Best speakers for boring content and bad acoustics - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 03:45 PM - Thread Starter
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Best speakers for boring content and bad acoustics

I've done a lot of searching but haven't found any threads quite on point for this perfect storm of audio cruelty. In a nutshell, my parents are getting older and can't hear well, they watch almost exclusively talking head shows (news, screaming political argument shows, business news, etc.), and almost every room is an actoustical nightmare. The result of this is every TV turned up to max volume causing vibrations/distortions/echos that make the spoken words blasting out of the teevee almost unintelligible at times when the talking heads hit on resonant frequencies for the room. This needs to end.

I'm leaning toward getting center channel speakers for every TV. I'll probably do this for a total of 5 TVs, and remember this is for clarity of spoken words only, not volume (I'm sure any decent CC speaker will be plenty loud). And of course there's absolutely no need for surround, booming bass, or or anything fancy. I would like to spend $150 or less on each speaker, preferably under $100 but only for something that will actually work. If I have to spend $200+ for something that will actually work, then so be it. Bonus points for smaller/slimmer/low profile/inconspicuous speakers! (but not a requirement).

All TVs are in relatively small rooms (biggest is probably 20 x 20, all others about 12' square) with literally every acoustic sin you can imagine. Travertine floors, floor to ceiling windows/sliders/, giant picture windows, granite, counters, hardwood cabinets, glass tables, glass/ceramic decor, and not a single soft thing to be found except the chair cushions and the dogs before they are scared off for the evening by Bill O'Reilly yelling at his guest. And no, redecorating the rooms with an eye toward mitigating the acoustical disaster is not an option (believe me, I've tried).

I'm basically clueless about who makes good center channel speakers for dialogue only, and what exactly makes a speaker especially good for dialogue only. I've found a couple Pioneer units for $99 and Polk and Klipsch for $120-$130 (I'm assuming these three are all quality brands?), but there's also a couple JBL units for $49 and $69. Click here for list. I am not familiar with JBL - are these likely to be nice quality, or at least plenty good enough for my application? I'd love to get away with $50 a pop, but only if they improve dialogue about as much as the $150-$200 options would.

Am I on the right track here? Is there a better solution I'm missing, like another class/type of speaker I don't know about? I didn't spend any time looking at soundbars because I understand they are more for emulating surround sound and aren't designed for dialogue. But if I'm wrong about that I'm absolutely open to getting a soundbar. Thanks for any suggestions!

P.S. my suggestion of nice wireless headphones was shot down faster than my suggestion of some tasteful acoustic panels to "accent" the monolothic windows .
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post #2 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 04:14 PM
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I'm not sure about specific products, but high directivity speakers like horns will reduce wall and ceiling reflections.


A rug might help, or ottoman rather than coffee table.


EQ can help.


Something that can handle more power cleanly (amp + speaker) can help. They don't need a lot of power, but 50 watts would be a big step up from typical stuff built in to TVs. For soundbars, look at the watt rating.


Avoid products that produce ambient sound fields or surround-like effects. That's the opposite of what you want.
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post #3 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 04:15 PM
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Just buy a sound bar for each TV. That would be the easiest solution here.

Cost you around $300 bucks for 5 of these: http://www.amazon.com/VIZIO-S2920w-C...words=soundbar

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post #4 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 04:50 PM
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Those soundbars look nice and practical.

If there is a main room where you want a little extra:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/171343004737?lpid=82

If you don't have a spare receiver sitting around somewhere, this one has EQ:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Sony-TA-AX31...item3ce2f40ced
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post #5 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 06:10 PM
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Standalone EQ would be a good idea. High pass, and a boost around 2.5k Hz would be the ticket.
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post #6 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 08:33 PM - Thread Starter
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Thank you for the replies. I must say I'm surprised that soundbar seems to be getting the nod. I've had one for a couple years and am very happy with it for my needs, but I thought it was a bit of a design compromise relative to any one of the individual dedicated speakers in a conventional surround system. Therefore I assumed that a dedicated center channel speaker was probably inherently better at producing clear dialogue than a "compromise design" center channel speaker in a sound bar of equal cost.

