Every so often I will come across a movie that just has horrid audio.  The most recent was Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.  The soundtrack was kind of bright and actually encoded onto the disc as a very low level.  I think this is the second Disney movie that had this problem.  It is probably a bad mixing studio or engineer.
Just the other day a friend reminded me how I laughed at him for using earplugs at the cinema when we went to see Gladiator back in 2000.

Of course I later realised that he was right. Six years after that article I see, or should I say hear, no improvements.

Cinema should really come into own with large, visually dynamic stories (superheroes anyone?) but it seems as if some of that bombast gets carried over into the sound department.

The average viewer, possibly still in their teens, being focused mainly on the visuals probably won't mind too much, but for an audiophile, it can be a sonic disaster.

I usually prefer to sit near the middle but I doubt whether it gets any better tight at the back.

With no volume control at your fingertips, maybe it's time for headsets to be available for those  who feel the need. At the least you could then adjust the volume accordingly instead of putting up with the current 'one size fits all' arrangement.

As for poor mixing, there does appear to be a simple solution. Let the sound recordists follow in the footsteps of pioneers like Welles who learned their trade working in radio. If it works on radio, it should also work on the big screen.

However that's all conjecture, a bit like asking why the recording industry doesn't want to provide the consumers with high standard sonics when it's clear that the wishes of audiophiles are probably the very least of their priorities.

Their priorities lie elsewhere, making money.

Audiophiles are probably regarded as mere figures of fun to be ignored.

Fair enough, it's a business, and making movies can be a ruinously expensive one too, and who wants to lose money?
Art be damned.

If the whole world wants to watch over the top bombastically produced superhero films which keep successively breaking box office records, then who are we to complain?

Surely there's enough in the archives to keep anyone happy?
As a senior with high frequency loss and tinnitus, many movie dialogues are unintelligible.  Sennheiser RS series wireless headphones are golden.  Direct injection clears things right up.  
Isn't "Tenet" supposed to be plumbing new depths in the hard-to-hear sweepstakes?

/mixed metaphor alert/
I can't remember it's been over 9months since coronavirus, and movies were closed in NYC.
The first movie I remember really having a problem with dialogue was LoTR and a small section of Frodo’s dialogue and the Elf Queen. Had to really dial in the EQ on the center channel before it popped out.

Later I learned final mixing was done by a studio that bragged about all B&W speakers. Since I don’t use B&W speakers I had to wonder just how specific the mixing was. Will be interesting to learn more about the final mix of Tenet.

OT:  The sound effects for fire in LoTR were garbage.

@twoleftears,

Yes, Nolan seems to be the current master of undecipherable dialogue.

Going by this article it seems to be a deliberate policy on his part.

Only box office receipts count, I guess.

------

Hard to pardon: why Tenet’s muffled dialogue is a very modern problem

"In Nolan’s case, Price and Bochar are confident that the director does it intentionally. In a 2019 Reddit AMA, sound designer Richard King – who has worked with Nolan on seven films, including Tenet – said:

“He wants to grab the audience by the lapels and pull them toward the screen, and not allow the watching of his films to be a passive experience.”

It’s hard to imagine that Nolan is unaware of the criticism. Price suspects the director wants to make the audience work harder to understand the dialogue; he thinks Nolan believes this will make the film a more immersive, engaging experience.

But, Price says, “I think he is the only one in the world who believes that.”

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/film/2020/sep/03/tenet-dialogue-christopher-nolan-s...
Saw Does/Ferrari in the theatre. Understood every word and I can't watch HBO without rewind and/or headphones, for "what dey say?"
Of course, it got the Oscars for sound.
When I went to see "Mother", I had the same experience.  If it were not for the fact that the movie was so beyond brilliant, I would have left over the sound quality in the theater.  It was ear shattering noise.  Maybe that was the point during some of the later scenes of war, but it was hard to handle.  I was so enticed by the visuals and the theme that I let the noise take a back seat.  
Right.  Closed caption on Hulu, Netflix etc solved all my problems.  And my popcorn is better, and less expensive.  I will never enter a theatre again.  

