Surround Receivers

Why Don’t We Have Center Rear Speakers

We have center speakers, but no similar speaker behind our seats on the rear wall. With manufacturers pushing speakers in just about every other position in the room, that seems like a missed opportunity. If the center speaker anchors vocals at the TV, then shouldn’t a rear center help anchor rear sounds behind us? Why don’t we have center rear speakers? Let’s discuss!

We Did!

I’m old enough to remember when manufacturers first introduced rear speakers. We had 5.1 systems and DTS tried to convince us all to get a center rear speaker for their DTS-ES format. It was short-lived as we quickly were introduced to dual rear speakers in the now ubiquitous 7.1 format. There was a reason that the 6.1 format didn’t last. The biggest reason was that it ended up being problematic.

The problem was that 6.1 systems had a tendency to have the rear sounds sound like they were coming from the front of the room. There were a lot of explanations for this. Slap echo was often blamed. The thought was that the sound would come from the rear center speaker and bounce off the front wall and return to the listener. The listener’s brain would receive the sound twice and “decide” that the sound was coming from the front of the room. The solution would be to add acoustically absorptive material to the front wall to reduce the reflections. Unfortunately, the TV or projection screen usually lives in the center of the front wall making this solution untenable.

Dual rear speakers pretty much eliminated this issue. Plus, manufacturers got to sell you more speakers! A win/win for them.

What About Now?

With Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and (the dead) Auro 3d formats encouraging people to put more and more speakers in their rooms, why isn’t there a push for a center rear speaker? That’s a good question. The likely answer is that it really isn’t needed. Playing the same sound out of both the rear speakers with the same phase will give you a convincing phantom rear center. Our ears aren’t really sensitive enough to rear sounds that another speaker back there so close to the current speakers will make much of a difference.

Of course, there is the problem of the 6.1 setup. That hasn’t gone away. As much as manufacturers like making money, they hate customer complaints and problems even more. With dual rear speakers already in people’s systems, there isn’t really a reason to tempt fate and try to add back in the center rear speaker.

Lastly, if you really want to set up a 6.1 system, you likely can. Receiver manufacturers are like feature hoarders. They never throw anything away. If you dig into your receiver’s manual, you’ll likely find a way to set up a rear center speaker. This will take the dual rear sounds and collapse them into that single rear speaker. Will you have the issues that we had with the rear sounds coming from the front of the room? Who can say? It’ll be a fun surprise.

Take Away

My memory of the short-lived DTS-ES 6.1 format is fuzzy. It seemed like it was quickly replaced by the 7.1 format. Do I think that they’ll try to re-introduce rear center speakers again sometime in the future? Honestly? I do! It is only a matter of time before they run out of wall positions and it becomes one of the possible options. I don’t think it will catch on and I still think it will have issues, but it will be available. Only time will tell!

1 Comment on Why Don’t We Have Center Rear Speakers

  1. J

    Hi Tom,

    I thought it was Lucasfilm and Dolby working together to create Dolby Surround EX for “The Phantom Menace” first, or am I wrong?

    I remember watching the movie objectively (because I was tuning out during the last half) and noticed how they had lots of ships flying over the middle of the audience’s head to emphasize it in the mix. There was a THX-certified theater not too far away from us, and my brothers and I went to see “Menace” there.

    I know my first Denon receiver had both Dolby EX & DTS-ES options available, but I thought Dolby EX came to the consumer market first quickly followed by DTS-ES. Either way, I agree with you regarding the ineffectiveness of the 6.1 format in the home; it was a real pain setting it up. I remember reading articles showing how the surround speakers in a commercial theater could easily be repurposed for the extra channel, but it really doesn’t work in the home.

    Once again, this was a nice article breaking down why it wasn’t a great idea in the consumer space.

    Thanks again,

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