Our Top Pick for 2017: Polk Audio CS10 Center Channel Speaker
Read our full review.
It’s truly a great time to be an audiophile. Sound technology continues to progress at a near breakneck pace and as our home theater resolutions attain Ultra HD status and above, the quality of the aural experiences being generated by these same home theater setups are reaching levels of clarity that have only previously been attained in dedicated theaters. Directors and sound engineers of major motion pictures know that the best way to ensure a quality, multi-layered sound experience in a movie theater is to place some of the dialog, soundtrack, and sound effects into the center channel. This practice ensures that the most important sounds are reproduced clearly without the unnecessary muddling of background noise. To get this same level of sound resolution in your home theater, you’ll have to employ a center channel speaker.
Table of contents
- #1 Gold Pick (1st Place Winner)
- #2 Silver Pick (2nd Place Runner-Up)
- #3 Bronze Pick (3rd Place)
- #4 Budget Pick (Best Cheap)
#1 Gold pick (Winner): Polk Audio CS10 Center Channel Speaker
View it on Amazon: $119.95*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
When it comes to our Gold Pick selections, these items are beloved by both the consumer audience and critics alike. Our Gold Pick center channel speaker fulfills this pre-requisite and provides a feature-rich experience that will produce some of the best theater-quality sound in your home theater that you can imagine. Produced by Polk Audio; a company that has over 40 years of history developing high fidelity sound options for the consumer audience, the CS10 center channel speaker has quite a lot to offer.
This speaker has just the right form factor to leave you with several listening options. As a rule, when setting up a center channel speaker system, you want to be sure that the audio is being sent at ear level to your viewing audience. This ensures that the sounds don’t seem to be muted or tinny to your listeners. This can be a problem dependent on your setup, because if you choose to place it on your TV stand, the varying nature of these surfaces when it comes to elevation can greatly affect your listening experience. Polk solved this issue by making this line of center channel speakers more variable in placement.
As with some other models of center channel speakers, you can mount this model directly to your wall and there are enough brackets throughout its construction to ensure you have a variety of choices. What this model does do different is that it has an angular surface on one of its sides; this is so that you can better position the output of the speakers to reach anyone in your viewing area.
Is your TV stand too low? You can angle the CS10 upwards to provide a good listening experience. Not enough room for this device, you can mount it on the ceiling by attaching the bracket to the angled surface; this will allow the speaker’s output to be pointed directly to the ear-level of your listeners.
The CS10 is somewhat larger, which is a good trait for these types of systems; the larger the driver, the better the sound quality. Its dimensions are 9.8 inches in height, 20 inches in width, and 6.5 inches in depth. The entire speaker weighs 16 pounds, but you shouldn’t have to heft it around too much after you’ve established an optimum listening position for this center channel speaker.
This is a three-way speaker system that incorporates deeper bass tones into its construction by use of two 5.25-inch bi-laminate organic fiber cone woofers. For treble and the mid-range, the CS10 utilizes a 1-inch silk/polymer composite dynamic balance dome tweeter. Both of these components are optimally placed within the body of the speaker; the subwoofers on the outermost edges, and the tweeter set squarely in the middle.
Another great feature of this center channel speaker system is its composition. Many manufacturers utilize particle board for their speaker’s body; this material is cheap and provides a less than optimal acoustic experience. To counter this, Polk Audio utilized a much more acoustically viable construction with a model available in cherry wood grain with pewter accents throughout its composition. With so much attention paid to the composition of their center channel speaker, it’s clear that Polk Audio has designed this unit to provide the strongest audio experience possible.
When it comes to connectivity, this speaker system has all the bases covered. It utilizes a five way binding post that is compatible with banana jacks, spade connectors, or even a bare wire connection. This adds a lot of versatility to your setup, and you’ll have little problem finding the appropriate connection for your home entertainment system.
How does all of this sound? This center channel speaker produces some of the best sound available for this type of audio experience. The mids are particularly rich and the highs are nigh-crystalline. With reasonably sized subwoofer sound drivers, the bass on these speakers also sounds adequately tumultuous and rich. Simply put, as long as they are positioned appropriately for your listening audience, these speakers will provide a sound experience that will almost exactly mirror what the sound tech or director intended.
