Having trouble hearing clear TV dialogue? Here is what you can do (AV hearing impairment guide)

More than a third of Australians have trouble hearing clear TV dialogue. It does not matter which brand or model of TV and/or soundbar and how loud you have them because hearing impairment issues go far deeper.

This guide is specifically about what you can do to hear clear TV dialogue. But you first need to know why simply turning up the volume is not the answer.

And you need to know what you can do if you are individually listening or watching TV with a normal hearing partner. Some specifics affect soundbar users as well.

What is hearing impairment?

Most hearing impairment is more about the gradual loss of frequency response. Perfect hearing is from about 20Hz (Hertz – you can’t hear, more feel, this low bass) to 20,000Hz (you cannot hear this treble, but it fills in the sound, making it crisp and directional). An average adult with good hearing is closer to 150Hz to 17,000Hz.

Hearing impairment is not usually about volume. Where kids may hear sounds well below 20dB (decibels), hearing impairment may creep up to 35dB or more (called disabling hearing loss). Sustained listening at >80dB (maximum on most TVs) can lead to profound hearing loss.

An audiogram administered by a qualified Audiologist (not an Audiometrist) measures frequency response at different decibel levels. Hearing loss may mean low-frequency response levels creep up from 20Hz to 1000Hz, and high levels drop from 20,000Hz to as low as 8,000Hz. Oh, and each ear usually has a different level of impairment, meaning stereo (sound from both ears) is unequal.

Frequency loss usually means that bass sounds muted or muddy, and treble disappears with consonants like j, u, z, f, s, and th simply unintelligible. For example, ‘s’ (5-7kHz) becomes Sssssssibilance (hiss) in vocals. 

The correct solution for hearing impairment is to get hearing aids that reinforce some of your lost frequencies. But be aware that hearing aids are for clear speech – they won’t help you to hear a symphony orchestra as intended.

What is clear TV dialogue?

People usually speak at 150-6,000Hz (men) and 350-8,000Hz (women). The most critical part for clear speech (intelligibility) is a narrow band from about 1,000-4,000Hz (1-4 Kilohertz or kHz).

Most TVs have the bare minimum stereo 2.0 speakers covering from 200Hz (low-mid) to 10kHz (low treble). They invariably lack clear speech enhancement and finer EQ frequency control that can help (if it is part of the TV operating system).

In summary, it is:

  • Not about volume.
  • All about reinforcing the 1-4kHz frequency.
  • Using the right tools that work for individual or group TV watching.

Options (individual listening only)

  • Mild impairment only: If your TV has a 3.5mm headphone socket, you can attach cabled ear/headphones. The TV speaker will cut out.
  • Mild impairment only: If your TV has Bluetooth (BT), you can use BT ear/headphones or even a portable BT speaker close to you. The TV speakers usually cut out (see Group Listening*).
  • Typical impairment: Some Bluetooth ear/headphones/speakers have an App that may have an EQ and pre-sets for standard, dynamic, movie, dialogue and more. If using the BT option above, look in the App and experiment with recessing bass and treble and reinforcing the 1-4kHz range. This means music will not have bass and treble notes, but at least you will hear what is said!
  • ‘Baby Bomer’ impairment: You can attach a specialist device to reinforce clear voice frequencies to a 3.5mm or Optical Out port. Read

 Group Listening *

Some TV brands/models like Sony and LG have system sound settings that allow 3.5mm, BT, or Optical/Toslink out and TV speakers (not an HDMI soundbar) to operate simultaneously.

This allows you to hear via headphones, and others can hear via TV speakers. Technically, this is because the TV processes the sound. If you connect a soundbar via HDMI, the TV passes through the sound to the soundbar for processing, and you can’t use the ear/headphones.

Group Listening options

A TV speaker’s clear dialogue setting is rarely enough. But as a no-cost option, try this first. Normal-hearing people may comment that music or sound effects are not as prominent.

Many soundbars have clear dialogue settings. Ditto for the above because they only recess bass and treble, not reinforcing clear voice frequencies.

You need a soundbar with a dedicated centre channel driver (and preferably a tweeter) to reinforce the clear dialogue frequency range.


