Problems with Movie Dialog-Just the normal?

Hi all,

This is my biggest pet peeve with my system and would appreciate any thoughts-

When I setup my system via spl meter, all channels matching levels, the vast majority of movies have very low dialog levels, or specific instances where I can't hear dialog clearly, in the center channel. Drives me absolutely nuts. I keep turning things up until the loud parts hit the neighbors at the end of the block come a knocking. The distance to listening position is equal across the front.

I have tried to setup a balanced system, see system link. Equal power to all channels, the center channel is the same exact driver set as front mains housed in a horizontal array.

I'm torn between "how the director wants things portrayed-THX standards" and feeling "less-than" by flat out turning up the level in the center channel. Sometimes I've tried the late night modes and almost enjoyed these more.

I don't think the center speaker is "broken" in any way, all drivers make noise...:)

Any ideas?

It may be a setting in your processor is screwed up, though I don't know what your system has in it. I used to have an NAD receiver/dvd player setup that was HT-capable but would occasionally get "confused" about whether it was supposed to be doing stereo or 5-channel sound from the dvd player. If it was set wrong, I got the exact symptoms you are describing- difficulty understanding voices, occasionally having them almost disappear altogether. It wasn't easy to find the menu page that dealt with the problem either. But look into it; this may be the problem.
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Many movies have a lot of dynamic range. If you play your dialog back at a reasonable level (say 70dB), the peaks can be very loud (up to 107dB from the LFE channel using the default encoder settings0.

Reduce the dynamic range via compression (this may only work on Dolby Digital tracks) aka "midnight mode" if you don't want the loud peaks.

Or improve intelligibility at lower volumes through speaker choice and placement (placement atop a TV is not a good idea).
Neither the movies nor TV gives much of a damn about audio clarity these days. That may not be the whole problem, but it's at least part of it. Listen to a film from the 40s or 50s - you can hear every word, center channel or no.
This is fairly normal. Trust your ears.

Heres why....

1) The actual processor may be less than perfect for your amplification/speaker setup. I personally feel there is always something to give or take in HT setups. e.g. I replaced a $1200.00 Rotel recently with a $4600.00 Bryston and I actaually prefer, at this stage, the Rotel. I am talking movies only , yes the Bryston is nice, and I am sure that I will tweak it and get it right.

2) Also, the acoustic properties of your specific room (drapes, carpet, walls, room shape, ceiling, etc.) are having some absorptive effect in the "vocals" spectrum of the frequency range.

3) Finally and most importantly, I am betting you used a white noise generator along with that SPL meter right? That white noise is probably level across the channels just for that reason. I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that the encoding of the Dolby Digital/DTS isnt. The DD/DTS engineer "mixed" what sounded best in his/her enviroment and for the greatest impact or sound quality. Certainly not best clarity or vocalisation from YOUR center channel.

Go ahead and turn up that center, use that "night" mode, and find YOUR sweet spot. I know I do.
Uhm, this is a pretty simple answer, but i things for a living and always look for this simplist answers...

Is your DRC on?

Im pretty sure you know what this is but in case you dont....
Dvd';s are pretty dynamic. Whispers sound quiet and explosions rock the house. Dynamic Range Compression was created to make a balanced level of volume throughout the movie by eliminating spikes in volume. It gets everything at approximatly the same volume.

With DRC on with some players, when an explosion happens, it just reduces the total volume on all channels, and voices can get down to a whisper untill the volume peak subsides then the DRC raises the volume. come players are better than other players at this, and can reduce the spikes in volume without lowering the volume of other sounds which gives it a nore balanced feel and it doesent seem like somone is just flipping down the knob.

Might that be the problem?

If so, maybe you oughtta try borrowing a buddys DVD player and watching the same problematic parts in movies...

or is this more of a freak occurrance? not really specific to any point to a movee and more random?

if this seems to just happen out of the blue, then swap out the dvd player still, and give it a shot. if it keeps happening, i got 10 bucks that says your processor is messed up

hope that helps

slappidy slap
Yeah this is a common problem, but at least you have a multichannel amp with speakers by the same manufacture.

1)Buy the AVIA DVD, and crank the volume up to the level you like movies at, and run their sound tests with your sound pressure not the processors... since this is at the same level it will be accurate no matter what the difference sensitivies of the speakers are.