Movie audio is a dealbreaker. Unintelligible dialogue with juvenile sound effects. Since forever. At home with headphones is the way to watch a movie, if ever again a watchable movie should be made. A movie with no Tarantino gore, no superheroes, no zombies, no intergalactic warfare. Nor, on the other side, the standard puerile navel-gazing, however artsy or Swedish or French or Italian.
Dialogues in movies soundtracks on discs have issues. It’s a well known fact. Most people setting up their home theater systems raise the center channel by 4 to 6 dB. Even regular channels like CNN etc have to be raised accordingly. Added to the problem is the design of a lot of center channel speakers. The two midrange drivers with the tweeter in the middle is not a good design in terms of dialogue clarity. If you are into movies, you need to up the budget for the center channel speaker. I used three identical speakers for left, right and center to good effect in addition to raising the level of the center by 4 dB. 
I rarely go to see a movie.  But last year I had a few hours to kill so I went to one.  I remember thinking to myself, At least one sound system in Kona is worst then mine.  Part of the napkin for my popcorn went into my ears.  Which just lowered the level of the ugly.  

I think all cinemas should install Kenjit speakers. Sound will then be perfect ....
My wife and son are WAY into the Marvel superhero movies.  So, I got roped into going to one of the latest ones, thank god I put yellow squishy
ear plugs in my pocket.  Didn't even last one minute into the coming attractions!  OMG the sheer volume shot lightning through head. Thought maybe they would be more conservative with the main attraction, but it actually got worse.  Those 3M yellow ear plugs have a 29db noise reduction rating by OSHA.  Never again.
Added to the problem is the design of a lot of center channel speakers. The two midrange drivers with the tweeter in the middle is not a good design in terms of dialogue clarity.

@spenav

What? It’s a fine design on-axis. Off-axis depends a little on the crossover slopes. Look up D’Appolito alignment.

Besides the off-axis response, the other issue is their physical location tends to be in a cabinet or on top of a shelf, requiring some EQ compared to their free standing counter-parts.


Everyone knows that modern processors have both automatic room correction and volume compression built-in, right??

Best,

E

@erik_squires

Hi E
My experiences with this design have been negative. Dr Toole seems to agree. I am glad it has worked for you. I will try to attach a quote from him below from his excellent book, Sound Reproduction. If you have the book, he talks about it extensively in chapter 18. I have two AR4c in my closet eating dust if you are interested in buying. I usually feel bad selling things that don’t work well for me Stay safe. Thanks. 
“The simple one, often called the “midrange-tweeter-midrange” or MTM, arrangement is usually found in entry-level products but also, occasionally, in some expensive products. In its basic configuration of both woofers operating in parallel, crossing over to a tweeter—a two-way design—it is not optimum because of off-axis acoustical interference.”

— Sound Reproduction: The Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms (Audio Engineering Society Presents) by Floyd Toole
https://a.co/90gpvoL
My experiences with this design have been negative

Can you be more specific??

So, let’s talk Toole. Always happy to point out we are not actually disagreeing. I quote your quote:

The simple one, often called the “midrange-tweeter-midrange” or MTM, arrangement is usually found in entry-level products but also, occasionally, in some expensive products. In its basic configuration of both woofers operating in parallel, crossing over to a tweeter—a two-way design—it is not optimum because of off-axis acoustical interference.

Toole is not calling these poor performers for dialogue quality, by the way, he’s specifically calling out the issues inherent in off axis response of the design.

The key points in this discussion are the phrases:
  • "not a good design in terms of dialogue clarity " (@spenav)
  • "not optimum" (Toole)
  • fine (me)

To be clear, the MTM is very similar to a D’Appolito on it’s side. The difference is that where the D’Appolito has issues above/below the center has to the side. Also, as D’Appolito has discovered, they work better with higher order crossovers. I think he recommends a 4th order Linkwitz Riley alignment (electro-acosutical). So, how the MTM is designed matters.

