Better TV Sound for Those With Hearing Loss
In the later years of his life, my dad struggled to understand what was being said on TV shows. When I called or visited him, the TV was often at full blast. And yet, he complained, that really didn’t help him follow the on-screen conversations. It simply added another layer of commotion.
“We see this issue quite a bit, especially with our older patients,” says Dr. Meredith Scharf of Manhattan Audiological Services in New York. “It’s not just volume; it’s clarity any time there’s a high background level of noise. It can be with speech and conversations, as well as with TV.”
These days, the problem is also compounded by a quirk of modern TVs. Unlike old-school “tube” sets, which had deep, wide cabinets, today’s super-slim models leave little room for powerful speakers systems. That doesn’t mean you must resign yourself to life without your favorite programs, though. Here are a few things that might help improve the TV sound on your set.
To begin, go into the TV’s menu, click the icon or label for Settings, and look for an item labeled Audio or Sound.
Now look for the available pre-sets. Some TVs have a setting specifically designed to enhance dialogue, for example. You might also find a “night” mode, which flattens out the volume, pitting the actors’ voices against the show’s sound effects. If you turn it off, you might find it easier to hear what’s being said.
Some TVs try to create a surround-sound effect with a more diffuse soundfield. In that case, switching the TV to Stereo or Normal might help. If the set decodes multichannel sound, such as Dolby Digital or DTS, you may be able to boost the volume of the center-channel speaker, which contains dialogue, and then reduce the volume levels of the other speakers.
And if the TV has a “User” mode, it may have an equalizer (EQ) that lets you adjust various frequencies. “Many older adults experience high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss, which can affect the clarity of the program,” Scharf explains. “An increase in volume alone will not help.” If that’s the case, try lowering the bass and lower mid-range and boosting the upper midrange and higher frequencies, where voices are typically found, to compensate. Sometimes there are EQ pre-sets that automatically do the same thing. They’re all worth trying.
Wireless Headphones and Headsets
There are also stethoscope-style headphones, called stethosets or TV listeners, designed to enhance TV sound for those with hearing loss. They, too, work by boosting the frequencies common to dialogue. TV Ears is probably the best-known manufacturer, though other companies, including Sennheiser, make stethoset-style systems. These generally use a small base unit with a transmitter you connect to the TV and a pair of horseshoe-shaped earphones with a receiver. For homes with more than one person suffering from hearing loss, you can also find TV speakers outfitted with the same technology.
Sound Bar Speakers
As we get older, many of us struggle to hear onscreen conversations, especially in movies or TVs shows with lots of additional sounds. It’s always a good idea to get your hearing checked by an audiologist or other specialist. And if you’ve tried any of the remedies mentioned above, or perhaps have a few tricks of your own to improve TV sound, let us know in the comments section below.