Can You Hear Me Now?

A fairly common complaint I hear in my custom showroom is the inability to hear dialog while watching TV or movies. The scenario plays out almost identically every single time. A couple will come in, usually older, and the husband will stand there sheepishly while his wife explains that her husband’s hearing has deteriorated and now it’s to the point where he can’t hear the TV unless he blasts the volume which is then too loud for her to tolerate. The husband will then usually chime in that his hearing is fine, and that he just has a hard time with the dialog. But do we have anything that would help so they could both enjoy TV together?

So, first off, guys! I’m not sure what it is that we’re doing in our younger years, but, dammit! It is causing us all to go slowly deaf as we get older! We need to pull it together!

There are two major culprits at play here, well, three if you count that the guy clearly spent his youth working in a factory like the end-scene from Terminator 2 without wearing any hearing protection and now his hearing is blown. First, speakers on modern TVs suck. And, really, you can’t blame them for sucking. People have spoken with their wallets and what they want is an ultra-thin set with zero bezel, so there is literally no place to locate a speaker except for behind the screen, where it can sound terrible and be robbed of any real detail. Second, a lot of the audio from TV was really mixed to be enjoyed on a multichannel system, where sounds are spread around to different speakers. When you smush all that sound into the tiny, anemic drivers found in modern TVs, it gets congested and difficult to understand.

One solution for many people is to add a soundbar. This is an incredibly simple installation add-on available in a huge range of budget and performance options that can produce some terrific sound and greatly improve dialog intelligibility.

But for the gentleman that is truly hard of hearing that soundbar is not going to alleviate the volume issue. One thing that we’ve done for many clients is to install some wireless headphones. This lets the wife listen at a level that is comfortable for her while just feet away the husband is enjoying dB’s that would violate the Geneva convention.

However, wireless headphones can be tricky to integrate because they require an analog audio output from the source device, usually the TV, and that output might be variable instead of fixed which can cause volume level issues. (Essentially, a variable output puts out an audio signal at the same level as the TV’s volume.) Of course, you could go directly out of the cable box, but then you’d be boned, umm, I mean out of luck if you wanted to listen to audio from another source like a Blu-ray player or Apple TV which, spoiler, don’t have analog audio outputs anyhow.

One very cool feature of the Roku 2 and Roku 3 media players is that the remote control has a headphone jack! This allows you to connect a headphone directly to the remote for private, as-loud-as-you-can-stand listening. Of course, while Roku offers a ton of content, you’re still limited to headphone listening to just what the Roku offers.

Wouldn’t it be cool if a TV or soundbar manufacturer included built-in Bluetooth that could pair and beam audio to any number of third-party headphones?! Even if you aren’t hard of hearing, this could be a perfect solution for late night viewing when you don’t want to disturb the spouse or kids. It’s the kind of add-on feature that could really differentiate a product and fill a need in the marketplace. As a recent older couple told me, "We're the demographic that needs this and that can afford to pay for it!" Just sayin’…

No Look's picture

I have a question: Where have all the marketing people gone ??? Your suggestion of putting the headphone jack on the sound bar is a no brainer.. I'd say give them a call, but from the sounds of it (little bun there) they are probably still using telegrapgh equipment !