Does your TV’s sound make dialogue hard to hear? You’re not alone. Many people struggle to hear the talking over loud music and sound effects.
Constantly adjusting the volume doesn’t help either.
Luckily, you can make some simple tweaks to improve the sound on your TV. With the correct settings, you will finally hear every word.
There are several ways to approach this:
- Adjust Your TV’s Sound Settings: the best place to start because it’s quick and free. Learn how to change the sound mode, compression and EQ to clean up the sound.
- Use Bluetooth Speakers: an easy solution for boosting the sound.
- Try Headphones: remove distractions and focus on the show.
- Wire the TV to Your Hi-Fi System: you might own a suitable system already.
- Buy a Soundbar: get a dedicated speaker designed for better TV sound.
- Install Surround Sound: take complete control of the sound and get more exciting movie audio, too.
All of these methods will vastly improve your TV’s audio. Your choice depends on how far you are prepared to go to find the best solution.
Read on to learn how to fix hard-to-hear dialogue and enjoy TV that sounds as good as it looks.
- What Is TV Dialogue?
- Why Does the Dialogue on Your TV Sound so Bad?
- How to Adjust Your TV Sound Settings
- How to Upgrade Your TV Speakers
- Main Takeaway
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is TV Dialogue?
In case you aren’t sure. The dialogue on a TV soundtrack refers to the voices – the things people say.
In most cases, this is the most important part of a TV show or movie. Of course, for things like music videos, then music is more important.
But for most movies, documentaries, dramas, current affairs etc. – the most crucial aspect is the speech.
So, if you can’t hear the dialogue very clearly, you won’t enjoy your show much.
- Learn more: How to choose the best flat-screen TVs
Why Does the Dialogue on Your TV Sound so Bad?
You should understand there might be several reasons why the dialogue in a TV show isn’t clear on your TV.
These can range from:
- There is too much music and sound effects at the same time as the talking.
- The people talking need to speak more clearly.
- The speakers on your TV aren’t very good.
- The location of your TV might block the sound from the speakers.
- The acoustics in your room highlight or muffle some frequencies more than others.
- Some shows might be mixed and transmitted in 5.1 surround sound. With stereo speakers, your TV will automatically downmix this to 2-channel audio. Downmixing can result in a cluttered or unbalanced soundtrack. Or, in some cases, some bits might be completely missing.
This is why finding a single solution to this problem can be tricky.
Your issue might just be one of those things. But it might also be a combination of all of them. That’s a tough problem to solve.
You can’t do much if the actors aren’t speaking clearly enough. Apart from contacting the culprits on social media and asking them to try a bit harder!
However, for most of the other issues, there are a few things that you can try to make things better.
And, if the dialogue is clearer, the actor’s performance might also work better for you.
Some solutions will involve tweaking a few settings on your TV sound menu. Others might require you to spend some money.
Either way, you should find a solution to your problem.
How to Adjust Your TV Sound Settings
The first thing to try is to adjust some options in your TV sound settings menu. It can be a quick and easy way to improve the sound of your TV speakers. And it’s free!
I recently went to my parent’s house for a few days, and what was one of the first things I heard when I arrived?
“Oh, by the way, watching our TV is really annoying. We can’t hear a word anyone is saying. Is there anything you can do about it?”.
That’s the problem with running a blog about home theater technology; your friends and family expect you to have all the answers to their technical issues. It’s a burden, my friends, a terrible burden.
Anyway, enough of my problems, what did I do about it? I grabbed the remote control and dived into the sound settings menu.
My parents have a Samsung LED TV from a year or two back. So you will only have the same audio options if you have the same TV.
However, most TVs have comparable audio settings, so you should have something similar on your television.
There are several different options in your TV’s audio settings, and some don’t have anything to do with changing what you hear. So, you need to figure out which ones are important for altering the sound output.
There are three broad areas to look out for:
- Sound Modes
Different TV brands may have other names for these audio options, and you will find them in various places on the menus. But these are the general things you should look for.
Before you start playing around, the main thing to consider is what you are trying to achieve.
Do you want to make the dialogue clearer? Or do you want to make the sound bigger and more exciting?
Your end goal will determine which are the best settings to change.
