Table of Contents
- Best Center Channel Speakers – Comparison Table
- Best Center Channel Speakers in 2020
- 1. Best Under $250 – Polk Audio Signature Series S35
- 2. Best Budget – Micca MB42X-C
- 3. Best Low-Profile Center Channel Under $100 – Yamaha NS-C210BL
- 4. Best Compact Center Channel Under $150 – Sony SS-CS8
- 5. Compact Center Channel with the Best Bass – Polk Audio T30
- 6. Best for Large Rooms – Klipsch RP-504C
- 7. Best Center Channel with a Built-in Subwoofer – Definitive Technology CS-9060
Looking for the best center channel speaker for your home theater or surround sound setup? You’ve come to the right place. This article is designed to help you and give you answers to all the questions you may have about center channel speakers. We will discuss the purpose of a center channel, give you some tips on what to pay attention to when looking for a center channel speaker, discuss different brands, and present to you our selection of 7 best center channel speakers in 2020.
Not all speakers in a home theater system are equally important. Many audio enthusiasts would argue that the center channel speaker is, along with the front left and right speakers, critical for your listening experience. Some would even say that the center channel is the most important for movie and TV watching.
So, what’s the purpose of a center channel speaker? For starters, most of the dialogs in movies are reproduced by the center channel. But that’s not the only thing the center channel is responsible for. It also reproduces a great deal of music and all kinds of sound effects. As you can see, the center channel is a very busy speaker. That’s why you should choose it carefully.
The most important thing to pay attention to when choosing a center channel speaker is getting the right match with the rest of the system. You see, the center channel, front left, and front right speaker – they all work together and are supposed to create a very homogenous wall of sound. Both music and dialogs are also reproduced by the front left and right channels (not by the center channel only). That way, you get a better sense of space and, ultimately, a better listening experience.
That’s why it’s important for all three front speakers to have matching timbres and tonalities. How do you achieve that? Ideally, by buying the speakers from the same speaker line since their drivers are made of the same materials and are often tuned to match each other’s performance. If you want to experiment, you should at least try to stick to one brand and look for the speakers that have drivers made of the same materials (for example – aluminum cone woofers and silk-dome tweeters).
Finding the right match is the most important but not the only thing to pay attention to. Aside from the price (which is often a decisive factor), you have to pay attention to the size of the center channel. Some center channels are slim and compact, while others look like soundbars and are much bigger and heftier. It’s very important to measure everything correctly and look for something that fits your existing setup. Also, you should, depending on your preferences, check if the center channel is mountable or not. Not all center channels are mountable.
Best Center Channel Speakers – Comparison Table
|Center Channel Speakers||Rating||Price||Review|
|Polk Audio Series S35||4.8||Check Amazon|
|Micca MB42X-C||4.6||Check Amazon|
|Yamaha NS-C210BL||4.5||Check Amazon|
|Sony SS-CS8||4.7||Check Amazon|
|Polk Audio T30||4.6||Check Amazon|
|Klipsch RP-504C||4.9||Check Amazon||Read Review|
|Definitive Technology CS-9060||4.6||Check Amazon|
Now that you know some basic stuff about center channel speakers, it’s time for our selection of 7 best center channel speakers in 2020. Like always, we did our research, tested a bunch of different center channels and home theater systems, compared them, and picked out the best ones. These are our top picks.
Best Center Channel Speakers in 2020
1. Best Under $250 – Polk Audio Signature Series S35
Polk is a famous American audio manufacturer with decades of experience in home and car audio equipment manufacturing. Most of their home theater speakers can be considered affordable, even their premium lines. S35 is the center channel from the S signature series. It’s fairly slim, it is relatively easy to drive, it delivers very powerful, balanced, and detailed sound, and it’s our top choice under $250.
Things we like
Inside the box, you will find your S35 speaker, a magnetic fabric grille, adhesive-backed rubber pads, wall mount template, manual, and a 5-year limited warranty.
The speaker looks quite attractive. It has a nice grayish MDF finish and sophisticated rounded edges. It’s slightly wider than average (24.4in) but it’s still very slim (4.1in). The speaker weighs 14lbs.
