Maximizing Dialogue Without Maxing Out the Volume

Those of us living in condos and apartments know all too well the sacrifices we have to make in enjoying our movies and music at appropriate volumes. What’s best for an immersed experience likely doesn’t bode well for neighbor relations. For many of us, the total enjoyment of watching a movie is severely lacking without a proper volume level, but the balance between optimal home theater sound and the acceptable volume level as neighbors can be a precarious one to tread...

A quick tip to lower the total overall sound volume is to move your center channel speaker much closer to you, perhaps even right in front of you on the coffee table. You can also adjust your settings to focus more sound to your center speaker than the others. Here’s why it works and how it’ll help you better hear what’s going on in the movie without upsetting your neighbors.

We had previously discussed methods to check your sound levels as well as how to keep noises from creeping into your neighbors’ units. Decibels are commonly used as a measurement for levels of sound.

For most movies, dialogue is generally focused through the center speaker (which was recently the "center" of attention as a reader question post). The speakers all around you provide the majority of your music, sound effects, and ambient noises. Without a proper sound mix what ends up happening in most home theaters is the listener has to pump up the overall volume in order to hear the actors’ voices coming through the center speaker. Raising the total volume just to hear the dialogue usually brings the rest of the sounds to much higher levels as well. You’re suddenly at a way too loud setting just to hear what the characters are saying in the movie. If it’s an action movie, the issue is compounded by huge explosions that are now way too loud, when all you wanted was to hear the speaking of the dramatic quiet scene before it that set our hero into motion.

If you’re willing to sacrifice some of the background noises, then there are a few simple adjustments you can make in your setup. First go through your sound systems settings and increase the volume level of your center channel speaker. You can play around with decreasing the other speakers to get to a balance you like. This way the sound levels for the center channel audio are louder than the rest.

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Chances are your center channel speaker is sitting on the same shelf or close to your TV. If your TV is 10 feet away, moving your center channel closer to you by half that distance to 5 feet lowers your overall volume levels by a whopping 6 decibels! Here’s a nifty online calculator to figure out your volume level “savings” by adjusting the distance to your sound source. Be sure to adjust your sound system settings accordingly as you move your center channel closer to you.

With these tricks you can enjoy your movie and keep the volume level at a reasonable level for your shared living space.

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(Image: Bang & Olufsen)