As previously stated, Gold Pick items tend to do exceptionally well when it comes to critical and consumer consensus. On Amazon, a striking 97 percent of 632 reviewers have granted this speaker set a positive score rating at least four stars in quality. Most reviewers feel that this center channel speaker addresses the issues with these types of speakers exceptionally. One reviewer sums up the general feeling of the five star comments (which make up 79 percent of the reviews): “CS10 surpassed all my expectations when I listened to it. During my research, I saw the long list of positive reviews for CS10 mentioning how excellent the sound was. When i ordered the speaker and paid $120, I was expecting excellent sound for the price. I was completely wrong. The speaker is not excellent for the price I paid, its excellent for ANY price.”
#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): Klipsch R-25C Center Speaker
View it on Amazon: $190.78*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
While not as important as sound quality, an aesthetically pleasing center channel speaker can greatly enhance the home theater experience. Our Silver Pick, developed by the experienced engineers at Klipsch audio, has a look to it that’s at once futuristic and classical. Klipsch has been making revolutionary sound systems since the 1940s and this center speaker system builds on those 80 years of expertise by providing a system with a high quality sound profile that also enhances your home theater by providing a great aesthetic talking piece.
The first thing that will draw your eye with these Klipsch center channel speakers are the two copper spun woofers. These help to create a unique copper on black aesthetic that looks great when you don’t have the somewhat understated black cloth grille attached to the front. Klipsch creates these by incorporating graphite through injection molding to create a cerametallic cone. This unique composition allows the R-25C to provide deep, thrumming bass that lends your cinematic viewing experience some added oomph.
Additional metallic composition can also be found in the center channel speaker’s tweeters. These tweeters work in conjunction with Klipsch’s patented 90×90 Tractrix Horn to provide excellent imaging and dynamics. These tweeters have such a high efficiency that the volume levels this speaker can produce simply blow away the majority of center channel speakers on the market today. As a matter of fact, the positioning of these tweeters allows for a greater range of sound delivery and fills a moderately large home theater area with relative ease. Also, with such an efficient design, output is high while still using less overall energy.
These are also very low profile speakers. Externally, the cabinet is comprised of a black polymer veneer that is sleek, yet sturdy. Their speaker’s complete measurements are 6.6 inches in height, 13.5 inches in width, and 6.75 inches in depth and weigh 14.8 pounds. You can mount these speakers on top of your TV stand if you have the clearance as long as they are high enough for an immersive sound experience or you can wall mount them; they include rear-panel keyholes that make hanging these speakers a cinch.
The gold-plated binding posts that are used for connectivity in these center channel speakers, work well for almost any type of connection. On caveat though: If you’re planning on using banana jacks, you will have to remove the plastic caps from the ends of the posts.
A clean 90 percent of the reviewers who have purchased this item on Amazon have granted it a rating of four stars or above. With such a high rate of satisfaction, it’s good to look at what positive reviewers are saying. Here is one such review from a discerning audiophile who purchased these center channel speakers with several other sound components from Klipsch: “I’m a musician with years of experience in a recording studio and I’ve adapted a pretty good ear, and my ears say these R-15M’s sound very nice… especially with my Klipsch R-26F floor standing, and R-25C center speakers. The system sounds impressive and I’m a picky SOB. I hear a nice balanced blend of frequency dimension in the soundstage. I am happier than I expected and these speakers added a nice finishing touch to my system.”
#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): Definitive Technology CS-8040HD Speaker
View it on Amazon: $169.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Our Bronze Pick center channel speaker is produced by California-based speaker manufacturer Definitive Technology. Definitive Tech produces sound items that aspire to be the definitive technology for their class of sound electronics. As a third place pick, you’d think that these CS-8040 speakers are significantly worse than the prior picks, but these speakers provide a balanced, yet nuanced experience that really competes with its gold and silver pick forebears.
Aesthetically, this center channel speaker boasts a much squatter yet wider design than the previous entries on our list. This shape differential actually adds a feeling of sleekness that is bolstered by the luster of its black-hued cabinet. With its smaller form factor and its sleek look, this center channel speaker blends in surreptitiously with any home theater setup.
Even though this center channel speaker has a squatter profile than some of the others we’ve covered in this guide, it still has an overall larger size. When it comes to physical measurements, this center channel speaker measures 12 inches in depth, 23 inches in width, and 5.8 inches in height. This is also the heaviest center speaker on this list at a semi-hefty 20 pounds.
