Dialogue intelligibility vs. music in today’s movies

Discussion in 'Mixing, Post-Production, and Effects' started by WindcryMusic, Apr 21, 2019.

  1. BenG

    BenG Senior Member

    Good point, John! I guess this is the nature of editing in the 'digital world' where the ability to quickly move around cuts, audio, etc. has never been easier.
     
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  2. Guy Rowland

    Guy Rowland Senior Member

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    It's a problem. AFAIK to this day by far the highest volume of complaints the BBC gets about any issue - technical or editorial - is with regard music levels in particular against dialogue. Others have spoken here about the effect of directors getting used to perfect loud mixing theaters, and how little that relates to even domestic cinemas let alone watching on Netflix on Whatever. And yes - as I've gotten older I definitely notice the difference that each year's relentless if slow hearing degradation brings. And there's a lot of older people out there.

    IMO the issue on Interstellar was indefensibly indulgent. I actually laughed out loud at a sound mix, and I've never done that before or since, it was ridiculous. I have seen specific scenes deliberately mixed with dialogue low in other movies that worked - The Social Network and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me both spring to mind, just for specific scenes. Both of those were clear directorial choices where the obscuring of dialogue was intended. I didn't feel that justification in Interstellar, I think they collectively lost the plot. Literally.

    Important to note. I routinely see films in the cinema with exemplary sound mixes - plenty of impact, dynamic range, subtlety, artistry and yet I hear every word perfectly clearly. Healthy dialogue isn't the death of art. Its a skill, and I appreciate it when I hear it. One other note - actors take their share of the blame, along with the directors who let them get away with it. Even in a talky film like Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird I really struggled with one character in particular, just because of diction. Putting on the subtitles is one helluva buzzkill for a movie watching experience.

    In short - blame the directors first, sound mixers second.
     
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  3. YaniDee

    YaniDee Active Member

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    You haven't missed anything..
     
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  4. Nick Batzdorf

    Nick Batzdorf Moderator

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    Hans wrote about this, especially the one scene with loud organ drowning out the dialog. His position was that the music had to be that loud.

    I personally didn't agree, but my opinion was only based on having seen it once in a theater, while he saw it over and over.

    It was definitely a conscious choice.
     
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  5. JEPA

    JEPA Senior Member

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    excuse me, but i think if you put a speaker for your unused "phantom center" channel it could improve the dialog understanding. So far I understand in a surround mix the center channel would carry almost all dialogs...
     
  6. storyteller

    storyteller Senior Member

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    The score was incredible. The movie was great. The dialogue was well written and performed extremely well. But I 100% agree that it is a difficult movie to hear intelligibly. In fact, it is the reason why I've only re-watched it a couple of times. I hate playing the volume game during a movie.

    That said, I've noticed this trend with a number of movies. I've been wandering if it is a product of "derivative mixing." E.g. When a person mixes to a reference track, then their track becomes the new gold standard, the next engineer must mix to that track... and so on. Eventually the chain of mixes reflects an evolution of mixing clarity. For example, Dave Pensado has recently said he is putting in a lot more 500hz these days than he used to. Pop/Rock mixes I know. That isn't film. But the same principle applies. Even he didn't know why. But that is what our ears have collectively shifted toward.

    To me these days, top ends are brighter, lows are boomier, but mids are MUDDIER than before. It probably has something to do with wounds remaining from the loudness wars, but either way I think films have suffered greatly over the last 3 to 4 years.

    Another theory I've had is the muddiness is due to the increased reliance of lavaliers on actors vs the use of boom mics. It sounds like a lot of directors are opting for the use of the lav mic underneath clothing rather than going back with ADR. Dunno though. Just a theory. :thumbsdown:
     
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  7. OP
    OP
    WindcryMusic

    WindcryMusic Always learning

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    Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but "phantom center" doesn't mean the channel information is "unused". The information from that channel is instead distributed to both of the other front speakers (L/R).

    Anyway, I have three observations about that. One is that, as I said in earlier posts, I don't have the same problem with hearing the dialog in movies from before the last decade or so, using the same surround setup. Two is that, as I also alluded to earlier, there is no place in my home theater setup for a center speaker to live; based upon the size of the center units that I evaluated at the time of purchase, it would have had to either block the bottom several inches of my television screen or else would have had to sit directly in front of the opening in my fireplace, and neither of those was a palatable option to me. Three is that, in investigating surround systems, I have found that a lot of people actually prefer the sound of a "phantom center" system over a dedicated center channel speaker in a home system.

    Or ... maybe you are just pulling my leg, since I'd said this was the response I had expected to get the most of. If so ... good one. :grin:

    Judging from this thread as a whole, along with that Nolan article that was linked, I've been surprised to see how many people have had complaints with the dialogue/music balance in "Interstellar" specifically, even in theaters.
     
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  8. JohnG

    JohnG Senior Member

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    IDK if it would fit but, in reading your reply, wondered if you could use one of those thin "band" speakers for a centre. Maybe they sound awful or are impractical for you, but it's a thought.
     
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  9. NoamL

    NoamL Winter <3

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    I agree it's probably because of mixing in pristine environments while most theaters are not really even good, much less great, setups. Then again from a certain perspective, why not? people like Nolan and Zimmer consider themselves to be artists and believe people will be returning to enjoy their work years or decades from now. Why not make their best possible work, the way they want, instead of conforming their work to what's logistically & technologically possible today. I really couldn't enjoy Dunkirk but that was AMC's fault not Christopher Nolan's.

    Mix of music vs dialogue is another issue entirely... musical starts, stops and levels should never, EVER steal attention from the other elements in the film without a solid artistic reason.
     
