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Dialog vs explosions - how much is bad tv/movie sound balance and how much is the speaker/room?

Sengin

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My wife wants one thing, and only one thing, from a new audio setup: she doesn't want to have the remote near her at all times to adjust 17 times over the course of a movie to hear dialog and not go deaf from explosions/action scenes. She doesn't care about the rest - surround sound vs 2.1, speaker vs soundbar (of which the answer s definitively speakers), passive vs active, etc. We are currently using TV speakers (yeah they are terrible), and have tried a JBL soundbar (meant as a temporary solution while we figure out the real solution) - both required constant use of the volume control mid-movie.

What would be the best chance we have at eliminating this problem? Our room is rectangular, so we would be farther from the front L/R speakers than the 2 speakers would be from themselves. I'm kinda hoping 2.1 or 3.1 would be better here (giving the center channel dialog lifting) so I don't have to run wires or plug in multiple speakers to an outlet behind us. But with the separation surround provides, perhaps that will help with the balance? Or maybe the sound balance in movies/TV are just so bad that this is something we have to live with? Maybe our options have just been so terrible so far that just getting a good 2.1 setup is the answer?

Is there a good source of info for this? I realize I'm coming in without much background knowledge, but I have previously relegated my knowledge to just headphones.
 

digitalfrost

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From a technical perspective, mixing the center channel louder should help, or simply using an audio compressor. This has nothing do to with the playback system really, with the speakers etc... but really with the player. Any computer could do this with ease. Most media players offer these features by default.

I don't know of any hifi device/mediaplayer that can do this, but I just wanna say. This is not a problem to spend a large amount of money on. A Raspberry Pi can do this. I would seek the solution on the software side rather than hardware.
 

LTig

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AVRs usually have an option to reduce the dynamic. Maybe your TV or the soundbar as well - check the manuals. Look for night mode.
 

RickSanchez

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Well, there's some debate on ASR about the value of a center channel. But for your specific issue I can see where a center channel would be useful as you can then control the dB level of the center which will primarily handle dialogue.

One option to consider is an AVR, as @LTig suggests. Denon AVRs have a feature called "Dynamic Volume" that is built for exactly what you're describing: https://audyssey.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/212343563-To-Dynamic-Volume-or-Not-
 
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Sengin

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Sweet, thanks for the pointers. So it seems like this doesn't have an effect on speaker choice, which is both good and bad (can get whatever we'd like, but it doesn't limit the billion options).
 

tifune

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Well, there's some debate on ASR about the value of a center channel. But for your specific issue I can see where a center channel would be useful as you can then control the dB level of the center which will primarily handle dialogue.

One option to consider is an AVR, as @LTig suggests. Denon AVRs have a feature called "Dynamic Volume" that is built for exactly what you're describing: https://audyssey.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/212343563-To-Dynamic-Volume-or-Not-

I have no center channel because my UST projector takes up that real estate, and Dynamic Volume set on Low + Dialogue Enhancer set to High saves the day every time.

With Denon these are pinned to your surround mode, which is convenient. So when the receiver gets a DTS stream, Dynamic Volume and Dialogue Enhance return to whatever they were on last DTS playback. But when I send 2ch, it reverts to Auro3D with those settings completely off.
 

Count Arthur

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Do you have the ability to apply EQ?

Regardless of whether you have a centre channel, etc., you could try a high pass filter, essentially just cut off the low frequencies from 80 or 100Hz down - you can experiment with what works best. Basically get rid of the bottom end where all that noisy rumbly explosion nonsense happens, which they insist on cranking way up to annoying levels on some action movies.

When watching movies, I often prefer to use the crummy little soundbar I have rather than my main speakers and sub, because the tiny little speaker drivers in it probably don't go much below ~80Hz and it allows me to hear dialogue better without the sound effects being deafening.

 

garbulky

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Your blu ray player also should have an option for dynamic range in audio. It might be called night mode
 
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Sengin

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Yeah sorry, I was being a bit cheeky with "explosions." By that I just mean any action sequence - the sound effects and music jump in volume drastically (and suddenly). So it's not just a simple roll-off at like 80Hz (although that's still a good idea).

