If you’re hard of hearing, you likely struggle to hear the dialogue on your favourite TV shows, so what can be done to mitigate this issue? We asked one of our experienced sound experts to give his advice.
Every year, more and more people complain about the sound quality of their television speakers and to understand this, we need to take a step back and look at what’s happened in the industry over the last few years.
We all used to have huge CRT TVs in our living rooms, which had large front firing speakers and with that we had great sound quality. The industry then switched to LCD and Plasma TVs, which had a thickness of around 20cm. With this introduction, the internal speakers became much smaller, but they still generally faced towards you and sounded reasonable.
We now see the current offering of incredibly thin OLED and LED TVs, which have tiny enclosures, sometimes less than 6cm in depth, with tiny internal speakers that point either downwards or backwards.
These speakers pointing downwards or backwards is actually quite a big issue, as high frequencies travel in a very linear fashion. These high frequencies carry most of the dialogue in TV programmes, so the fact that they're not being fired directly at you means you’ll struggle to hear the dialogue clearly.
There is also an issue with programme makers trying to recreate scenes in the same way that we hear them in real life - with sound effects like explosions much louder than dialogue. You will also notice that different channels have different audio levels, so you may be fine with one channel, but not another.
There are a few exceptions, but it’s fair to say that most modern TVs don’t come close to producing the sound quality that TVs produced twenty years ago.
As we get older, our hearing degrades and for most people, it’s the higher frequencies in particular that we struggle with. As evidence of this, you may notice struggling to hear female voices more than male voices.
By the age of 50, most people have lost 10 percent of that high frequency hearing, then with each subsequent decade, we lose an additional 10 percent of those all important higher frequencies. That means that by the time we reach our 70s, we've lost an incredible 30% of our dialogue-critical high frequency hearing.
If we then compound the TV devolution with a customer who is hard of hearing, this produces a double whammy effect with more and more of us struggling to hear clear dialogue. With this in mind your choice in soundbar should be absolutely driven by your positioning in the room and what features the soundbar has to mitigate some of these issues.
Firstly, as a minimum requirement, anyone with a high frequency hearing loss should be looking at a soundbar with full bass and treble controls. Many cheap soundbars only offer preset sound modes like ‘music’, ‘movie’ or ‘dialogue’. These modes are non-variable, cannot be tuned to your specific hearing loss and are rarely used more than once. With separate bass and treble controls at least you are able to boost the higher frequencies, which will improve those critical speech frequencies. If you’re still struggling, then we recommend dropping the bass control a little to really make the treble stand out.
In addition, if you sit off centre to your television, you’ll be losing even more of those very linear higher frequencies, so we then need to look at technologies that mitigate this. This is where Orbitsound’s patented Airsound technology kicks in. As well as being the only audio technology in the world able to create a balanced stereo image wherever you sit in a room, a byproduct of this technology is that there is no loss in high frequencies throughout the room. This factor alone makes Airsound technology an ideal choice for those of us that suffer from high frequency hearing loss.
By Julian Dapin
Check out our BAR A70 that features Airsound technology and treble / bass controls.
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