Bombastic explosions during action movies are fun on your TV. However, the neighbors may think less about it in terms of noise. They thunder just as hard down below during Die Hard this Christmas while being themselves Frozen watched. But how do you balance with your remote control between muttering of main characters and BIG KABOOM? WANT editor Dennis Mons wants to know mine. His neighbors are complaining. Sometimes.
First of all, sometimes my neighbors are just unlucky. I enjoy my films and series like no other in the apartment building. Never had any bullshit except for one neighbor. So I too often stroke my hand over my heart. Anyway! I understand that the sound is too loud. But how do I, and you, solve that?
Movies, dynamic sound and surround
I love big movie explosions as much as anyone, but I have an opinion about the movie studios. It feels like every time I watch an action movie on TV, I have to turn the volume up really high to hear the characters speak. Only to have to tap down again every time something explodes. And then shout “sorry neighbours”, which is probably even more offensive to them, in my squeaky voice.
Why do movies do this in terms of sound?
It all has to do with dynamic range – the difference between the loudest and softest parts of a soundtrack. The greater the reach, the greater the dramatic impact, explains Scott Wilkinson, audiovisual technology journalist and consultant (and the “Home Theater Geek” on TWiT.tv). In other words, they mix it up in such a way that when that explosion finally happens, it kicks you in the stomach and turns your world upside down.
Nice, but damn awkward on a TV
The problem is that sometimes you don’t want your world turned upside down. Sometimes you just want to relax while watching superheroes punch each other in the face. And then you are not waiting for the doorbell of a neighbor who would also like to clap your face. Cup of sugar…aaaww. It happens.
Of course this isn’t a problem in a movie theater, is it, Wilky?
“This is generally not a problem in commercial movie theaters, which have high-quality sound systems and good acoustics,” says Wilkinson. “So you hear soft dialogue and understand everything in one scene without lessening the impact of loud explosions in another scene.”
Nice, nice, but how does that work in a home cinema?
Even when these movies are remixed for home theaters (ie, your TV), most people use rather crappy TV speakers. And in all honesty, we do that in a less than ideal room. It is a recipe for unintelligible dialogues and you must therefore constantly adjust your volume.
If you don’t have the money to improve your room’s acoustics like I do, or even create your own soundproof movie theater (I’m saving up), do you have other options?
Turn on night mode on your TV for better sound
You may not realize it, but there may already be a setting on your TV, sound system or streaming box to deal with this: it’s called ‘night mode’ and does exactly what it sounds like. “This compresses the dynamic range, reducing the difference between the loudest and quietest parts of the soundtrack,” says Wilkinson.
“Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find this setting in your TV’s menu, although some devices have a dedicated ‘night mode’ button on their remote.” Search your TV settings, speaker system (if you have one) and streaming box – this useful mode may also be called ‘dynamic compression’ or something similar.
The tip is therefore: Use a good soundbar or speaker. Even with night mode on, your TV’s speakers may not be able to make dialogue intelligible at low volumes. You may not have the space to build a huge, powerful surround sound system, but even small upgrades can make a big difference.
At least one external system
Wilkinson recommends one external sound system anyway, such as a soundbar or AV receiver with multiple speakers (we do too). Ideally, you would have a soundbar or set of speakers with at least 3.1 channels – one left, one right, and one center (with a subwoofer for good bass).
Most dialogue will come from the center channel if you have a separate speaker dedicated to this. It makes it easier to understand. So if you’re shopping for better sound keep that “3.1” tag in mind – 5.1 if you’re going for surround sound for your TV. The .1 is key.
However, the easiest solution for good sound is a good headset to watch movies and series on your TV. Well, that’s not very social.
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