Q: I purchased my sound system in 1998. It uses a Cambridge SoundWorks Ensemble surround sound speaker system, which is now discontinued. I am having trouble with the center speaker, and I can't get it repaired. Can you recommend a replacement center speaker? I am happy with the system and not ready to replace the whole thing yet.

A: The center channel is often said to be the most important speaker in a surround sound speaker system. Because of this, my advice may seem contradictory because I am going to recommend you forgo the center channel speaker and try your system without one.

Go into your receiver's speaker setup menus and for the center channel setting, turn it to "no center speaker," or "off." When you turn off the center speaker the receiver will send the center channel information into the left and right speakers equally, creating a "phantom" center channel that seems to come from between the two speakers. Some receivers, specifically older ones, actually call this "phantom center channel" mode.

When you have good speakers, phantom mode usually sounds better than a mismatched center speaker. People sitting far off-axis from the center of the TV will not experience the sound coming from the TV the same way as with a dedicated center channel, but other than that I have not found many drawbacks to this approach. Two speakers can do a better job reproducing sound than a single one, and I often find the sound from phantom center channel mode is much more open than that produced by a single center channel speaker.

It's in the bag

This week's Consumer Electronics Show feature is Think Tank Photo's Lily Deanne camera bags. I've always loved Think Tank Photo's bags for their solid construction, array of sizes and styles and unique, thoughtful features. Most camera bags are utilitarian in design and style, but the Lily Deanne collection is designed with aesthetics in mind. When I saw them and read about the concept, I could only wonder: Why hasn't anyone done this before? It's a great idea with great execution. (thinktankphoto.com/collections/lily-deanne-series)

Snafu follow-up

After last week's column about Channelmaster's "Free Antenna Day" in which I said that I hadn't heard from anyone who actually got a free antenna, I have gotten e-mails from readers who were successful. I'm glad for them, but I'm still disappointed for all the readers who were frustrated by the experience and the company's unwillingness to respond to their complaints. I commend Channelmaster for trying to spread the popularity of over-the-air television, but they really need to step up their customer relations.

Send questions to Don Lindich at donlindich@gmail.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.