The best ways to actually hear TV dialogue

The good news is that you do not lose your hearing. Bad news? Dialogue on television has been in vain for some time, despite improvements in technology. This is due to a variety of reasons, mainly relating to actors not having to pronounce or articulate their lines as much – ironically due to improvements in microphone technology.

However, there are still some practical steps you can take to make your TV (or whatever sound system you use) more adaptive to the mumble you might hear in your favorite shows.

Why is it difficult to understand television dialogue?

Why we all need subtitles now

As Vox explains, actors no longer needed to deliver their lines to a single microphone, which was the norm at the time when dialogue was clearer (think most classic films from the 1950s). There are now many microphones on top of wireless microphones that actors can hide in their clothing, meaning actors can mumble their lines, knowing that the audio will be picked up. There’s also “downmixing,” which basically means that complex audio mixes from movies have to be compressed to be adaptable to things like headphones. You can’t really do anything about these issues, but you can for the next one.

Better speakers will give you better sound for dialogue

In the past, you had large TVs and large speakers facing the viewer. On the other hand, TVs these days come in sleek sizes with rear-facing speakers. Even if technology can make speakers smaller, that doesn’t necessarily translate to better sound. To instantly improve your TV’s sound quality, we recommend purchasing an amplifier. These speakers can level up your dialogue and pronunciation with speech enhancement features. Some suggestions:

  • If you’re looking for great speakers that won’t break the bank, consider VIZIO 5.1 V-Series speakers From Amazon for $199.99. It features four individual audio devices, including a subwoofer, and has a dedicated audio amplifier with “Adjustable Dialogue EQ”, so you can enhance the sound of your dialogue.
  • If you prefer single speakers, consider ZVOX Dialogue Clarifying Sound Bar, currently $179.88 at Amazon. It has a “SuperVoice Technology” setting that reduces non-voice background sounds to enhance dialogue.
  • For those looking for comfort, Bose Bluetooth speaker$279 from Amazon, has a “dialogue mode” on the remote to enhance sound.
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Turn off dynamic range

Dynamic range is meant to give you range for the sound coming from your TV. If the explosion had the same decibel level as a whisper, the explosion would not be so dramatic. The problem is that the dynamic range lowers the level of your dialogue to make the contrast with other sounds more pronounced. You can turn off these features in your TV and/or speaker settings. Each setting is different, but you should look for something in the settings called “Dynamic Range Compression” and turn it off. You may also have a Night Mode setting that basically does the same thing. Doing this will compress the voices to sound more similar, ultimately making the dialogue louder.

Adjust the equalizer to make dialogue sound better

You can adjust the EQ on your TV or speaker settings to focus on getting better-sounding dialogue. You don’t need to be an expert audio engineer to do this. Basically, lowering the bass and increasing the treble will do the trick. Loud bass is the enemy of intelligible dialogue, and treble is the vocal range where most human voices typically fall. Bass frequencies start on the left, midrange frequencies in the middle, and treble frequencies on the far right. However, your TV likely has EQ presets that improve clarity without fiddling with individual controls. Any of these presets will improve dialogue quality: Dialogue, News, Speech Enhancement, Clear Voice, or Amplification.

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