Tri-Center: The ultimate center channel

MMC 2 in closed position
Motorized MMC 2 mounted in-wall (and center speaker)

Center channel reproduction presents a special challenge. Regardless of the price or performance of the center channel speaker used, we have never been fully satisfied with the center channel for home theater. As an experiment, we inserted our best floor-standing models in the center--blocking the screen. Something was wrong, the problem remained. But, now there is a solution-- the Magneplanar Tri-Center.

The recording process for movies is fundamentally flawed from an audiophile perspective. For music listening, we sit in the "sweet spot". The stereo image of a good system is holographic. However, if we sit off to the extreme right or left, the image collapses and we mostly hear one speaker.

The necessity to keep the image on the screen for a wide audience means that we are stuck with the fundamental flaws inherent in "squeezing" a complex movie signal through a mono center channel speaker.

For stereo reproduction, the level and phase relationships between the left and right speakers create the sense of 3-dimensional space. An audiophile might want movies recorded in the same manner as 2-channel music. That's not going to happen.

California customer with 20.1s and Tri-Center
Motorized MMC 2
MMC 2 with DW 1 Woofer

Have you ever tried plugging one ear at a cocktail party? (Audiophiles tend to be interested in such phenomenon.) All the sounds are available, but, phase information has been eliminated. Hearing individual sounds is much more difficult-- as well as their location.

The ear/brain has the uncanny ability to "zero in" on specific sounds of interest. This adaptation allows us to be aware of danger as well as attractive opportunities. At the hypothetical cocktail party, you have the ability to listen to an interesting conversation behind you while participating in the original conversation in front of you. The ear/brain skips around the auditory "landscape" much as the eye/brain jumps from point-to-point to build a composite picture of reality.

We have come to accept the fact that home theater sound is inferior to 2-channel reproduction--regardless of what we use for a center channel speaker. Magnepan has an innovative solution in the Tri-Center. We have performed "blind" tests on golden ear audiophiles as well as non-audiophiles. All of the listening panel chose the Tri-Center as superior to a single center channel speaker. Intelligibility was improved and the ability to pick out small details buried in the center channel mix was confirmed by the listeners.

Some serious customers have installed the Tri-Center and they report--

Palo Alto, California customer with Tri-Center and 20.1s (3 photos above)-- "With just the CCR, the center channel was a bit like opening a door to the outside and listening to the sounds of nature streaming in. You hear them, but there is no question that they are coming from that hole in the wall and they all sound relatively flat. With the addition of the MMC2's it was as though I had walked out that door and into nature. All of a sudden there was a breadth and a depth to those sounds that makes you realize you are now there as opposed to just listening through a doorway."

Tri-Center and 3.7 customer in Pennsylvania-- "Working in concert with the 3.7s as the front left/right, front stage pans are now seamless. Sounds whose source is just out of screen view traverse into screen view as if there was one moving speaker tracking the movement instead of multiple fixed speakers passing the sound from one to another (people talking and walking into the scene, cars driving into or out of a scene, etc.). The psychoacoustic result was that you are drawn into the scene and you forget that there are speakers producing the sound......Dialog through the MMC2 and CCR combination was more articulate than the single speaker version, reproducing the human voice with precision.........As an aside, I was listening to my system this weekend, but forgot I had not deployed the MMC2s (I manually started the preamp and power amps, by-passing the normal startup sequence). It did not sound ‘right’, then I figured out the MMC2s were still retracted. I hit the remote to deploy them and as they were coming out, I could almost ‘see’ the center sound field focus right in on the screen. I was amazed to hear the sound changing as the MMC2s were unfolding."

North Carolina customer with CCR and MMC 2 Tri-Center-- "After installing them, I immediately was amazed. There was no area in my home where the center was lacking in any area. The entire house became the so called sweet spot for the center channel. It also became apparent how much information I had been missing. It seems that there is much, much more than just voice over the center realm. There is a sense of ambience that one would hear as if you were hearing all the information from both sides. This became even more apparent while watching Blu Ray movies recorded in DTS-HD MASTER. The Tri-Center seems to have sound that would surpass Magnepans flagship 20.1s.......I HIGHLY suggest anyone that has not heard this setup to audition this. It is like going from mono to stereo. It truly is what music and movies should sound like."

Is it "cold fusion"?

Some audiophiles may find this disturbing--or question our testing procedures. "Golden ears" and non-audiophiles consistently chose "3-channel stereo" when adding the Tri-Center, over conventional 2-channel in blind testing. If you are skeptical and think we have discovered "cold fusion", we understand. Like our listening panel, we also made the "mistake" of choosing the Tri-Center over "pure" 2-channel in blind testing.