I've heard lots of good things about the Vizio soundbars and probably would have bought one for myself before too long anyway, so maybe I'll try one of those first. I may actually just make sure I can do returns and do a home test of a couple speakers versus the vizio soundbar and see what makes the dialogue most intelligble for them.

Is there any technical spec or buzzword I should look for when it comes to nondirectional qualities of speaker/soundbar? Or really anything to look for in the speaker to help minimize echoes (I know fixing the room is the real answer, but probably not an option).

Thanks again.

Oh yeah, and is JBL a decent brand? I'll probably give the $49 JBL center channel a shot on price alone assuming I can return it.
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post #7 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 09:06 PM
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Something I haven't seen mentioned is how you expect to power these speakers? You just can't hook up a passive (non-powered) speaker to a tv. You will either need an amplifier at each tv, or powered speakers/soundbar. Also, how old are these tv's? Do they all have audio out?
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post #8 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 09:57 PM - Thread Starter
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Uh oh my noob is showing. Yes, I definitely need powered speakers. A fairly important factor, and probably why Soundbars are being recommended. With my non-existent experience in all things audio I forgot center channels in surround systems are powered by the receiver.

So..... with that glaring oversight now on the table, is there another name/term of art for a speaker that is basically the center channel speaker of a surround system, but powered?

As a proof of concept I plugged my Soundfreaq SFQ02 into one of the TV's using a headphone-style cord and it dramatically improved the clarity and fullness of all sounds, dialog included. But it is intended for music so I thought there'd be something a little better that is designed for TV dialog (I think it has a bit too much bass for TV and there's no way to adjust it).

Well I think I'm off to get a Vizio soundbar because worst case I'll find somewhere to use it myself . I would still like to experiment with a single speaker though, because to me it seems that would produce the best sound in an echoey environment - I've read that a big source of dialog distortion is words arriving at each ear at different times, a problem made worse by having more than one speaker and reflective surfaces.

Also, all the TV's are 2 years old or newer (new house). The worst of the lot in terms of sound quality is a Haier, and it sits in the worst room of all for acoustics. Other TV's are Samsungs and Vizios. Even the 50 something inch 2 year old Samsung basically sounds bad... I guess they figure anyone who cares about sound will buy speakers anyway, so there's no point in putting good ones in the TV.
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post #9 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 10:29 PM
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A soundbar is almost always better than what comes with a TV.

Some soundbars are better than others.

That Klipsch speaker I linked to has a horn and is more robust than a soundbar (less distortion), so I'd expect it to be significantly better, especially with some EQ that you could tune for clarity. It would need an amp, which is why I linked to an amp with EQ. The horn's ability to focus the sound forward, rather than bouncing it on the walls, floor, and ceiling could make a significant improvement in a reflective room. On the other hand, the directivity could be bad if you need large listening angles (large seating area, speaker not pointed at listening area, etc).

That Vizeo soundbar might be good enough, though. It certainly has advantages. Cheap, clean install, self-powered.
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post #10 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 10:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bgthree View Post
The worst of the lot in terms of sound quality is a Haier, and it sits in the worst room of all for acoustics. Other TV's are Samsungs and Vizios. Even the 50 something inch 2 year old Samsung basically sounds bad... I guess they figure anyone who cares about sound will buy speakers anyway, so there's no point in putting good ones in the TV.
Yeah, some flat screen TVs have really bad sound. If the main problem is the TV, the soundbars should do the trick. If the main problem is the room, consider a speaker with high directivity.
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post #11 of 13 Old 06-18-2014, 10:40 PM
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This should do the job:
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post #12 of 13 Old 07-07-2014, 11:12 PM - Thread Starter
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Thought I ought to bump this with the solution I found, because I'm quite happy with it . And because future googlers like it when people do this.

