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  1. #1
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    Where's the dialog?

    We've noticed over the past few seasons that the dialog in many tv shows is become increasingly burried in the backgound noise and music of the shows, making it nearly impossible to understand what the actors are saying. LAS VEGAS is one of the worst offenders - the noise and music, coupled along with the actors propensity to mumble what they're saying makes it difficult to follow the story. CSI Miami and nearly just as bad. The HALMARK Channel's JANE DOE is bad too - actors mumble while the background music pumps up and down between the dialog.

    We're running a 2-channel setup with high-quality speakers supplementing the tv speakers. We've tried everything - tv speakers on, then off; stereo speakers on/off. Is this the problem?

    Would a center channel help? Are the tv shows doing this on purpose to get us to buy a 3.1 or 5.1 audio system.

  2. #2
    LMB
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    Center channels are mostly dialogue you can turn it up 2 or 3db's and that should takecare of the problem

    good luck

  3. #3
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    Are most of the newer programs (not old reruns) broadcast with center channel dialog information?

  4. #4
    LMB
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    Most HD channels are broadcast in 5.1
    even analog channels if you set your receiver to 5 channel stereo sound better

    have fun shopping

  5. #5
    Audiophile Wireworm5's Avatar
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    Your really not providing adaquate information as to what may be causing your bad dialogue. Are you using Satallite, cable? What kind of speakers, receiver? Anyways I had trouble hearing dialogue at one time. You don't necassarily have to have a center channel. But if you have want one then you want a fairly good one and not a piece of crap. However you should be able to get discernable dialog with a decent set of front speakers and they don't even have to be that big. I demo-ed some mini-bookshelves awhile ago and I was really impressed with them. I would think proper adjustments to your tv settings, receiver, or Satallite settings or whatever will solve your problem.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wireworm5
    Your really not providing adaquate information as to what may be causing your bad dialogue. Are you using Satallite, cable? What kind of speakers, receiver? Anyways I had trouble hearing dialogue at one time. You don't necassarily have to have a center channel. But if you have want one then you want a fairly good one and not a piece of crap. However you should be able to get discernable dialog with a decent set of front speakers and they don't even have to be that big. I demo-ed some mini-bookshelves awhile ago and I was really impressed with them. I would think proper adjustments to your tv settings, receiver, or Satallite settings or whatever will solve your problem.
    We're on cable. The receiver is an older Yamaha 2-channel with rear-channel surround (no center channel). The speakers are Thiel CS3.5. The Toshiba tv feeds into the receiver. The room is 19 x 26 with a 14' ceiling.

    Music coming from all of the speakers is crystal clear (as it should be) - just the dialog seems is buried in the background sounds/music. We no longer use the rear channels for tv - it just makes matters worse. We have no problem hearing/understanding the dialog on the news (where they're actually talking to YOU) and older tv programs such as Matlock where everyone speaks clearly and there isn't a lot of competing background noise/music.

    In the newer programs the dialog seems to be mixed too low - if we turn the volume up so we can at least hear it, we get blasted out by the music and other sounds mixed in. We've reverted to recording nearly everything and playing it back several times to try to understand what they're saying. Sometimes we use the closed-captioning.

  7. #7
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by radioflier
    We're on cable. The receiver is an older Yamaha 2-channel with rear-channel surround (no center channel). The speakers are Thiel CS3.5. The Toshiba tv feeds into the receiver. The room is 19 x 26 with a 14' ceiling.
    Is there any way you can feed the cable audio output directly to the receiver? Coming from the television to the reciever adds another level of pass through circuitry that doesn't need to take place.


    Music coming from all of the speakers is crystal clear (as it should be) - just the dialog seems is buried in the background sounds/music. We no longer use the rear channels for tv - it just makes matters worse. We have no problem hearing/understanding the dialog on the news (where they're actually talking to YOU) and older tv programs such as Matlock where everyone speaks clearly and there isn't a lot of competing background noise/music.
    First, you should re-engage your surround sound, and balance it with the fronts using a radio shack sound pressure meter. Your second problem is that you are turning a discrete channel into a phantom channel. Center channel dialog is mix, balanced for a hard center speaker. When you split the dialog between two channels, a couple of things happen. You get a -3db drop in level, and you get a frequency induced node in the mid to upper frequenies which harms dialog intelligibility. This comes from having two speakers playing the same information. I would recommend purchasing a 5.1 channel reciever, and a matching center and rear speakers for the Thiels. Matlock is mixed in mono, so you shouldn't have any problem understanding mono sources.

