Sound editing

Yachtie Dave wrote on 12/26/2013, 9:17 PM
Seasons Greetings to all
Is it just me at the 'grumpy old man age' or are there more and more TV series and movies that have actors that find it hard to speak over a whisper while the background music is twice the volume it needs to be?

The most recent 'Dr Who' from the BBC is a case in point.

Perhaps the editing staff have super hearing!

Interestingly movies from a few years ago do not seem to have the same problem

Comments

riredale wrote on 12/26/2013, 10:07 PM
Funny you should mention that.

I was visiting with my elderly father in Arizona and watching something with him on his five-year-old TV. I could barely hear the dialog, and there is nothing wrong with my ears.

I wondered at the time if there was some setting in the TV that was messing things up, like a phasing situation where the mono (dialog) part of a program was partially cancelled. Never checked the settings, though.
Richard Jones wrote on 12/27/2013, 5:37 AM
I'm with you. There is an increasing trend for actors to mumble their words and it seems that the essential skill of clear diction is fast disappearing. I've reached the point that, if they're not willing to pay me the courtesy of speaking clearly, I'm not willing to listen to or watch them (and that's the beauty of the remote - it allows you to make an easy escape!

Richard (and several members of my family).
Gary James wrote on 12/27/2013, 7:35 AM
I blame the studios. They want enough dynamic range in the audio track to accommodate loud music for dramatic effect; but all that does is leave the dialog sound levels so low as to be inaudible.
MyST wrote on 12/27/2013, 8:07 AM
Totally agree.

The music, and the sound effects are over the top. It's like they're trying to reproduce that the explosion really IS that much louder than the dialogue. The problem is not all of us live in our own homes where the home theater isn't going to bother others. Some of us live in apartments. I now watch television with the remote in one hand with my thumb resting on the volume button.
_Lenny_ wrote on 12/27/2013, 8:10 AM
I've noticed that the HD channels broadcast with much lower audio level than SD ones. I have to increase the volume from 16 to 27 to be able to hear anything clearly.

But as to your original point, I have a theory that the program makers are expecting viewers to be using a surround sound system. That way the dialogue is separated from the other sounds, and would, I expect, be easier to hear.

The trouble is, of course, most people aren't using a surround sound system.

I have been watching/listening whilst hooked up to a standard hi-fi amplifier. That helps a bit, but it's not something I wish to do often.
Chienworks wrote on 12/27/2013, 8:13 AM
Back in the olden days i'd always run the output from the VCR/DVD player through an outboard compressor with a pretty steep limiter setting. Probably most folks couldn't have pinpointed what was different, but i always got compliments about how much nicer it was to watch movies at my apartment because they sounded so good. (Well, maybe part of that was $5000 worth of high end stereo equipment compared to everyone else using the little 1.5" speakers in their TVs.) Still though, if i did A/B comparisons, everyone liked the result with the compressor much more than without it.

My 5.1 surround sound receiver in the living room doesn't afford me the luxury of using the outboard compressor anymore. However, it does have a "Night: Cinema" mode which reduces the dynamic range about 2.5:1, and this is useful if not as much as i'd like.

My aunt, a great TV watcher, has recently taken to leaving the closed captioning on ALL the time and has the volume turned down so low as to be nearly inaudible. Her reasoning: it's just too darned loud to listen to, but when the volume is comfortable she can't hear the voices.
Chienworks wrote on 12/27/2013, 8:19 AM
Lenny, i've noticed that trend on youtube recently. Seems like back in the old days all the amateurs out there just let their cameras and MovieMaker/iMovie handle everything for them and the audio would be normalized near 0dB. Now so many of the videos worth watching are produced by folks using semi-pro equipment and software and they've all been schooled in the importance of -18dB. This isn't so much of a problem on my workstation where the audio output is routed through a hi-fi system, but on my laptop with the itsy speakers, it might as well be muted.

I still don't receive HD here at home so i can't compare, but i have noticed that SD DVDs of big ticket releases seem overall quieter now than older ones. I always have to be ready to adjust the volume when we switch to another movie.

It's one thing to try to match broadcast standards when sending material to broadcast. But, for pretty much every other conceivable use on the planet, normalizing to 0dB peaks is not only acceptable, it just makes sense.
JohnnyRoy wrote on 12/27/2013, 8:23 AM
I'm glad to hear that others are complaining about this too. It really is epidemic proportions to the point where I can't watch these new movies anymore because I really can't follow what they're saying and I'm tied of riding the volume between every scene.

