Can I Use 2 Bookshelf Speakers As A Center Channel?

In the realm of home theaters, it’s often asked whether it’s possible or beneficial to use two bookshelf speakers as ...

By Dewayne

In the realm of home theaters, it’s often asked whether it’s possible or beneficial to use two bookshelf speakers as a center channel. Understanding the roles and configurations of speakers in a home theater setting is critical to achieving optimal sound quality. The center channel is the focal point of a home theater sound system, driving much of the dialogue and directly-facing action of the movies we watch.

From the standpoint of sound engineering and acoustics, there’s ongoing debate about the best speaker arrangement for home theaters. Some believe in the conventional approach of using a dedicated center channel speaker. Others suggest more unconventional methods, such as the potential usage of two bookshelf speakers as a center channel. This approach, while feasible, brings certain considerations to light.

In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of home theater acoustics, discussing the role of a center channel speaker, the possibility of replacing it with two bookshelf speakers, and the potential benefits and drawbacks of such an approach. We will also explore the suitability of various types of bookshelf speakers, aspects of their set-up, and the role of an AV receiver in a home theater system.

What Is a Center Channel Speaker?

A center channel speaker is an integral part of a home theater audio system. It is typically placed directly above or below the display, aiming to create a direct sound pathway to the viewers. This type of speaker is specifically designed to reproduce dialogue and central audio details, providing an immersive cinematic experience to the viewers.

The aim of the center channel speaker is to anchor dialogue and central sounds to the screen, especially in multi-channel audio systems. This helps in creating a seamless and realistic sound image that complements the visuals on the screen. In essence, the center speaker is responsible for blending the action and dialogue on screen with sound effects and music, aiding to the illusion of an actual cinema hall in your living room.

In a stereo setup (2.0 or 2.1 speakers), there’s no need for a center channel speaker as the left and right speakers handle the entire sound range. But for surround sound setups (5.1 and above), the center channel speaker is essential. It is critical in accurately positioning speech and music, especially for off-screen actions, to provide a truly immersive experience.

The quality of your center channel speaker can greatly affect your audio experience. A weak center channel can muddle dialogue and cause an imbalance in the overall sound. For this reason, it’s often recommended to invest in a high-quality center channel speaker for your home theater system.

Can Two Bookshelf Speakers Replace It?

Using two bookshelf speakers as a center channel is a topic of much debate among home theater enthusiasts. Some argue that it’s feasible, others dismiss the idea citing potential sound cancellation and phase issues. Nevertheless, implementing this arrangement is a complex task, requiring expert knowledge in sound engineering and careful calibration.

In theory, two bookshelf speakers could form a phantom center channel. When appropriately spaced, the left and right audio signals blend and form a center image. However, this approach often requires listeners to be in an exact sweet spot – too much to the left or right and the phantom image collapses.

Moreover, when two speakers are placed close to each other, they can cause a phenomenon known as audio cancellation. This occurs when sound waves overlap and null each other out, diminishing the sound quality. This is a common concern when considering the use of two bookshelf speakers as a center channel.

Also, it’s important to note that the discrepancies between the two speakers can be highlighted in a center channel setup. This can lead to noticeable sound distortions, especially in vocals. This can significantly affect the overall immersiveness and sound quality of your home theater experience.

Despite these potential drawbacks, there may be circumstances where using two bookshelf speakers as a center channel might make sense. If you have matching bookshelf speakers on hand and lack the space or budget for a dedicated center channel, some careful setup and positioning could potentially yield satisfactory results.

Are All Bookshelf Speakers Suitable?

All bookshelf speakers are not suitable for use as a center channel. There are several factors to consider when selecting bookshelf speakers for this arrangement, including the speaker’s sound quality, design, and matching implications.

Bookshelf speakers are helpful in high-quality stereo and multichannel audio systems due to their optimal balance of size, performance, and cost. Their build is best suited for a bookshelf or stand, an ideal setting to deliver accurate stereo imagery and a wide soundstage.

When choosing bookshelf speakers for a center channel, it’s critical to select a pair that matches the quality and sonic characteristics of your main speakers. When mixed and matched carelessly, different types of speakers can produce variable audio outputs, which may not blend together harmoniously in a home theater setting.