    In the newer programs the dialog seems to be mixed too low - if we turn the volume up so we can at least hear it, we get blasted out by the music and other sounds mixed in. We've reverted to recording nearly everything and playing it back several times to try to understand what they're saying. Sometimes we use the closed-captioning.
    It seems that the dialog is low because the other elements in the mix(music effects) are mixed in stereo or 5.1 with a hard center in place.
    Last edited by Sir Terrence the Terrible; 09-24-2005 at 01:26 PM.
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  8. #8
    Audiophile Wireworm5's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by radioflier
    We're on cable. The receiver is an older Yamaha 2-channel with rear-channel surround (no center channel). The speakers are Thiel CS3.5. The Toshiba tv feeds into the receiver. The room is 19 x 26 with a 14' ceiling.

    Music coming from all of the speakers is crystal clear (as it should be) - just the dialog seems is buried in the background sounds/music. We no longer use the rear channels for tv - it just makes matters worse. We have no problem hearing/understanding the dialog on the news (where they're actually talking to YOU) and older tv programs such as Matlock where everyone speaks clearly and there isn't a lot of competing background noise/music.

    In the newer programs the dialog seems to be mixed too low - if we turn the volume up so we can at least hear it, we get blasted out by the music and other sounds mixed in. We've reverted to recording nearly everything and playing it back several times to try to understand what they're saying. Sometimes we use the closed-captioning.


    The problem you are having in my opinion is that your tv and receiver are not decoding the dolby digital or AC-3 signal that these shows are broadcast in. Cable and Sat.is broadcast in a compressed digital format probably with Ac-3 included, to accomadate all the channels they offer in their bandwidth. I've experienced the same sound problem when watching the dvd 'Saving Private Ryan' . So I think a newer Av/receiver is in order that can decode the dolby signal into two distinct channels. Secondly from what I read your Thiels are a power hungry speaker. So be sure to get and av/receiver with enough power to drive these speakers if you continue to use them.
    The other possibility is that your receiver can't power your Thiels adaquately and you are not getting good stereo imaging. But I think the former is most likely the case.
    Just my .02 cents.

  9. #9
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    Me too

    Quote Originally Posted by radioflier
    We've noticed over the past few seasons that the dialog in many tv shows is become increasingly burried in the backgound noise and music of the shows, making it nearly impossible to understand what the actors are saying. LAS VEGAS is one of the worst offenders - the noise and music, coupled along with the actors propensity to mumble what they're saying makes it difficult to follow the story. CSI Miami and nearly just as bad. The HALMARK Channel's JANE DOE is bad too - actors mumble while the background music pumps up and down between the dialog.

    We're running a 2-channel setup with high-quality speakers supplementing the tv speakers. We've tried everything - tv speakers on, then off; stereo speakers on/off. Is this the problem?

    Would a center channel help? Are the tv shows doing this on purpose to get us to buy a 3.1 or 5.1 audio system.
    I get the exact same thing I think Sir Terrence hit it. With two channel either through the TV or your amp the dialog gets "lost in the mix". On my two channel system the only solution I have found is to turn up the volume.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stereomaniac
    I get the exact same thing I think Sir Terrence hit it. With two channel either through the TV or your amp the dialog gets "lost in the mix". On my two channel system the only solution I have found is to turn up the volume.
    I went to my local high-end audio/video store today and heard the same thing - the center speaker is the most important speaker in the bunch when listening to movies and the latest releases of tv programs. The dialog is set to run thru the center - not having a center makes it difficult to extract with a 2-channel setup. Common problem that he hears about all the time!

  11. #11
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    I've started noticing dialog problems with a lot of TV programs that are simulcast in HD. It seems that the HD audio is 5.1, but the regular TV broadcast (which I watch) audio seems like a straight mixdown from the 5.1 mix with no dedicated two-channel mix. With HDTV broadcasts growing, I have a feeling that it's all too tempting to just use the 5.1 mix for everything rather than creating separate 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, no matter how bad the 5.1 track sounds when folded down to two-channels.

    I noticed this on DVDs when trying soundtracks out in two-channel. On those DVDs that have both a 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Surround, just compare the two-channel mixdown from the 5.1 mix with the 2.0 mix. The 2.0 mix will almost always have much more pronounced dialog levels and more appropriate sound effect balances when played back in two-channel.

    Quote Originally Posted by radioflier
    I went to my local high-end audio/video store today and heard the same thing - the center speaker is the most important speaker in the bunch when listening to movies and the latest releases of tv programs. The dialog is set to run thru the center - not having a center makes it difficult to extract with a 2-channel setup. Common problem that he hears about all the time!
    Another common issue is that people do not level match the center channel with the mains. In many cases, the difference in the sensitivity levels between the center speaker and matching main speaker can be as much as 4 db -- easily within audible range. Splurge and get a SPL meter to do this accurately, that $40 at Radio Shack will be some of the best money you can possibly spend on your system.

