Why It’s Hard to Hear Dialogue on Netflix (And How to Fix It)

Key Takeaways

  • Netflix defaults to playing audio in 5.1 surround sound, which can cause dialogue to be too quiet on home setups without surround sound systems.
  • To fix this issue, go to the «Other» option in the play controls while watching a movie or TV show, select «English [Original]» or your preferred language, and enjoy an improved audio experience.

Have you ever watched Netflix and noticed the dialogue is too quiet, but the sound effects and music are too loud? This is a problem that many people complain about, and—depending on your TV and home theater setup—it could have a simple fix.

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Why Does This Happen?

The audio you hear from a movie or TV show is comprised of multiple recordings that have been «mixed» together. There are channels for the actor’s dialogue, sound effects, background music, and more. During post-production, the volume level and other audio specifications of the various channels are fine-tuned and mixed for the final product. The goal is to create a balanced audio experience where whispered dialogue, explosions, and everything in between are all balanced perfectly so the viewer is never left wanting to hear key details or enjoy the experience. That’s easy to do when you’re mixing for a theater setup with specific speakers and known variables. Things can get messy when audio is mixed for multiple environments.

That’s one common reason why the dialogue on Netflix, and other streaming services for that matter, is too quiet. The way audio is mixed for different types of media doesn’t always translate well to a home setup. Movies and TV shows are usually mixed for surround sound systems, with multiple speakers that can create a more immersive sound experience. The music may be configured to play louder through the speakers behind you, while the dialogue comes through more prominently on the front-facing speakers.

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However, most people don’t have surround sound systems at home, and instead rely on the built-in speakers of their TVs or soundbars. So all the various audio channels play through only a pair of speakers instead of a whole array of them. If you happen to have a TV or soundbar that masterfully downsamples (the process of mixing a 7.1 or 5.1 soundscape to a 2.0 one) you’re lucky, and you’re probably not reading this article looking for a solution. On the other hand, if your setup always seems too loud on the booming action and too soft on the dialogue, we’ll show you how to correct it on Netflix.

How to Fix It

For some reason, Netflix on many platforms, especially smart TVs, defaults to playing audio for 5.1 surround sound. That means it’s intended for a surround sound system with five speakers and one subwoofer. This forces your setup to, however well or however terribly, downsample the 5.1 audio to 2.0 audio if you don’t have a surround sound system. So if you don’t have surround sound, you should change a key setting. Thankfully, it’s very easy to do.

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First, start a TV show or movie and bring up the play controls. Select the «Other» option at the bottom of the screen.


You’ll probably notice that «English [Original] (5.1)» is selected. Select plain «English [Original]» or your preferred language’s equivalent.


The TV show or movie will restart, and you should notice an improved audio experience! It’s honestly very strange that Netflix defaults to surround sound for audio. That’s something that should need to be enabled, not disabled. It’s equally strange that they don’t use a speaker designation on the setting and call it «Original.» Regardless, this is a simple little trick that can make dialogue much easier to hear—but you don’t worry, you don’t have to ditch your beloved subtitles even if the dialogue is much clearer now.

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