I'll have to look into the Denon AVRs - Dialog Enhance seems to be what I'm looking for.
 

KMO

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Dynamic range is the issue here.

Some people have mentioned "dialogue enhancement" because of your guess about raising the centre channel - it's a higher-tech answer to the problem that raising the centre channel would be an answer to. But neither are the solution to your problem.

Audyssey Dynamic Volume or other Dynamic Range/Night Mode settings are what you want.

Dynamic range options are universally available. Anything since Dolby Digital should have dynamic range options to compress the full-dynamic range Dolby Digital content. Even your current stuff should have it, if it's rendering anything other than basic 2-channel. (And I assume it is, because 2-channel content doesn't normally have much dynamic range).
 

Lambda

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Room reverb also plays a role as well as the speaker.
If your room has lots of reverb and refection you need to listen louder to get the dialog and loud parts sound louder because of all the loud room reflections.
With a good room you can turn down the volume and still understand the dialog clearly.
With good speakers they don't add distortion at high volume. The added distortion can make it sound more uncomfortably loud.

But most of it is get a Compressor/limiter/auto gain.
Also turn up the center channel a most of the dialog is there.

The acoustic reflex threshold is usually 10–20 dB below the discomfort threshold.
Also your wife shuld have auto gain build in. maybe check if it is properly working :p
 

AdamG247

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Two Headsets with individual Volume controls. I watch a lot of late night movies using a headset while the Wife sleeps. It may be something to consider.
 

LTig

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Room reverb also plays a role as well as the speaker.
If your room has lots of reverb and refection you need to listen louder to get the dialog and loud parts sound louder because of all the loud room reflections.
When you raise SPL the reflections get louder as well, so the ratio of direct sound to reflected sound stays the same.
 

Lambda

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When you raise SPL the reflections get louder as well, so the ratio of direct sound to reflected sound stays the same.
of cause!
But with less refection you can listen alt lower SPL because you have better SNR.
(considering reflections as noise)

the reflections contribute to the SPL but they don't contribute the same way (positively) to the experience and to the understandably of dialog.
 

LTig

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of cause!
But with less refection you can listen alt lower SPL because you have better SNR.
(considering reflections as noise)
No, SNR as you define it is independent of SPL.
the reflections contribute to the SPL but they don't contribute the same way (positively) to the experience and to the understandably of dialog.
This may be true.
 

Cbdb2

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Dynamic range control (DRC) is built in to dolby. ( not sure about DTS, but probably). The DRC settings are done during mastering. When After mixing movies a guy from dolby would come and master the final mix and the DRC settings where part of this.

"Dynamic Range Control: Different home listening environments present a wide range of requirements for dynamic range. Rather than simply compressing the audio program at the transmission source to work well in the poorest listening environments, Dolby Digital encoders calculate and send Dynamic Range Control (DRC) metadata with the signal. Dolby Laboratories, Inc. Metadata Guide 7 This metadata can then be applied to the signal by the decoder to reduce the signal’s dynamic range. Through the proper setting of DRC profiles during the mastering process, the content producer can provide the best possible presentation of program content in virtually any listening environment, regardless of the quality of the equipment, number of channels, or ambient noise level in the consumer’s home."

Full paper.(https://developer.dolby.com/globalassets/professional/documents/dolby-metadata-guide.pdf

The problem is that a lot of players dont let you at this DRC metedata. DVD and Bluray players usually do.
 

KMO

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The DRC metadata is basically a "profile" for the dynamic range compressor. It avoids the compressor having to auto-detect the levels in the content on the fly - it's a bit like "ReplayGain", giving information about the entire track's loudness.

A receiver will happily do dynamic range compression without the metadata, it just might not do as good a job.

So basically you want to be activating the dynamic range compression in the same device that's doing the bitstream decode - then it should see the data.

DO: Player outputs bitstream, DRC enabled in receiver - receiver decodes and does DRC
DO: Player outputs PCM, DRC enabled in player - player decodes and does DRC
DON'T: Player outputs PCM, DRC enabled in receiver

(I'm assuming that HDMI doesn't carry the metadata alongside PCM output, and even if it does, the chances of it being acted on are slim).
 
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