Also, you may only need to change just one of these settings. Or you might tweak them all. It depends on what gives you the result that you want.
1. How to Change Your TV Sound Mode
Sound modes are presets that the manufacturer provides to change what you hear quickly.
They might not always be called sound modes – but there will be a section of different presets.
The default is usually called Standard (or something similar), a balanced setting with little EQ or effects. The rest have names like Sports, Movies, Ambience, Clear Voice and Music.
The names will differ for each TV brand but will do similar things.
Now, it may be that these presets are all you need to adjust. And by selecting one, you will enable the exact change you need.
It may add equalization, compression or apply a special effect. Try each one and see what you think.
Remember. What are you trying to achieve?
In my experience, many of the modes are a waste of time. But you might find one that quickly gets you the desired sound. So, give them a whirl.
For example, sound modes like ‘Clear Voice’ (or similar) are supposed to be for those who want to clarify the dialogue.
The problem is they usually boost some mid/high frequencies and remove all the bass. So they sound terrible for anything other than a single voice.
Still, maybe that’s what you want?
On the Samsung TV I was working with, I had just three sound modes:
- Standard – the default
- Optimized – gives a more spacious sound for music and effects
- Amplify – boosts mid and high frequencies
The Amplify setting is similar to the ‘Clear Voice’ example I gave above: all mid and high frequencies and less bass. I didn’t like it, but it may work well for hard-of-hearing viewers.
In this case, I selected Optimized, which creates a virtual surround sound effect.
But if the other sound modes don’t give you what you want, leave things on the Standard setting and move on to compression and equalization.
Now, in most places around the web, you will find people telling you to turn these virtual surround settings off. And, I agree that they don’t offer a surround experience comparable to a proper surround sound speaker system in your room.
But I was looking to make the dialogue clearer.
Most virtual surround settings push the music and effects away to the far left and right of the stereo image, leaving the voices in the center, which is what I wanted.
It clears space so the voices have more room.
Now, you may not like the overall effect virtual surround gives you. If so, don’t use it and try something else.
But, if you are trying to hear the voices clearer on your TV, give it a go. It may do the trick.
On some TV models, virtual surround sound is a separate menu item. You leave the sound mode as standard and select the surround effect elsewhere.
Seek, and ye shall find.
Of course, your TV may not have a virtual surround effect. If so, try one of the other sound modes. Or leave it as standard and try some compression and EQ instead.
2. How to Compress Your TV Volume
Most TV brands will also offer some form of compression. It may be called auto volume or auto gain control – something along those lines.
The idea is that it will compress the sound so that there is less dynamic range between the loud and quiet bits.
Compression can be advantageous if you are watching TV at night. It helps avoid annoying your neighbors and other household members with the loud explosions from your action movie.
Apart from that, it’s a setting that I wouldn’t enable for general viewing.
However, if you want to make voices clearer, then a little compression might help. The dialogue will likely be more balanced with the sound effects and music.
So, switch it on and see what you think.
Some TVs may offer a couple of different levels of auto volume. It could be called Normal and Night – something like that.
The Night version will be the most extreme, so I would try the Normal version first, which will help keep some dynamics in the sound.
In my case, I added the auto volume to help control the balance between the virtual surround effects and the voices.
3. How to EQ Your TV Sound
In my case, there was also an equalization option with a graphic equalizer.
A graphic equalizer has a fixed range of frequencies that you can boost or cut to change how everything sounds.
You can make things brighter by increasing the higher frequencies. Or, get more bass by raising the lower frequencies.
On some TVs, you may get a simple two-stage bass and treble frequency control rather than a graphic equalizer.
The more options you have for controlling specific frequencies, the more control you have over the sound.
With the Samsung television, I didn’t change these settings. I decided that the changes I had already made were enough.
However, let’s take a quick look at some of the best equalizer settings for your TV if you are trying to improve the sound.
You might add extra EQ to the sound modes and compression you’ve already selected. Or, you may not have some of those options I tried earlier, so you can try some equalization instead to improve the sound.
One thing to remember with equalization is that cutting or reducing frequencies is often better than increasing them.
A cut can sound more natural. A boost can sound harsh – and cause distortion.