In addition, bookshelf speakers with similar specifications and identical drivers are more likely to produce a similar sound profile, making them more suited to function as a center channel. Moreover, bookshelf speakers with multiple drivers are ideal for creating a more expansive and detailed soundstage.

Lastly, it’s necessary to consider the ambiance of your room and the positioning of your speakers. The physical and acoustic characteristics of the space can greatly influence the sound quality and optimization.

Which Types of Bookshelf Speakers Work Best?

Not all bookshelf speakers are created equal. The appropriateness of substitute center channel models depends largely on their design, driver size, frequency range, sensitivity, and power handling capability.

The type of enclosure significantly affects a speaker’s sound production. Bookshelf speakers found in sealed (acoustic suspension) enclosures typically demonstrate better transient response and accuracy, while those housed in ported (bass reflex) enclosures tend to deliver increased low-frequency extension.

The driver size and material also impact the sound quality. Larger drivers can typically produce deeper bass, but may lack in generating high-frequency sounds. On the other hand, smaller drivers may cater more to mid and high-frequency sounds but may lack depth in the bass.

The sensitivity of the speaker measures how loud it can play per watt of power. Bookshelf speakers with higher sensitivity can play louder at a given power level, which can be beneficial in larger rooms.

Different bookshelf speakers also handle power differently. The power handling capability (along with amplifier power) can clue you in to the maximum volume the speaker can produce without distortion.

The frequency range of the speaker is also critical. Ideally, the speaker should be able to cover a wide range of frequencies, providing a fuller, richer sound.

While there’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer, hardware of a higher caliber will always fare better as a center channel. Given the importance of the center channel in a home theater setup, choosing bookshelf speakers with high-quality sound production characteristics is key.

How Do I Set Up the Bookshelf Speakers?

Setting up bookshelf speakers as your center channel can be a complex process, but with careful calibration, it’s possible. It’s worth noting, however, that setting up a pair of bookshelf speakers may require more time, effort, and expertise compared to installing a traditional center channel speaker.

Firstly, the placement of the bookshelf speakers is vital. Ideally, they should be placed at the same height as the main speakers to maintain consistent sound quality across all channels. You also need to angle the speakers correctly and maintain a suitable distance between both speakers to avoid phase cancellation.

Secondly, you must match the volume levels of all speakers to create a seamless and balanced sound experience. This involves adjusting the volume level to match that of the main speakers so that it’s neither overwhelmingly loud nor undetectably soft.

Thirdly, when setting up bookshelf speakers as a center channel, it’s vital to calibrate them correctly. This can be done through an automatic calibration feature available in most modern AV receivers or through manual adjustments. If you’re manually calibrating your speakers, an SPL meter can provide more accurate readings.

Lastly, always remember that creating quality sound involves trial and error. You may need to experiment with different setups and adjustments until you achieve the sound that you desire.

What’s the Role of an AV Receiver?

In a home theater system, an AV receiver acts as the hub, connecting and controlling all your inputs and outputs. AV receivers essentially decode audio and video signals from various sources (like Blu-ray players, game consoles, and media streamers), amplify the audio signals, and transmit the video signals to your television and sound to your speakers.

The function of an AV receiver becomes even more critical when using two different speakers as a center channel. It is equipped with various features such as sound processing modes, channel-level trim adjustments, and auto-calibration tools that assist in optimizing sound performance.

Many modern AV receivers come with built-in calibration technology that can automatically adjust the sound output from each speaker, delivering balanced and immersive audio across your home theater system. This is instrumental in leveling out potential imbalances that may arise when using two bookshelf speakers as a center channel.

The value of investing in a high-quality AV receiver cannot be overstated. It is a fundamental component of your home theater system that will significantly impact the system’s sound performance and overall functionality.

Are There Any Potential Downsides?

The use of two bookshelf speakers as a center channel may come with several potential downsides. One of the main concerns is the potential for audio cancellation. Audio cancellation, or phase cancellation, occurs when two sound waves interfere with each other, resulting in diminished sound quality.

