Soundmatters MAINstage

Week of November 13, 2005

Q: When watching television, the voices are quite often drowned out by the music and/or sound effects. As you know, TV speakers are usually quite inadequate so to get better sound we hooked it up to a receiver and 3 medium quality speakers, left, right, and center. That arrangement works better than just the TV speakers, but the dialogue is often drowned out. Some TV programs are worse than others. In addition, we are techno-doofuses, so everything may not be adjusted correctly.

We would like to convert the receiver and speakers back to music and get a new system for the TV, as long as it’s not expensive and as long as the voices come through clearly. We don’t care at all about the background music, we don’t care at all about the sound effects, we don’t want to feel the soundtrack, we just want the voices loud and clear. Can you help us?

-Susanne Richardson, Wichita, Kansas

A: Your problem is a common one and the question is frequently asked of me, though it usually is in regards to DVD players. There are several ways to approach it, both from an adjustment and equipment standpoint. I’ll start with DVD playback as this is where most of the confusion lies.

Most complaints about dialogue audibility revolve around DVD playback- when the volume is turned up enough for the voices to be clearly audible, the music and special effects can be overpowering. To bring voices into line with the rest of the soundtrack, access your DVD player’s setup menu and access the audio controls. You will find a setting called Dynamic Range Compression, DRC, Dialogue Enhancer, or Midnight Mode. All of these are different names for the same thing. Turn this setting on and the voices will more closely match the rest of the soundtrack.

Television programs have no such controls. The problem must be tackled by adjusting your receiver or adding new equipment.

Your surround sound receiver will have a master volume control that adjusts all speakers simultaneously and settings for each individual speaker. Turning up the center channel setting up will raise the volume of the voices. If it is already turned up all the way, leave it where it is and decrease the setting of the left and right front speakers. This will change the proportion of sound in the same manner.

Your timing writing me was excellent as a perfect product for you was recently introduced. Regular readers of the column will remember my recommendation of the Soundmatters MAINstage last year. The MAINstage is a small, single-piece sound system that provides satisfying sound reproduction and spacious surround effects from a single, easy-to-use component that resembles a high-end table radio. It is easy to connect and adjust, with no need to place speakers or run wires. The MAINstage works great for TV and music, and a great many readers purchased them at my recommendation , later writing to me of their satisfaction.

Soundmatters just introduced the MAINstage HD, an upgraded version of the MAINstage. The MAINstage HD offers better sound quality and surround effects, higher maximum volume levels, and additional controls that make it more flexible and easy to use. For example, the MAINStage has the bass control on the back of the unit. The MAINstage HD places it on the remote. There are also remote buttons to adjust dialogue precisely- exactly what you are looking for.

I have always been a fan of the original MAINstage, but I am even more enthusiastic about the HD model. The regular MAINstage sounds very good- the HD model is excellent, sounding full and effortless. You stress the importance of dialogue- the MAINstage HD sounds like a rather good center channel speaker when reproducing voices. It’s good enough that I would recommend those with the original unit replace it with the HD model, and move the original MAINstage into another room.

With the MAINstage HD also comes new options for expansion. You can connect a MAINstage HD to a MAINstage located in the back of the room to have front-rear surround, and the new SUBstage 100 compact subwoofer will fill in the bass nicely if you DO want to feel the soundtrack. Rather than me go on here, I recommend you visit www.soundmatters.com. It’s a great company and they have great products and service.

The MAINstage and MAINstage HD both include connecting cables to get you started right away. You can see and purchase them at www.soundmatters.com. The MAINstage HD sells for is $349. The original MAINstage is $249 with a $50 rebate, for a net of $199. The Soundmatters Outlet has open stock and blemished units for as little as $139- an amazing bargain!

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