Movies So Loud, You Can't Hear Them!

Posted by Dave Pettibone , Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Ever since I was a kid, my family has bonded over watching, re-watching, quoting and re-quoting many of our favorite movies. We’ve seen Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, and Forrest Gump so many times that our nightly dinner conversations or summertime car trips rarely occured without me or my Dad temporarily becoming “Forrest, Forrest Gu-ump”, or perhaps Vizzini from The Princess Bride (“Inconceivable!”) for an interjection of a classic one-liner.  If your family is like mine, then this Holiday season will have you heading to the theater with the hopes of seeing a new flick that could join the ranks of your family’s favorite quotable movies.

Unfortunately, the prevailing trend in Hollywood films may render this tougher than ever as directors and sound mixers routinely relegate dialog clarity to the back seat in favor of giving center stage to thunderous special effects and hyper-realistic environmental ambience (Think: action dream scenes in Inception and a crowded cocktail party scene in The Social Network, respectively).  In either case, the sound mix makes it incredibly difficult to catch every word, and could force you and your family to continue to quote Forrest Gump for another two decades (ok, maybe that’s just my family…)

A quick Google search for the phrase “movies too loud” reveals that this problem is not imaginary and has been creeping steadily for at least a decade. A curious reader could easily find a dozen or so articles, all intending to expose bad Hollywood sound mixes that seem to favor a director’s artistic vision of power and emotion over the audience’s listening experience.  Reportedly, audiences for Christopher Nolan’s new space epic Interstellar were left buzzing from the sheer onslaught of sonic power while simultaneously whispering to their neighbor, “What did they just say??”  Jeff Baker from OregonLive.com reports that, according to Nolan, the sound is “mixed just the way he wants it.”  If that’s true, and we still can’t hear the movie’s dialog in the very environment for which the soundtrack was designed, is there any hope for clear dialog when Interstellar makes it to BluRay in our living room?

Luckily, there is hope! Our SoundBase systems are equipped with AccuVoice™ dialog clarity technology, a feature that quiets the background noise and boosts the vocals and dialog so you can actually hear what is being said. It does wonders for people who suffer from hearing loss, but also comes in handy when you are watching movies with poorly-mixed audio soundtracks.

If you find yourself on the couch with family this holiday season complaining that Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean fame sounds like he’s truly three sheets to the wind, maybe there should be a ZVOX system under the family Christmas tree this year.​

Electronics Stores in the Ron Burgundy Era

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Thursday, May 29, 2014
When I got into the audio business in 1971, that's exactly what it was -- the AUDIO business. I worked for Dick Schulze at a chain of Minnesota stereo stores that would evolve into Best Buy, but at the time was called....The Sound of Music.
I did not work at an electronics store. I worked at a stereo store. We sold receivers, turntables, speakers, open-reel tape decks and cassette decks. No VCRs. No DVD players. No TVs. No computers.
As you can see from the photos, we were pretty cool dudes. Ron Burgundy could have fit right in at Sound of Music.
But despite the now-odd-looking haircuts, we were serious about sound. I remember many long nights sitting in a listening room comparing Advent Loudspeakers with AR3as -- or with Altec A7 "Voice of the Theater" speakers (each the size of a full refrigerator). We debated sound quality endlessly, and once even held a two-hour double-blind listening test with 12 judges (we were surprised when a big ElectroVoice speaker won over the big-name Massachusetts companies).
Looking back on this time, the most notable aspect of the era was the role of music and stereo systems in our culture. For many of us, our stereo systems were a more important status symbol than our cars. Parties revolved around the stereo -- and what was being played. One of my favorite party tricks was playing Emerson, Lake & Palmer's song Tank, and blowing out a match with the woofers in my Advent Loudspeakers.
Music systems were THE cool technology products of the 1970s. TV just wasn't that interesting, with maybe five or six TV channels....mostly showing bad TV shows, Mork and Mary Tyler Moore being among the exceptions. (Dick and I saw Mary Tyler Moore at the Black Angus restaurant while she was in town to film the opening scene of her TV show.) We had typewriters, not computers. And the offices at Sound of Music headquarters still had dial phones -- not those fancy "push-button" models.
Modern technology is pretty exciting. I do like my iPhone. But I love my stereo.
Maybe it's time to download Tank from iTunes and find a book of matches.