I thought that it might be because I don't have surround sound and perhaps the center dialog track was being improperly mixed with the left and right speakers on my TV making them 1/2 the volume the should be???

Does anyone who has surround sound have this problem also?

I'm curious if this is whats happening.

~jr
Chienworks wrote on 12/27/2013, 8:28 AM
JR, it's not as bad with surround sound, but it's not great either.

Now that i think of it, i do believe my receiver has a menu that allows adjusting the individual channels independently. I should try bumping up the center dialog channel and see if that helps. Not sure what that will do to stereo soundtracks though, but it's worth the experient.
rraud wrote on 12/27/2013, 9:25 AM
I concur with the others.
It also may be the younger (inexperienced) generation's mixing style.. (if one wants to call it that) of 'burying' vocals in music mixes as well,
johnmeyer wrote on 12/27/2013, 10:21 AM
When we watch old TV shows and movies, we don't have a problem.

But when we watch modern movies we almost always have to use the subtitle feature. My wife is hard of hearing, so you might think this would explain this. However, when our 20-something kids are home for the holidays and we watch something together, they often ask for us to turn on the subtitles. I even replaced my entire sound system with an Audigy-based Denon receiver because I thought it was simply old equipment.

No, unfortunately it is modern recording techniques.
larry-peter wrote on 12/27/2013, 10:42 AM
I agree that it is modern recording techniques. I spent time over the last several years putting most of the blame on over-compressed broadcast audio, but now I'm hearing it (or, not hearing it) in the cinemas too. Just saw a film where an actor whispers an important plot point to another. You could hear everyone in the theater murmuring, "What did he say?"

When I got into film I had to unlearn a lot of mixing techniques I used in music recording - using too many compression stages, for one. The guy I learned from would tweak dialog volume automation down to the syllable and rarely ever use compression. Now I see people mixing for film or broadcast with compression on every track, compression on group busses, compression on output. And they fight it constantly, trying to get dynamic range back into the mix.
richard-amirault wrote on 12/27/2013, 4:34 PM
I have been watching/listening whilst hooked up to a standard hi-fi amplifier. That helps a bit, but it's not something I wish to do often.

I run my TV thru a separate amp and bookshelf speakers ALL THE TIME (unless I use my low end surround sound system) Listening to TV with puny internal speakers is something I would accept only as a last resort. You can hear so much more thru a decent speaker/sound system.
earthrisers wrote on 12/27/2013, 7:00 PM
For movies, we run the audio thru a 5.1channel surround system.
And for almost all current movies, and even most TV shows except ones that are pure dialog, I'm riding the remote volume control almost all the time.
...which makes it hard to immerse oneself at all in the "reality" of the program instead of being overconscious of the technical stuff.
Yachtie Dave wrote on 12/28/2013, 10:41 PM
Brighterside

That is what I do however the only improvement I get is when I use Headphones.

To all replies to my comment. Thanks. For a while I thought I was going deaf.

Dave
Rob Franks wrote on 12/28/2013, 11:33 PM
"I'm glad to hear that others are complaining about this too. It really is epidemic proportions to the point where I can't watch these new movies anymore because I really can't follow what they're saying and I'm tied of riding the volume between every scene.

I have 5.1 hooked up and I do not have the issues you speak of. My receiver also has the ability to tell me exactly what audio type is being broadcast so I know when there is a change. I do notice a change when going from 5.1 to non 5.1, but it is pretty subtle and I attribute it mostly to the fact that there is a speaker change.

I do however find an extremely noticeable dynamic range difference between Dolby Digital vs DTS vs DTS hd ma, which is a pain because you have to reset the center channel speaker all the time.
GeeBax wrote on 12/28/2013, 11:44 PM
The first time I really noticed the issue was with the US program 'Once Upon A Time', the audio balance was so bad that my wife and I stopped watching the program because we could not follow the dialogue. I mentioned it to my son, and he immediately leaped to the conclusion it was our hearing.

To make matters more confusing, we had just got a new Sony Bravia set, and I began to suspect the set was at fault. But then one night I watched a re-run of the film 'The Dambusters', and realised I had no trouble at all with the dialogue as it had a decent mix.

Now I satisfy my curmudgeon urges by writing e-mails to the producers of shows with crappy audio admonishing them for it. I know they take no notice, but it makes me feel better.

I also notice everyone these days *must* have an inappropriate high energy music track on every production, regardless. My productions rarely have music, I prefer to tell the story using atmos fx and narrative, if any.

