Does Anybody Else Hate The Way Modern Films Are Edited For Sound?

Again and again I’ll be watching a TV program and when the characters are talking and I’ve got the sound turned up so I can hear the dialog, and the WITHOUT warning we get an EXPLOSION of NOISE – sometimes an actual explosion, sometimes the characters start screaming at the top of their lungs, sometimes there’s a LOUD musical interlude … and my family is all like ‘Turn that shit down!’ and I don’t blame them in the least … it’s bugging me too.

It seems to me to be a byproduct of the way movies are edited for theater showings, where the sound is really loud most of the time but BONE CRUNCHINGLY loud in action and dramatic scenes. I’d say, “movies edited for the half deaf” except it so happens I AM half deaf (one ear is nonfunctional, the other works pretty good) and I don’t care for it at ALL.

In theaters at least everyone’s there to watch the movie, so no one complains. But at home, it’s a bitch.

So do others get the same experience or am I alone here?

Nope, I’m agreed 100%. Movies and television shows have horrible sound editing as far as volume equalizing goes.

My wife has very sensitive ears and has to watch almost anything on TV with the remote in her hand. I used to think when I finally got around to setting up a home theater getting good speakers and a good projector would be my biggest concern, now I think it’s going to be getting a receiver with a really superb “night” mode.

Hard to compare my experience with yours.

That said, are you talking about the stereo mix? The surround mix? What speakers are you using? Just the TV? 2.1? 3.1? 5.1? 7.1? A soundbar? Have you leveled the center channel volume using an SPL meter? Does your receiver or preamp have a “night mode”? Is your dwelling near a major road or other source of ambient noise?

More factors every few years to consider in today’s consumer electronics landscape.

(For me, this is just on a straight stereo system. No 42 channel, Dolby 99.2 or anything.)

This has come up time and again here and elsewhere.

There does not seem to be any satisfactory explanation as to why it is done this way.

Certain systems are set up to handle the dynamic range issues, but not for a lot of people. Especially since this is a “new” thing. Why would they make things hard for people with older setups or new setups that have the same characteristics of older setups?

It’s not just sound effects, but music as well.

The only remotely semi-quasi-pseudo explanation I’ve heard is that it impresses the easily impressed who go “Whoa, dude. Did you hear how cool that explosion sounded!”

I work in a theater, as a projectionist. I absolutely agree that sound mixing has gone off the rails for many features. There’s a balance you have to aim for between visceral impact and naturalism, and simple intelligibilty (like being able to hear what the actors are saying) is often shuffled off stage right.

I think one reason this happens is the sound editors already know the script backwards and forwards, so they go ahead and set the music and effects level to “stun”, without realizing the poor sap who is watching this for the first time is going to miss a lot if they don’t get the dialogue.

Old movies never had this problem, but apparently the advent of improved sound technology wasn’t matched by an increase in common sense.

I’ve been wondering if there’s computer software you can get to constrain the extremes in sound at least if a video is played through a computer. For example, the volume of the Nickelodeon Kids animation is a lot louder than the cartoon that follows it.

I’m with you 100%, OP.

It’s not just movies, either. Occasionally I’ll find a bad mix here and there on a network or cable show, but it’s not all that common. Except for every single program on NBC. I don’t know what the hell NBC is doing, but I literally cannot hear the dialog on any NBC show unless I switch my tv from “stereo” to “mono.” Every single show. It’s super annoying.

The sound on the show Elementary is awful. It’s like Johnny Lee Miller is whisper mumbling, and Lucy Liu is mumbling back. And then it’s all mixed in to one blob with no highs or lows.

Then after that in my weekly TV watching list comes* Big Bang Theory* that has those animated bumpers that - once my sound is way up for Elementary - sound like rockets blowing through my living room. Freaks my dog out and she always goes to hide.

Just the TV. Stereo is worse than useless if you have only one working ear. Especially with headphones. I convert my music files to mono using Audacity for that very reason.

You know, I don’t think the equalization would be such an issue if it weren’t for the excess of gratuitous non-diegetic sound–this is really the issue here. Sound editors are just piling on mounds of shit-sound (into actions movies in particular)–in order to cause a visceral response in the absence of anything artful. Have you ever seen a film in the process of sound editing with the shit-sound track removed? They put it in just to make it seem like more things are happening.

I have an old television and it’s annoying to watch it when I get home from work and the rest of the family is sleeping. I watch with the remote in hand to adjust the sound constantly and sometimes I can’t even turn the sound up enough to hear the dialogue without the loud spikes being too loud and I have to put the closed captioning on to figure out what’s being said. It’s gotten to the point that my wife and son now always sleep with a fan on for the white noise. In the winter they turn it away from them. I guess when I update to a flatscreen I’ll be stuck with the same problem. Swell.

I live in an apartment and, being a good neighbour, I don’t want to be too loud late at night.

This makes modern films rather awkward to watch. I keep the remote beside me and spend the entire film raising and lowering the volume.

That’s true too. Reality shows are absolutely horrendous with all the pops, trills, and bloops they put everywhere.

I have been hoping for a 3-level mute set on the remote: the mute button toggles between commercial (really low or silent) and action and the dialog button toggles between action and dialog (the loudest setting). Obviously, if the level is on an extreme, the opposite button would take it to the other extreme (dialog <-> mute). I instinctively mute commercials, even if it means I miss a second or two of content, but it sure would be nice if the mute was just almost instead of completely silent (adjustable to taste, as would be all 3 levels).

I’ve personally referred to this as the Guy Ritchie effect. He, and directors/editors like him, pump up excitement by adding overdone whooshes, roars, and other sound effects to every cut or wipe the camera makes. Other directors like Edgar Wright, Robert Rodriguez, and similar are on this same bandwagon. They’re essentially mimicking John Woo editing style, but also saturating it with irrelevant sound effects.

So not only do you get a cut and zoom to the actor’s face and whatever they’re doing, you also get an associated “swoooosh, BAM, crunch, zzzzzziiiiipppp, kachunk”. Even for mundane things like opening a door or looking at a piece of paper, the actions are all treated on the same level as brandishing a machine gun. Bandwagons being what they are, nearly all movies and tv shows “pump up” their editing with stupid sound effects.

Yeah, trying to understand Voight on Chicago PD often has me breaking out the subtitles.

And I don’t think it’s that I’m getting old, older people lose high frequency hearing, not gravelly-voiced low frequencies.

For those watching at home, I believe the feature called “night mode” (mentioned by unwashed brain above) is an audio compressor, meaning it smooths out the dynamics so that loud and soft parts play at a more equal level. That would be helpful for the guy watching late at night who wants to be able to hear without constantly fussing with the volume.

It won’t necessarily make a soundtrack that buries the dialogue become more lucid, but at least you won’t wake the baby.

A well-designed night mode circuit will simultaneously (a) boost the ratio of signal dedicated to the center channel (normally all dialogue) versus signal sent to the fronts and surrounds (normally sound effects), (b) cut drastically the signal sent to the subwoofer, and (c) level the dynamics, preventing SUDDENLY SHOUTING SYNDROME.

No, it won’t cure a truly badly mixed film, but it will help.

I found *Raging Bull *to be nearly unwatchable for the reasons pointed out in this thread. It should have been called Raging Volume Inconsistency.