S35 features an array of six 3in woofers combined with only one 1in Terylene tweeter located right in the center of the front panel. In the center of the rear panel, you have one set of gold-plated 5-way binding posts. On the left and right ends of the rear panel, there are two so-called power ports (that’s Polk’s version of the bass reflex port) and two keyholes for wall mounting.
If you are looking for the perfect match, S35 can be combined with other speakers from the S Signature line (S50/S55/S60 floorstanding speakers, S15 or S20 bookshelf speakers). For the subwoofer, you can use one of the Polk’s PSW subs.
S35 is a 2-way speaker. The crossover is set at 2.5kHz. The frequency response spans from 53Hz to 40kHz. The nominal impedance is 8Ω and the sensitivity is 88dB (@1W/1m). The center channel is fairly easy to drive – anything that can deliver 20-150W per channel will be good enough.
S35 has a fairly neutral sound reproduction. The bass is punchy but not very deep and impactful (that’s why you need a subwoofer). The greatest highlight is the midrange. It’s very detailed and accurate – it’s almost perfectly neutral. The vocals are crystal-clear.
Things we don’t like
S35 delivers excellent performance for the price. The only thing it lacks is the low-end but that’s probably too much to ask for at this price point.
2. Best Budget – Micca MB42X-C
Looking for something really cheap? Micca is a brand known for its affordable but great-looking and pretty good-sounding speakers. The next speaker on our list of 7 best center channel speakers in 2020 is Miicca MB42X-C. It’s a compact center channel, perfect for small rooms.
Things we like
MB42X-C comes in a relatively small box along with a removable magnetic grille, manual, and a warranty card. The speaker cable is not included.
The speaker is compact and has a nice and simple boxy design with a black vinyl finish. MB42X-C can easily match any interior. This is a compact speaker but not too slim (5.3in) which is something you should take into account. Depending on the position of your TV, it may block the lower end of the screen.
The speaker houses two 4in carbon-fiber woofers and one .75in silk-dome tweeter. The grille is easily removable. On the back, you have a set of 5-way binding posts and a bass reflex port.
The speaker can handle 100W per channel max (you don’t need a powerful amp/receiver). The sensitivity is rated at 86dB (it can get pretty loud) and the frequency response is 60Hz-20kHz,
If you’re looking for the perfect match for this center channel, try MB42X bookshelf speakers.
MB42X-C has a balanced and fairly neutral sound signature. The reproduction is accurate and the soundstage is surprisingly wide. The vocals are quite clear.
Things we don’t like
Due to its ported design, it is not recommended to mount the speaker. Also, MB42X-C doesn’t have any mounting holes or threaded inserts – the only way to mount it is to find some custom wall brackets.
MB42X-C is not very powerful and the low-end reproduction is probably the biggest downside. Even when you combine it with those two Micca bookshelf speakers, you won’t get the kind of bass response that would blow you away.
3. Best Low-Profile Center Channel Under $100 – Yamaha NS-C210BL
Things we like
Yamaha NS-C210BL comes with a 4m long speaker cable, manual, and a warranty card.
NS-C210BL is a very compact and very slim (4.2in) two-way speaker. It has a strong wooden cabinet. The front side is covered with a nice black fabric grille. The grille is glued and it’s not removable. Behind the grille, there are three drivers – two 3.2in aluminum cone woofers and one .9in tweeter in the middle. On the back, you will see a small bass reflex port, a pair of 5-way binding posts, and two mounting holes on the left and right end.
The speaker has a surprisingly wide frequency response (65Hz-45kHz) but that’s at -10dB, so it can’t really hit those low frequencies under 100Hz. The recommended power output is 40-120W, the impedance is 6Ω, and the sensitivity is 86dB (@2.83/1m).
If you’re looking for the perfect synergy, try combining NS-C210BL with the NS-F210 floorstanders, NS-B210 bookshelf speakers, and NS-SW210 subwoofer.
The speaker has an exceptional midrange delivery with perfectly clear vocals. The highs are articulate and just a little bit brighter.
Things we don’t like
The bass response is unimpressive. You will get some punch, but you will probably need more.
The grille is not removable – it’s glued to the cabinet.
