How to Correct Low Center Channel Dialog

Making sure voices are loud enough in your surround sound setup

With the advent of home theater surround sound, the importance of balancing the levels of the various speakers is important for obtaining the best possible listening experience.

A common balancing problems is a low or quiet center channel volume in relation to the left and right main channels. In this scenario, the dialog track, which usually comes from the center channel speaker, is overwhelmed by the music and sound effects from the left and right channels. This can make the dialog almost unintelligible and be very frustrating for viewers.

To solve this problem, Blu-ray Disc/DVD player and AV receiver makers have incorporated some options that enable the user to correct the imbalance.

Correcting Low Center Channel Using an AV Receiver

If you are using a fairly recent model AV receiver for your sound, check your setup menu to see if you have the ability to adjust the center channel output level or adjust the center channel equalization. Often you can adjust all the other channels as well. Many AV Receivers have a built-in test tone generator to assist in this task.

In addition, many AV Receivers also have an automatic speaker level setup function (MCACC, YPAO, ZVOX, etc.). By using a provided microphone and built-in test tones, the AV receiver can automatically calibrate and adjust the speaker settings according to the size of the speakers you are using, the room size, and the distance of each speaker from the listening area.

However, if you find the automatic speaker level settings not to your liking, you can still go in and make your own manual adjustments. An easy way to emphasize the center channel and still keep the other channels balanced is to manually "bump up" the center channel speaker level by one or two dB (Decibels). Do this after the initial, automatic speaker level setting process is complete.

Onkyo TX-SR705 Home Theater Receiver – Center Channel Level Setting

Correcting the Center Channel Using a DVD or Blu-ray Disc Player

Another way to ensure better center channel dialog levels is with your Blu-ray Disc or DVD player setup menu. Some Blu-ray/DVD players have either one of the two following settings (these settings can also be found on many AV receivers as well).

Dialog enhancement emphasizes the center channel dialog track using a dynamic compression or dynamic range adjustment (also referred to sometimes as Audio DRC). Activating this setting will make all of the channels sound more even in volume, which will make the center channel dialog stand out more effectively.

By using the tools that may already be provided with your existing components, you can avoid the frustration of putting up with a less-than-desirable listening situation.

Sony BDP-S1000 Blu-ray Player – Dynamic Range Setting

Other Factors Contributing to Weak Center Channel Output

Low or poor center channel performance can also be the result of using an inadequate center channel speaker.

When deciding what type of speaker to use for a center channel in a home theater system, you need to take into consideration the performance characteristics of your left and right main speakers. The reason for this is that your center channel speaker needs to be sonically compatible with your left and right main speakers.

In other words, your center channel speaker should have identical, or similar specifications to your left and right main speakers. The reason for this is that most of the dialog and action taking place in the center of a movie or television show emanates directly from the center channel speaker.

If the center channel speaker cannot output the high, mid, and upper bass frequencies adequately, then the center channel sound may be weak, tinny, and lack depth in relation to the other main speakers. This will result in an unsatisfying listening experience.

Having the right-center channel speaker goes a long way to making any other needed center channel adjustments on either your Receiver, Blu-ray Disc, or DVD player more effective in resolving low center channel dialog or other center channel sound output issues.