Flat Screens Don't Make For Good Sound

I’m getting tired of this. The on-going moaning by certain sections of the viewing public that TV sound isn’t what it used to be.

That actors are indistinct in their vocal delivery and the volume is all over the place.

And guess what? They are right!


But the stock answers of “actors mumble their lines” or “directors preferring location shooting to the studio” are just wrong.

Here’s why.

Sound Bar 003

It's in the London Evening Standard:

So it must be true

The recording of location dialogue that will be used in the finish production is increasingly difficult to do on the shoot because of the unwanted intrusion of background noises.

Imagine, for example, the recent BBC productions “Wolf Hall” or “Poldark”. The illusion of Tudor and Regency England would soon be shattered if the viewer heard in the background traffic noise or an aircraft flying over. The solution to overcome this problem is simple. Much of what you hear the actors speak and the sound effects are dubbed in the post-production studio afterwards. What the actors say on screen is merely used as a guide to timings. So the idea that the actors will mumble or that background noise is too high is laughable, why would they produce a poor delivery when in the studio?

So why all the grumbling?

Simple. TVs have changed. Gone is the big wood-veneered cabinet in the corner. It’s all slim-line nowadays. And that’s the crux of the problem: For slim design means compromise. Whilst the screens have got bigger, squarer and thinner, sound creation has pretty much stayed stagnant. Electrostatic and flat panel designs aside (the latter of which suffer from poor bass response anyway) speaker design is still based on the moving coil driving a paper cone. The only real way to produce full frequency sound with a coil and cone design, from low bass, through the range of human speech and above, is with physical size: Which doesn’t sit well with the ethos o flatter, thinner TV design.

Additionally there is also the issue of where to mount them. Forward facing is out, as that would mean making the frame bigger and that is a no-no as the screen comes first. So designers opt to fit them behind the screen and have them firing out the back. The idea being that, as these screens can be wall mounted, the sound will hit a hard surface and be reflected back.

That is all well and good in theory.

Except it doesn’t work (that well).

With the exception of a mirror, any wall is going to absorb certain frequencies and volume and that results in less than sharp audio. Sound (‘scuse the pun) familiar? Mumbled dialogue? Indistinct sound? Yep that will be the reason why.



Not really what you would call an accurate sound reflector is it?

(Good for holding the roof up though)

You see, with TV’s, sound plays second fiddle, pictures come first because, in the store or online, that’s what sells it.

That’s a shame really, because in only looking at what they can see means the purchaser is being short changed in what they will hear. But, or course, when this is realised the easiest thing is to blame the actors or the broadcaster for a shoddy product and not their poor or ill-informed purchasing decision.

However this crummy design philosophy has resulted in a nice little up-sell sideline for the electronics manufacturers’ in the form of the sound-bar. A rectangular affair containing several speakers, with the intension of creating an illusion of surround-sound from what is essentially a single-point sound source, that hangs beneath the screen and shoots the audio directly to the viewer.

Hang-on, weren’t the speakers put in the rear of the TV in the first place because if they were fitted in the front they would make the frame a lot bigger? So doesn’t the addition of a soundbar do exactly this?

It does indeed, and for the manufacturers’ you have the addition of an extra sale too.

Nice that.

Sound Bar

A nice little earner...

So prior to “sounding-off” about poor sound on the TV consider that it might be the messenger and not the message at fault.

Iain Betson