
It’s overall a great budget center channel speaker, especially if you’ve got a compact speaker set that you don’t want to become overpowered by a massive center channel.
- Very compact and good looking
- Excellent performance, the sound is clean and crisp
- Great value
- Might not work well with larger speakers
- Maximum volume isn’t too impressive and there’s noticeable distortion
Even though they’ve been around for more than most of us can remember, Pioneer isn’t all that common in the home audio market.
This is honestly a shame, since they’ve got some great speakers and audio systems, and most of them don’t even cost all that much either.
Need proof? Just look at the SP-C22, the center speaker that’s one of the best value propositions in the category. And it’s a great choice for anyone who’s got moderately-sized speakers, too.
To begin with, the blacked-out design is made to blend in within the environment. There’s nothing that stands out, and everything is as simple as it comes.
The curved cabinet design the SP-C22 uses is there because it results in a rather stiff cabinet wall. This, in turn, reduces any standing sound waves inside the cabinet itself, which does make a major, noticeable difference when using it.
You have two drivers flanking the tweeter at the middle and a blacked-out speaker grill that covers them. Not only does it look nice, but it also protects them from any dust that might enter accidentally.
Overall, the combination does a great job. This being a moderately sized center channel speaker, it fits right at home with most of today’s budget and midrange surround systems, without being too weak or too overpowering.
Last but not least, we have to talk about the price. Pioneer does have a reputation for quality and performance, but the SP-C22 is the most wallet-friendly pick on our list, and it still does a great job of sounding phenomenal when used right. Hats off to Pioneer for that!
- Stealthy design that blends in
- Phenomenal sound quality with minimal distortion
- Extremely wallet-friendly
- Might be overpowering for small side speakers
- May be larger than you’d like
There’s something to be said about the shiny finish on the Fluance Signature Series Two-Way center channel speaker – you either love it, or you hate it.
It is a fingerprint magnet, that’s for sure, but it looks very premium, especially on a center channel speaker that doesn’t cost all that much when you stack it up against the competition.
But it’s when you look past that design that things start to become interesting. The Fluance comes with two five-inch midrange drivers, and Neodymium tweeters.
As a combination, the sound these deliver is truly stunning.
This being the Signature Series, Fluance has only used premium components both inside and outside, and it’s something that shows when you’re listening to a movie through the speaker.
The cabinet itself has been well thought out, too, because the wood used and the crafting methods have resulted in an acoustically inert cabinet.
This helps completely minimize distortion and results in a warm sound that many people prefer. Of course, if you’re a fan of critical listening, this might not be your cup of tea.
One thing we need to address is the size of the Signature Series center channel speaker. You’re looking at a 16lbs speaker that’s around 19 inches wide, and a touch over 7 inches tall.
This is pretty large, and when you factor in the 5” drivers, it’s also pretty powerful.
That’s why we’d suggest that you get this if you already have a decent pair of large surround speakers and a powerful subwoofer. Otherwise, there’s a chance it will overpower anything else.
- Great premium design in terms of looks and materials used
- Dual 5” Neodymium drivers for powerful sound
- Clear and crisp audio
- Might be a tad expensive for some
- It’s large, and won’t work with any setup
ELAC Debut 2.0 C5.2 – Best Center Channel Speaker
ELAC is a brand that has everything from wallet-friendly midrange options, to some really high-end models for demanding enthusiasts.
The Debut 2.0 C52 sits at the bottom of their range, which in no way makes it bad – it’s just the most budget way of getting into the world of ELAC audio.
At over 20 inches wide, the Debut 2.0 C5.2 is massive. It’s also over 8 inches tall, so before you look into it, make sure you have the room to place it.
What’s impressive is that ELAC has used all that space phenomenally, thus creating a speaker that can comfortably work by itself to some extent. To begin with, you have a 1” cloth dome tweeter that’s right in the middle.
Flanking it on both sides are the dual 5.25” Aramid Fiber woofers, which are large and powerful. And flanking them, you have the two dual-flared bass ports.
They’re also forward-facing, which gets you more flexibility when you’re thinking about placement. You could even put it right against a wall without any impact on the sound.
The cabinet itself is a thick MDF model that’s made with internal bracing. This significantly reduces any unwanted vibration that may have an impact on sound quality.
There’s also the fact that at a nominal impedance of only 8 Ohms, the Debut 2.0 C5.2 is rather easy to drive, so you won’t need a powerful amp for it.
If you can afford it (and it’s not all that expensive), the Debut 2.0 C5.2 is an excellent way to get a large, high-quality center channel speaker that looks great and will last you a good while.
- Looks very nice
- Front-facing bass ports
- Sound is excellent
- Might be too expensive for some
- It’s very large
You can’t be looking at audio gear without looking at Klipsch, and that’s exactly the case here, too. The RP-450C is their go-to center channel speaker for anyone who already has a good system with a quality subwoofer and can afford to spring a bit more.
We say you need to have a good subwoofer because the RP-450C takes a slightly different approach than most. Instead of two drivers and a bit of bass, Klipsch has opted for four woofers that combine the midrange and the low end.
They’re 5.25” inches in diameter, and are all horizontally placed, two on each side of the 1” titanium tweeter. There’s also a 90×90 hybrid Tractrix horn for a lifelike sound, and overall the sound you get from the RP-450C is better than anything else on our list.
The design is also stunning, too. The RP-450C comes in Klipsch’s limited edition Piano Black finish, that requires a three-coat paint and polish process.
This results in a deep, vivid reflection that you won’t find elsewhere.
Klipsch also includes their signature bronze accents, but you can cover them with the speaker grill if you don’t want them visible.
Overall, the design is truly stunning, and the entire cabinet has been made to not impact the sound quality itself in any way.
The only downside of the RP-450C is its price.
It’s significantly more expensive than anything else on our list, and to add to this, if you don’t have the surround speakers and subwoofer for it, you won’t be taking advantage of it. But if you do, it’s a great choice.
- Beautiful piano finish design
- Four woofers and a tweeter for phenomenal sound
- The lifelike sound makes you feel like you’re in the front row
- Very expensive
- Over 30” in length makes it too large for many
At the end of the day, if you only had to pick one, we would suggest that you go with ELAC’s Debut 2.0 C5.2. We would’ve said the Klipsch, but it’s too expensive and requires the right speakers for it to work.
The ELAC, on the other hand, is extremely versatile and if you have the room for it, you can make it work with just about any system.
The sound is excellent, and with 8 Ohms of nominal impedance, it’s rather easy to drive, too.
Pair this with the beautiful black design that blends in and works with any environment, and you’ve got yourself a winner!