You have questions. I have an answer, a long one to many questions.
Q: I was wondering if you would be able to explain why the TV shows must have the background music/noise sooooooooooooo LOUD! I thought I was going deaf and went to have my hearing checked! Come to find out we are not the only ones as I have been taking a survey of sorts from friends and strangers of all ages and they all agree with me that this is a problem.
A: I hear you.
I have written about it from time to time for about 15 years now, and folks still ask about this, more than about anything else. That should tell you that the issue is not going away. But let's revisit explanations and possible solutions.
Why the loud music? Start with the programmer's desire to promote music that a show has paid for, or a belief that loud music adds to the drama of a scene. And with the deadline demands for a TV show, the audio may have been mixed too hastily or sloppily. There have also been complaints about sound in some big movies, and that's not going to get any better when you watch them on TV.
Then wonder about the audio quality in your TV set, since it's long been argued that TV speakers are not up to the task of modern sound. Or you may need to look at the settings, as CBS.com says:
"Occasionally, we have found that viewers who experience an overly loud background music playback sometimes have a stereo television and that the 'front surround' feature is activated. This would move the rear surround, usually music and sound effects, information to the main speakers. This can be corrected via your remote control, accessing MENU, and then the audio or sound profile. Set 'Front Surround' to 'OFF.' We have found that some cable remotes have crossover signals (for instance their DVR button) which activate the 'Front Surround' on the adjacent television set. If this does not correct the problem, then the issue might be a 5.1 surround audio mix problem at your local CBS station or affiliate."
But suppose you have a home theater or other external speakers and still have problems. A decidedly low-tech solution may be moving the speakers in relation to where you sit so you're not getting too much sound from a too-near source. Hey, it helped at the House of Heldenfels. (Another low-tech idea: turning on closed captions, as many readers have suggested.)
The music-vs.-dialogue problem also declined when we made the switch from speakers to a sound bar. And when I talked about this once before, a reader especially recommended a speaker from Zvox called the Accuvoice, which uses a hearing-aid type technology to pull dialogue out of the soundtrack. But even with a theater or a sound bar, you may have to work with the settings to find the best balance. And, as one commenter noted on CNET.com some time back, if you're watching a show in 5.1 and your sound system is 2.1, you're going to have to "do a combination of settings to get it right." And while that may solve the dialogue problem, it's still not fancy 5.1 sound.
Finally, there may be human factors. A BBC executive in 2011 noted that the noisy TV environment could also be hurt by "a mumbling actor." And those of us of advanced in years are less accustomed to a loud music mix than younger viewers who grew up with it. Zvox, for that matter, argues that "baby boomers listened to LOUD music when they were young. For the first time in the history of the United States, there are 95 million people over the age of 50 ... and many of them have some degree of hearing loss." While some readers have said the problem is not in their hearing, another said his test "found serious hearing loss."
(Do you have a question or comment about entertainment past, present and future? Write to Rich Heldenfels, P.O. Box 417, Mogadore, OH 44260, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters may be edited. Individual replies are not guaranteed.)