My Cousin Dave’s Guide to Why Your Stupid Smart TV Sounds Damn Crappy #mycousindave

My Cousin Dave recently sent me an email:

Cousin Dave

Why does the sound on everything stink today? TV’s, Tablets, computers, cells.
(Corporate greed! Oh, buy this special sound component.) My Stupid Samsung Smart TV, brand new, on 100, the highest it goes,
is just audible on some channels.
And my hearing is perfectly normal.

Well, Dave, there are several factors. But it basically boils down to two: audio compression and format.

Almost all recorded audio today is compressed. CD-quality was established as an audio standard when CDs were first released. The quality is crystal clear and typically mixed to be presented as stereo sound with 2 channels (Left and Right). The problem is that the data files are really big and you can only fit about 80 minutes of music or 700mb. That’s about 35mb for a 3 minute song.

Then the Internet became a thing and people very quickly realized that downloading a song took FOREVER. So one guy said, hey, since humans can’t really hear EVERY frequency why don’t we remove some of that “extra data”? And so he set to chopping out the bits (compressing) HE deemed weren’t important. So now we have a whole generation of kids that only grew up hearing compressed audio (MP3’s) and don’t know any better.

This same compressed audio is used in streaming movies and television today because of the same logic. Some stations and streaming platforms compress the fuck out of the audio and/or picture. The only way to get really really good quality picture and sound is to buy the Blu-Ray versions and play them on a really good home theater system.

That’s the first thing: compression. The second thing is audio format.

Unless you have your smart TV connected to a fancy home theater audio system, you’re likely hearing plain old (compressed) stereo sound. If the source of that audio was originally mixed for stereo, it probably sounds fine. But if it was mixed for more than 2 speakers… such as Dolby 5.1 Surround, you are likely not hearing some of the mix.

5.1 refers to the number of speakers that an audio track is mixed to. In a typical 5.1 set up you would have Front L and R, Front Center, Side L and R, and a subwoofer. The Front Center would typically have the majority of dialogue where the sides and subwoofer would have music/Sfx and so on. This is how they create that “surround sound”.

The problem is, if you don’t have that center speaker, you’re probably missing much of the dialog audio. Most smart TVs attempt to compensate for this with some audio trickery but it is inconsistent because there are so many different ways the original audio can be formatted. It’s like if someone were to listen to early Beatles with all the treble down and all the bass up…it would totally sound fucked up.

Your smart TV likely has a few different audio settings (check your manual or look at your remote). You may try switching to a different format that sounds better to you for whatever you are watching at the time. Or you can start investing in a home theater system and spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours learning the finer points of audio engineering.

Or just get some damn headphones ya deaf bastard!