I agree with Toole that it’s not optimum, but I also think it’s a fine solution within the constraints of a normal home listening room. These are naturally space limited designs that don’t need very much horizontal dispersion.

I’ve made one, and it sounds fine on and off axis. The main issue, as I’ve noted, was NOT the driver to driver interference, but the placement location. It sounded boomy without EQ. Fix that and it is very serviceable.

So let’s talk about what would be optimum. Well, a normal tower would work better horizontally, as would a 3-way center with a vertical TM array in the center, BUT (and there’s always a but) ...

This arrangement only modestly improves things, and you have to make significant sacrifices in the strength and size of the motors for the tweeter/mid arrangement. In other words, either use 1 great tweeter or much smaller, possibly lower quality, T and M.  This design pushing down the Woofer/mid crossover point. OK, so instead of maybe 2 kHz you push this down to 500 to 800 Hz (no lower due to the still very small mid) and the crossover slopes still matter.

In theory a 3-way center could be better, but not necessarily and the crossover slopes used and the EQ after placement matter a lot more, as does the quality of the components. Design choices and room correction matter a great deal.

I haven’t purchased a commercial center channel, but I can say from my own experience building and listening to one that it is a fine, and sometimes superb solution. Definitely better than no center, and sometimes better than a 3-way. I certainly would NOT say that a 2-way is going to suffer in terms of dialogue quality, either on or off axis just because it is a 2 way.

Fortunately dear A’goners, there’s a very simple solution to this while auditioning. Listen. Listen to the dialog and move horizontally around the room. Don’t get stuck in theory when your own ears will reveal if there are any problems.

Best,

E


@erik_squires 

Hi E
I have used several iterations of that design in my system with little success. The last time I tried using two speakers in a kind of horizontal array with two AR4c.  It was better but still not totally free of distortion. From time to time I was still left wondering what was the actor saying. And my speaker was not in a cabinet by the way. In that quote I referred to, Toole was talking specifically of center channels. I am glad that yours sounds fine.  I thought about designing my own too but got discouraged at the end. Then I realized the solution was in front of my eyes all along. My front speakers are Audience 1+1, they have zero crossover distortion due to the fact that they have no crossover to start with and they are clear as a bell.  They use a single full range driver that can go down to about 100 hertz in my system where they crossover to my four ML subs. So I got one more and now the center channel intelligibility is a solved problem in my system. Here are some more quotes from Toole about a design solution for the MTM design. 
“These designs also show up in vertical arrangements, in which case the acoustical interference is heard after reflection from the floor and ceiling. An intermediate configuration, sometimes called the 2 ½-way, rolls off one of the woofers at a low frequency, allowing the second unit to function as a midrange. The result is a slight improvement in overall performance, but the horizontal-plane interference pattern is then asymmetrical and still not what is needed. The real solution is to add a midrange loudspeaker allowing both woofers to be crossed over at a frequency sufficiently low that the acoustical interference is avoided. The explanation is in the caption.”

I cannot copy the caption but it shows the design with the midrange driver in the middle with the tweeter on top of it. I will find a way to include a picture later.  Hope that helps. 
@erik_squires 
look up Paradigm CC-290. That’s what he is talking about. 
I understand where Toole is going with this, and in absolute arguments, comparing them to ideal, he’s right, they are not optimum. In practice I’ve been quite successful. Maybe I accidentally created the best center channel ever??? << laughs >> Sorry, you all know I don’t believe that. Let me share the design I used. It sounds great. It blends seamlessly with my sides, which are simple 2-ways. With a little EQ, and decent room treatment the sound is seamless and there is no extra distortion caused by using an MTM array and it is perfectly fine to the sides as well.

https://speakermakersjourney.blogspot.com/2016/03/introducing-lm-1c.html
As I’ve alluded to, but not really said, for a counter point to Toole’s arguments, please see Joseph D’Appolito on his eponymous speaker configuration.

