Focusing on the center

May 20, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

The center image of a two-channel system is known as the phantom channel for a good reason. It is an illusion. It doesn't actually exist.

Once you realize the center channel is completely dependent on setup, room, and speaker placement, it becomes a lot easier to purposefully do whatever it takes to enhance the palpability of your third channel.

One of the best techniques at center channel enhancement turns out to have nothing to do with speaker setup or equipment.

Place a vertically oriented picture or painting dead center of the front wall (the wall behind the loudspeakers) at about 6 feet high (its center should be human eye height).

That picture or painting will work wonders with your center image—not because it changes the sound, but because it helps you mentally focus that center image.

It is, after all, an illusion.

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32 comments on “Focusing on the center”

  1. Firstly, thanks to all of you who put forward your knowledgeable points of view on
    mic'ing & recording in yesterday's 'Paul's Posts'.
    Since I know very little about that side of 'canned music production'...I found the
    comments interesting & educational.

    If your home-audio rig (& listening room) is set-up properly & it is capable of a 'real'
    3D holographic soundstage & near pin-point imaging, then you wont be hearing a
    phantom centre channel, since the soundstage & imaging will be spread-out properly
    from beyond the left-hand loudspeaker all the way over to, & beyond, the right-hand
    loudspeaker...at least that has been my experience.
    When you get a phantom centre channel happening it means that either the recording
    wasn't mic'd as well as it should've been or that you haven't quite got your loud-
    speakers in their optimal positioning or/& that your listening room isn't optimally diffused.

    RIP - Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou aka 'Vangelis' (March 1943 - May 2022)
    'Chariots Of Fire'

    1. "Chariots of Fire". What a great movie and sound track. I have the sound track on vinyl which I bought in 1981 when we saw the film. I have not played it in decades. I am sure it is on ultra thin recycled vinyl, but I will give it a play this weekend.

  2. It was demonstrated to me by my dealer setting up my speakers that there is effectively a balance between central imaging and soundstage, depending on the amount of toe-in.

    The question is, what painting? My vote goes for Tracy Emin's "I was too young to be carrying your ashes". That will focus your attention. Personally, the artwork in my music room is on the side walls and is muted, two black and white etchings. Is this going to be a home decoration thread?

    Chariots of Fire was an all-time favourite. Best soundtrack after Lawrence of Arabia. Interesting fact. Ian Holm (Sam Massambini and the priest in the Fifth Element) suffered from terrible stage fright and didn't go on stage for many years. Of all things, he then decided to do King Lear in the round at the National Theatre. Talk about diving in at the deep end, but it was amazing, best I've ever seen.

    1. I just wondered if your choice of artwork was in any way driven by a desire to utter those immortal words “would you like to come up and see my etchings?” 😉 🙂

      As for best soundtrack my vote would go to “Somewhere in Time” by John Barry, one of the greatest composers of film soundtracks. Some may consider it clichéd and sentimental but I love it’s richness and the lush strings. It’s beautifully romantic and I play it a lot.

      1. Well darling, you can see my etchings anytime! One of them my wife bought for my birthday, but I look at it that she liked it and used my birthday as an excuse to buy it. I won't hold it against her. (I don't recall using the "if I told you I had a beautiful body ..." line either.)

        Lawrence of Arabia has an intermission for some extra music, a modern version of Handel's concertos written for the intermissions at Covent Garden in the 1730s. Both stood the test of time. I do like how Sergio Leone directed to Morricone's music, and Once Upon a Time in the West is astonishingly good. The Jason Robards theme is one that sticks and never leaves. Jonny Greenwood is the new Master of the genre, I have Phantom Thread on LP and he recently did The Power of the Dog. He also did There Will be Blood and Murakami's Norwegian Wood.

        1. Yes, I liked Phantom Thread and was really surprised when I discovered who composed it. Don’t think I ever would have guessed bearing in mind his background.

  3. For some reason I have not found this technique to be useful. Perhaps I should turn the lights on and/or open my eyes when doing my most important listening.

  4. For all the talk of the illusory center channel, resistance to the existing technology that provides an actual one remains. Never made much sense.

  5. A little be bit of an off topic Segway here, but focusing on the center channel of my music universe it brings me great sadness to hear about the passing of VANGELIS.
    I hope many will give Vangelis a spin through their systems to honor such a magnificent and lovely human being. RIP.

    https://youtu.be/zVGQdp8gqAU

  6. Interesting that for some visual cues are required for aural cues.

    My take is that having those visual cues can detract. For example things visually on an exact center. What’s wrong with the system if the center image is six inches to the left. Is it the recording, is it the equipment, is it the room, or is it the set up?

    Look at pictures of audio show demo rooms.
    A bunch of chrome domes with their eyes closed - is it nap time or are they trying to heighten their aural experience by removing the visual?

  7. In high school, I had a poster of Farrah Fawcett in between my speakers. There were times I couldn’t remember what I just listened to. 🙂

  8. I’ve only had one person listen to my system who could be considered an “audiophile” (he is an ML electrostatic guy). My two channel system is set up alongside a home theater system, but they are completely independent of each other. I put on one of my favorite “demo” CDs. He is sitting forward on the couch with a real serious look on his face. After a couple minutes, still with that real serious demeanor, he asks me if the center channel speaker is on. I took it as a huge compliment.

  9. There may be something to this visual thing. When I was auditioning speakers for my system the unusual setup was either a pair of monoblocks or a big stereo power amp driving the speakers. When it was a big stereo power amp it was always in the center between the two speakers. The sound of the lead singer always seemed to come from the stereo power amp.

    I now have the same situation in my system. My stereo power amp is large ( very large ). I have it on an amp stand that gets the bottom of it about seven inches off the floor and thus the top is about twenty inches off the floor. ( If you go here: https://www.psaudio.com/hifi-family-system-photos/ , my system is the tenth one from the top in the center column. )

    I get a great center image but it always seems to be coming out of the huge chuck of metal near the floor. I wonder if it is because my eyes keep drifting down to the amp?

  10. No strong center stage for me. With careful speaker positioning and little toe-in, about 5 degrees, combined with room spatial tweaks, I eliminate any hole in the middle. That's it, otherwise I find that a strong center kills soundstage and imaging.

  11. I have a large window on the front wall between my speakers which makes the center image farther away and the sound stage much deeper 🙂

  12. Thanks for telling me more about it. I'm not completely versed in this topic (or rather, I just started to understand this), so your comments and all the information was really useful for me. I will try all your advice and really hope it works for me. I kept thinking that the problem was in the speakers that I bought, but it turned out that they had almost nothing to do with it. Thank you. https://contractorfinder.noritz.com/contractors

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