So, if you want something to sound brighter, you can try removing lower frequencies – rather than boosting the higher end.
Likewise, you don’t always need to boost the bass to make something sound full and warmer. You can lower some of the high-end instead.
Here’s the end of my crash course in sound engineering!
The default setting for a graphic equalizer will look something like this:
The graphic equalizer on your TV may well have a different number of bands – and other frequencies.
The default will be flat, like in the example above. Move the control up to boost that frequency – and down to cut it.
The lower frequencies, like 150 and 250 Hz, are the bass low end. The 8k and 12k high frequencies at the other end will make the sound brighter.
The advantage of an equalizer with more bands is that you have more control over the sound. It is easier to pinpoint any problem areas.
But you will have to work with what you’ve got.
If you are looking to get a general improvement in sound for your TV, then you might want to try a classic smiley face setting like this one:
This type of EQ curve attempts to work with how our hearing works. At lower volumes, we hear mid-range frequencies better.
A smile EQ setting on a graphic equalizer like this will boost the low and high frequencies so that we can hear them better. It will make things sound more balanced.
However, remember that your television’s speakers will limit how much difference you hear. There’s only so much you can do with small TV speakers!
Also, you might be in danger of overpowering the mid-frequencies, which may make voices less clear. So, don’t overdo it.
You might need a different approach if you are trying to clarify dialogue.
What are the best TV equalizer settings for dialogue?
The clarity of a voice is in the mid-frequencies – say from 2 kHz to 6 kHz. It will vary between male and female voices.
Therefore, you can boost the frequencies in your graphic equalizer around this area. Something like this:
This boost should heighten the dialogue and make it cut through better.
Another way of approaching this is to cut around the 300 – 800 Hz range.
While this region can give warmth to a voice, it can also muddy things.
By cutting in this region, you can make voices clearer and fix a muffled sound. Like this:
Or, you could try a little of both options – cut and boost.
The thing you should bear in mind is that you are not working in isolation with the voice. In a movie, you will affect music and sound effects too. So, don’t go too far.
One good trick is to make your changes and then hit the reset button to quickly remove the EQ (if there is a reset button). You will easily hear the difference in sound when you remove the equalization.
Of course, you’ll need to set it up again after!
However, have fun and enjoy being a sound engineer for the day. Before you know it, you’ll be mixing the next album for The Rolling Stones!
TV Sound Settings Summary
One thing to remember is that sound is a very personal experience. It’s hard to get two people to agree on what sounds good.
So, view this process as a trial and error situation. Try a few changes and see if everyone agrees that it sounds better.
You might find that only some of the changes I made above work well on your TV – and in your room. You might find they all do. But it’s not an exact science.
Feel free to experiment and find out what works best for you.
How to Upgrade Your TV Speakers
You may get to the point where you accept that those speakers on your TV just aren’t cutting it. There’s only so much you can do to make things sound better.
It’s certainly my view.
Replace your TV’s audio with some dedicated speakers, and you will get an immediate improvement in the sound of TV shows and movies.
However, upgrading your speakers may only solve some of the previously mentioned issues.
Depending on what you buy, there is still a chance that you will still get some of the same issues of a muddy sound – or sound effects competing with the dialogue. It’s just that it will all be a bit louder!
So, buying a better speaker system will help sort out many of the problems. But what you purchase can also determine the level of control over the sound you hear.
What are your options for switching from your TV speakers to improve the sound of your TV? Let’s find out.
1. Connect Your TV to Bluetooth Speakers
Some of the newer TV models will support connecting to a Bluetooth speaker.
In your TV sound menu, there will be an option to select the type of speakers used for the sound output. The default will be ‘TV Speaker.’
Of course, this simply means you intend to use the built-in speakers.
Select the Bluetooth output option here if your TV supports it. You will then need to go through the pairing process for your speaker.
The Majority K2 2.1 soundbar, pictured below, is an excellent value from Amazon.
- 30-inch stereo soundbar
- Wireless subwoofer
- HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, optical, stereo RCA and 3.5mm Aux inputs
- Music, movies and dialogue audio modes
- 10m Bluetooth range
It connects via Bluetooth, so you can pair it with your TV if it supports Bluetooth.