P.S. The LM-1C uses 2nd and 3rd order filters.
Just to be clear, @spenav : You and Toole seem to be discussing two different things.

You keep saying distortion and dialogue clarity. If we’re talking about on-axis, then nothing Tool is describing really should create a lack of dialogue clarity. The only thing I can think of is if you have a bare floor, which is causing cancellation due to the wide dispersion. However I hear NO dialogue distortion at all. Certainly not like you are describing.

Toole is focused on off-axis frequency cancellation, but the floor bounce of the Paradigm CC 208 should be quite similar. On axis, I don’t see how the 3-way inherently resolves distortion, nor can I see how the 2-way would cause it.

I wonder if the problem isn’t just that commercial 2-way center channel speakers are bad? :-) Truth is, I haven’t heard a consumer, off the shelf center channel in 15 years at least. If given the chance to listen to systems it was always for music. About 5 years ago I built my own center and never thought about listening to them in a store.


Best,
E
Sorry for the confusion about my use of the word distortion. I am talking about it in generic terms. You and Toole are using it in a more polished way than I am. I talked about it as whatever changes the original signal. I know you are kidding about creating the perfect center but you just might have. If the dialogue is clear and intelligible then you have accomplished the goal. Problem solved. I went a different way but am very happy with the results. I have always have an aversion to passive crossover. I am ok with active. I am familiar with the D’Appolito design and while it has solved a lot of the problems with TM and MT configurations, it introduces its own difficulties in regards to crossover and drivers distances and sizes. Guess nothing is easy and implementation does count for something 😊.  Glad you pulled it off. Stay safe. 
@erik_squires , I've had the best luck on center channels with concentric drivers (least disruptive!). I have the Elac Adante series by A.Jones for my hometheater and that center channel is awesome (though it is humongous and takes over your space)

However, i am wondering why a lotta guys here are complaining about dialogue issues in soundtracks. Turn up the center channel level ! Some receivers like the Yamaha Aventage series have an abundance of features like dialog level boost, height setting, etc. Dialogue intelligibility should not be an issue with a modern relatively higher end receiver with proper setup imo. Some of the comments i've read on other threads reek of huge knowledge gaps in hometheater speakers/receiver setup

On the bright side, if one likes music with a fusion of orchestral and electronic elements, movies and games have some amazing soundtracks out there. (Movies: Tenet by Ludwig Gorannson, Inception by Hans Zimmer, etc   Games: Mass Effect Andromeda!! by John Paesano, Deus Ex Mankind Divided by Michael McCann , Witcher 2 soundtrack, etc). I sure as hell am not a gamer. But, thank God, my son introduced me to this amazing genre of music.
Yes, turning up the center is a good fix, as is using dynamic range compression available in all modern processors.

Still, the honest truth is that dialogue is worse than it was before. Even in carefully calibrated THX theaters LotR had issues, and it’s gotten worse.

As some one who started in the pro motion picture sound industry this trend is a huge disappointment. It used to be that theaters were THE high end audio experience for most. Speaking of Toole, he’s done a lot of work in them, so a lot of his writing is from that perspective, and maybe why I agree with him on just about everything. :)

We went from motion pictures being the high end, to mediocre boxes, back to the high end with THX and now the directors themselves seem to be trying hard to make it worse.

One kind of underlying theme about motion picture sound is the question of what it is there fore. Dolby Surround (ProLogic for the home) made a clear declaration:  Motion picture sound is here to excite you, and we don't much care what the mixers want.

If you wanted fine sound control you had to use magnetic sound tracks until digital tracks came along. That opened up a whole new set of choices for movie editors.  Now sounds could not just surprise you, but immerse you as well, and in many cases I've really enjoyed this kind of recording.  The Expanse comes to mind here as a great example.

Well, I guess the pendulum is swinging back against delicacy and nuance, and those of us who care about dialogue are going to be left longing for the good old days of mono.
Hey @spenav

As you point out, so long as you are happy, that is what matters.  I just haven't had the bad experiences you have. Yet.

