Volume is a tricky thing. We usually think of sound as "loud" or "soft," but adjusting decibel levels is a delicate craft. Audio engineers and recording artists spend their entire careers tinkering with volume levels. Even at home, your environment, speakers, and stereo system drastically affect the quality of your sound, including the volume.
The clearest example: flat screen TVs.
Every TV comes with internal speakers, and most people are content with those. But flat screens are notorious for unpredictable sound quality. There you are, watching a movie, but the dialogue is tinny and distant. You can barely hear what the characters are saying to each other.
A moment later, there's an explosion and it's so loud that can feel the vibration from your sofa. (By the way, if you think it might be you and not your speakers, while it's no substitute for a visit to a doctor, click here to take an online hearing test.)
Dialogue is the most important part of almost any movie or TV show. If you can't hear the characters on the screen, you can't follow the story.
Luckily, there are ways to "normalize" this sound, so you don’t have to jab your remote control every time something dramatic happens. Here are some simple methods for controlling the volume and enjoying the show.
Adjust the settings
No matter what TV you buy, you can tinker with the "sound modes." If you want to boost dialogue volume, you can often select a "News" or "Clear Voice" setting, which is specifically designed to enhance speech.
If you can’t find one of these special settings, you can also tinker with your "EQ." This stands for "equalization," but basically EQ helps you manually manipulate the kind of sound that comes out of your speakers. The simplest approach is to lower the bass and bump up the treble. Bass noises are low and powerful, and they often overwhelm the subtle sounds, such as human speech.
More and more people are connecting their televisions to a streaming gadget such as Apple TV. This kind of digital service gives you movies and shows on demand and perhaps additional control over your settings, including volume. If you are in the market for a streaming gadget, click here for a feature-by-feature comparison chart on my site.
Apple TV has a great option to reduce background sounds. In the Settings menu, you’ll find an "Audio and Video" option. There you will find a feature called "Reduce loud sounds." Technically, this is called a "dynamic range compression feature," but it does exactly what it says. It reduces loud sounds but keeps the dialogue amplified.
If you have a 4th generation Apple TV, press the microphone on Apple remote and say to Siri, "Reduce loud sounds." Done.
Maybe you’re really into cinematic perfection. You want your movies to sound amazing. You love the experience of hearing Dolby surround sound in the actual movie theater, and you want to replicate that as closely as possible.
The most intimate way to do this is to buy wireless headphones. This is cost-effective, since quality headphones are reasonably priced, and many TVs are already outfitted with Bluetooth. You could theoretically sit 20 or 30 feet away from your flat screen and still enjoy the same volume and sound quality.
Headphones are also helpful for people who are hard of hearing. Instead of raising the volume of the speakers to deafening levels, you can enjoy crystal clear sound and not bother a single person around you. Believe me, your family will thank you.
The downside: Headphones aren’t convenient for watching TV with other people. Some people might find this approach alienating. But if you enjoy an immersive movie-going experience, you can’t do better than a pair of headphones.
Multi-speaker sound systems
Serious TV viewers can get pretty cultish about their stereo equipment. They will invest thousands of dollars in speakers, and convert their entire den into an audiovisual paradise. This setup is particularly popular among sports fans, music nuts and action movie aficionados.
These days, a multi-speaker sound system is simpler and more affordable than ever. You will still have to configure the different channels running through your various speakers, but you generally only have to do this once. If you’re overwhelmed by a manual’s technical jargon, there are many YouTube videos to help you through the process.
A common configuration is called a "3.1 system." You have probably seen this before, if only in a friend’s house or on the floor of a Best Buy. There is a left speaker, a right speaker, a center speaker and a subwoofer. These speakers give you very precise audio control, but you will have to make a lot of decisions. Where do you set up your speakers? How should you spread them about the room?
A Bluetooth system is very convenient, especially if you grew up untangling bundles of wire. If you have never dealt with a multi-channel configuration, you may find the process to be fun and even addictive.
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