    Just make sure that the center speaker is sufficiently voice matched to the mains. If you use a nonmatching center speaker, the dialog intelligibility can actually be worse than going without a center speaker.

  12. #12
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    To me, I have always found dialogue on DVD SOUNDTRACKS to be lacking in terms of punch; I don't have my setup geared toward watching broadcast shows in surround, only DVDs, but even so, WITH my center channel calibrations pumped up three decibels higher than the other channels (as was suggested by another member here in this very thread), dialogue ALWAYS seems to be softer and harder to hear than anything else going on in a mix; ESPECIALLY if I'm viewing an older title from, say, the 1970s, which has been "remastered" by its subsequent studio in Dolby Digital, or, most likely, Dolby Surround, where the dialogue seems sometimes downright impossible to make out unless I crank my master volume to unbelievable levels.

    Recently, the worst example of this that I have been subject to has been the Warner Brothers release of Constantine, which has a HORRIFICALLY low dialogue channel, to the point that it is sometimes impossible to make out what Keanu Reeves is saying; the rest of the mix wasnt recorded that hot, either, but the dialogue is especially weak. It is a very annoying downside to this lifestyle/hobby. But, as others have discussed, there are different parameters at work here, such as center channel efficiency, cohesiveness with the other speakers in the front soundstage, etc; in general, though, I have found, that even with bumping center channel calibrations up even three decibels higher than the other channels' settings, dialogue is becoming increasingly more difficult to make out and lacks necessary "punch" in home theater.

    Only one disc of late have I come across which seemed to have a refreshingly aggressive, loud center position delivery, and that was, ironically, Warner Brothers' Exorcist: The Beginning; running this title's DTS track, there is an amazing in -your-face characteristic to the dialogue that seems to be missing from most other titles; voices are there -- present, loud, and booming out of the center channel, unlike what I find most of the time.

  13. #13
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    I am not sure if this works for everyone but my reciever has a feature that allows me to redirect some of the center channel signals through the mains. I punched it up just 2 notches and it has made a big difference bringing out the dialogue. It is subtle enough that the dialogue is still centered on the screen.

  14. #14
    Audiophile Wireworm5's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by radioflier
    I went to my local high-end audio/video store today and heard the same thing - the center speaker is the most important speaker in the bunch when listening to movies and the latest releases of tv programs. The dialog is set to run thru the center - not having a center makes it difficult to extract with a 2-channel setup. Common problem that he hears about all the time!
    The problem I have with this statement is what if your listening with headphones on, you don't have a center channel. This was the case when I was watching 'Private Ryan' with headphones. The dialogue for some reason wasn't there, just as you discribe. I don't remember what I did to resolve the problem. But the movie is in Dolby 2.0 or 5.1 audio set-up.

  15. #15
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lexmark3200
    To me, I have always found dialogue on DVD SOUNDTRACKS to be lacking in terms of punch; I don't have my setup geared toward watching broadcast shows in surround, only DVDs, but even so, WITH my center channel calibrations pumped up three decibels higher than the other channels (as was suggested by another member here in this very thread), dialogue ALWAYS seems to be softer and harder to hear than anything else going on in a mix; ESPECIALLY if I'm viewing an older title from, say, the 1970s, which has been "remastered" by its subsequent studio in Dolby Digital, or, most likely, Dolby Surround, where the dialogue seems sometimes downright impossible to make out unless I crank my master volume to unbelievable levels.

    Recently, the worst example of this that I have been subject to has been the Warner Brothers release of Constantine, which has a HORRIFICALLY low dialogue channel, to the point that it is sometimes impossible to make out what Keanu Reeves is saying; the rest of the mix wasnt recorded that hot, either, but the dialogue is especially weak. It is a very annoying downside to this lifestyle/hobby. But, as others have discussed, there are different parameters at work here, such as center channel efficiency, cohesiveness with the other speakers in the front soundstage, etc; in general, though, I have found, that even with bumping center channel calibrations up even three decibels higher than the other channels' settings, dialogue is becoming increasingly more difficult to make out and lacks necessary "punch" in home theater.