1.5)Check the speaker size it might be set to small and crossed over at 100hz, when it can handle large with the bass being crossed over at 100hz to the SUB. This will cripple your center channel output, but becareful with your first movie, listen at a lower volume to make sure you don't bottom out the center or damage your system.

2)Use the Phase check Avia Provides, you might have your center channel out of phase (wired or you processor might invert phase for you on your left/right speakers) this would cause the sucking out of the vocals big time!

3)Adjust the angle of your center channel if it is just sitting on the Big screen or sitting on a shelf below a projection, then the highs are being cut off... use a couple of rubber door stops and slide it from behind until the vocals snap into focus! This is really critical or buy a Sound Anchors Center Channel stand that allows you to adjust the angle/height of the center channel (I have this and it rocks!) If it is on top of the big screen move it forward to the edge of the TV to minimize the reflections and allow for the correct radiating pattern from the drivers(would you push your speakers to the side wall and expect them to image, same idea).

4)Lastly try to make sure you have the same interconnects and speaker cable on the center as the left and rights.

5)Remove the speaker grill on the center
Thanks for the ideas. DRC in not on, same cables between front mains and center.

The Sim Audio has surprising few adjustments/features with the menus. Honestly I don't think I have something screwed up, will double check. Their truly is not many settings to mess up.

I will try these ideas and see if I get an improvement. Think I'll bi-amp the stupid center mess and see what happens...?

Thats the spirit Marty, if it ain't loud 'nuff, shoot it some more juice.

Seriously though, thats a fine setup you have.
Distortion-I way too American. Bigger this, more that...

Seriously thou, when I simply turn up the level the mid-bass starts taking too much precedent. It's like the woofers in the center speaker start standing out, not just an increase in dialog levels.

How this can be affecting dialog only, I have no idea. Basically dialog is only a grouping of sounds right?

Also the system really only seems to come alive with excitement when the volume is way up there. Like 85% and higher. I dunno.


If the center crossover/size is set to SMALL and Midbass is overpowering vocals, then I might suggest change the speaker itself. Maybe get your dealer to let you home evaluate a different type or brand. If the same problem persist then it is logical to assume the problem is in your electronics.

If your cabling will permit, you could try wiring a main speaker as the center and your center as the replacement main.

As previously mentioned by someone, make sure your phase is correct. Check at the amp and at the speaker terminals.
I have double/triple checked the phase settings. Also my processor has a automatic setup(don't really use, just for kicks to see what it thinks things should be) this also included a phase check. Previously I had some speakers with the phase reversed between the tweeters/woofers. Drove me nuts.

The speakers(all) are set to LARGE, with no crossover settings. The LFE is set to roll at 80hz. I guess I should try rolling the speakers at 80HZ also, this just seems to be doing two things at once. I've tried this, just not for some time.

Or leave the rest set to large(I'm weird, the rears are basically large by most peoples definition) and cross the center alone at 80-120Hz. The center is exactly the same as the front mains, just a different driver layout. I'm sure the difference in cabinets makes some difference.

Thanks for the ideas,
I would try setting the center only, at the 120hz cutoff point. If the processor has a steep Xover, say 24db/octave, the your "midbass hump" may not be effected. But, if it is a gentle slope, say 12db/octave, then midbass will be effective reduced.

There isnt much dialog in the rears. However, it could be that your particular system and room enhance the midbass to a point that it is drowning out the centers dialog. With that in mind you may want to try ALL speakers set to 100 or 120 hertz, except the main L/R. Just as a test.

Your gear and speakers are all first rate, outside of an actual faulty unit in the chain somewhere, I would bet the answer lies in the tweaking.

If your processor will, try out a "phantom center" setting again just for testing purposes.

Is the Heron center a Transmission line as well?
Here's a suggestion. You may be experiencing a false reading on your SPL meter for the center channel if you point the microphone straight ahead (parallel to the floor) when taking your reading. To obtain the most accurate reading, try pointing the microphone up at roughly a 45-degree angle so the meter measures a blend of direct/reflected sound from all speakers.

For best results, I position my SPL meter at the listening position on a camera tripod (at ear level, pointing up 45 degrees). I stand beside the meter a few feet away during the test tones because even holding the meter too close to your body can reflect sound back to the SPL meter's microphone and distort the reading.

Good luck!