This unique layout hides one feature that is missing from our other two reviewed center channel speakers: this unit comes equipped with a bass radiator, which improves bass performance greatly. This radiator is shaped like a racetrack and is 5” x 10”. This bass radiator differs from a woofer and encompasses an area that’s 30 percent larger than the typical 8” woofer that. The resulting bassy timbres that this radiator produces will put you right in the action happening on your screen.
When it comes to the mid and high ranges, this center channel speaker reaches a level of quality that you might expect from a larger tower style speaker setup. The sound that’s produced from the one inch pure aluminum dome tweeter is especially silky and provides a true surround-sound experience that makes you feel like you’re in the thick of the action.
As a matter of fact, where some of these types of speakers fail is through the tendency to render dialog into something that sounds like it’s coming out of a box. This is not always the result of bad positioning; it can be caused by poorly tuned components as well. This center speaker doesn’t produce that boxy sound at all, just great-sounding sonic detail. This heightened performance is partially due to Definitive Technology’s Balanced Double Surround System (BDSS) drivers.
Of the 17 reviews that are currently on Amazon, a clean and impressive 100 percent have reported having a very positive experience with this center channel speaker; as a matter of fact, 94 percent of these are five star reviews. One five star reviewer had this to say about the speaker: “I purchased this as a complement to my Definitive BP6 tower speakers. It has made a big difference in the quality of sound we get from our home entertainment system. The center channel speaker carries much of the dialogue, which sounds crisp and clear. All three speakers are hooked into a Pioneer Elite VSX-40 receiver. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of the sound – mid-range and high are fantastic, bass is also very good despite the absence of a subwoofer.”
#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): Pioneer SP-C22 Andrew Jones Designed Center Channel Speaker
View it on Amazon: $99.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
There was a time when possessing a cinema perfect sounding home theater system was something that was incredibly fiscally prohibitive. Luckily, this is no longer the case and there are several cost effective ways to ensure that you will be able to bring a great sounding experience to your home theater. If you are ballin’ on a budget, then we suggest you try the Pioneer SP-C22, an auditory marvel that features a rich set of features that competes with the more premium models of center channel speakers, while keeping the price low.
Firstly, the SP-C22 is the follow up model to the Sp-C21. The SP-C21 was a very popular model of center speaker, but consumers wanted a smaller option as some felt that it was a little unwieldy. Pioneer addressed these concerns by decreasing the size of the drivers by an entire inch. You must be wondering why they would do this because smaller drivers mean for a decrease in overall performance, right? Typically this is the case, but Pioneer was able to engineer the new drivers to feature larger excursion. In addition to this, they were able to increase the linearity at lower frequencies and thusly match the performance of the previous model; all while cutting the size.
From an aesthetic perspective, this center channel speaker is designed to blend not shine. Its exterior is comprised of a black wood-grained shell that goes well with many TV stands and credenzas. It sports a pill-shaped cloth grille that looks good in a home theater setup. As mentioned previously, the drivers are an inch smaller than the previous model; a space saving four inches. These woofers produce an incredibly rich and robust bass sound that doesn’t cause dialog distortion at all. These woofers are also vented at the rear to allow for a better reduction of pressure-build up.
While these speakers certainly deliver great sound performance, they don’t feature quite as good of a sensitivity rating as others on our list. Speakers with a high sensitivity rating tend to require less power to operate and thusly sound better. Insofar as sensitivity rates, these speakers feature a decibel sensitivity of 88dB, our Gold Pick has a sensitivity of 91dB, our Silver 98dB, and our Bronze 92dB. So, while it may not feature as high of a decibel sensitivity as the other, more premium speakers on our list, at its closest it’s only about 3dB shy of our Gold Pick.
Of the 1,146 reviews on Amazon, 92 percent of the purchasing customers gave this set of center channel speakers a four star rating or above. Here is one five star testimonial that summarizes the quality of our ballin’ on a budget pick: “I read really good reviews about the Pioneer package, and despite one or two people saying you could get it cheaper doing each alone, I bought the package anyway, and let me say, I LOVE IT. Everything was easy to hook up, the sound is amazing, and they look great in my room. I would recommend them to anyone!”
