Why is Dialogue mixed so low?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by John DeSantis, Dec 6, 2001.

  1. John DeSantis

    John DeSantis Stunt Coordinator

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    I would like to get some views on what seems to be a problem for many HT setups.

    The center is supposed to be for mainly dialogue but that's not the only sounds that comes out of it when playing DD. I think there is too much ambiant sound mixed in. That's why everyone complains about not hearing the actual dialogue very well. It's drowned out. ( levels are set correctly )

    My second setup downstairs has a cheap JVC receiver and the sound from the center is terrible. I play movies for kids etc. with the center off. Sounds much better. I've yet to see a system I liked no matter which center is used.

    A good example is Planet of the Apes. On my main system I could hardly hear them speak. The levels are all set correctly and the Speakers are matched. If I turn it up then the action etc. is too loud. I don't want to reduce the dynamic range because that takes away from the thrill of DD HT sound. I keep reading that the Center channel is for dialogue. If that's true then why is it encoded so low? This is with most all movies I've seen. My previous

    Panasonic A120 at least had a dialogue enhancer that helped a bit. This must be a problem if it's a feature on the Player.
     
  2. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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    But actually- what you're asking for is a reduction in dynamic range (less variation between the loud sounds and dialog)- by increasing the dialog level- you are thereby reducing available dynamic range...
    I think that the majority of people would disagree with your desire to reduce dynamics... as would most audio engineers--- for the first time in history we have a digital medium with low noise floor that can actually contain dynamic range properly.
    So what you are complaining about is really dynamic range- not specifically dialog volume. Just wanted to make sure we're clear on the audio concepts...
    -Vince
     
  3. Brian Lawrence

    Brian Lawrence Producer

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    I personally feel that this is a big problem with todays soundtracks. Film-makers have got so carried away with the surround sound aspect and loud sound effects that dialog can only be heard if one has their volume cranked up to earbleed.

    This was almost never a problem in the older days. Watch almost any major studio film pre- 1975 and the dialog is always clear and intelligable.

    Another thing that does not help is that many of todays actors mumble their dialog.
     
  4. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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  5. Jeremy Anderson

    Jeremy Anderson Screenwriter

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    Well said, Vince.

    John, I have to ask five questions:

    1) What kind of receiver are we talking about here? I know you said your second setup has a JVC receiver (and, speaking from experience, they are notorious for having excessively noisy and harsh center and surround amplification), but what is your main receiver?

    2) What kind of speakers are you running? I've seen some speakers with poorly handled crossovers or too limited a frequency range that will calibrate fine but then sound horrible for dialogue.

    3) Have you checked the phase of your subwoofer? If your sub is out of phase with the rest of your speakers (or even just your center), then you're losing output in the crossover range. While this doesn't necessarily affect voices directly (except perhaps James Earl Jones type voices), it can cause you to overcompensate the levels of either your sub or your speakers, thus possibly drowning out the frequency range in which most dialogue falls.

    4) Have you checked the delay/distance and phase of your speakers? If your center channel is out of phase with the rest of your system, it will sound all out of whack. Also, if your speaker distances/delays are improperly set on your receiver, it can cause problems. Guy Kuo was kind enough to outline in detail how to check this using the Avia disc, and it made a world of difference on my system. Believe it or not, my center channel delay was 1ms off from the actual measured distance due to room acoustics, which made dialogue sound too distant. If you do a search, you should find Guy's method of finding proper phase alignment and delay.

    5) What are you using to calibrate levels? I ask because, from my experience, the internal test tones on receivers can often be as much as 3db different from an Avia or VE calibration, especially in the center and surrounds. My JVC receiver's tones were 2db too low in the center and 2db too high in the surrounds. My current Onkyo receiver matches up fairly well on calibration, except the subwoofer tone is 10db too low. Without doing a calibration that takes into account the signal path, you may be running your surrounds too hot, which will throw off the whole shebang and often drown out dialogue.

    And just because the Panasonics have dialogue enhancement as a feature, that doesn't mean it's because of any inherent home theater deficiency. My Panny RV-31 has that same feature, and I've never had to use it. In fact, I've recently watched Planet Of The Apes at both full reference and -10db from reference (with a girl who bitched about how loud it was), and I didn't have a bit of a problem hearing the dialogue in either case.
     
