Q: Why is the music volume on TV so loud? Often it drowns out what the actors are saying.
A: Some celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving and other holidays every year. An annual event here at the Q&A-Quarters is Background Music Day, where for about 20 years I have been answering the question that is asked more than any other.
This dilemma doesn’t just involve TV. Not long ago, Ben Pearson of SlashFilm wrote a detailed discussion of why movie dialogue can be hard to hear in theatres as well as on your home screen.
Some of the reasons in Pearson’s article included: filmmakers deliberately making the sound difficult for artistic reasons, mumbling actors trying to be naturalistic, how the sound team is treated when a movie is being made, filmmakers’ lack of knowledge about getting good sound, ever more complicated movie technology; the differences in mixing a movie’s sound for theaters, streaming and home-theater systems, and the lack of a single standard for measuring audio for streaming services.
Among other things, Pearson concluded that “if the processes of capturing, creating, and shaping great sound were better understood throughout the industry, substantial steps to improving those processes could be implemented.”
All of those problems can affect your TV, too. And keep in mind that the show has paid for that music and may want to highlight it.
The show’s makers often believe the music adds to the drama of a scene. Considering the speed at which TV shows are often made, the sound may have been mixed hastily and imperfectly. Or a broadcaster may not have been careful with its audio settings while transmitting a programme.
Then wonder about the audio quality in your TV set, since it’s long been argued that some TV speakers are not up to the task of modern sound. Or you may need to look at the TV settings to see if they let you reconfigure the audio. My television sets come with an audio setting one calls the “dialog enhancer” to help with this problem.
Suppose, though, that you have a home theatre or other external speakers but still have difficulties. A decidedly low-tech solution may be moving the speakers in relation to where you sit, so you’re not getting too much sound from a too-near source. (Hey, it helped at the House of Heldenfels.) Another low-tech idea: turning on closed captions when available, as many readers have suggested.
The music-vs.-dialogue problem also declined when we made the switch from speakers to a soundbar. I have a couple of different brands of modestly priced soundbars, a ZVOX AccuVoice and a Polk Signa S2; both enable audio adjustments. (Again, it may be that your TV also has a setting for this.)
But even with a home theatre or a soundbar, you may have to work with the settings to find the best balance. And, as one commenter noted on CNET.com some time back, if you’re watching a show in 5.1 and your sound system is 2.1, you’re going to have to “do a combination of settings to get it right” — and while that may solve the dialogue problem, it’s still not fancy 5.1 sound.
Finally, as painful as it is to hear, there may be human factors.
We older folks are less accustomed to a loud music mix than younger viewers who grew up with it. ZVOX, for that matter, has said that “Baby boomers listened to LOUD music when they were young. For the first time in the history of the United States, there are 95 million people over the age of 50 ... and many of them have some degree of hearing loss.”
While some readers have said the problem is not in their hearing, another said his test “found serious hearing loss.”
These and other issues create an ongoing challenge for us as consumers, one that, as I said, has gone on for decades. As with any changing technology, we have to be ready to make adjustments — and expect more adjustments when our entertainment delivery systems move on. – Rich Heldenfels/Tribune News Service