Can’t understand what’s being said on TV? You’re not alone and it’s not your fault. Most flat screen TVs have crummy sound systems, with little speakers designed more to keep the TV thin than provide clear audio. And it certainly doesn’t help being 50 plus, because our hearing gradually deteriorates as we age, with higher frequencies going first, a condition known as presbycusis.
Add to that all the “production values” put into TV shows and movies: loud music, sound effects, even audience laughs and cheers. To hear the dialogue, we turn up the sound, which of course makes things worse on those tinny speakers.
I’ve run the TV sound to my home audio system with its big “hi-fi” speakers, but that’s overkill when you’re just watching a sitcom or the news and not a movie. How about a sound bar? Also a solution to better TV audio, and now a pioneering sound bar maker has a new model specifically designed to make voices stand out on TV.
The ZVOX Accuvoice AV200 TV Speaker looks like a regular sound bar you might get for a flat screen TV – a 17” rectangular box that plugs into the audio out, optical or analog, of your TV – but it uses a compression/equalization algorithm, as they describe it, to lift the voices away from the background sounds so you can hear more clearly what’s being said.
ZVOX says its patent-pending technology works something like a smart hearing aid and is only active when voices are detected.
Does it work? Well, even with the Accuvoice technology turned off, the sound is markedly better with the sound bar than direct from my TV. And turning the Accuvoice on with the supplied remote, I did notice more clarity listening to dialogue. The remote can also add or subtract bass and treble, but even making the lows lower and the highs higher didn’t bring voices out as clearly as just pressing the Accuvoice button.
There’s also a button for “Output Leveling” – which keeps the sound from getting dramatically louder or softer when you switch channels or when the commercials come on (always louder, right?).
The remote allows you to create three different levels of “surround” effect, but they go off when using Accuvoice. You don’t need their remote for power, volume, or mute because you can easily teach the speaker system to respond to those commands from your existing remote; likely the one that also controls your cable or satellite box. You’ll need to go into the settings of your TV to turn its audio off so you hear only the sound bar.
My quibbles with the product are minor: my TV only has one audio out, for optical, and the ZVOX supplied optical cable needed a hard push to click into place. A better quality cable had no such issue. The speaker also comes with cables to connect with RCA plugs or a 3.5 mm mini-plug (like to a headphone jack), but as I said, my TV has only the one optical audio out. The sound bar has its own headphone jack, although it’s inconveniently located in the back, not the front or side of the enclosure, because it can also be used to plug in a subwoofer.