  6. Nick G

    Nick G Stunt Coordinator

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    John, if the dialogue sounds good when the center speaker is turned off, then the problem is not how dialogue was mixed in at the sound studio nor is the problem dynamic range or sound effects since none of these things are effected by turning off the center. Turning off the center just redirects the center's sound to the mains. I would think the problem is most likely your center speakers.

    FWIW I have the same issue with my Paradigm Studio 20 mains matched with the Studio CC center in that dialouge sounds clearer and more distinct with the center turned off though the difference is not hugh. It is enough of a difference though that I am thinking of replacing the center with a another single Studio 20. As a further note before I bought the Paradigms I auditioned an inexpensive Cambridge Soundworks system at home that used their MC300 as the center. The dialogue always sounded very clear and distict. Never any trouble understanding what was said, a very nice center. Anyway thouse are my thoughts and experiences, hope it helps.

    Regards, Nick
     
  7. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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  8. Christian Speights

    Christian Speights Stunt Coordinator

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    My only problem with all of this dynamic range is that it increases my chances of eviction. I always keep one finger poised and ready to adjust the volume as necessary...up or down.
    I guess that's why this is not called Apartment Theater Forum.
    (Suppose I could just turn the sub off...well, maybe not.)
    [​IMG]
     
  9. John Kotches

    John Kotches Cinematographer

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    All,

    I'm not sure how much I have to contribute to this thread, but I was watching Men In Black last evening (DTS encoded for anyone that cares), and had no problems with dialog intelligibility at 25dB below reference (even when things got busy).

    It's definitely a combination of factors involved, and Dynamic Range Compression (sometimes called "Night Mode") can help.

    Regards,
     
  10. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    I'm not sure if I (and everybody else, for that matter) understood what John meant. I'll have to leave out specific disks for the time being, but on some DVD's, (not all), I really have to crank it up so I can hear the speech. As a result of this, when I start a DVD up I wait for a voice before I adjust the volume on my receiver.

    But as a general rule the voices are not as loud as they should be. I have adjusted my receivers output to increase the center channel, and that helps, but I don't think that is the 'right' solution.

    Explosions should rattle my eyeballs around, but at the same time, I shouldn't have to strain my ears to hear what they are saying.

    Glenn
     
  11. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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  12. JohnThomas

    JohnThomas Auditioning

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    Vince: I experience the same thing. I think John says that he doesn't want LESS dynamic range, he wants louder dialogue. I know I have never seen this problem in a Theatre. Glenn seems to feel the same way as John so maybe it has to do with the way some DVD titles are mixed?
     
  13. Kimmo Jaskari

    Kimmo Jaskari Screenwriter

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    Well, a solution of sorts might be to just recalibrate your system to your own liking. Personally I feel that calibration to the proper values is the way to go, and I enjoy things that way at the moment. If I felt, however, that the dialogue was mixed too low for my tastes, I would not hesitate to turn the volume of the center channel only up a few notches.
    And of course, use the available options for compressing dynamic range, that is why it was put there in the first place. [​IMG]
     
  14. Arthur S

    Arthur S Cinematographer

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    The answer to this problem for me was to find a center channel speaker that excels in dialogue intelligibility. Sound&Vision tested 3 HT speaker sets for the September 2001 issue and the reviewer said about the Klipsch SC-1 center channel speaker: "The SC-1 center speaker gave tremendous presence to effects and dialogue, which was among the most intelligible I've heard. If you've ever watched a movie and missed a line of dialogue because it was swallowed up in the ambient sound, the Klipsch is for you."

    I am not concerned that I won't be using Klipsch mains. I would rather hear the dialogue. Anyway, the Klipsch SC-1 is on sale for $149 at Vann's 800 769 5668.
     
  15. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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  16. Ken Chan

    Ken Chan Producer

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  17. Arthur S

    Arthur S Cinematographer

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    Then again, lots of people just raise the level of the center channel on their receiver so they can hear the dialogue more clearly without getting blasted during the loud scenes.
     
  18. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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  19. Jeremy Anderson

    Jeremy Anderson Screenwriter

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    After reading all of the above, I still think John's problem has more to do with speaker placement and calibration method. But to figure this out for sure, we need John to chime in on exactly how he calibrated. For instance, did he aim the SPL meter at the center channel during the calibration? Doing that would make the center channel level too low and the surrounds too high, and it's a common mistake.

    I'd also like to know how high your center is above your mains. You might benefit from angling your center down so that it aims at your ear level, since this often remedies intelligibility problems with dialogue (if your center channel has a severe off-axis dropoff).
     

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