Dual woofer speakers got their humble beginnings when Dolby got into the home surround sound movement.
Flashback to 1987, Pro-Logic was introduced. I was just out of college but not ready to leave the college scene. I worked at the University of Oregon’s Bookstore and we had been growing from simply offering text books to selling everything a college student could need. And that now included home theaters.
There were two big things about this surround sound; 1. was the speakers behind you in order to create that theater environment where sounds whizzed by and over and around you and 2. was the center channel.
The dual woofer center channel was key to making things sound realistic. The idea was to put a speaker on top of the TV (which were as giant as 35″ tube style). Dolby wanted the speaker on the TV so that sounds that were on the screen, came from the screen. This was important for home situations because at the time we had living rooms and family rooms that had irregular seating as it pertained to theater. A chair on one side and maybe a love seat on the other side of the “main” couch/sofa. If we didn’t have a speaker on the TV for the action there (like voices), then the fellow sitting in the Lazy Boy on the right would hear the voices coming from the speaker to the right of the TV. Not very realistic.
The dual woofer center channel was born, but the typical speaker was not going to work up there…too big. So somebody with marketing smarts probably said, “Let’s lay it on it’s side,” then some super smart engineer said, “Let’s put two smaller drivers in there that match the surface area of the speakers that we’re going to use for the left/right speakers.” THAT was brilliant! And the center channel as we knew it was born. So now we had these bookshelf sized speakers with 6 1/2″ woofers on the left and right and a center channel speaker with dual 4″ drivers in the middle and all the front speakers sounded very similar to each other in performance.
Fast forward to around 1995 for the introduction of Digital Dolby for Home Theater usage. Sales were going crazy for home theater and it was the best system yet. And an important change happened with this release: all the channels were now “discrete,” meaning that each channel was not only controlled independently from the others but they were all “full range.” Before, with Pro-Logic, the center channel and rear speakers were only partial range in terms of frequency response. Now there were “reasons” to sell a better center channel and surround speakers to the early adopters who were in on the Pro-Logic craze. But it got out of hand for the center channel speakers.
Most Important Speaker
Sales forces everywhere (I was guilty of this as well ) started the chant of “center channel speakers are the most important speaker!” Much of this was marketing hype for sure. Here’s a post from 10 years ago about center channels being the most important from Home Theater Magazine’s forum “How important is the center channel?” As it mentions with a reasonable discussion is that it’s far more important to have the center channel be from the same “family” of speakers for timbre matching as opposed to being some brute of a speaker, sometimes without regard to what brand it was from. But the marketing damage was done. Still today those words of “most important speaker” come out of a salespersons mouth to your ears. Heck, we can’t even educate our views, so we go along with it with this massive beast of a center channel HD525.1LCR.
Don’t get me wrong, these massive dual woofer center speakers are impressive, but only in the implementation of using them in ALL positions do you really take advantage of the dual woofer design. Which brings me to the point of this article. If you really want an impressive theater experience, the way to go is to get more surface area on the walls (or speaker boxes). The term LCR speaker was coined. At first it stood for Left, Center, or Right, but I would also add Rear. An LCR type system is the most impactful type of arrangement you can get without going with a more complicated multi-amp set up.
Why? Because we get two drivers on the same speaker plate. Remember back in the Pro-Logic day when they wanted to push the same amount of acoustic air power out of the center dual woofer speaker to match up with the left/rights? Now we’ve got these massive LCR styles which have mostly 5 1/4″ woofers in them. Add them up and you’ve got almost an 8″ driver’s worth of acoustic power coming at you but at the distinct advantage of them having less mass, thereby being able to move FASTER than a single 8″ driver. This is significant! The added bonus for inwall drivers is that because we have to mount them in the wall (compressed chalk) we can only expect to get accurate sounds above about 80-100 Hz. We’re not expecting our wall speakers to produce sub woofer frequencies (we’ve got subwoofers for that reason). What you get is really fast dynamic mid bass response all the way around the sound stage. It makes for an entertaining audio experience. It also has the potential to drive dog owners crazy, it’s REALLY lifelike when the door bell rings!