4. Best Compact Center Channel Under $150 – Sony SS-CS8
Sony is an omnipresent brand in the world of audio equipment. Whether you’re looking for wired or wireless headphones, portable Bluetooth speakers, home theater speakers, wireless surround sound systems, or professional equipment, Sony has something for you. Sony’s SS-CS8 is a compact center channel perfect for those who can’t spend more $150.
Things we like
SS-CS8 comes in a simple cardboard box. The packaging contains your speaker, a removable magnetic grille, manual, and a warranty.
The speaker is quite compact and relatively slim (5.75in tall). It has a strong cabinet made of MDF with a matte black finish.
This is a 2-way speaker featuring two 4in Mica-reinforced woofers and one 1in Polyester tweeter. The drivers are protected with a black fabric grille. The grille is easily removable.
On the back, there’s a bass reflex port and a pair of 5-way binding posts. There are no mounting holes – you can only place it on a TV stand.
The speaker can handle up to 145W of power (max input) but you can a great performance with a much weaker AV receiver (60-80W per channel will be just fine). The impedance is rated at 6Ω and the sensitivity is 86dB (measured @2.83V/1m). The advertised frequency response is 55Hz to 25kHz. However, we don’t think you can actually get any serious punch.
The best speakers to combine with SS-CS8 are SS-CS3 floorstanding speakers, SS-CS5 bookshelf speakers, and SA-CS9 sub.
SS-CS8 delivers fairly accurate and neutral sound. The midrange reproduction is the biggest highlight. The vocals are crystal clear. The treble is extended and fairly consistent.
Things we don’t like
SS-CS8 is not mountable. There are no mounting holes or threaded inserts on the back – the only option is placing it on a stand or a shelf.
The bass response is not the best thing about this center channel. According to the specs, it can go down to 55Hz but it doesn’t sound like that in reality. If you need that oomph and rumble, you will need a pair of floorstanding speakers and a subwoofer.
5. Compact Center Channel with the Best Bass – Polk Audio T30
The next speaker on our list of 7 best center channel speakers in 2020 comes from the Polk Audio, just like the previously reviewed S35. Polk Audio T30 features pretty much the same kind of 2-way design as the previous two speakers (Yamaha NS-C210BL and Sony SS-CS8) but what makes it different is the bass response. T30 delivers significantly bigger and more powerful bass. It’s not going to replace a dedicated subwoofer, but it still makes the sound bigger.
Things we like
The speaker comes with a nice-looking black fabric grille. The grille is magnetic and easily removable. The cabinet is made of MDF and has a nice grayish vinyl finish. The speaker is not as slim as some other compact center channels (6.5in tall) but that’s because it houses much bigger drivers.
The speaker features a 2-way design. It has three drivers – two 5.25in dynamic-balance woofers and one 1in silk dome tweeter. The cabinet is ported – the bass reflex port is located on the back, right in middle. Gold-plated 5-way binding posts are also located on the rear panel, in the right corner.
The speaker has a 6Ω impedance. It can handle up to 100W (minimum recommended power input is 20W). The frequency response spans from 60Hz to 24kHz. According to the specs, T30 is not much better than the SS-CS8 or NS-C210BL when it comes to bass response but it’s not all about the specs. In reality, it sounds bigger than those two.
The best speakers to combine with the T30 are other speakers from the Polk’s T series – T50 floorstanding speakers, T15 bookshelf speakers, and some of the Polk’s subwoofers (preferably some sub from the PSW line).
T30 delivers a very detailed and accurate reproduction with dynamic mids, clear dialogs, and consistent highs. The bass is quite punchy and nicely layered but it still lacks some real rumble. Only a dedicated subwoofer can deliver that kind of bass.
Things we don’t like
Polk Audio T30 is not mountable – there are no mounting holes or threaded inserts on the back. So, the only placement option is your TV stand.
6. Best for Large Rooms – Klipsch RP-504C
Klipsch is arguably one of the best-known brands when it comes to home theater speaker systems. RP-504C is nothing like those previous center channels. This one is really big and it’s not suitable for small and medium rooms. Also, this one is not as affordable as previous speakers. Klipsch RP-504 is a great choice for large rooms and dedicated entertainment rooms.
