Simple Fixes to Make Voices More Intelligible on TV – CNET

If you’re having trouble understanding dialogue when watching movies or sports on TV, it might not be your hearing. It could be either your TV settings or hardware that’s making it difficult to hear speech. Either way, there are some quick and easy fixes.

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Alternatively, if you’re using a separate speaker or soundbar, perhaps errant settings are to blame. While enabling subtitles on your TV is one option, if you want to have the set on in the background, then it’s sound quality we need to rectify. Let’s begin.

Read more: Best TVs of 2024

1. Check your TV’s sound settings

Television speakers sound terrible out of the box, but most TVs have settings you can use to improve their audio a little. For example, a while back some friends called me to fix their own TV sound — they said the dialogue was boomy and hard to understand. When I got there, I found the soundtrack was distorting at anything but the quietest levels. A look inside the settings uncovered why: Someone had created a weird custom mode that had the bass jacked all the way up.

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The Klipsch Reference Theater Pack is a set of ultracompact 5.1 surround speakers with a wireless subwoofer.

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AV or stereo system with speakers

If you have tower or bookshelf speakers, try moving them away from the walls and corners, and then point or “toe” them in toward the middle where you sit. Removing speaker grilles will also boost speech by a small amount. These little changes alone won’t be enough to transform Sly Stallone into Laurence Olivier, but they could be enough for you to discern what an actor is mumbling about.

The other thing to try is a calibration, whether via your receiver’s menu or app, or manual. I prefer to do a manual calibration by ear as automated routines almost always need manual tinkering anyway. See CNET’s guide to improving sound quality with your phone.

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3. Buy a new soundbar

If the previous options aren’t cutting it, it may be time to invest in a soundbar designed to improve dialogue. Thankfully, excellent soundbars aren’t very expensive, and almost anything will sound better than a TV speaker. The Roku Streambar, for example, is affordable and offers HDMI connections and an onboard 4K streamer. Vizio also makes an excellent range of soundbars.

Read more: Best Soundbars to Enhance TV Dialogue

There are also soundbars specifically designed to make speech more intelligible. For instance, when Zvox branched out into hearing aid design, the company brought the tech to its range of AccuVoice soundbars. The company has models starting at $100.

Taking the next step and buying a surround system may be more expensive, but it also has added benefits — especially if the system has a dedicated center-channel speaker. In surround mixes, dialogue often comes primarily from the center channel, and being able to increase its volume independently can really help.

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