MTM Center Speakers – Why All The Hate?
When shopping for home theater speakers, you may run across “advice” that is spoken more like a truism. Someone will say that they didn’t buy the MTM-designed center channel and instead opted for a different style. They don’t always say why. So, why does the Internet seem to hate MTM center speakers?
What Is an MTM Speaker?
In short, an MTM speaker is one where there are three drivers in a line – A tweeter flanked by two midrange drivers (or Midrange-Tweeter-Midrange – MTM). This is a common design developed by Joseph D’Appolito in the 60’s. The MTM design (or D’Appolito array as it is often called), became very popular and was used extensively. One popular use was and is for center speakers. These speakers are often called LCRs as they can usually be placed either vertically (for your left or right speakers) or horizontally (for your center). As having three identical speakers up front is concidered by many as the gold standard, this seemed to be the perfect solution.
Why the MTM Center Speaker Hate?
The problem, without getting too technical, is the off-axis response. MTM speakers have great horizontal off-axis response when they are oriented vertically. When you lay them down as a center speakers, that off-axis response gets flipped to vertical. The left/right off-axis response isn’t nearly as good. This has caused some to eschew any MTM designed speakers as substandard for center duties.
Instead, they look for something that has either an offset tweeter, a coaxial tweeter, or a midrange under the tweeter (see above). These designs, in general, have better left/right off-axis response.
What is the Truth?
We’ve been speaking in generalities so far. That should tell you something right there. The above two center speakers we’ve used in this article are both great speakers. If you had them in your room, you’d think they sounded fantastic. I pretty much guarantee it.
The fact is that just about every speaker design, every driver configuration, has inherent flaws. For each of the possible designs, the speaker engineer has to compensate. Either with crossover design, cabinet construction, driver orientation, and many other techniques. I’ve had MTM center speakers that sounded fantastic and some that I absolutely hated. Was it because of the MTM design or the capabilites of the speaker engineer? I’d argue the latter.
How to Shop
My personal rule is that if I trust the manufacturer to make the other speakers, I trust them to make a center. Otherwise, you’ll have to exclude any manufacturer that sells MTM center speakers. That’s fine, but there are many quality speaker manufacturers that sell MTM center speakers. Are you really going to start limiting the pool of potential speaker manufacturers just because some rando on the Internet said that their choice of driver arrangement isn’t optimal?
The one thing the people that complain about MTM designs don’t tell you is the main reason they are so popular – they are very thin. When trying to put a tweeter above a midrange (the speaker design they usually prefer), the speaker gets much taller. Good luck finding a cabinet with an opening big enough for those speakers. What good is an (arguably) better-sounding center speaker if you can’t fit it under your TV? Zero good.
People (especially online) love to speak in absolutes. It makes them sound like they know more than they actually do. The world is rarely ruled by absolutes. The MTM center speaker hate is the same. There are fantastic MTM speakers out there. There are terrible center speakers with other designs. The only way to know how you’ll feel about a speaker is to hear it in your room. Until then, take any claims as suspect.
I happened across this article after seeing a YouTube video today discussing the MTM D’Appolito array. I unknowingly was partaking of this design with my (now legacy) JBL CL505 center channel speaker paired with my L5 mains and L1 rear channels speakers. The ability of the designer to steer the directionality of the MTM design can really work well in localizing the center channel to the displayed video.