Geoff
Geoff_Wood wrote on 12/29/2013, 4:41 PM
Do check you don't have some audio sound-field expansion trickery turned on on you new TV. That can make things disappear or pop out in a seemingly random manner.

geoff
Ron Windeyer wrote on 12/29/2013, 8:58 PM
Totally agree with the sentiments expressed. I know I am also getting old, but I am firmly of the view that in the "old" days, people knew how to balance audio with background. Speech was clear, and dialogue was easily understood. Lately, the music seems to be much more important, to the point where it drowns out dialogue. My wife always has subtitles on whenever possible.
I sometimes find myself wondering why I (a hopeless amateur) can produce videos where the sound is so much clearer than those of the clever professionals!
musicvid10 wrote on 12/29/2013, 9:25 PM
If only 50+ year olds did all the audio mixing for TV, the rest of the world would find it "boring" and "weak."

Just saying . . .
I'm 64.
john_dennis wrote on 12/29/2013, 10:33 PM
I too am often frustrated that I can't make out the dialog. I'm equally frustrated that music producers these day think there should never be a microsecond where someone isn't singing or playing something.

Surprisingly, I remember one season of American Idol where I thought the vocal mic was too hot and I couldn't make out the accompaniment. They seem to have gotten over it in recent seasons.

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Rob Franks wrote on 12/30/2013, 6:32 AM
"Totally agree with the sentiments expressed. I know I am also getting old, but I am firmly of the view that in the "old" days, people knew how to balance audio with background. Speech was clear, and dialogue was easily understood. Lately, the music seems to be much more important, to the point where it drowns out dialogue. My wife always has subtitles on whenever possible."

The "old days" consisted of one audio type and therefore was pretty easy to balance.

I'm not sold on the idea this is all a producer issue. I think the lack of proper playback equipment for the given soundtrack and the inexperience in properly setting up the balance on 6 different speakers needs to be mentioned.

There are a few soundtracks I run into where the dialog could be a bit louder. It doesn't seem to be as well balanced as the others. But one simply turns up the dialog channel a bit to overcome the issue.
Gary James wrote on 12/30/2013, 8:29 AM
"But one simply turns up the dialog channel a bit to overcome the issue."

That's a big assumption that everyone owns a 5.1 or 7.1 audio system that can compensate for a lousy sound mix. I'm an old school audio guy; meaning that stereo sound satisfies all my audio needs. A lifetime exposure to high DB sound levels has determined the limits of what works for me. And I can assure you that it IS the studios that are making these really bad audio mixing decisions on releases of movies made since the 1980's.

DVD's of movies produced prior to the 1980's generally don't have these problems. I can set my TV audio level at 50% (60" Sony Bravia with external HDMI Sony Stereo Sound system) and watch an entire movie without ever touching the sound level. But put in a DVD or Blu-Ray of a relatively new movie, and it's an entirely different story. I recently bought the entire Star-Trek movie set on Blu-Ray, and the sound mix is horrible. During dialog only scenes I have to jack up the volume level to 100%, and I still can hardly make out what the actors are saying. And when the action switches to a battle scene, I have to grab the remote to crank down the volume before I start shattering plaster.

I'm starting to think this may be the next big opportunity for DVD / Blu-Ray title ripping software. Something that would rip the main movie track and perform a normalization / compression on the audio tracks before making a copy. I'd be willing to pay for something like that. And the studios only have themselves to blame for creating a market for something that fixes a problem they've created.
Chienworks wrote on 12/30/2013, 9:30 AM
My 5.1 surround receiver only allows independent control of the LFE channel, which i find a bit odd since it doesn't have an LFE amp and requires a powered subwoofer, and pretty much all powered subwoofers have a volume control on them. *shrug*

Previously, my DVD ripping process consisted of a pretty heavy WaveHammer step to even out the volume, then use Vegas to render to whatever format i want to watch it from. However, this is an excruciatingly long process. I recently switched to Handbrake for the encoding as it is easily 10 times faster and produces a much sharper image to boot. However, i now lose the audio leveling step and that leaves me back with nearly useless rips. So, the last couple i did i ripped, used Vegas to do the audio processing, rendered to uncompressed, and then used Handbrake to re-encode. It worked a little faster than Vegas alone, and still benefited from the much better video quality, but it sure was longer than just using Handbrake.

What would make me a really happy camper is if Handbrake allowed audio effect plugins!