How to Solve Sonos Playbar Speech Issues with the Apple TV

A couple months ago, I purchased a Sonos Playbar to replace a Bluetooth Samsung Soundbar I had, as I wanted to integrate the living room audio setup with the rest of my house, which is all Sonos.

Probably due to over-exposure to loud music from playing in rock bands through highschool and college, I really struggle to hear conversation in noisy environments like pubs, and this issue extends to hearing speech in movies unless I’ve got a dedicated speech channel. My hearing seems fine overall (famous last words I guess), just differentiating speech within noisy backdrops is annoying.  Modern flat screen TVs really exacerbate this issue as their speakers aren’t great anyway, let alone for pushing out a nice clean speech channel.

The sound you get from the Playbar (and two Play 1s for surround sound) is great for music, but the results I’ve had regarding speech during movies have absolutely sucked.  It’s kind of surprising when you start seeing threads like this one where there’s dozens of people complaining for years, with no real response / solution.

Here’s how to solve this situation:

You need to bypass any potential pre-processing that might happen to the audio signal.

If you have a receiver it’s probably a safe bet your signal is clean, but like most people, I just have a TV and a bunch of HDMI inputs.  I had them plugged into my Samsung 4k Smart TV and I had the optical audio connected from the TV to the Sonos Playbar.  I had the TV correctly configured to bypass any audio processing and it was only shunting the audio out to the optical port.  Except it wasn’t.

To inexpensively solve this issue:

  1. Buy an HDMI splitter with an audio optical out, like this one.
  2. Hook your AppleTV (which doesn’t have an optical out) and any other devices (BluRay, etc.) into the splitter.  Hook the optical from the splitter into the Playbar.
  3. Turn on the Speech Enhancement on the Sonos App and Night Mode.
  4. You’re done! You now have clean audio and a functioning Dolby 5.1 signal that has clear dialog.

I’d like to point out here that the true villain of this story is Samsung for essentially lying about the pass-through capability of the TV.  Sonos should bear some blame here too – it could easily better educate customers and include some common troubleshooting advice either online or in the documentation.

Hope this helps!

Hating Your (Potential) Customers: Content Licensing from a Major Record Label

Have you ever wondered what’s involved in licensing a popular band’s music?  A few years ago I was curious and wanted to see about using a rock band’s song (signed to a major record label, Sony’s Epic music) for a marketing project.  There are some bands who get the internet, and some who don’t, and this band (one of my favorites) is probably somewhere in between.

First, I had to spend quite a bit of time googling and navigating around their record label’s website.  Finally, I found an obscure reference to call a certain phone number.  I called it, and had to navigate through a maze of IVR options, pressing several numbers to wade through several different menu levels.  Finally, I got dumped out to an answering service that played a message instructing you to write a physical letter describing the band, song, use you had in mind, and several other criteria.  The message helpfully repeated itself, then hung up.

I remember being shocked at how arcane the entire thing was, despite the well documented track record of major media labels and distributors to make things as difficult as possible for consumers.  Needless to say we never sent in the physical letter, and I never actually found out what it would cost.

I like to remember this experience when thinking about the barriers our customers have when attempting to give us money.

Guster at the House of Blues

I love hard rock music.  The angrier the better.  Bands like Godsmack, Chevelle, Systematic, Alice in Chains, Rise Against, etc.  The Wife does not enjoy her music with an extra helping of anger.  She likes her music (like her movies) happy.  She has been a long-term fan of a band called Guster, and even though I very rarely ever listen to music that’s not rock music, you can’t help but like Guster.  They’re happy.  They’re catchy.  They also happen to be one of the best live acts I’ve seen which would probably surprise a lot of people who know me.South Florida rarely gets decent bands visiting.  I believe the reasons are mostly geographical as bands swing down the Eastern seaboard, play a show at Orlando, then have a choice to head towards Gainesville or Tallahassee, or travel down to Miami/Fort Lauderdale.  After their South Florida show, it’s five hours to Gainesville, seven to Tallahassee, or more to other destinations.  This means they’ll have to take the next night off for travel which is usually not a good deal for most bands.  We also lack a good mid-size venue in South Florida for rock shows, with the only reasonable option being Revolution in Fort Lauderdale, but they haven’t done a very good job each time I’ve seen a show there.House of Blues in Orlando does a fantastic job, however.  Both that location and their Chicago venue have phenomenal sound quality which leads me to think this is a chain-wide priority and if so, it’s a smart way to ensure that both fans AND bands enjoy coming.  The production quality at both locations is superb and I’ve seen this happen several times watching the same band on back-to-back nights with one of them being at a House of Blues.Anyway, seeing Guster perform at the House of Blues was an incredible treat.  Each member switches instruments almost every song, rotating through lead guitar, keyboards, bass guitar, mandolin, and rhythm guitar.  A trumpet makes a guest appearance, along with a harmonica.  Their singer and the backing vocals are never off pitch.  They don’t talk very much at all and when they do pause between their songs to say something, it’s always extremely funny.  Did I mention their drummer plays a lot of their songs with just his hands?  They typically make up a song just for the town they’re in that’s clearly ad-libbed and hilarious, and they usually finish with an acoustic only encore that’s performed with no amplification at all – fans sush everyone until you can hear a pin drop and then the band sings and plays with no mics, no amps, nothing.Their songs are incredibly catchy, their live performance is unbelievably spot-on, and they’ve played for over two hours each time I’ve seen them.  It’s not my style of music but Guster is certainly on my Top 5 Performing Bands list.  If you can catch them at a House of Blues, even better.

Thoughts on Concerts

Last night The Wife and I went to see Johnny Lang perform in Fort Lauderdale for the second time.  Lang is an amazing performer and I really enjoyed it, just like the first time.  Unlike the first time we saw him (same venue, a year earlier), he had an opening act: Alex Band from the Calling.I have never seen a more arrogant performer in my life.  This includes performances by Creed, Slayer, Trapt, Godsmack, and pretty much a whole host of hard rock/heavy metal/etc. with stratospheric egos.  The bands I just listed were my previous top 4, but Band is now spots 1-5 on the arrogant chart.

  • Before every song that was remotely popular, he would list the awards, Billboard charting, and any other radio charting statistics that the song had garnered.
  • He repeatedly threw how his age when describing when he wrote the songs: “I wrote this when I was 15”.
  • He spent significant time whining about his label and how they screwed him on his record deal and how everyone else screwed him by stealing music (downloading).
  • He then played a cover song which I’m sure he paid no royalties for (stealing, in his terms).
  • He went on and on about a bracelet music purchase system he’s invented, where you could buy it, how much more convenient and better it was than downloading the songs or buying the single, then confessed you have to take a code from a the bracelet, enter it on his website, and uhhh, download the song!

I just sat there cringing and wishing he would get off the stage.  He also had this horrible opera-like deep vocal tendency and the entire thing was a shame because he was obviously talented and had a good voice.Johnny Lang got out on stage later, an infinitely more talented and creative musician and mentioned “Give it up for Alex Band” to anemic applause.  Then reminded everyone “Hope you enjoyed all those number 1 hits.  We have no number one hits.  But we have people who love us.”Words to live by.