Video Killed the Radio Star. Will Pandora Kill the Radio Station?

Posted by Kate , Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A recent research study* shows that AM/FM radio is still the number one way that people discover new music. Even though streaming audio formats like Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes Radio are becoming more and more popular, the majority of people are still favoring radio, in their homes and cars. Seriously, folks? Stop it. Streaming radio is far superior to FM radio. You can listen to what you want when you want it, not just switch between presets, hoping to get lucky and ending up hearing only the last 40 seconds of a favorite song.

I recently bought a used car. It was an upgrade to my previous vehicle in all areas…except the stereo. The old car had an aftermarket car stereo with a front audio input. Every time I got in it I would connect my iPhone and listen to either my downloaded music or one of my favorite Pandora stations. The only times the radio got used was when my bratty teenager was on-board, or there was a Bruins game on. I never had to suffer through commercials or the same loop of songs over-and-over. Life was good. Or, at least, the music was.

In my new car, sadly, there is no input for my iPhone. My choices are radio or cassette (really?). Growing up in Boston, I was exposed to all sorts of great music thanks to locally-run and staffed FM stations like WBCN and WFNX. They were always playing cool and interesting songs and turning me on to new artists and bands. But today, as big conglomerates like Clear Channel Media take over the airwaves, the radio stations seem to get more similar, boring and “vanilla”every day. They all play the same assortment of songs, often in the same order, and I swear they all run commercials at the same time. Why people opt for this music format, when there are so many other options, is beyond me. The research study shows that 50% of smartphone users have downloaded Pandora and 83% of 12-24 year olds prefer Youtube for discovering new music so maybe there is hope. The connected car is already here, with more than one-quarter of cell phone owners plugging their phones into their cars. Very soon I will upgrade the stereo in my car, be able to listen to what I want, when I want it and life will once again be good. Or, at least, the music will…


ZVOX - More Than Just a TV Speaker

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Thursday, May 1, 2014

I’m the only ZVOX employee who doesn’t own a TV. But I still own and love my ZVOX.  It suits my audio needs perfectly, by being exclusively used to play music!

Let’s face it, nobody wants a compressed “boom-box” sound as their primary home audio system.
And many people cannot handle - nor do they want to deal with - the complexity, clutter, and cost of a true 5.1 surround sound setup. The ZVOX is an elegant compromise between those two categories. You have the simplicity of a boom-box, combined with a wider sound stage, and a much wider range of audio frequencies.

In my home, I have an iPOD, a laptop, and a record player all connected to the ZVOX simultaneously. The input selection prevents all the audio sources from playing at the same time. Easy to use, and highly functional - I really couldn’t be happier with the setup.

Since it’s primarily marketed toward replacing TV speakers, most folks don’t think of a ZVOX as a "computer speaker" or audio system. But when compared to most typical computer speakers on the market, one will quickly find the ZVOX is worlds better in sound quality. It exceeds aesthetically as well - the SoundBase220 looks like it practically belongs under a computer monitor.

I really encourage folks to consider connecting more than just their television to their ZVOX. Any active headphone output can be connected to the ZVOX speaker for a fantastic listening experience.

PS – Turn your TV off every once in awhile and listen to music instead!

-Matt, Audio Expert at ZVOX

The Right Pandora Stations: A Moving Target?