To keep it short, I'll spare you the part where I tried my Sony HT-CT60 soundbar + sub and a friend's Vizio soundbar in most of the rooms I'm trying to fix. Suffice to say they were much better than the TV speakers, but not really the improvement I was hoping for in terms of dialogue clarity. Basically, they suffered from the same problem as the built-in speakers - turning up the volume turns up the volume on everything, and the dialogue clarity tends to get lost in the noise.

Somehow or other I ended up looking at the ZVOX line and after reading the descriptions and some reviews I decided it was exactly what I was looking for. I got the two units at the bottom of the lineup, the Soundbase 220 and the Soundbase 320. Put the 220 in the kitchen and it's really unbelievable how much better it sounds. I really can't put it into words how much clearer and "more natural" the voices sound, but just to give an example, on multiple different occassions during the first couple of days I was 100% positive that someone was in the house talking. Absolutely sure of it. I had to get all the way to the room with the TV on to realize it was just the TV. With the built-in speakers, there is zero doubt that it's the TV on in the other room and not a person talking. With the ZVOX it's really hard to tell (depending on the content of course).

So, the 220 was a smash hit with my parents - all news programs sound fantastic and crystal clear, and the announcer voices are even almost verging on soothing (I said almost...). The only negative is the size of the unit and the requirement that it be supplied with power and signal via wires (the dreaded WAF, except here it's MAF for mom). The TV's are all wall mounted and the 220 and 320 basically require a piece of furniture to sit on. The ZVOX literature recommends you put it under the TV, with both sitting on a cabinet/desk. So I'm trying to figure out some way to hide the wires with a combination of a little trim strip I'll make plus some kind of box or knick knack to adequately hide the box and wires. As far as I can tell, a wall mount bracket is probably impractical, though I haven't contacted ZVOX about this.

The 320 is also great, just bigger. I'm sure the reason these sound so much better than even the soundbars is their size and the relatively large MDF cabinets. As they say, there's no replacement for displacement right?

Also, there is also a Dialog Emphasis mode - it basically sets up a filter that - you guessed it - emphasizes dialog. It works quite well, but I don't even find it necessary. Just another tidbit to show that these units are MADE with dialog clarity in mind, something that can't be said of soundbars.

In their bedroom, they have a 56" Samsung flat screen that pops out of cabinet and rotates once it's out the top. When it's down, it's completely hidden. Amazingly, this setup has continued to work for 2+ years even though it looks like the type of contraption that would be constantly broken, misaligned, etc. Due to size constraints, the only possible external speaker for this is a soundbar. My Sony soundbar happens to fit the available room in the cabinet like a glove, without impacting any of machinery for raising/lowering/rotating the TV. So that is the new home for my soundbar, with the sub under their bed. This works quite well and is a dramatic improvement in overall sound quality, even if the dialog could still be better. The acoustics in this room are the least poor, so it's a good place for soundbar vs a ZVOX.

Currently the 320 is now mine, and I really like it too for a bedroom system where a full 5.1 system is overkill (for me anyway). However, I think I want more bass than the 320 provides so I'll try out a couple of the higher end ZVOX units knowing that they'll find a good home under the TV's in my parents' other place if I don't like them.

In summary: if the most important requirement is BEING ABLE TO HEAR WHAT THE F*&*^$G ANNOUNCER IS SAYING then one of the Soundbase units is probably perfect. Added bonus is simplicity of setup. Only negative is that the size of the box dwarfs most soundbars. Also, you won't get the bass that an external sub can provide, but you already knew that. They are also a little more expensive than a soundbar, but they are also unique - as far as I can tell there is no competitive product.

I think these are a God-send for the millions of aging TV watchers out there who are slowly losing their hearing at the same time as their TV's get worse and worse speakers. Even the WAF will increase if the W can be convinced into a demo evening, periodically switching back to the built-in speakers which will sound like fingernails on a chalkboard after the Soundbase has been on for an hour.

Last edited by bgthree; 07-07-2014 at 11:19 PM.
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post #13 of 13 Old 07-08-2014, 04:26 AM
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Glad you found a solution, I can't remember the last time I used my TV's speakers

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