Kvålsvoll Design Audio Forum

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How to fix the dialogue so we understand what is said

A very common problem - dialogue in movies are difficult to understand.

This can be fixed. Actually, this is sound at a very basic performance level. If speech in movies are difficult to understand, there are major sound quality issues.

In my media room, this problem does not exist - even when I turn down the volume, everything is articulate and understandable. This is partially due to loudspeakers that actually works, and the room has reasonable acoustic properties for sound reproduction.

So why is this a problem in many other rooms and systems?

Think of the sound from the room as noise, that obscures the sound from the speaker - it is the direct, early sound form the speaker that carries the information needed to understand dialogue, and all other sound - including reverberated sound from the room - is simply noise. When all that noise becomes too loud, it will be difficult to hear the sound that comes directly from the speaker.

To improve this situation, it is necessary to increase the early-to-late sound ratio. This can partially be done by changing the sound source - the speaker - or, by changing room acoustic properties.

In most such real-world cases, it is not possible to change room acoustics to a level that fixes the problem - regardless of budget, knowledge - simply because the effort needed far exceeds the purpose - you just want to be able to hear the dialogue.

Sitting closer to the speakers also helps, but in most cases location of both speakers and listeners are fixed due to how you want to place things in the room - for practical and aesthetic reasons.

Then you are left with changing speakers. This can improve things sufficiently so it is possible to get acceptable intelligibility, also at reduced volume.

The best solution is to install a center speaker above the screen, and this center speaker must have a controlled radiation pattern - sound must be directed towards the listeners, and all sound outside this area must be attenuated. This speaker should have a reasonably flat frequency response across the area where listeners are located.

If you do not want a center, 2 stereo speakers and phantom center will also work, with proper speakers.