The basic reasoning that is most accurate is, “The larger the drivers the better the sound quality.” While enclosures and air displacement can affect how a speaker sounds, size really is a major contributor to sound quality. If you have the space and the budget, tower speakers that are 38 inches or larger will produce an amazing sound quality. With this said, smaller tower speakers in the 15-inch range will also generate a strong sound. If you don’t mind losing a little quality, satellite-style speakers can also create a good sound, which while it won’t be as good as a tower setup, can be incredibly space-saving.
Before you make a selection on what kind of center channel speakers that you are going to purchase, it’s a good idea to really think about how the speaker will be placed when you get it up and running.
A speaker’s size will really come into consideration for this one. Since you want your speaker to be placed at ear level, if your speaker is too boxy to fit on the shelf and not obscure the TV at this height then you are bound to have a sub-optimal experience where you’ll either have to adjust to the obstruction, or place the speaker in a place where you won’t get the best performance. How your speaker fits in your room is of vital importance as the acoustics of the area will directly tie in to the sound quality being relayed. Before making a center channel speaker purchase, really take the time and consider your space and room needs before committing to any one model.
This is a very important consideration to make when purchasing a center channel speaker system. Not every speaker system has acoustic compatibility with another. As a rule, try to find a center channel speaker that is from the same manufacturer as your stereo speakers. If in doubt, simply contact your prospective center channel speaker’s manufacturer to get an idea of the acoustic traits of your new system and they’re acoustic compatibility.
Type – Two-Way vs. Three-Way
As you seek out a stronger audio experience that incorporates the center channel into your listening, you will have two main choices when it comes to speaker type: two-way and three-way. Two way center channel speakers utilize a tweeter and a mid range driver. For this style, don’t expect to get much in the way of bass performance as the lower frequencies aren’t really covered in this type. The second type yields a much bassier experience as a subwoofer driver is the third driver added to the speaker.
Since director’s aim a lot of the bass inherent in their sound structures at the center, this type can provide a richer, more robust experience. As a rule, you’ll find that the two-way type, as it omits the subwoofer, is the most budget-friendly option and the three-way system provides a nominally more premium sound performance. When making a decision on what type of center channel speaker you want, first: know your budget, and second: have a firm grasp on what kind of bass experience you prefer.
Center channel speakers can come in one of two orientations; horizontal and vertical. Most audiophiles feel that the vertical orientation delivers a much more robust, high quality sound experience. Another well-regarded orientation setup is to have a vertical mid range driver and tweeter, with a horizontal subwoofer. This setup produces crisp tones and as a three-way setup maintains rich bass. There is also a raised tweeter setup, where a tweeter is positioned vertically above a dual mid-range set up. This method is a compromise and provides a very equalized sound profile.
There are several features that can help improve your experience with center channel speakers. These features fall outside of the sound quality spectrum, but will help make your purchase more valuable. These can include:
• Flippability – The ability to reverse the positioning of some center channel speakers. Certain models, like our Gold Pick, are designed to have different profiles when reversed, thusly positioning the flow of the sound at different ranges. This is great if you are looking to output the sound at ear height but have your speakers on a lower shelf.
• Magnetic Shielding – Magnets are the bane of certain electronics, so having a center channel speaker that shields your other electronics from the magnetic resonance can be a requirement.
• Flexible Binding Posts – This allows for multiple connection types for your center channel speaker. Speakers with a flexible binding post will effortlessly be able to connect via banana jacks, spade connectors, or even bare wire. This level of versatility is very handy, especially when considering an upgrade.
• Aesthetic Design – While this might not seem like an additional feature, a sleek design can add a lot of value to the experience that your center channel speaker provides. As these will be very close to the center of attention when viewing your media, try to find a set of center speakers that are not just functional, but are visually pleasing as well.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
Producing sounds that were designed to be heard at the cinema within the confines of your own home theater is an amazing experience. Finding the right center channel speaker to enrich the cinematic experience can be difficult; especially if you’re new to dynamic sound and proper speaker positioning. Hopefully, our list of quality speakers will make this process significantly easier for you. Try out some of these models if you can, check out our pre-purchase considerations, and you’ll have all the tools necessary to find a perfect center channel experience that will help send you into the world of your favorite movie.