Everything sounds bad, and there’s nothing we can do about it

From left to right: The Sandman (Photo: Netflix);  The Tent (Photo: Warner Bros.);  The Dark Knight Rises (Photo: Warner Bros.)

From left to right: Sandman (Photo: Netflix); Tent (Photo: Warner Bros.); The Dark Knight Rises (Photo: Warner Bros.)
graphic: Rebecca Fasola

It’s better than watching television these days – and frankly, we don’t have much of a choice in the matter. Over the past decade, advances in streaming technology have increased the use of subtitles. And before we start blaming the centenarians with wax in their ears, A study was conducted It was revealed earlier this year that 50% of TV viewers use subtitles, and 55% of people surveyed have difficulty hearing conversations on TV. The demographic most likely to use them is: Gen Z.

The audio problems that plague Hollywood productions have been exacerbated in the streaming era and made worse by the endless variety of consumer audio products. Big scores and explosive sound effects power the dialogue, with the mixers having their hands tied with streamer glasses and artist demands. There’s very little viewers can do to fix the problem except turn on subtitles. And who can blame them?

“It’s scary,” said Jackie Jones, senior vice president at Formosa Group, an industry leader in post-production audio. “There’s a lot of time and client money spent on getting it right. That’s not great to hear.”

Formosa is one of the many post-production houses struggling to keep the dialogue going amid the constant media frenzy. “Each network has different audio levels and specifications,” Jones said J AV Club Zoom over. “Whether it’s Hulu or HBO or CBS. You have to beat these specific levels for it to be explained. But the reality is how it winds and how it winds is beyond our control.

After leaving a space like Formosa, the mix can be done by an additional mix in the streamer and another mix, so to speak, by the viewer’s device. Of course, this is the last thing they want in the audio industry. “Dialogue is king,” sound editor Anthony Vancher told us. “I want all conversations to be as clear as possible, so when you hear that people are struggling to hear these things, you’re disappointed.” And yet, we still end up with subtitles. If we are only reading the adaptation Sandman On Netflix, why bother making it?

Oldest Game | Sandman | Netflix Philippines

“Everybody is very unhappy about it,” said David Bondelewicz, an associate professor of music and entertainment studies at the University of Denver. “We work very hard in the industry to make every piece of conversation understandable. If the audience does not understand the conversation, they are not going to follow anyone else.

Streamers and devices together make awesome music

With all this technology at our fingertips, communication has never been more inconsistent, and the proliferation of streaming services has made the landscape impossible to navigate. In addition to the variety of products people see in the media, no two streams are alike. Each may have a different set of requirements for a post-production home.

As far as streamers go, the editors say that Netflix is ​​the best for sound and good Even their audio specs are published publicly, but the service is an outsider. “They’ve put a lot of money into setting their standards, while some of the other streamers seem to have pulled them out of their ass,” Bondelovich said. “With some of these streamers, the editors get like 200 pages of descriptions [they] Have to sit there and read to make sure they aren’t violating anything.

Not all streamers are so forgiving. “I was at lunch with some friends from a mix recently, and they were at lunch answering emails because they did the mix, finished the mix, and everybody’s happy,” Wancher said. “And then the director became like a screener or was able to watch it at home, you know, whatever streaming service he was using. And he was like, ‘Hey, that sounds totally different.’

Neil and the protagonist meet | Introductory scene captured in UHD IMAX 4K 60FPS X265 10BIT HDR

Today, sound designers usually create two mixes for one film. The first is for theaters, assuming the film is being released in theaters. The second is called a “near-field mix”, which has a lower dynamic range (the difference between the loud and quiet parts of the mix), making it more suitable for home speakers. But just because the mixes are getting better doesn’t mean we’ll be able to hear them.

“‘Nearfield’ means you’re close to the speaker, like you would be in your living room,” said Brian Vissa, executive director of digital audio mastering at Sony Pictures. “It’s just a speaker closer to you so you understand that it’s a lot more coming out of the speakers and not what’s being contributed from the room.” And you hear at a quieter level than you would in a cinema.

“What a near-field mix is ​​really about is bringing your container to a place where you can comfortably listen in the room and get all the information you were supposed to get, the stuff that was originally put into the program.” It can disappear otherwise.

Wesa wrote a white paper on near-field mixing, creating an industry standard. He believes that a big part of the problem is “psycho-acoustic”, meaning that we just don’t perceive sound in the same way at home and in the theater, so if a good near-field match is not in place, the audience is left out. . To save yourself.

