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Great Room - Home Theater (speech) Audio issues. (1 Viewer)

MadMadHoosier

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We built our retirement home in 2008 and did a lot of smart home and distributed A/V throughout. The company that did the install folded after the owner died, and (with my electronics background) I've been supporting the systems myself since. When it comes to detailed A/V, I know enough to be dangerous!

We have always had a problem understanding voices in our great room. And it's not a volume issue, it's that the speech is not very intelligible at any given volume. And it seems worse since switching from cable/dish to streaming content. A few years ago I hired a local "expert" who suggested changing our (ceiling mounted) front speakers to some that tilted towards our recliners. It "might" have helped a little, but with the recliners 18' from the front, it is still not enough. I've heard/understand speech is carried on the front/center channel of home theater systems. My wife keeps looking at the back channel speakers, above and behind our heads, and wants the speech audio to come out of those. I've told her that is not how they work, and she just says - why not?

Our great room audio is driven by a B&K AVR507 s2 to 7 wired speakers in the ceiling. 8" speakers for the front and center channels, and 3" speakers for the side and back channels. The amp driving the sub-woofer in the attic died many years ago, and we have not bothered to replace it.

speaker layout.png


When listening by myself, I can cheat and have Roku directed to my hearing aids. But that does not help my wife - even with her superhuman hearing. Or me when watching Tivo or other sources.

Edited to add: It is more of a problem with movies, and seldom with newscasts.

Anyway, looking for ideas to improve understanding the speech when watching TV together. We care less about the surround sound features, and more about understanding what people are saying. For the moment we have resorted to turning closed captioning on - all the time.

Thanks for any and all replies, Steve.
 
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JohnRice

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I suspect the main problem is the in-ceiling speakers. Even with ones angled forward, you're still getting dialog that's mostly reverberating around the room. "Expert" installers absolutely love to use in-ceiling speakers due to the low visual impact. The problem is, they're terrible for watching video sources. They're more or less OK for background music.

You said volume doesn't improve things, but have you tried increasing the volume of only the center speaker? It can be done in the receiver's speaker setup menu.

And yes, the dialog really should be coming from the front of the room, not the back.
 

Wayne A. Pflughaupt

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Are the red circles up around the wood beams the speakers?

The problem is that the speakers are off-axis. This means you can’t hear the upper frequencies that give definition to speech (the “s,” “t” sounds, etc.). Thus, it basically sounds like you have a pillow in front of them. Am I getting close?

This is a key point. Since this is your retirement home, you’re probably old enough to have had a stereo system at some point in time, or had a friend who did. Were the speakers pointed at the listeners, or turned sideways? Get the idea?

A little exercise you can do, go to your nearest big-box store, and find one of the speakers up high at the roof. Stand directly under it and listen for a minute or so, then move 10-15 ft. away. You’ll notice that the sound goes from “crisp” to “dull.

Your best bet is to get in-room speakers for the front three. Or at the very least get in-wall speakers for those. At least they’d be pointed at the listening position.

If either of those options is unacceptable for some reason, and since intelligibility is more important than surround sound features, just re-wire the system so that the speakers above the seats are the main ones.

Regards,
Wayne A. Pflughaupt
 

MadMadHoosier

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JohnRice: I thought the installer had made the center channel louder, but had never been into the menu of the B&K myself. Was a little intimidated by it.

But I found the manual online, and stepped through the speaker setup to find they had the speaker sizes set correctly, with the front and center large speakers set to a level of 4, and the side and back small speakers set to a level of 8. But every speaker was set to a distance of 30'. While the room is 30' deep, our recliner is 18' from front and center, 10' from middle, and 2' from rear speakers - so I made those changes. Finally, I set the sub-woofer to none, since it is inactive at the moment.

Will see how that sounds to the wife tonight, and play around with it some more if necessary.

WayneA: Yes the red circles indicate the speaker placement. And I fully understand (now) what you are saying about the speakers in the ceiling "pointing" down. So yes, speech was muffled.

The front and center speakers were replaced with ceiling speakers that have a 15 degree angle to them, but realize that is still "basically down".

After listening to the changes we just now made to the speaker setup for a day or two, I'll consider some of the other options you've suggested.

Thanks so much guys for the quick responses. Motivated me to dig deeper than I had before.
 

Peter Apruzzese

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I'm assuming you went through the test tones to set the speaker levels. If you didn't, that should be something to do. Also, after setting those levels, you can raise the center a couple of notches so that it can cut through some of the louder soundtracks. It's not ideal, but it can help.
 

MadMadHoosier

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I'm assuming you went through the test tones to set the speaker levels. If you didn't, that should be something to do. Also, after setting those levels, you can raise the center a couple of notches so that it can cut through some of the louder soundtracks. It's not ideal, but it can help
I did run the test ”tones” (which sound more like static), and increased the center channel from 4 to 6. It sounds MUCH better watching SEC basketball games, because last night we could not hear commentators over the crowd noise. It might be too much for movies. If so, I’ll drop it back to 5. But it looks like I’m on a good track with your guys help. Thanks so much!!!
 

JohnRice

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I did run the test ”tones” (which sound more like static), and increased the center channel from 4 to 6. It sounds MUCH better watching SEC basketball games, because last night we could not hear commentators over the crowd noise. It might be too much for movies. If so, I’ll drop it back to 5. But it looks like I’m on a good track with your guys help. Thanks so much!!!
You also might want to drop the surround channel levels a bit. I find that in the real world the center needs to be increased a bit and the surrounds lowered a bit.
 

MadMadHoosier

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You also might want to drop the surround channel levels a bit. I find that in the real world the center needs to be increased a bit and the surrounds lowered a bit.
I thought about that, since they are set double the setting of the front channels. But we honestly don't notice hearing anything from the side or rear speakers during our normal watch (listen :). Perhaps because they are so much smaller than the fronts. Or perhaps what we normally watch does not have surround sound. But now that I know how, if the next surround movie we watch seems off, I'll know what to change.
 

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