Stereo Upgrade – What’s Next? Center or Subwoofer?

You like to take things slow. Make your purchases thoughtfully. This has led you to start your home theater journey small. You got yourself an AV receiver and a couple of speakers. You are happy with your purchase and want to start planning for the next. What should you add to your stereo system first? Would you get better “bang-for-buck” with a center or subwoofer upgrade to your stereo system? Let’s discuss!


Before we begin, let’s start with a single, very important, assumption. We must assume that your AV receiver is modern and capable enough to support at least a 5.1 system. If your current receiver is so old that it can’t connect directly to a subwoofer or that it doesn’t support surround sound, then your decision is made for you. Buy the speaker that will work with your receiver. Or, better yet, upgrade your AV receiver first!

Decisions are hard

Pros of Each

If you are thinking of adding either a subwoofer or a center to upgrade your stereo system, there are pros to each. Let’s go through them.

Center Speaker

The big advantage of a center speaker is that it anchors the vocals at the screen. This is especially important if you have seats that are not located between your two main speakers.


Bass! Your speakers can’t play low enough to recreate the lowest bass. With a subwoofer, you’ll actually have sounds that your current speakers can’t actually play. More importantly, bass waves interact with your room differently than your speakers. Placing subwoofers in a different place than your speakers will ensure that you get the best bass possible.

Cons of Each

Of course, there are cons of buying a center speaker or a subwoofer first.

Center Speaker

The big downside of buying a center speaker over a subwoofer as an upgrade to your stereo system is placement. Placing a center speaker often causes problems for new home theater enthusiasts. They tend to want to shove them into a piece of furniture. This can seriously affect how they sound. Also, center speakers aren’t providing any unique sounds. They are simply taking (for the most part) vocals from the other two speakers. You aren’t getting anything new you are only relocating it to a new speaker.


Subwoofers, especially good ones, can be expensive! They are big and hard to place. Subwoofers often reveal rattles and other problems. Sure, you are getting all that bass that you wanted, but it often comes with more problems than you anticipated.

There is No Right Answer

If your stereo upgrade options are limited only to a center speaker or a subwoofer, we would choose a subwoofer every time. You are getting new sounds that your old system couldn’t create. A well-integrated subwoofer is a huge upgrade. A center speaker often isn’t needed at all! That said, we don’t necessarily agree that a sub should be your first upgrade.

We started this article by giving only two stereo system upgrade options: center speaker or subwoofer. This is because many people are resistant to adding surround speakers. The big problem with surround speakers is the wires. Adding surround speakers requires that either you run (and maybe hide) speaker wires to the other side of your room or figure out some wireless solution.

While we love our subwoofers, we see adding surround speakers to a stereo system as an equally beneficial upgrade. You’ll get sounds coming from all around you where you didn’t have sounds before. Either would be better than adding a center speaker in most rooms.

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