It is a 2.1 soundbar with a compact wireless subwoofer for extra bass.
Of course, you don’t have to use Bluetooth. This soundbar will also connect via HDMI ARC, digital optical, stereo RCA analog and 3.5mm mini-jack – so you can connect this to your TV with a wire if you prefer.
Something like this Bluetooth soundbar speaker is a relatively cheap and straightforward way to get better sound from your TV. And there are plenty of other Bluetooth speakers around that you could use.
On some TVs, you must pair the Bluetooth device first before it appears as an available device in the sound output menu.
The advantages of using Bluetooth speakers for your TV sound are:
- it should sound better than the TV’s speakers
- you might already own a suitable Bluetooth speaker
- no messy cables to run from the TV
However, there are also some downsides to using this method:
- There might be a delay between the sound and the picture on the screen
- The Bluetooth connection can drop out, and you need to reconnect them again
- The sound quality might not be as good as a hi-fi system, wired soundbar or AV receiver
As with all this technology, you must decide the best solution for your situation.
Can You Connect a Bluetooth Speaker if Your TV Doesn’t Support Bluetooth?
As previously explained, certain television models offer built-in compatibility for linking Bluetooth speakers.
But, even if your TV has built-in Bluetooth, it may not necessarily be able to connect to external speakers.
And many TVs don’t have Bluetooth at all.
Does that mean you can’t use external Bluetooth devices to improve the sound of your TV?
No, it doesn’t.
You can buy a Bluetooth transmitter to receive your TV’s sound and transmit the audio to connected Bluetooth speakers.
A good example is the Avantree Oasis Plus Bluetooth 5.0 transmitter:
- Transmitter: stream any audio output to Bluetooth headphones & speakers
- Receiver: connect your mobile device and send audio to the device
- Works with optical, RCA or AUX connections
- Supports aptX HD and aptX low latency audio
- Connect two headphones at once
- The pass-through feature allows for TV audio and Bluetooth headphones simultaneously
The Oasis Plus is a fully featured transmitter you can connect to your TV via optical, 3.5mm mini-jack or stereo RCA out.
Then, pair your Bluetooth speakers, soundbar or headphones to receive the audio from your TV.
This model supports a speaker and a headphone at the same time. Or two headphones. It can also act as a receiver to send audio from your Bluetooth mobile device to a speaker system.
It supports Bluetooth aptX Low Latency audio to avoid lip-syncing problems between the sound and picture. Just be aware that your Bluetooth device must support aptX LL for this to work.
If not, then you will get a slight delay between sound and picture. But the delay is small, so it might be fine for most people.
This transmitter also supports Bluetooth aptX HD audio for audiophiles out there.
There are several cheaper Bluetooth transmitters that you can buy than this one. However, they will have limited connection types and audio format support.
As always, buy the product that best suits your needs.
2. Use Headphones for TV Sound
Connecting headphones is an excellent way to improve audio performance for many TVs.
While you may only want to use headphones occasionally, they are particularly useful in certain situations. Such as:
- For watching the TV late at night so you don’t annoy your household or neighbors.
- For viewers who are hard of hearing.
- To avoid distractions in a busy room.
Connecting headphones to your TV is relatively easy these days, although it depends on your TV model.
Below are the primary methods for listening to your TV through headphones:
- Wired Audio Output: Check if your TV has an output for wired headphones. Look on the back panel of the TV or along the sides, and you may find a 3.5 mm mini headphone jack.
- Bluetooth: Check the audio output menu to see if you can connect the TV directly to Bluetooth headphones.
- Use an Audio Transmitter: Devices like the Avantree Oasis Plus Bluetooth 5.0 transmitter mentioned previously. Many audio adapters will receive the audio from your TV’s audio output and allow you to connect wired or wireless headphones.
- Use the Headphone Output of Your Amp: If you use an external sound system, see if that has a headphone connection. For example, many AV receivers have a quarter-inch headphone jack for wired headphones. More advanced models support Bluetooth transmission, allowing you to pair Bluetooth headphones.
Whichever method you use, listening to your TV sound through headphones can be an excellent way to improve your experience in certain circumstances.