Things we like
RP-504C comes in a large box along with a removable magnetic grille, 4 rubber feet, manual, and a warranty card.
The speaker is quite chunky and requires much more space than those compact center channels. It’s 31in wide, 14.5in deep, almost 7in tall and it weighs 34lbs. The cabinet is made of hard MDF. The whole appearance is very attractive, mostly thanks to Klipsch’s recognizable spun copper woofers but also thanks to sleek finishes. RP-504C is available in three finishes – shiny piano black and scratch-resistant ebony and walnut finishes.
RP-504C is a 2-way speaker. It houses 5 drivers – four 5.25in Cerametallic woofers and one 1in titanium tweeter with the Klipsch’s hybrid Tractrix horn. The crossover is set at 1.5kHz.
The cabinet is ported – the bass reflex port is located on the back. Instead of a common circular port, Klipsch uses its own Tractrix port. This port design is supposed to eliminate the distortion and enable much better airflow. Next to the Tractrix port, there’s a pair of 5-way speaker terminals.
The speaker’s impedance is rated at 8Ω. The sensitivity is pretty high (97dB @2.83V/1m). RP 504-C can handle 150W-600W (it requires more power than all the previous center channels). The advertised frequency response is 58Hz-25kHz (+/- 3dB).
RP-504C works best with other speakers from the RP series (floorstanding – RP8000F, RP-6000F, and RP-5000F; bookshelf – RP-400M, RP-500M, RP600M; surround – RP-402S, RP-502S, RP-500SA). If you also want to add a subwoofer, try Klipsch R-120SW or R-100SW.
The speaker is quite powerful and loud. The bass is punchy, strong, and well-controlled. The midrange is accurate, dynamic, and very detailed. The vocals and dialogs are crystal-clear. The high end is just slightly brighter than normal but not fatiguing. The soundstage is wide and airy and the whole reproduction is quite enjoyable and engaging.
Things we don’t like
RP-504C is not mountable. It has no mounting holes and it’s really large and heavy. You could probably find some brackets for it but it’s definitely smarter to place it on a TV stand.
7. Best Center Channel with a Built-in Subwoofer – Definitive Technology CS-9060
If you don’t want a separate subwoofer, whether because you don’t have enough space or because you want the cleanest possible setup, Definitive Technology SC-9060 is a great solution. It’s larger than average but it looks really great and it sounds even better than it looks.
Things we like
The speaker comes nicely packed and protected inside a simple cardboard box. Along with the speaker, you will get a power cable (for the built-in powered subwoofer), a short manual, and a warranty card.
The speaker looks quite attractive. It’s entirely wrapped in a black fabric grille. Around the edges, there are some nice-looking aluminum reinforcements. The grille is not removable and you can’t see the drivers. The only thing you can actually see is the rear panel with all the controls and inputs. On the rear panel, there’s a subwoofer level dial (for intelligent bass control), 5-way gold-plated binding posts, LFE input, power input, and a bass reflex port.
The speaker houses two front-firing 4.25in mid-woofers with a special BDSS technology, one front-firing 1in aluminum dome tweeter, and one up-firing 8in powered subwoofer with a dedicated 150W built-in amp. This is the only 3-way center channel speaker on this list.
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The speaker has an 8Ω impedance and a very high sensitivity (91dB). The advertised frequency response is 50Hz to 40kHz. The recommended amp power output is 50-300W per channel. The subwoofer has a dedicated LFE input and doesn’t require external amplification (because of the built-in amp).
The best speakers to pair with the CS-9060 are BP9000 and BP9060 floorstanding speakers as well as speakers from the Demand series (D7, D9, D11).
Of all the center channels we’ve tested Definitive Technology CS-9060 has the best bass response. It’s powerful, thick, and very tight. All that is perfectly understandable since this is also the only center channel with a built-in sub. This thing won’t cover those really low frequencies and won’t deliver the rumble you would get from a dedicated 12in subwoofer but it’s pretty great for a center channel speaker. The midrange is accurate, detailed, and perfectly clear. The dialogs are crisp, and the treble response is extremely extended, balanced, and consistent. CS-9060 creates a very wide and vivid soundstage. Combined with a pair of BP9060 floorstanding speakers, it creates an incredible cinema-like experience.