The excellent Sonos Arc Dolby Atmos soundbar with optional Sub and surrounds has this and a Speech Enhancement Mode in the App. It also has a Night Mode that reduces the intensity of loud sounds while increasing the quieter sounds, making dialogue clearer without increasing the volume.

If that is out of your budget, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 – quality Dolby Atmos compatible soundbar has a centre driver and uses the same App.

I have tested both the Arc and Beam, and while the Beam is fine, the Arc is superb. But, I strongly recommend adding rear speakers and a sub-woofer to each, either the fantastic Sub or the new Sonos Sub Mini for maxi-bass.

Sonos has also released the new Sonos Era 100 and 300 speakers that can be used for dedicated rear speakers on the Arc or Beam. The Era 300 has forward and up-firing drivers as well.


LG has a range of soundbars with a dedicated centre channel, and some have an up-firing centre channel as well. The 2022 range includes:

The LG App allows you to select clear dialogue and night mode.


Most of the 2023 Q-Symphony range has a centre forward-firing driver (not up-firing), and the App has clear voice settings.


Some JBL 2023 soundbar range – 5 new Bar models with Dolby Atmos have centre forward-firing (not up-firing) drivers.


Bose has two models with centre forward-firing speakers

These are excellent soundbars and, like Sonos, really shine with the optional rear speakers and sub-woofer. It also has a SimpleSync function where most Bose headphones can pair to the soundbar for assisted listening.

Other brands of soundbars

The soundbar should have a centre forward-firing driver if it has 3.0, 5.0, 7.0 or more (3.1 etc., with a dedicated sub-woofer). If it has an up-firing driver, it will be X.X.3.

Do rear speakers help clear TV dialogue?

The answer is no, with one possible exception. Rear speakers are commonly the surround channels and are there for immersion rather than clear TV dialogue. In most cases, rears provide too much surround ‘noise’ that overshadows the front-firing centre speaker.

The exception is the new Sonos Era 300, a 5.0.1 Dolby Atmos speaker in its own right. When paired with an Arc or Beam, it has a forward-firing (from behind you) centre channel that should enhance clear voice.

Help – we are both hearing-impaired

In other words, you need different levels of reinforcement.

As far as we know, Sennheiser TV Clear – crystal clear TV sound for the hearing impaired is the only one that allows multiple earphones to connect to s single transmitter. These allow individuals settings to maximise clear voice.

Consumer Advice: Beware of overpriced snake oil

There are hundreds of companies offering hearing-impaired TV listening products. Some are legitimate, and the majority are not.

One reader asked about the TV Voice Pro Soundbar, and as we have not reviewed it, we cannot comment. But the absence of any technical details and over-reliance on marketing hype on its website rings alarm bells for me.

Firstly it is a minuscule 80cm wide, which means for smaller TVs (<55″) only. It has three settings – dialogue, movie, and music and almost every soundbar has this. The founder, Don Hudson, is an Audiometrist (TAFE NSW certificate), not an audiologist. The latter must have a master’s degree in audiology from an accredited university, a doctorate in audiology, serves a fellowship or externship year and must pass boards to receive licensing and accreditation. Further, audiologists must continue to earn education credits to fulfil licensing requirements. Finally, we cannot find any genuine independent reviews on the product.

I advise treading carefully because, at $549, there are far better 3.1 soundbars. The $399 LG S65Q is a superb entry-level, low-cost 420W, 3.1 soundbar with a dedicated clear voice channel.

Summary – Clear TV dialogue is not about volume!

The best option is an audiologist’s test and hearing aids. Not surprisingly, most people see hearing aids as a sign of weakness – a stigma. Well, most people wear glasses to read, so why not hearing aids to hear?

For individual TV viewing, the best option is the Sennheiser Clear TV. With the caveat that many TVs cut the speaker sound when a 3.5mm, Optical or HDMI output is used. This is also an option for two or more people that need the buds as you can connect multiple with different settings to the one transmitter.

For group viewing, first, try the TV and/or soundbar settings and see if any clear voice setting helps. Our experience is no. The high-end budget Sonos Arc and Beam are proven and, when set correctly, will both assist the hearing-impaired and improve the TV sound immensely via surround and Dolby Atmos sound.

LG is the best and most cost-effective alternative, with some models featuring centre-firing and up-firing drivers and surround and Dolby Atmos sound.

What won’t work is to increase the volume!