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As the title implies, I tend to think the dynamic range of movies is too high.

I often find myself scrambling to change the volume after listening at a previously acceptable level. Why would I want my speakers to be at a comfortable level for dialogue, only to go to 120dB during an action sequence? After which, dialogue at the new volume level is hardly at 50dB, so I have to adjust again.

Is this intentional? I know it's 'dramatic' and 'realistic' but I don't actually want tinnitus.

  • Are you referring to movies in their original language? Or were they translated? – XtremeBaumer Dec 2 '19 at 10:27
  • Original language. For some reason I can't ping you. – Hellreaver Dec 2 '19 at 10:28
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    @Paulie_D - I don't think so, since it's such a common phenomenon, (especially noticed by people trying to keep their kids asleep!) there must be a reason for it, or at least an answer to whether it's intentional or not, that someone with knowledge of movie sound production may be able to address. – colmde Dec 2 '19 at 13:35
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    I don't know the answer to this, but man this bothered me over the weekend. I was cooking and watching The Dark Night Rises, and I had to crank the volume so it was louder than my range hood and cooking noises. I had to crank it up quite a bit because the talking was so quiet. Then all of the sudden there's a shooting scene and it's extremely loud and the music is blasting. It honestly had to be at least twice as loud, and it's not the first movie I've had that happen with. I don't know why the range is so wide... but IMO it needs to stop. Rant over. – JMac Dec 3 '19 at 17:08
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    @Paulie_D I strongly disagree. This would be a conscious choice by an editor to make a video have such a huge range of sounds - the obviously would notice. I definitely take issue with everyone on stackexchange off topic trolling. – Hellreaver Dec 3 '19 at 17:25
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To directly answer your question: I don't believe so, no (though I feel your pain).

Movies are, of course, mixed for a theater environment wherein ambient noise is practically nil, and I imagine the speakers have been tuned and balanced based on their sizes, specifications, capabilities, positions, etc. The creators make the artistic choice to take full advantage of the available dynamic range in the controlled environment where they present the results of their craft.

That doesn't mean the mix will translate well to your home environment.

AC-3 and other formats do provide the ability for "hints" that a disc player or receiver can utilize to smartly compress the range for your home viewing. Many players/receivers feature the ability to scale the dynamic range compression ("DRC") of incoming audio using these hints.

In my experience, even setting the compression to the highest level is often not enough for my home setup. Personally, I typically boost the center channel (which hosts the majority of dialog) by about 4-6 db. This combined with the DRC options generally gives me comfortable "normalized" movie volumes.

Additional note: as I ripped my movie collection for use with Plex, I converted the audio over to 5.1 AAC. Initially, I noticed that movies that I'd ripped had a wide dynamic range. I realized that in the conversion process, I'd lost the DRC hints that AC-3 provided. I found that Handbrake has an option to apply DRC hints during the conversion process to AAC. Enabling this option alleviated the issue for me. Just goes to show that the DRC hints are there and working!

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