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Tuesday, April 29, 2014
I can't remember the last time I played a music CD because I wanted to listen to music. In fact, I rarely use my iPhone or my iTunes library for "fun listening," though I do use my phone to demonstrate ZVOX home theater systems...because I have specific demo material that I'm comfortable with.
But when I just want to listen to music, I use Pandora. I love how Pandora clicks onto my music listening mood, and then feeds me great choices all day or all night long. The trick is to pick the right "station" with which to get Pandora started. I've talked to several ZVOX employees about this, and we agree that the right Pandora station is a moving target -- because Pandora seems to change the algorithm of how it chooses cuts.
For example, the Little Feat station has been a favorite of mine for years, shuffling off one great song after another. But the last three times I've tried it, that station has really sucked. The last time I tried it, I didn't last more than three songs, then switched the The Band/Bob Dylan...and soon became mired in some boring '60s protest music.
Finally I switched to the Rolling Stones channel and was blown away by how great it was. I think it went over two hours without having to hit the "skip" button once.
So hey, Pandora dudes, please don't screw around with the Rolling Stones channel for at least a couple of weeks, ok?

P.S.  Give in. Pay Pandora their pittance to make the commercials go away. Totally worth it.

Study Reveals Link Between Hearing Impairment and Depression…We’ve Known That For Years!

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Medical News Today recently reported that people with hearing impairment are more likely to experience depression. Frankly, this is not news to many of us. Just sit in a room with an elderly relative watching TV and it won’t take long to observe the crankiness that comes with not being able to understand what people are saying.
The poor sound quality of modern ultra-thin TVs does nothing to help the equation. In fact we think TV speakers are truly depressing.
The good news is that the DE (Dialog Emphasis) feature in ZVOX systems really does help people with hearing impairment. DE – also known as AccuVoice™ – uses hearing aid technology to makes voices super-clear and understandable…and has been known to reduce crankiness.  
Read more about DE here:  ZVOX Dialog Emphasis Feature
Read the Medical News Today article here:  Article Linking Hearing Impairment to Depression

How a small, privately-financed company changed the way the world buys TV sound.

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Tuesday, February 25, 2014
In January of 2004 NBC’s Lester Holt did a feature on the Today Show highlighting the first commercially successful “sound bar” audio system, the ZVOX model 315. What Today Show viewers didn’t know was that at that time only four ZVOX 315s had been built, that none were available for sale, and that ZVOX “Worldwide Corporate Headquarters” resided in a spare bedroom of a suburban Massachusetts home.

The response to the Today Show feature was so strong that Tom Hannaher, ZVOX’s founder, immediately placed a follow-up order – four times the size of the original order. That turned out to be a good idea, because when the ZVOX web site started selling systems in early March 2004, they sold out almost immediately. ZVOX had been successfully launched with no venture capital, no bank loans, no offices, no warehouses…and one employee.

Initially the going was rough. Consumer electronics retailers were flourishing – selling thousands of expensive 5.1 surround sound systems to consumers’ flush with cash from refinanced mortgages. The idea of giving up all those lucrative $1,000-$3,000 systems sales, and instead selling simple, affordable sound bar systems, did not go over well. But by controlling costs and focusing on on-line marketing, ZVOX survived – while chipping away at the retail market, one retailer at a time.

Now, ten years later, the market for TV sound systems has changed dramatically. While not completely gone, 5.1 surround sound systems now sell in very small numbers. Instead of complicated, expensive home theater systems, most consumers opt for sound bars (introduced by ZVOX in late 2003) or SoundBase® systems – a concept ZVOX introduced in 2008, where the TV sits on top of a wide, low sound system cabinet.

While sound bars from Sony®, Bose®, Yamaha®, Boston Acoustics®, Polk Audio® and other companies had a significant impact on this massive change in consumer buying habits, ZVOX is arguably the company that started it all.

Further information:

® Sony is a registered trademark of Sony, Inc. Bose is a registered trademark of Bose, Inc. Yamaha is a registered trademark of Yamaha, Inc. Boston Acoustics is a registered trademark of D&M Holdings, Inc. Polk Audio is a registered trademark of DEI Holdings, Inc. ZVOX and SoundBase are registered trademarks of ZVOX Audio LLC.
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