Best,

Erik
@erik_squires , i could be wrong about this. But, i sense that when a native mixed DTS X or Dolby Atmos movie track is downmixed by a receiver to 7.1 or 5.1 because a user had fewer speakers, dialogue can lose intelligibility. Same goes for a native mixed 7.1 track downmixed to 5.1 by a receiver because the user had fewer speakers and so on.... This is quite possibly a limitation/inaccuracies in downmixing algorithms. Some manufacturers do better than others. I sense that Yamaha currently seems to have a slight edge on this from comparisons i have made with different receivers. Pioneers & Denons seem to do worse!

Why don’t you give this Uni-fi 2.0 center channel with the concentric driver a shot? Elac just released this model (a week ago) with the "trickled down" mid/tweeter from the more expensive Adante series.
https://www.elac.com/series/uni-fi-2-0/uni-fi-2-0-center-channel-speaker/?r=us
When i spoke to Andrew a couple of years ago, he mentioned he had spent a lot of time on the center channels. I paid 1500 for the Adante center channel and 200 for a dedicated stand back then. This is a really good price ($399) on the Uni-fi 2.0 for the same performance pretty much. You may want to factor in the cost of a dedicated stand as well.

@deep_333Erik built his own center and solved the problem. He talked about his design in one of the posts above. Enjoy. 
@spenav, i was responding to the diy kit he linked which was priced at 225. For a 150ish bucks more, one can get a finished speaker with all the kinks ironed out by Andrew. Enjoy!
I can only speak for myself.....which is good, because it's wierd when I talk in tongues, but....

The best improvement in my hearing recently, esp. with regard to dialogue in movies, video...and even with my system....

Phonak Audeo M-R (M90)

Beside tinnitus, my mid-frequency loss was quite substantial.
Funny thing, the lows and highs were relatively good to better; just the opposite of most.

Funnier yet, the settings of my eqs' didn't need substantial tweaks.  The benefits of DAC, and setting up 'flat'.  Everything just became more 'clear'.

I'd been considering bluetoothed headphones...now, built-in. *S*
Even on-board eq, but it's parametric....can be run flat though.

Links to my cell as well....

Spouse sez it's the best 6K$ I've spent on audio ever. *L*
Won't argue about that...;)

Go get your ears scanned....you can get surprised, too.
I do take them out if I'm paying attention to room acoustics, though....some additional 'hardware' between the space and my 'space' doesn't 'read' quite the same.  But the + overall is worth it....;)  
@asvjerry 

Good to know but I don’t think I am there yet. 

@deep_333@deep_333

N doubt AJ’s credential is unblemished. Sounds like a sweet deal. 
My hearing issue is really more with getting the listening area dead quiet!  Like never!   Don’t know about any of you, but I’ve got full on LAX-level noise from other humans in the house.  My system can easily crank up to destroy all competing sound sources in a 300 yard radius, but that’s not quality listening, and it’s certainly not going to be tolerated no way no how by you know who. So, I’m just waiting for the day I can actually listen to music/movies again at the proper levels...that means listening alone 99% of the time. That’s just not going to happen for awhile. And forget the movie theater, everyone here has made the case well enough that it’s mostly A  bad experience, even if you get lucky once in a while and the sound is dialed in right. 
My hearing issue is really more with getting the listening area dead quiet!  Like never!   Don’t know about any of you, but I’ve got full on LAX-level noise from other humans in the house.  My system can easily crank up to destroy all competing sound sources in a 300 yard radius, but that’s not quality listening, and it’s certainly not going to be tolerated no way no how by you know who. So, I’m just waiting for the day I can actually listen to music/movies again at the proper levels...that means listening alone 99% of the time. That’s just not going to happen for awhile. And forget the movie theater, everyone here has made the case well enough that it’s mostly A  bad experience, even if you get lucky once in a while and the sound is dialed in right.