Today's home theatre setups allow us to get that cinematic sound quality right in our living rooms. However, while many home theatre setups boast cinema-like speakers, amps and subs, very few have the same level of soundproofing in the room. For those who have live in apartments or condos, an immersive audio video experience is the perfect recipe for angry neighbors.
For most home theatre owners, the issue lies in a common problem: the dialog is so quiet, that they have to crank the volume in order to understand what's being said. But then, when the explosions and music and car crashes come in, they are disproportionately loud. If this sounds like your home movie viewing experience, then there are a few ways to remedy the situation, other than turning on the subtitles or donning the headphones.
It's all about the center channel. In surround sound speaker systems, most of the main dialog comes from the center channel, while the ambient noises, sound effects and soundtracks come through the left, right and back speakers. So, the key is to make that center channel more audible while perhaps toning down the other speakers.
The best way to do this is to change the center channel volume individually. Depending on your mixer or AV receiver, you may be able to do this via the hardware. Check your manual or explore the settings until you find an option to change the channel volumes individually. If possible, increase the center channel and decrease the left and right channels.
If you're lucky, your receiver will have a “Late Night Mode” which will do this for you. It'll make the left and right channels quieter, and perhaps cut the lows a bit so the sound is less “booming.”
Another simple fix is to change the position of the center speaker. If it's behind your TV, far away from the seating area or angled up or down, try moving it closer and aiming it at the ears of the listeners. This can make a much bigger difference than you'd imagine—for example, if your center channel speaker is 10 feet away from the sofa, and you move it 5 feet closer, then you'll have to have the volume pumped up half as loud in order to make it equally as audible as it was in its original position.
Beyond altering the distance and volume of the center channel, it may help to change the setup of the room itself. Hard surfaces, such as hardwood floors, cause reverberations. This not only makes the sound carry more dramatically to the next room, it also obfuscates some of the elocution from the audio track, making it harder to understand what characters are saying. Laying down carpet or putting an area rug on the floor between you and your center speak can give you crisper sound.
Lastly, you might want to invest in an SPL meter. Use this SPL meter to calibrate your speaker system at the various tones, so each channel is matched at 75 db or 80 db. When using the SPL meter to calibrate, sit where you typically do when watching movies or TV.