A soundbar is an excellent audio device that can be used to upgrade your television sound. Many people wonder if can you use a soundbar as a center speaker, and the answer is a typical yes.
Soundbars are designed to create quality sound when paired with other units in a surround sound system. Soundbars can also be used as center speakers when no dedicated speaker is available.
Still, some sounds will likely be challenging to hear when using the soundbar in this way, and stereo effects won’t be distinguishable.
How Soundbars Accomplish High-Quality Audio
There is a common misconception that soundbars are just another speaker. Its appearance and placement indeed suggest this. However, soundbars use a few audio tricks to amplify sound and simulate the immersive experience of a surround sound system.
To accomplish this surround sound environment, the speakers that a soundbar uses are positioned in such a way as to make it unsuitable as a center speaker. Like your basic sound system, a soundbar has a center, left and right channel.
To create the effect of the surround, the left and right speakers are tilted towards the sides of the soundbar, using the walls in the room to create the home theater sound we all love.
The left and right channels bounce off the walls to make it seem like the sound is coming from your left and right, rather than from the TV in front of you.
Why a Soundbar Won’t Sound Good as a Center Channel
A soundbar has three channels (four if you decide to hook up a subwoofer), so there are two ways to hook it up to your surround system. To use it as a true center, you would have to hook up all three channels of the soundbar to the center channel of your receiver.
Alternatively, you can use the three channels and hook up a left, right, and center signal into the soundbar. Both of these approaches have significant disadvantages.
The angled left and right speakers will amplify your center signal around the room for the entire center approach, muddying both the effects and the dialogue.
The left and right speakers will blend your center sound with your left and proper channels, making the dialogue and the sound effects less clear.
For the three-channel approach, these speakers will be out of phase with the surround sound system, causing areas in the room where the sound is significantly quieter.
This is because sound travels as waves, and when waves meet each other, they cause interference. This interference results in patches of space where sound cancellation and other patches where the sound is amplified.
Thus, in general, hooking up your soundbar to your sound system is not a good idea. If you hook your soundbar up as a single channel on all of its speakers, you will amplify the center channel to the left and right of your room, diminishing the surround sound experience.
If you hook up your system to give the soundbar three channels, you risk causing sound interference, making your sound quiet in some areas of the room and loud in others. With either setup, you will be sacrificing sound quality with little reason.
Though this is not recommended, we have an article explaining exactly how to connect your soundbar as the center channel speaker. These instructions will vary depending on your receiver and soundbar.
Active Soundbars: Amplifying the Problem
Compounding the problem is the issue of signal strength. When the sound comes out of your TV, it emits what is known as a line-level signal. This signal is very low voltage to save your television the power of emitting speaker-level sound.
If you were to hook up your line-level signal directly into a speaker, it would only produce a faint buzzing sound, if any sound at all, because the wattage is not high enough to significantly move the speakers.
Most soundbars solve this by having an internal amplifier. An amplifier boosts the line-level signal by adding electricity, making it powerful enough to move your speakers and give you that beautiful home theater-quality sound. This is why they have a power adapter or need to be plugged into a wall outlet.
A system works similarly. Like with the soundbar, the surround sound system boosts the line-level signal coming from the TV, powering the speakers connected to your receiver, which, by the way, we’ve written a tutorial on before.
Hooking up the surround sound system’s amplified sound to the already amplified soundbar is where you can run into significant problems.
A speaker that amplifies the sound internally is known as an active speaker and requires an external power source to function.
This is in contrast to passive speakers, which require external amplification like the ones in your surround system. Passive speakers are the most common type of speaker and are typically less expensive.
Why Connecting an Active Soundbar to a Receiver is a Bad Idea
Like speakers, soundbars come in active and passive varieties. As previously stated, most are active soundbars, providing their amplification.
If you were to hook this kind of soundbar directly to a surround sound receiver, you would be first amplifying the line-level signal with the receiver and then further amplifying the sound with the soundbar. To get around this, you can use a line-out converter.
This is way more power than your soundbar is designed to handle and can permanently damage the speakers. If you want to make the mistake of hooking up your receiver to a soundbar, you need to make sure you use a passive soundbar.
Still, you will run into the sound quality problems of sound cancellation or proper dilution noted above. Just because you can hook up your soundbar to your center channel does not mean you should.
Alternatives to Try
Our team is staunchly against a soundbar as a center channel, but that leaves you with the question of how to obtain surround sound effectively without the soundbar.
If you want to put your soundbar to good use, try using it individually with another TV instead of integrating it into your existing surround sound setup.
The TV in question should not have other speakers. The purpose of this is to use your soundbar as the entire audio system to enhance the best sound quality.
You can achieve surround sound even with just one soundbar in front of you, but that means you will need at least a model that comes with five channels. Using the soundbar with the TV can make your content sound better without compromising the rest of the hookup.
The bottom line is always to use dedicated center speakers designed for their specific purpose and not soundbars if you have equipment already set up.
They are designed to be sleek and compact, making them a stylish addition to the front of the room. Since they are small, they can complement other equipment like your receiver and make the room look tidy.
If the appearance is focused on, our team suggests browsing a little longer online. There are plenty of speakers out there that can help your setup sound better, create balanced and expansive surround sound, and look fantastic.
Can you use a soundbar as a center speaker?
Yes, you can use it as a center speaker. To do this, you will need to hook up the soundbar to the rest of your system in either a single or three-channel format.
However, it’s not recommended to use your soundbar as a center channel speaker because it causes signal cancellation, gives you poorer sound than before, and can directly damage the rest of your system due to compatibility issues.
Is a soundbar the same as a center speaker?
No, it is not the same as a center speaker. Speakers have tweeters, mids, and woofers, while a soundbar has left, right, and center channels.
They do not perform the same functions, and the direction of the drivers in soundbars used as center speakers will cause the center channel to be overloaded, which will give you unbalanced sounds.
A soundbar can be used as a center speaker in your home. Some television manufacturers design televisions with soundbars for this exact purpose, and it can make home theater shopping much easier when available options are presented in this way.
A soundbar can be used as a center speaker when no dedicated speaker is available, and it will sound better than typical speakers or a typical set of surrounds.
Hooke Audio hopes this article was helpful for you, we hope you enjoy your experience with the guide, and more importantly, we hope it helped you in some way or another. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to ask them below.