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Autor: Karl M. Slavik


Sound Quality and Audibility

In recent years, the intelligibility of sound, and in particular the dialogue in films and television programmes has deteriorated alarmingly.

Audibility and the poor mixing of background sound and music are the top complaints from audiences. All of this is happening against a backdrop of increasing quality of tools to deliver more channels of audio to the home. The IRT has published its recommendations for programmes and technology, aimed at sound engineers to help increase the speech intelligibility on television, and the BBC have provided guidance through their Sound Matters resources available here:

Compelling TV with good audio

The introduction of Loudness (EBU R.128) as a means of mixing sound for a programme has helped to remove the jumps in sound levels between channels and commercial breaks, however it hasn’t removed the challenges of good quality sound acquisition. 

Well placed microphones, good monitoring of the mix, and a sound balance that ensures the atmos, music and effects are well below the voice levels is important. Different broadcasts will recommend their own delivery requirements for channel segmentation and mixing levels. 

A reoccurring problem is actors mumbling, to the point at which the audience can’t understand what they are saying. The challenge is that the cast and crew know the script back-to-front. They’ve been reading it for days – it’s the same in the edit – but the audience often don’t know what is coming next. They don’t know the script, so have to rely on being able to hear and understand what the actors are saying.

When listening to the final playback of programme sound,  audio engineers should not rely on the perfect studio acoustics and high-quality speakers, but should listen to the programme several times through a normal flat screen TV which will match the audience viewing experience. This will also give a preview of what the Dolby metadata will do to downmix the sound track. 

And finally: Trust your ears to deliver a more audible mix.

Author: Karl M. Slavik, Arte Cast Vienna

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