One thing to look out for is if you want only some people to use headphones while others hear the main speakers in the room.
Some systems may cut the sound from the main speakers when you connect headphones, making it impossible to listen using headphones and speakers simultaneously.
3. Connect Your TV to Your Hi-Fi Speakers
If you want to get the best sound from your TV, consider connecting it to a better sound system.
There are a few ways of doing this – and I mention some others below – but one of the easiest and cheapest ways is to send the sound to your existing Hi-Fi system.
Of course, it’s not so cheap and easy if you don’t already own a hi-fi system. But, if you do, it’s a great way to improve your TV’s sound.
There are a couple of ways to approach this. But the main thing to check is whether your hi-fi amplifier can accept external audio sources.
If it does, then you can either:
- Use the audio output on your TV to send audio into your amplifier.
- Connect the audio outputs of your external TV sources – like a DVD player or cable TV box – directly into the amp.
Or, if your amplifier has more than one input, you could use a combination of the two.
If you are connecting an external device like a Blu-ray player, the connection process will look something like this:
Most decent hi-fi amps will have connections on the rear for connecting CD players and other sound sources. They will usually be analog stereo RCA connections.
Therefore, you can easily connect with one cable from the TV to the amplifier.
What if your TV has a digital output, and your amplifier only has an analog input? Then you will need to buy an optical to analog stereo audio converter box, like the one here:
These aren’t too expensive and will allow you to connect a digital audio output to an analog audio input.
Once you have all this connected, you will hear the sound from your TV over your hi-fi speakers. Much better!
Unfortunately, some compact or budget hi-fi systems don’t have any inputs for accepting audio from external devices, meaning you can’t do this.
By the way, remember to turn down the volume of your TV speakers if you do this. You only want the sound coming from one place.
Some TVs allow you to disable the speakers in the sound menu, which is better than remembering to turn the volume to zero.
You must set the TV audio output for most converters to PCM or LPCM, which will ensure that the TV sends a stereo audio signal to the converter box.
However, the abovementioned converter decodes 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS in addition to standard stereo PCM. Extra audio format support can be handy as many TVs only output Dolby Digital, meaning many converters won’t work.
If you want more detail on setting this up, check out how to convert optical digital audio to stereo analog.
4. Connect Your TV to a Soundbar System
Another option for getting better TV sound is buying a soundbar.
Soundbars are compact units with built-in amplifiers and speakers.
I touched on this earlier with the TaoTronics Bluetooth speaker. But there is an enormous range of soundbars at different price points.
All you need to do is connect the audio output from your TV to the soundbar – and you will get a much better-balanced sound in your room. Louder too!
Many soundbars will receive the audio from your TV via an optical or HDMI ARC connection. But before buying a soundbar, check that your TV has the correct audio output options.
Higher-end soundbars often have multiple audio inputs, allowing you to connect a game console or Blu-ray player directly to the soundbar.
Another soundbar feature to consider for home theater is a dedicated center speaker.
Many soundbars are stereo only. Stereo is fine and will produce a sound much like the stereo speakers on your TV – except with better quality.
However, if you want to improve dialogue, a soundbar with a center speaker should give more separation to the sound.
- Excellent Sonos speaker technology
- 3.0.2 speakers with Dolby Atmos support
- HDMI eARC input
- You can create 5.1 surround system by adding an optional sub and rear speakers
- Limited input connections
For example, the popular Sonos Beam pictured above has a center channel speaker built into the unit.
Check out how to connect a Sonos speaker to your television for more details on this.
To get the full benefit of the center channel, you need to send a Dolby Digital multichannel soundtrack to the soundbar from your source. You should enable this in the audio output menu of the source device.
Some soundbars may have virtual surround sound, creating a multichannel experience from a stereo soundtrack.
Virtual surround helps the dialogue remain centered while the music and effects play from the left and right speakers, aiding clarity.
It’s even better if the soundbar supports Dolby Surround, which is excellent for converting stereo to multichannel.
Finally, check if your soundbar has a special sound mode for improving speech. Sonos home theater speakers like the Arc and Beam have a Speech Enhancement setting.
Enabling this from the iOS or Android app will boost the frequencies of typical dialogue, making the speech clearer.
