Audio problems at the BBC - TV drama audiences can't understand what the actors are saying

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Record-Producer.com.

Friday April 25, 2014
FREE EBOOK DOWNLOAD ►

It's in all of the news media in the UK. The BBC's dramatisation of Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn, broadcast on their flagship channel BBC One, was supposed to delight an audience of millions up and down the country.

But instead all it got was complaints about the sound, more than two thousand of them. This search link will give you all the background you need...

Complaints about TV sound are commonplace. The usual problem is that viewers can't hear the dialogue or narration above the background music. There is actually a good reason for this - if one's hearing becomes damaged through over-exposure to loud sound over long periods, then the ability to distinguish speech from other sounds diminishes. This could perhaps be dismissed as a problem that affects only a minority, but it can be argued that if a TV broadcaster isn't pleasing its audience then it isn't doing its job - particularly a broadcaster that is funded by a licence fee imposed on all television viewers.

But this time it wasn't only people who are hard of hearing who were complaining. The moans and groans were coming from all directions. I thought it was probably just a lot of hot air about little or nothing. But I took the trouble to ferret out a video of the original broadcast. And...

There is most definitely a problem with the sound. A big one.

I've made a comparison video that demonstrates the problem. I've alternated clips from the original broadcast version with the version that the BBC has improved and is currently available on the BBC iPlayer. Take a listen...

The differences may not be as apparent on YouTube, but a cleaner audio only version is available to download here...

Going back to the complaints, there were two general strands. One was that the dialogue was too quiet and that the sound people had messed up somehow. The other was that the actors were mumbling.

From these examples, it is clear that the dialogue, and overall audio, is too quiet. I put both the audio tracks into Pro Tools and it took a 9 decibel boost to bring the level of the broadcast version subjectively up to the level of the iPlayer version, which is a lot. Of course, TV viewers can increase their volume level, but they shouldn't have to. The film industry copes with levels extremely well and my opinion is that TV broadcasters should aim for a similar standard.

You may also notice that the sound effects in the iPlayer version have a wider stereo image, which would help the dialogue stand out more in the center.

Even when the audio is boosted however, it is still quite difficult to make out some of the dialogue. The male character is indeed mostly mumbling.

In my view, there is definitely a technical issue with the sound, which the actors' delivery makes worse. It would be interesting to find out exactly where the problem happened, and why it wasn't picked up before broadcast, or even during broadcast. I suspect however that we will never definitively find out. But we can hope for better TV sound in future.. Surely?

Like, follow, and comment on this article at Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram or the social network of your choice.

Come on the Audio Masterclass Pro Home Studio MiniCourse - 60 great hints and tips to get your home recording studio MOVING

It's FREE!

Get It Now >>

An interesting microphone setup for violinist Nigel Kennedy

Are you compressing too much? Here's how to tell...

If setting the gain correctly is so important, why don't mic preamplifiers have meters?

The Internet goes analogue!

How to choose an audio interface

Audio left-right test. Does it matter?

Electric guitar - compress before the amp, or after?

What is comb filtering? What does it sound like?

NEW: Audio crossfades come to Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9!

What is the difference between EQ and filters? *With Audio*

What difference will a preamp make to your recording?

Watch our video on linear phase filters and frequency response with the FabFilter Pro Q 2

Read our post on linear phase filters and frequency response with the Fabfilter Pro Q 2

Harmonic distortion with the Soundtoys Decapitator

What's the best height for studio monitors? Answer - Not too low!

What is the Red Book standard? Do I need to use it? Why?

Will floating point change the way we record?

Mixing: What is the 'Pedalboard Exception'?

The difference between mic level and line level

The problem with parallel compression that you didn't know you had. What it sounds like and how to fix it.

Compressing a snare drum to even out the level

What does parallel compression on vocals sound like?

How to automate tracks that have parallel compression

Why mono is better than stereo for recording vocals and dialogue