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  10. OP
    OP
    WindcryMusic

    WindcryMusic Always learning

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    If you are talking about soundbars, there isn't enough room for one of those on the ledge where my television sits unless it is no more than 3" deep and 2" high, and I don't think I've ever seen one that is that small.

    Also, yes, I do think they sound awful. :shocked:
     
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  11. Nick Batzdorf

    Nick Batzdorf Moderator

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    Actually, I'm very happy with our Vizio soundbar (3.0, i.e. two speakers + a center one). It's great.

    And no, it's not an audiophile system, but then either is my car radio. I have my studio for serious listening.
     
  12. OP
    OP
    WindcryMusic

    WindcryMusic Always learning

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    Cool, I’m glad you’re happy with it. I’ve heard a Visio soundbar and I’m afraid didn’t care for it myself.

    But maybe this is the difference - I also use my home theater as a “2nd check” listening environment for my mixes, especially since my studio’s Equator D8 nearfields don’t tell me much below around 80Hz, and my studio space is far from ideal. Well, maybe it is a “3rd check” after headphones, but still, I want it to give me an idea of what I’m getting out of my mixes over a reasonably good home stereo system.
     
  13. Nick Batzdorf

    Nick Batzdorf Moderator

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    That's not what I use it for. I have big and little speakers in my studio for that.

    As I said, it's like listening on a car radio - I listen past the quality of the speakers.
     
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  14. JohnG

    JohnG Senior Member

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    Not only that, but the tolerance limits for "Dolby Certified" or "DTS" are so elastic that they can certify their heads off and you still may not hear what you're supposed to in the surrounds.
     
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  15. gsilbers

    gsilbers Part of Pulsesetter-Sounds.com

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    So if you listen to the mix in your home via streaming or DVD/blue ray its called Near field mix and it involves grabbing the stems form the theatrical and doing a remix with the speakers much closer and smaller than in a big theatre. and the spl is about 65 spl vs 80 in theatres. This mix is sometimes not performed by the same re reocrding mixer. and producers and directors might not be involved. its a studio distribution thing. Normally they follow whats on the theatrical experience and its something that has been going on since the 5.1 releases in dvd.
    This doesnt mean thats the reason why the levels are off in the diaogue side. just to inform about that side of the biz that not many know.
    In the theatre if you listen to dialogue at low levels you would still hear it pretty well. those speakers push a ton of air. but i do remember the same issue with inception. i couldnt understand the asian character with the accent and niether a lot of leonardo decaprios words.
    i do remember some tv shows that use a similar technique and i think its a creative thing for a specific reason. to make it sound cool. odd? yes... but if you have very clear dialogue like we have always been listening in movies, i think a lot of lines... like those in interstellar and inception might sound too cheesy. keep i mind that ive heard those two movies in different languages and when i hear the translation on a very nice dubbed dialogue it totally sounds cheesy AF... dream inside a dream!? c'mon! father inside the duaghter books?! c'mon! so i think its a way of selling the storyline with sounds. for tv shows, i think sons of anarchy was one show which it was hard to listen to what they said since it had a very think, compressed mid range sound. since i worked on all those shows and movies and plenty more, its something i found interesting and could compare the dialogue solo track vs music and effects. but it could also be that the loudness standards have made it so that mixers have to find other clever ways to deal with pushing levels so it grabs peoples attention and not have huge dynamic ranges. i think blade runner was one of them where the music was just insanely loud... but it helped the storyline not be so long. suddenly those huge synth swells grabbed peoples attention so much that you kind of forgot the slow pace of a nicley weaved production. but i dont work on those on a sound stage directly in post so its just a random opinion. from al we know it might be hans... the only composer ever to actually get a composer wishes and tell them to turn up the music and they do it :)
     
  16. rrichard63

    rrichard63 Perpetual Novice

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  17. bill5

    bill5 Active Member

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    Yes, I think this is a huge problem that these fools making the movies for some reason are clueless about. Even sometimes when there isn't significant background music. At first I thought it was me but I've heard similar from others, sometimes while watching the movie...we look at each other and go "what the #### did he say?" and have to rewind. Very annoying.
     
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  18. rrichard63

    rrichard63 Perpetual Novice

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    This situation has several dimensions and I think they interact with each other in ways that we may not be aware of while watching a movie and listening to its sound track. These include
    • Changes over time in how actors are trained and directed.
    • Changes over time in how dialog is recorded and/or overdubbed.
    • Changes over time in how soundtracks are mixed and mastered.
    • Changes over time in soundtrack formats -- from mono to stereo to surround to ambisonic to whatever comes next.
    • Changes over time in the extent to which, and manner in which, soundtracks are remastered for alternative distribution channels -- DVD, streaming, etc.
    I think it's understandable that some surround soundtracks (mostly older ones) are reasonably intelligible on a playback system lacking a center channel speaker, while other (mostly recent) soundtracks are not. I completely understand the OP's situation, where there's nowhere to put a center channel speaker. (My living room has even worse problems -- we turn on subtitles for everything.) But it wouldn't surprise me to learn that a center speaker, if it were possible, would make a meaningful difference even though some other films sound great without one.

    And it wouldn't surprise me to find that I can't disentangle the effects of all of the factors shaping the intelligibility of a given soundtrack in a given playback environment. But this discussion, and others like it, help a lot. Thanks, everyone!
     
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  19. kitekrazy

    kitekrazy Senior Member

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  20. kitekrazy

    kitekrazy Senior Member

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    I'm still using analog. I have an old JVC receiver (RCA in/outs), an old Radio Shack sub package, (satellites were made by Infinity ad still sound great), Infinity center channel. Seems no reason to move up to the digital world with HDMI. PC games are great on this.
    With younger generations the audiophile is dead. They listen on portable devices. At one time electronic stores like Best Buy and the defunct Circuit City had rooms dedicated to speakers. The choice of stereo receivers is much smaller.
     
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