Center Channel

No Center Speaker – Where Do the Voices Go?

We’ve written about how you can set up a system with no center channel. People seem to understand that when we talk about stereo. Stereo (or only two speakers) is something that people have experienced. But, when we start talking about surround sound, people get concerned. Can you have surround sound with no center speaker? With no center speaker, where do the voices go?

Author’s Note: While we would always suggest having a center speaker, this isn’t always possible. Many people have rooms and furniture that just don’t have space for a center speaker. Not having one is a source of much concern. We address one of the major worries here.

Phantom Center

In short, any sound that was supposed to come from your center speaker (including all the voices) will go to your left and right speakers. Much like when Atmos sounds are downmixed to your other speakers, your center speaker sounds are not deleted when you remove the speaker. Instead, the volume of the content is reduced slightly and is mixed equally into your left and right speaker.

This creates a phenomenon called a “phantom” center. Stereo speakers to this all the time. That’s why the vocalist sounds like they are singing from between your left and right speakers in a stereo setup. Having both your left and right speakers playing the same content at the same volume signals to your brain that the sound is coming from directly between them.

How To Set Up Your Receiver for a Phantom Center

Now if you have a full 5.1 setup (for example), and remove the center speaker, the voices will, indeed, disappear. That’s because your AV receiver thinks you still have a center speaker. In order for the receiver you know that you want it to create a phantom center, you need to re-run your automatic room setup program. This will detect the lack of a center speaker and adjust accordingly.

If your receiver is so old that you don’t have an automatic room setup program, you’ll have to tell it that you’ve removed the center channel manually. Just navigate in the receiver’s settings to the speaker setup (or similar) menu and choose “none” for your center speaker. This will work with the receivers with auto room setup programs as well.

Wrap Up

The key is that removing your center speaker (or not having one) won’t mean the voices will be missing. Yes, having a center speaker definitely has its advantages. It anchors the voices at the screen. It means that you don’t have to worry about everyone sitting between the left and right speaker so that the phantom center effect will be convincing. But you can have no center and still hear everything in your content.

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