Two speakers placed too closely together can overlap their sound waves, causing an interference known as comb filtering. This can create an artificial, hollow sound, which can be distracting and result in a less-than-satisfactory audio experience.

Another problem that could arise is the difficulty of maintaining a balanced and cohesive soundstage. Matching the sound output of two different speakers might be more challenging than simply using a single, well-designed center channel speaker. Without proper calibration, your speakers might end up delivering audio that isn’t evenly distributed across all channels.

Lastly, the process of setting up two bookshelf speakers to replace a center channel can be technically demanding. While some home theater enthusiasts might enjoy the challenge, many people would find the task daunting or may lack the necessary technical expertise and equipment.

Do Different Brands Create Varied Outcomes?

Bookshelf speakers of different brands do indeed create varied outcomes. Each brand has its unique approach to speaker design, implementing various technologies and materials in their products. These differing features can significantly impact the sound quality, durability, and performance of bookshelf speakers.

For instance, some brands focus on creating crisp and detailed highs, while others prioritize delivering powerful and intense lows. Some speaker companies use unique materials that significantly alter the sound quality, while others use a more traditional approach.

Therefore, it’s crucial to research individual brands and models when considering bookshelf speakers for your home theater system. Additionally, you should also consider the compatibility of the speakers with your room’s acoustics and your existing sound equipment for the best possible outcome.

In short, using speakers of the same brand and series to replace your center channel may lead to a harmonious sound production. However, mixing speakers of different brands can potentially introduce tonal differences that may disrupt the cohesive soundstage.

Can Speaker Placement Influence Outcome?

Speaker placement can significantly influence the outcome of your home theater sound experience. Correct placement of speakers is integral to creating an expansive soundstage, precise imaging, and tonal balance. Therefore, when using bookshelf speakers as a center channel, precise placement is key to maintaining balanced and immersive audio performance.

When placing your speakers, it’s crucial to ensure they’re kept at the same height to achieve a seamless blend of sound. Also, they should ideally face straight forward and not be too spread out to prevent phase cancellation issues.

Another factor to consider is the distance from the wall. Speakers placed too close to a wall might exhibit exaggerated bass response, while those placed too far might sound thin and lackluster.

Ultimately, the exact speaker placement will vary based on your room’s acoustics, the speaker design, and your personal preferences. Some experimentation may be required to achieve the optimal placement and subsequently, the best sound experience.

What Are Alternatives to Using Bookshelf Speakers?

While using two bookshelf speakers as a center channel could work under specific conditions, there are alternatives that might provide a more straightforward and effective solution for your home theater needs.

The most obvious alternative is using a designated center channel speaker. These are specially designed and engineered to handle the larger share of the heavy dialogue and music, providing clear and well-dispersed sound.

Additionally, in-wall or in-ceiling speakers could be a suitable choice for those looking to save space or maintain a discreet look. These speakers can provide significant sound dispersion and clarity, although the installation might be more complicated and costly.

In smaller rooms or in situations where a less complex setup is preferred, a sound bar might be a suitable alternative. Sound bars can provide a clear and focused sound output and are relatively easy to install and use.

Another option is to consider a phantom center setup with just the left and right channels. With proper alignment and calibration, two high-quality stereo speakers can suffice in creating an illusion of a center channel.


While utilizing two bookshelf speakers as a center channel can be done under specific conditions and with careful calibration, it may not always be the ideal solution for your home theater setup. The process can be technically challenging and may yield results inferior to using a dedicated center channel speaker.

However, in circumstances where a dedicated center channel speaker cannot be accommodated due to space or budget constraints, appropriately chosen and precisely arranged bookshelf speakers may serve as a suitable stand-in.

In conclusion, there are several viable alternatives to using two bookshelf speakers as a center channel, including designated center speakers, in-wall speakers, sound bars, or a phantom center setup. Your choice will largely depend on your personal preferences, room acoustics, budget, technical expertise, and tolerance for experimentation.

Remember, achieving the ideal home theater audio setup is a journey, not a destination. It requires constant experimentation, suitable gear, and a keen ear.

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