Can't hear dialogue!

My wife and I enjoy the wide variety of films, TV series and documentaries available on the various streaming services, but are finding it more and more difficult to understand the dialogue on some of our favourite selections, especially those from the US. Does anyone else have this problem? How can you improve the clarity of the dialogue track? Are there any soundbars or other peripherals that help in this regard?
Grateful for any advice


Hi @Rikk, welcome to the community.

It’s an observation in general with ageing. Those of us who have lived with elderly parents know hearing suffers more than we would like to admit.

Assuming the problem is not age related and purely a technical one:

If you are using a recently purchased flatscreen TV without sound bar. The Choice reviews suggest many have poor quality sound without an external sound system.

A second consideration is that some newer content may be produced in the latest high definition formats for video and audio. It’s only a guess that the tendency may be more USA centred. How that translates to typical lower quality Aussie content or TV’s with limited sound reproduction quality - someone from the Choice test team might have some knowledge. (@DenisGallagher)

We added a sound bar with a satellite bass speaker to a low end TV that is now 18 months old. We noticed the sound reproduction was often muddied before we added the sound bar.
Note: in store the sales tendency was to push towards the $1000 products as if is made a massive difference compared to those costing a few hundreds.

Our TVs also have a number of viewing options optimised for Movie, Sport, TV, etc. These appear to also change how the sound is reproduced. There are a couple of sound only options as well. We try to leave these on the standard TV setting and turn off any options that suggest more dynamic sound reproduction.

Given the adverts remain (perception - no need for audiophile comment) brass band loud over all other content suggests the broadcast stations still know more than we do.


In addition to @mark_m’s reply, some TV’s have a ‘voice enhancement’ setting in the system->sound menu. They enhance the speaking frequency range. If your TV has one it may help, but there is only so much to be done between tweeking the TV sound, speakers/soundbars, or headphones or hearing aids.

You might notice it more from US sourced content because of the accent.


Sound bars seem to be horrendously expensive. There’s no way I could justify spending hundreds/thousands on one. I guess from the crop thats been tested, I’d be going for the Baun one, even though it scores so low.


We sometimes find that some shows (which are now not limited to US sitcoms) overplay sounds such as clapping, laughing or dramatic music. These overplayed sounds are sometimes poorly edited into the soundtrack and can dominate over voices or other scene sounds. I don’t know why there seems to be a trend that these overplayed sounds are needed…often they are there to try add atmosphere…but I personally find them annoying.


I recently bought a soundbar for my mother, that she has said improved her ability to hear the TV.

For myself, I tend to turn subtitles on when watching a movie. My wife does not like the volume to be too loud, but I want to know what is being said. The way these things are mixed means that speech can often be much quieter than other parts such as action sequences or music.

Thumbs down, by the way, to Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet - in which the director forgot that with Shakespeare the words are the most important part.


Yes, nowdays, if it doesn’t have subtitles, we don’t watch it. I do also wonder if it could also be that many of the performers aren’t trained actors and have no skills in articulation or voice projection. I’m beginning to hate background music too.


Thanks to everyone for their suggestions and advice.
Yes - I am 67yrs old and have some high tone deafness caused by 40+ years flying aeroplanes; I started flying at 17 and joined the Air Force at 19. However, I have some high tech hearing aids which mean I can stream the TV sound output directly into my ears by Bluetooth, but this doesn’t solve the problem and my wife, who has excellent hearing, also has a problem with TV dialogue.
I have tweaked the TV sound settings to see if that might help, but the jury is still out on that. We used to have a mid-range JBL soundbar but that didn’t seem to provide much improvement. I suppose the question is, is there a particular soundbar that anyone (the Choice experts?) could recommend?

I don’t have any hearing problems but I notice that many recent US productions seem to have the dialogue garbled, or affected by constant underlying sound track that conveys what is happening. Often I just can’t understand what is being said.