I Can't Hear You!!!
September 2, 2012 9:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm attempting to watch the season premiere of Doctor Who, but the sound quality is SO muddy. I have this TV. Can I fix it via the settings? How?

In fact, I've noticed this on many BBC generated shows - muddy, awful sound quality that renders the vocals nearly impossible to hear.

(I'm looking at you, Absolutely Fabulous, and your hideous laugh track that nearly obscures every joke!)

I also have the samsung sub woofer, and an independent rectangular shaped samsung speaker that I think came with sub woofer, but I really don't remember.

The extra speaker is on, the sub woofer is off. Just letting y'all know these components are in the mix and available.

This is a problem since forever. Love BBC story quality, the production value of the sound? Not so much.

Thanks for any advice!
posted by jbenben to Technology (16 answers total)
Are you in the UK or watching from the US (or elsewhere)? Are you watching over the air, satellite, cable, fiber optic or streaming? Legal or illegal?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:30 PM on September 2, 2012

I imagine you've probably downloaded the version legally available for purchase. We used to have this problem occasionally last season too; the officially released download would have horrible sound. We just damned the neighbors and cranked the volume. And watched it a second time.
posted by carsonb at 9:32 PM on September 2, 2012

Response by poster: DVR (legal!), over DirectTV Satellite. In the US

This is something I've noticed for over 12 or so years. I always wonder about it. Previously over Time Warner Cable, too, so it isn't a satellite issue.

That said, the special effects audio in this particular episode are completely drowning out the vocals in scenes where that applies. Which is most of them!

Hope that helps.
posted by jbenben at 9:39 PM on September 2, 2012

Best answer: Have you tried fiddling with the TV's sound settings? I know for our Samsung (an old SMART model) we have to switch audio settings depending on the input. And come to think of it we even have to adjust depending on what we're watching on Netflix. BBC is totally suspect, those old Jeremy Brett Sherlock episodes are barely audible at points! You have to fiddle with the sound settings on the TV until you find one that works.

Keep notes so you can switch settings back when you watch something else. Here's a snippet from the manual:
¦Changing the Preset Sound Mode
MENU → Sound → SRS TheaterSound → ENTER
SRS TheaterSound
■Standard: Selects the normal sound mode.
■Music: Emphasizes music over voices.
■Movie: Provides the best sound for movies.
■Clear Voice: Emphasizes voices over other sounds.
■Amplify: Increase the intensity of high-frequency sound to allow a better listening experience for the hearing impaired.
Try the Clear Voice or Amplify setting, and/or fiddle around with the EQ.
posted by carsonb at 10:08 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, link to said manual (PDF).
posted by carsonb at 10:09 PM on September 2, 2012

Sound stuff starts on page 22.
posted by carsonb at 10:09 PM on September 2, 2012

Best answer: I've seen a lot of consumer audio equipment that comes with a setting to "enhance" stereo or make it "wider", turned on by default. This stuff is pretty common in equipment with pretensions of quality and inbuilt speakers, and it all works basically the same way - it mixes some left-channel sound into the right channel in antiphase, and vice versa. What that does is suppress some of the signal that's common to both channels, which is stuff that would normally occupy the centre of the perceptual sound stage.

Although this does cause a perceptual widening of the sound stage as a whole and makes it seem as if the speakers are further apart than they really are, it also completely screws up the balance between the stuff near the centre - typically dialogue - and the stuff out on the edges. Dialogue that's been mixed so it sits exactly in the centre suffers worst from this kind of treatment.

So if your TV gives you the option to turn off every kind of sound processing labelled "smart" or "enhanced" or "digital" or "realistic" or "movie" or "theatre" or any other marketing buzzword that actually translates as "please screw up this carefully constructed sound design as badly as possible": do that.
posted by flabdablet at 1:17 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I watched it on Saturday (in the UK, on an old Sony CRT), the sound was fine. I realise you've had this problem for longer than you have had the TV but anecdotally I hear that most flat screen TVs have shitty sound because the cabinets don't have space for speakers of any worth. My partner's Sony flatscreen distorts at moderate to high volume

Try connecting up headhones or external speakers? The BBC really do understand how to achieve technical quality and Dr Who is a flagship programme, I would be astonished if the sound wasn't pristine when it left them. Perhaps DirectTV is doing some form of compression.
posted by epo at 1:18 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like epo, I watched the first episode of the new series last night from an mpeg file recorded straight from the DVB transmission. No sound problems whatsoever. Whatever the issue is, it's either with your hearing, your set or something to do with the transcoding to whatever source you're using.
posted by pharm at 4:52 AM on September 3, 2012

For what it's worth, I've noticed this too on BBC America broadcasts of Who. We watched the new episode last night from the DVR and I had to turn the sound way up to compensate for the muffled vocals. We have a five year old Panasonic flat screen and watch via Comcast.
posted by octothorpe at 5:11 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah just confirming that I watched the new Dr Who last night on iPlayer (via Virgin Media cable TV in the UK) and we had the sound low because the baby was asleep, and we could hear the voices fine. Seconding that you check the sound settings on the TV.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:28 AM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: Also, most DVR/cable boxes I've used have sound settings that are usually "narrow", "normal", or "wide". On the one I have now, anything other than the normal setting makes everything sound exactly as you describe. So it might be the DVR and not the TV.
posted by Orb at 10:38 AM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: I had trouble with the new episode the other day, BBc America on Dish. The vocals are too quiet, mumbling, and the background sounds and music are too loud. This is becoming very common in movies. The technical term is "bad mixing". I’m not sure what they’re thinking, maybe that it makes it sound more exciting.
posted by bongo_x at 7:39 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: If the episode under discussion is "Asylum of the Daleks", the .flv copy I just grabbed from ABC iView has nice clean sound which makes perfect sense to me; I would be very surprised to find crappy mixing in any BBC drama.

I would not be at all surprised to find a mix crapifier built into a TV and turned on by default. Those things exist solely to make carefully selected demo tracks sound amazing in the shop, and leaving them on once you've bought the TV is generally counterproductive.

But it might also be a bandwidth issue: perhaps BBC America is applying an outrageous amount of digital compression to their audio streams. If that's the problem I would expect you'd start hearing Skype-like frequency quantization artifacts, where everything sounds like it might have been put through Autotune as well as being generally muddy and indistinct.
posted by flabdablet at 9:00 PM on September 3, 2012

Response by poster: Episodes of Ab Fab are notorious for sounding muddy, and there many discussions about this available online.

I do NOT find this to be an issue with shows like (going back to the late 90's and moving forward) This Life, Attachments, Monarch of the Glen, Primeval, Being Human, and the like.

Graham Norton? Yes, but not a true issue. With Doctor Who and Ab Fab - absolutely.

Vicar of Dibley was always aces, FWIW.

Thanks for all of the answers for how to fix this during screening!!

And yes, my hearing is def at play, but overall production style seems to play a part. I don't have this issue with movies or other television. In clubs and at music venues is another story...

Thanks again!
posted by jbenben at 11:34 PM on September 4, 2012

So what worked? Have you managed to find a setting that fixes the issue?
posted by flabdablet at 6:48 PM on September 5, 2012

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