Not fully trusting the results of our listening tests, we invited several reviewers and experts to Magnepan to investigate.

Magnepan’s ‘Tri-Center’ Concept: Does Stereo Sound Better with Three Channels?

Monday at Magnepan

A review of the Tri-Center can be found near the end of the Wide Screen Review article below. Of particular note is the sidebar ("Is It 'Cold Fusion'") by multi-channel expert, Roger Dressler.

Wide Screen Review (large file)

An excerpt by Roger Dressler from an online forum. (Mr. Dressler is a well known multi-channel expert from his work at Dolby Labs.)

"I felt the Tri-Center added something unique to the presentation. My comments are covered in a letter printed in WSR (Wide Screen Review). Playing a variety of stereo recordings, particularly with vocals, switching between stereo and three-channel mode was a night and day difference in depth. But not just to the usual degree I’ve experienced before. No, there is indeed something special going on here that is not a result of merely adding a center loudspeaker to an otherwise superb stereo system. The center image is now as tall as the L/R, but there is also an obvious sense of depth to the vocals that was remarkable; much deeper than I hear from conventional loudspeakers driven from the same processing."

To date, 4 customers have added the Tri-Center before we began the Maggie Dealer-Direct program. They bought it "sound unheard". You don't have to take such a risk.

The Pennsylvania customer said--

"What a difference with the Tri-Center!!! Two-channel through the Tri-Center and the 20.7’s produces a life-like sound stage with remarkable depth and detail. Instruments have their own identity and don’t just melt together. I can almost walk on stage and into the orchestra. No sense of strain or constriction, just free reproduction of the music. Vocals are incredibly focused, but not restricted. It is a remarkable theater setup, but I find myself rediscovering two channel — hearing things I never heard before.You are there with the performers."

The California customer had a similar experience--

"Once the CCR was in place, I began to do some A/B comparisons between just the 20.1s in direct analog stereo mode and with the CCR in three channel digital mode. Although the CCR clearly brought prominence and clarity to soloists, whether voice or an instrument like a trumpet or sax, that center image tended to be quite flat and highly localized. When the MMC 2 came out, my Magnepan dealer convinced me to give them a try in a Tri-Center configuration. The result was immediate improvement and improvement of a surprising magnitude. Before, with just the CCR, I preferred to listen to well-recorded music in two channel stereo mode. Now, with the Tri-Center in place, I went back to my A/B testing. This time, the three channel configuration won out over stereo every time. The combination produced a seamless soundstage that wonderfully brought out the clarity of a soloist, but did so in a spatial rendering that was far superior to both the just 20.1 variant and the 20.1 plus CCR variant. Operatic voices, violin soloists, trumpet soloists and the separate components of a jazz trio come through in amazing clarity and spatial width and depth. I still have not quite figured out what the audio acoustic magic is that causes this, but I do know I clearly prefer the outcome."

The North Carolina customer reported the same--

"I was the first customer to receive the CCR and MMC 2s for the Tri-Center. I have spent many years listening to 2-channel analog music. I believed this was the purist format. Once I received the MMC 2s, I experimented with 2-channel analog using my 3.6s vs. "3-channel stereo" with the Tri-Center. My findings were astounding. I do not understand how this all works, but, one thing is for certain--the Tri-Center adds so much more life and realism. For me, it makes 2-channel analog a dead issue and this is not downgrading my 3.6s in any way. "Thank You" to all the staff at Magnepan

A Georgia customer recently added the Tri-Center to his 3.6s--

I always preferred the acoustic continuity of pure 2-channel....Now, I never listen to 2-channel material without the Tri-center....The presentation is much ‘airier,’ with low-level ambient details better revealed, an improved depth illusion, and a greater sense of scale....Now, I am very aware of the deleterious effects of the combing and other spatial distortions that are inherent in the phantom image (of stereo). Those who think that 2-channel is the only way to go have not heard the Tri-Center....Clearly, only the dedicated enthusiast will be likely to accept the added complexities and cost of a Tri-Center setup. But for such individuals, the sonic rewards are well worth it. All Magneplanar fans, even 2-channel die-hards, need to hear the improvements that the Tri-Center can bring to an already excellent system.

Below-- Pennsylvania customer's 20.7s with Tri-Center (motorized MMC 2s and CCR)

Below-- Bryston's sound room with 3.7s and Tri-Center (MMC 2s and CCR)