4. Connect Your TV to a Surround Sound System
Last but not least, there is a full surround sound system.
If you want the best sound experience in your room, you can install a surround sound system that will knock your socks off.
You can buy an all-in-one home theater system with the amplifier and speakers in one complete package.
Or, if you are feeling brave, you can buy an AV receiver (the amplifier) and a separate package of surround sound speakers. There’s no right or wrong way to go here.
Buying separate components will generally give you the best sound quality. And allow you to upgrade individual parts of your system in the future.
An all-in-one system will often be cheaper and easier to install. But you may need to replace the whole system if you want something better in the future.
There are cheaper budget options and high-end audiophile systems for all these options. The choice is yours.
Whichever way you go, the main advantage of a speaker system with dedicated surround sound speakers is you get more control over the sound.
5.1 soundtracks will play as intended – without the need to downmix them to stereo. And stereo soundtracks can be upmixed to surround sound too.
These can sound excellent and will give you a much better audio experience.
You also have a dedicated center speaker, which gives you complete control over the dialogue level. Because it has so much separation from the other speakers, you will find it much easier to hear the dialogue in any show.
However, if not, you can raise the volume of the center channel so that it is a bit louder than the left and right speakers.
You have another option if you’re not sure you want a full surround sound system with all those speakers around your room.
You can buy an AV receiver and connect it to your front left, center and front right speakers, known as a 3.0 speaker system.
You get the advantages of a dedicated center speaker but less hardware to install in your room.
Of course, you can also add a subwoofer to this and run a 3.1 system.
You are not alone if you have problems hearing the dialogue on your TV. It’s a widespread issue for many people.
There are several reasons why this is the case, but one of the main issues is that it’s tough to get good sound from TV speakers.
The speakers on a modern flat-screen television will always struggle to get the sound the picture deserves.
The flat design means no room for speakers of a decent size and quality. Unfortunately, it’s a simple fact that larger speakers will sound better (of course, some large speakers sound better than others, too!).
You need to be able to drive some air to get a well-balanced sound – and tiny TV speakers aren’t up to the job.
However, it’s not all bad news. If you want to improve your TV’s sound, you have several ways to do it.
And, if tweaking the sound options in your TV menu doesn’t get what you want, you have several great ways to upgrade to a better audio experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you are still looking for answers on how to improve your TV’s sound, these FAQs cover some more common issues.
How to Turn Down the Background Music on Your TV?
There isn’t any way of turning down just the background music on a TV show. If the music is too loud for the dialogue, go into your TV audio settings and select a sound mode that highlights the voices. Other options are using the auto gain setting to compress the audio output or the equalizer to boost the voice frequencies.
What Is the Best Solution for Improving the Sound Quality on Your TV?
The best way to improve your TV’s sound is to connect it to some external speakers, as these will always sound better than the built-in speakers in your television. You can use a soundbar, a stereo hi-fi amplifier, or an AV receiver if you want surround sound.
Why Is the Background Music Louder Than the Talking on Your TV?
It is common for background music to appear louder than the dialogue on a TV show or movie. One reason is that the small TV speakers can’t reproduce the audio very well. Many modern TV shows have audio soundtracks designed for soundbars or larger speaker systems, and it is challenging to produce a soundtrack that works on large and small speakers. The solution is to use your TV audio menu settings to boost the dialogue’s main frequencies or connect your TV to a better speaker system.
Will a Soundbar Improve the TV Dialogue?
In most cases, a soundbar will improve the clarity of dialogue on a TV because it will reproduce the sound better than your TV speakers. However, the talking can be hard to hear for many reasons, so some shows may be better than others. If you buy a soundbar to improve the clarity of speaking, look for a model with a central speaker, as this can help make the talking clearer.
How to Improve the TV Sound for the Hard of Hearing?
You can improve the sound from your TV if you are hearing impaired in several ways. Using the TV’s audio settings to compress or equalize the sound output can help. Or wiring the TV’s audio output to a soundbar or speaker system can improve things. Finally, you could connect the TV audio to wired or wireless headphones, which can significantly help if somebody cannot hear very well.
About The Author
Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has been a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment. You can find out more here.