Ask a Pro
Where Can I Place the Center Channel in a 5.1 System?
What position is better for the center channel: over the screen pointing down, or underneath the screen facing outward?
September 02, 2009 by CE Pro

Q. Can a center channel in a 5.1 system be placed in the ceiling over the screen pointing downward, or does it have to be placed underneath the screen facing outward? - Clint, Bowie, Md

Rob Schultz of Inspired Electronics offers this advice:

The ideal place for a center channel is actually in the middle of the screen. Of course, that’s impossible unless you put a speaker behind an acoustically transparent screen.

The next best place is immediately above or below the screen.

The reason for the location is because the center channel generally contains the dialog or other on-screen sounds. Because of the directionality of non-bass frequencies, the human ear can actually tell if the sound is coming from about the right place, so it will sound “wrong” if the sound comes from somewhere else. Above and below the center of the screen are close enough that it doesn’t matter.

We do use ceiling-mounted speakers (L/C/R and surrounds) in some instances. When we do, we always make sure the speaker is angled toward the viewer, so that the directional sounds don’t go straight down into the floor, and then get distributed in a fairly random pattern around the room. Angling the speaker toward the listening area will make sure the sound appears to be coming directly from the screen.

However, in order to make this work, you need to have the L/C/R ceiling speakers as far forward in the room as possible. Otherwise, the ear will localize the sound to be too high. Note that, from a purist’s viewpoint, this isn’t ideal. But from an interior design viewpoint, it may be desirable for any number of reasons.

Also note that several companies have been experimenting with front height channels — that is, a left and right front channel that’s roughly above the normal L/R speakers. These manufacturers believe that the additional height channels will increase the perception of the soundstage, offering a fuller sound than possible with just a flat speaker arrangement. Of course, height channels are not practical with ceiling mounted L/C/R speakers.

Arlen Schweiger also chimed in:

A center channel absolutely can be placed in the ceiling. We’re seeing many more installations where this is the case these days — “hidden” sound is becoming a more popular request of CE pros, and fortunately many manufacturers are catering to this demand with higher quality in-ceiling loudspeakers.

The knock on in-ceiling speakers in the past is that you had to compromise performance for the placement and clean aesthetics, but the performance gap between conventional LCRs and in-wall/in-ceiling models continues to shrink, especially with models that include aimable or pivoting tweeters that really help direct the sound toward the seating.

Also, in-ceiling models are becoming even less obtrusive with flush-mounting where flanges are barely noticeable. Equipment lists on installs we receive note plenty of SpeakerCraft and Sonance models, just to name a couple of manufacturers.

A couple of years ago, Boston Acoustics was even bold enough to present a demonstration for the press that included surround sound from both traditional tower/cabinet LCR front speakers and in-ceiling speakers — during the film clip they switched the source of the audio from the regular speakers to the in-ceilings, and asked the audience at the end if they could tell when the switch occurred — no one could, so that’s just another example of how far quality in-ceilings have come.

Rather than list off a bunch of manufacturers, check out Robert Archer’s architectural speaker roundup.

Also keep an eye on the CE Pro forum for further assistance.

Follow Electronic House on Facebook and Twitter.
FREE Charter Platinum Membership
Claim your FREE Charter Platinum Membership to EH Network and receive 6 FREE issues of EH Magazine.*
First Name
Last Name
Email Address

We understand your email address is private. By granting you access to the EH Network, you agree to receive email communications from us, including our newsletters. You can manage your subscription at any time in the future.
* The new EH Network launches and your free subscription begins December 2014.


Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.