Posted on Friday, 14th June 2013 by

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Have you noticed how big, bright, and clear the new large flat screen digital HD TVs are these days? We purchased our first flat screen about 5 years ago and my wife and I were truly impressed with the picture; a significant improvement over the analog TVs that we grew up with. However, it didn’t take long to realize that the sound quality of these new sets was significantly inferior, especially when watching movies and TV series like Revenge where the voices are muted and garbled.  Oddly, sports, news and general programming audio is fine, we can understand the conversation at reasonable volume levels. While watching movies my wife and I often ask each other “what did they say” and by the time we work it out we end up missing more content. I’ve talked with many others experiencing the same problem and It‘s very frustrating to say the least. 

Over the years we suffered through this by turning up the volume to the point where it was almost unbearable; and I wear hearing aids!  After researching the problem I discovered that the new sets are so thin that the tiny speakers they use don’t have the fidelity needed for voice clarity and center channel reproduction where most of the voice and dialog is produced.  The old TV sets had larger high fidelity speakers. To make things worse yet, many flat screen manufactures eliminated the audio out jacks that can be used for remove speakers or wireless headsets.

I talked to numerous audio specialists and visited online forums about this issue and most recommended a sound bar or surround sound systems which cost anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars!

My first attempt to address the problem was to purchase a $90 Insignia sound bar from Best Buy. It increased the volume and added more base plus offered three listening modes of which none helped. Recently an audio department sales representative recommended spending $300 or more to get the sound quality we desired.  The LG sound bar with wireless base cost us just under $300 from Sam’s Club and I returned it two days later. Movie and TV series audio was still garbled however the system did fill the room with sound and heavy base, the louder base and surround sound just made the problem worse.

Next we tried the Bose Solo system. Fortunately we have a Bose outlet store close by and I was able to pick it up for $349 plus tax. I hooked up the Solo and experienced the same problem. The demos in the store were crystal clear however most of the demos are action scenes with little conversation. Needless to say we returned the Bose Solo the next day and the sales rep suggested that we should try their $1400 sound bar with external base to achieve the clarity we needed.  The $1400 unit allows users to calibrate 5 locations in a room using a headset.  If we went that route we would have a total invested of $900 for my LG 47 inch TV and to hear it we only need to spend $1400 more!!!

I decided to try other alternatives including closed caption and researched wireless headsets. After reading numerous reviews I purchased a Sony wireless headset, 900 MHZ model number MDR-RF985RK, from Amazon.com for $86.00. One of the benefits of the 900MHZ model is the range which is about 150 feet and you don’t have to be line of site like the infrared models. The instructions call for using the TV’s audio output. Unfortunately, the large flat screen TV manufacturers saw fit to remove this feature and I was told that we needed to purchase a home theater system and connect to their audio output, another frustrating moment. Fortunately we have Comcast cable and I did find an audio output jack on the back of their DVR and cable box. It works fine except there is a delay in the audio and if we have the TV audio volume up too high it is distracting.  

I can now hear clear dialog with these headsets and they pick up all of the background sounds as well.  I was listening to the Voice last night and the fidelity was exceptional. The transmitter for the headphones sits next to the TV stand and also charges the headsets when they aren’t in use. The charge lasts for 25 hours, not bad, and it is a relief to hear what is going on. I find it disconcerting that TV manufactures would market sets with such poor audio quality. The picture is great but if you can’t hear what’s going on what good are they? Before I buy another TV I’m going to check the reviews for picture AND audio quality.  

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