Complex matters, where things end, have never been more fluid. “In TV we anchor the dialogue so it’s always flat and clean and build everything around it,” said Andy Hay, who brought the first Dolby Atmos project to Netflix and helped raise standards for the service. . “At Features we let the story drive our decisions. A particularly dynamic theatrical combination can be quite a challenge to fight in a close arena. Many productions are being dumped on streaming after the film is complete, Audio engineers may not even know what format they are mixing for.

And there is the house to deal with. Consumer electronics give consumers many proprietary options that “reduce loudness” or “enhance speech.” Sometimes they have silly marketing names like “VRX” or “TruVol”, but they are “motion smoothing” for sound. These options, which may or may not be enabled by default by the manufacturer, attempt to respond to noise spikes in real time, usually by capturing and “reducing” loud noises, such as explosions or music cues. , as they happen. Unfortunately, they are usually delayed and end up with whatever noise is behind it.

It’s not just a speaker problem. Rooms, device placement, and white noise produced by fans and air conditioners can all make conversations difficult to hear. A near field combination should also account for this. “I listen very carefully and very quietly, because that way all these other factors, the air conditioner, the noise next door, all the other things that are going around and things start to matter. And if I miss something, we have to bring it.

Long way to bad sound

The sound problems we experience today are the result of decades of underestimating the importance of clear audio in production. Bondievich refers to the transition from shooting to stage sound with theater actors as the first nail in the coffin. Sound stages provide a separate space for clear communication, usually with standard boom mics “eight feet above the actors”. The popularity of location shooting made this impossible, due to the standardization of radio mics in the 90s and 2000s, which presented their own problems. Clothiers, for example, are difficult to edit and lead to more ADR, which actors and directors alike hate because it detracts from the performance on set.

In the early days of cinema, when most actors were trained theatrically for the stage, actors would project to a microphone. However, following the procedure allowed for more whispers and gags in the name of realism. This can be managed if more time is invested in rehearsals, where the actors can practice the volume and clarity of their lines, but very few productions have that luxury.

One name being suggested by sound editors for this shift is Christopher Nolan, who popularized an upbeat acting style with his Batman films. The problem remained consistent throughout his Dark Knight trilogy, with the voices of Batman and Bane being the two most persistent complaints among fans of the films. When Bannon’s voice was fully ADRed following the film’s disastrous IMAX viewing, it overpowered the rest of the film. “It was the worst combination The Dark Knight Rises” he said. “The studio realized that no one could understand him, so at the last minute they remixed it and they made him literally painfully loud. But the volume wasn’t the problem. [Tom Hardy’s] Speaking through a mask, and he has a British accent. Raising it didn’t fix anything. It just makes the movie less fun to sit through.

Restored undubbed voice of The Dark Knight Rises Bane.

Volume is an ongoing battle not only among voice editors but within the government. In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission passed the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act to reduce the amount of commercials. Instead, the network simply increased the volume of television shows and compressed the dynamic range, making it difficult to hear conversations. “They’re trying to push things so they can be louder,” said Clint Smith, an assistant professor of sound design at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking who previously worked as a sound editor. . Skywalker Ranch.

Smith has been teaching audio engineering for five years and encourages his students to embrace subtitles and work them into the film’s narrative in more creative ways. “What’s that like? Ten years down the road, 20 years down the road, where subtitles have become more common because I don’t see them going away,” Clint asked his students. “I was just kind of curious about … how we can actually make subtitles a part of the filmmaking process. Don’t try to run away from them.

As uninformed communication becomes more common, we will have no choice but to accept subtitles. But at what point do studios and streamers not even bother to match the audio properly and assume viewers will just read the dialogue? With subtitles an option for every streamer, soon, “We’ll fix it in post” could become “They’ll fix it at home.”

You can feel the sound

There are some things we can do. For example, there is always buying a good sound system. Even more important is to set it up correctly. Most of the sound makers interviewed advised getting professional help but also mentioned that many sound bars today come with a microphone for home improvement. None of the voices were very convincing, though.

“If you’re going to use a sound bar,” said Bondelewich, “get the best sound bar you can afford.” And if you’re listening on your earbuds or headphones, get good headphones. If it’s a noisy environment, get over-the-ear headphones. They really improve the sound a lot and don’t use noise canceling headphones because they really degrade the audio quality.

But more than anything else, they emphasized how it’s a selling factor for movie theaters. If you want good sound, there is a place that has “sound you can feel.”

“It’s a bummer because you want the theater experience,” Venture said. “People don’t go to theaters these days because everything is just streaming. And that’s how you want people to hear these things. You’re doing it so you can hear it louder and louder.

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