    Only one disc of late have I come across which seemed to have a refreshingly aggressive, loud center position delivery, and that was, ironically, Warner Brothers' Exorcist: The Beginning; running this title's DTS track, there is an amazing in -your-face characteristic to the dialogue that seems to be missing from most other titles; voices are there -- present, loud, and booming out of the center channel, unlike what I find most of the time.
    I had no problem hearing any dialog on constantine. It came through VERY clear on my system.
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  16. #16
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    ditto here,

    we watch Las Vegas in our bedroom by running two speakers directly from the TV. Its hard to hear the actors with all the background noise. I'm guessing everyone is right about the 5.1 downmixed to 2.0.

    I can't go with a center unless i spring for a AVR receiver and then another speaker. Geez

  17. #17
    MCH
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    I think 'Sin City' has the best clear and audible dialogue through the center channel that I've heard. I too find some movies terrible for poor dialogue output. No it is not my system. Turning up the center can help, but that is not the best solution. It would be nice when the soundtrack is recorded that more attention was paid to the dialogue level.

  18. #18
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    One of the things that I know effects dialog intelligibility is background noise. Keep in mind that soundtracks, both film and televisions, are mixed in very quiet rooms. The dynamic range of dialog should be from a quiet whisper, to a loud roar. The quiet whisper may emerge very clearly on the dubbing stage because of its low background noise, but get lost in your rooms while in competition with the fridge, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer, kids screaming, telephone conversations, and various other noises that a are not heard in the dubbing stage, or theater.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Terrence the Terrible
    I had no problem hearing any dialog on constantine. It came through VERY clear on my system.
    Oh, this was a DEFINITE problem for people with this DVD.....I WASNT the ONLY one who thought the dialogue was HORRIBLY low.....let me find the link on hometheaterforum.com........

    There was NO WAY I was the ONLY ONE who found this on the DVD.......

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Terrence the Terrible
    One of the things that I know effects dialog intelligibility is background noise. Keep in mind that soundtracks, both film and televisions, are mixed in very quiet rooms. The dynamic range of dialog should be from a quiet whisper, to a loud roar. The quiet whisper may emerge very clearly on the dubbing stage because of its low background noise, but get lost in your rooms while in competition with the fridge, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer, kids screaming, telephone conversations, and various other noises that a are not heard in the dubbing stage, or theater.

    True. To REALLY enjoy dialogue -- or to comprehend it and get INTO a soundtrack's dialogue track -- there needs to be COMPLETE and utter silence because of all the damn ambient distractions in our home theaters which easily overpower the center channel.....

  21. #21
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    Here's one comment lifted DIRECTLY from a home theater enthusiast site regarding the Constantine DVD:

    "Watched this last night. Kinda enjoyed it. Dialogue weak, had to bump up center channel. Dialogue a little weak script wise too. Visuals were well done. I give it a 3 out of 5 for popcorn flicks."

    And.....

    "I thought the picture and sound were great, but I had to crank up my center channel because the dialogue seemed really soft, especially Keanu, compared to everything else. I read through the discussion thread and there were some comments to that effect in there as well so I think that's just how the film was mixed"

    And.....

    "I enjoyed the movie as well. some pretty creepy stuff, which is fun. I did notice the low audio mix. It was clear, but I had to turn it up more than I usually do."

    And.....

    "GREAT AUDIO!? Was I the only one that thought the center channel/dialog level was WAAAAAY too low!? UGH!"

    And...

    "no rick, several in this thread, only 22, posts have mentioned that.

    add me to the great visuals not much else and too low dialogue
    camp."

    These are ALL coming from Home Theater Forum, one of the most respected enthusiast sites on the internet......just do a search there for Constantine and you will hear all about the low dialogue problem.

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    Thanks to everyone who responded to my initial post. Your insight and experience has given me some direction to look. At this point I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I bought the Thiels (used) some 15 years ago used and got them fairly cheap. Thiel makes a center channel speaker but I can't afford to put that much into this (we're retired). The receiver is also 15 years old and the pots are getting scratchy. I also don't critically listen to music like I once did - in other words, they are there because I already have them. 95% of the time the system is on only to supplement the tv. I may start from scratch and upgrade the whole system to 5.1 or something like that.

    BTW - I noticed on CSI MIAMI last night it was broadcasted in 5.1 (says at the beginning). Is there any way to tell what format various programs are broadcasted in?

  23. #23
    I put the Gee in Gear.... thekid's Avatar
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    It has been awhile since I looked at one but if any source might publish this info it might be the good old TV Guide......

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    Quote Originally Posted by thekid
    It has been awhile since I looked at one but if any source might publish this info it might be the good old TV Guide......
    I poked around the online version of TV Guide and couldn't find anything - I'll look for a paper version tomorrow.

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