Things we don’t like
CS-9060 is not mountable – it has to be placed on a TV stand or a shelf. You should also have in mind that this speaker features an up-firing subwoofer so avoid placing it inside your TV cabinet.
This concludes our list of 7 best center channel speakers in 2020. Hopefully, it helped you understand what to look for when buying a center channel speaker and maybe even find something that suits your budget and needs. Read our FAQs if you want to find out more. If you want to share your opinion or ask for advice, leave us a comment below.
Q: What is the best center channel speaker?
A: It’s impossible to give a single answer to this question. There’s way too many available models and the differences between them are huge. Some models are very cheap (under $50) and some are very expensive ($1.000+). Some are small and compact and some are really big. And, even if the center channel fits your budget and other preferences, it doesn’t have to be the perfect match for the rest of the system (in case you already have the front left and right channels). One thing we can recommend is to go through our list of 7 best center channel speakers in 2020 and find something you like. We did our best to make a versatile selection that includes both cheap and premium center channels, compact and large ones.
Q: What makes a good center channel speaker?
A: A good center channel is the one that’s able to reproduce the whole audible spectrum accurately and dynamically. The distortion has to be minimal and the sensitivity should be fairly high (at least above 80dB). A proper center channel design shouldn’t introduce any unnatural sound colorations. Most importantly, a good center channel should work in perfect synergy with the front left and front right channels.
Q: Do center channels need speakers?
A: Well, you can always opt for two floorstanding or bookshelf speakers and play everything in stereo, but having a dedicated center channel brings some important improvements. The reproduction becomes much more dynamic, more vivid, more lifelike, the dialogs are getting clearer, and the whole listening experience becomes so much better. So, yeah, in our opinion the center channel really requires a dedicated speaker.
Q: How do I choose a center channel speaker?
A: Well, it’s pretty similar to choosing any speaker. You have to think about the budget, size, placement. The thing that makes everything more complicated is the fact that you have to find something that matches the rest of the system (in terms of tonality and timbre). How do you do that? Well, there are two ways. First, you buy speakers coming from the same speaker line (not just the same brand but the same family of speakers). Second, you spend a lot of time testing and listening to different kinds of speakers until you find the right combo. As you can assume, the second option is so much harder since there’s no way to compare some specs and make a conclusion – you actually have to hear the speakers. So, it’s much smarter to stick to one brand and one line of speakers.
Q: What are the best brands of speakers for home theaters?
A: Some of the most reputable brands when it comes to center channel speakers and home theater speakers in general are Klipsch, SVS, Definitive Technology, Paradigm, Martin Logan, KEF, Focal, Yamaha, Sony, etc.
Q: Can I use a soundbar as a center channel speaker?
A: Not really. A soundbar can’t be a part of a custom-made home theater system. Soundbars, by default, have their own amplification and their own audio connections so they don’t really work with other speakers. If a soundbar is designed to be a part of a home theater system or a surround sound system, it will only be compatible with the speakers and subwoofers made specially for that soundbar. In this case, the soundbar will be a replacement for all three front channels (front left, center, and front right).
Hello, my name is James Longman.
I’m a writer and editor at AudioReputation. I disassembled my first portable AM/FM radio when I was only 8. At the age of 11, I burned the circuit board on my old boombox cassette player. I’m not going to explain how but it was reckless and stupid.
Since then, I have become much more careful around radios, boomboxes, and other audio devices (at least, I like to think so) but I have never lost the passion for audio equipment. Throughout 20 years of my professional career, I’ve been working for various audio equipment manufacturers and even started building speakers on my own in my little workshop.
I love the work we do here at AudioReputation. Testing, comparing, and evaluating all kinds of audio devices (speakers, soundbars, headphones, home theater systems, etc.) is something I truly enjoy. I try to be unbiased and give you my honest opinion on every piece of equipment I test. Still, you should take my reviews with a pinch of salt and always be just a little bit skeptical. The fact that I liked some speaker or soundbar doesn’t mean that you are going to love it. If you have the opportunity, you should test it/hear it before buying it.