Can’t Hear TV Dialogue? You’re Not Alone
7 Ways to Hear TV Voices Better
If you have a hard time hearing voices on TV, you are not alone. For me, the inability to hear TV dialogue hits close to home. I am among the 25 percent of Americans suffering from tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Watching a movie with my husband is a favorite pastime. However, we were at odds over the sound. Turning up the volume really didn’t help me catch dialogue better.
There is a huge entertainment audience with hearing loss, and we are not just talking about the senior population. 48 million Americans suffer from some level of hearing loss. Here are some interesting facts from www.HealthyHearing.com:
+ Adult men (age 20 to 69) are twice as likely to have hearing loss than women of the same age.
+ As women age, they have more difficulty hearing at lower frequencies than men.
+ Approximately 2 to 3 of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable hearing loss in one or both ears.
+ Fifteen percent of school-age children (6 to 19) have some degree of hearing loss.
+ Of the 28.8 million Americans (age 20 to 69) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids, fewer than 16 percent have ever used them.
Mishearing TV dialogue can be a sign of hearing loss, but ears aren’t the only problem. The device itself can make TV viewing a challenge. For many TV manufacturers, good sound seems to be an afterthought. On a flat screen TV, speakers point to the side or are located on the bottom of the bezel, or can even be behind the screen. Signal levels can vary from different devices such as your Blu-ray player, cable box or PlayStation.
My husband has no hearing issues, but wanted richer cinematic sound when watching movies and a greater range of notes when streaming music than the TV speakers could provide. We started looking into better sound solutions
Here are a few technologies and strategies that help both hearing and hard of hearing people have a better TV entertainment experience:
If you do not use external speakers, consider where your TV is placed. Engineers at Dolby experimented with set placement and found that wall mounting is not always the best choice. Setting a TV on a table gave something for downward speakers to bounce off of. A cloth on the table, however, will absorb sound and minimize these benefits. Also, a TV that is too close to the wall or inside a cabinet may bring up undesirable bass levels.
TV Audio Settings
First, choose a program with dialogue you find difficult to hear. In your TV’s audio or sound menu, check all settings. Some options, such as “night mode” flattens out sound and is not good for dialogue. Surround sound can also be an issue. Try turning these features off and listening to your program again.
Adjusting TV audio is a little more complex than just fiddling with the volume setting. Tweaking decibel levels of bass and treble frequencies is a delicate craft. But it’s almost impossible to mess things up. If your TV has an equalizer (EQ) that lets you adjust various frequencies, try lowering the bass and lower mid-range and boosting the upper midrange and higher frequencies, where voices are typically found, to compensate. If you don’t like the results, change back to factory settings and start again. For a quick fix, check to see if your TV has pre-sets to improve dialogue such as Clear Voice.
Sound Bar Speakers
The great news about sound bars is quality has gone up while prices have gone down. For hearing impaired, the small, $250 Zvox AccuVoice AV200 is a basic soundbar that incorporates sound-processing tech like hearing aids. The speaker makes voices louder and clearer.
A good hybrid that will appease audiophiles is the Sonos Playbar. The speaker has a “Speech Enhancement” setting to boost the audio frequencies associated with the human voice, and full theater sound. At $700, the Sonos Playbar is spendy, but it can wirelessly stream your music services and is compatible with Amazon Echo and Alexa.
Another option is the $200 AccuVoice AV200 TV Speaker—designed specifically to improve dialogue intelligibility by lifting voice frequencies out of background sounds.
Wireless Headphones and Headsets
Wireless TV headphones create a direct wireless stream from the television to the wearer’s ears, providing clear sound free of interference of background noises in the room.
Connection is made via Bluetooth. If your set lacks this feature, you can purchase a system with a transmitter that plugs into your TV and a set of headphones with a built-in receiver. Most devices have different profiles to choose from to optimize speech and music playback, with controls separate from the TV volume.
Options to check out include the classic TV Ears for $69 or the $250 Sennheiser RS 5000 on the high-end.
If you have or are planning to purchase a hearing aid, there are a few ways to wirelessly connect the device to a television for improved sound quality. But, the streaming system chosen, such as the Starkey Surf Link Media, must be compatible with your specific brand of hearing aid. A hearing healthcare professional can help you select the correct device. Just be aware if you change hearing aid brands in the future, you may need to change your streaming device as well, and they are not cheap. The Starkey for example, runs about $700.
Neck and Room Loops
Another option for those already using a hearing aid is a loop system. A loop system provides a clear connection to a TV’s audio output via a magnetic field that is placed around the room or in a personal neck loop worn around the listener’s neck. The advantage to this solution is that the user’s hearing aid does not need to be wireless, making it compatible with older devices, and multiple people can use the same system. A loop system is a bit more affordable—you can purchase a quality system such as the Sennheiser SET840-S for $300—and it likely will be reusable if you change hearing aid brands.
For significant hearing loss, or if there is a lot of ambient sound in the room, turning on the closed-captioning function on the TV will help you translate hard-to-hear dialogue.
So What Did We Choose?
To compromise between my need to hear dialogue better and my husband’s desire for high-fidelity sound, we went with a high-end Bose CineMate home theater system. The system automatically adjusts for the size and layout of the room, but we are also able to tweak different frequencies of the sound bar and turn down the base unit. At this stage of life, it is a good solution and creates an enjoyable movie experience for both of us.