What is Up with the Sound On Disney+?
If you have kids or are a kid-at-heart that loves Marvel movies, a Disney+ subscription is practically a requirement. But lately, people have been noticing that something is up with the sound on Disney+. And not just Disney+ but also Disney-owned Hulu. To get the same relative volume as other streaming services, Disney+ and Hulu have to be turned up quite a bit. So, what’s the deal? Is it you, your streaming device of choice, or something else? While we don’t have definitive answers, we do have some ideas.
The Sound on Disney Products have been Weird for a While
Way back in 2018, Forbes published an article complaining about Disney sound mixes. They didn’t have any real answers as to why Disney products sounded weird, but they suspected it had something to do with the mastering process. If you’ve heard the lack of bass in the Thor: Ragnarok Ultra HD Blu-ray, you know that something is amiss.
The thing is that the sound of Disney movies in the theaters is generally very good. While it is impossible to compare them directly, subjective reporting suggests that it isn’t the original soundtrack that is the problem Instead, it is something to do with how it is transferred into other mediums.
Pump Up the Volume
This has translated directly over to the Disney+ and Hulu platforms (they also own ESPN but I don’t subscribe). In the last year, I’ve noticed that the volume levels on Hulu and Disney+ have changed. When it first launched, Disney+ and Hulu required the same volume level as many other apps that I use. But recently, I’ve started to bump the volume up around 10dB. This is a huge difference compared to the other apps.
Usually, I’d blame the platform. Each platform requires its own specific app from each streaming service. We’ve seen some apps that have varied widely in features and quality from platform to platform. But that doesn’t seem to be the case there. Across platforms, Disney+ and Hulu have changed so that users need to increase the sound volume significantly.
What’s the Diagnosis?
There have been a lot of theories as to what is going on with the sound on Disney products. The one that makes the most sense to me is that someone at Disney made the decision that they should cater to the lowest common denominator. And what is the lowest denominator? Probably your phone or tablet.
Rather than creating specific mixes that cater to the strengths and weaknesses of each type of device, Disney seems to be creating one mix to rule them all. And this mix must be highly compressed. Why? Because when you are using the speakers on your phone, tablet, or TV, you don’t want lots of variations in volume, You want the dynamic range to be compressed so that all the sounds are the same volume.
This is great for crappy speakers or when you are listening in a compromised environment. But when you have a full set of quality speakers, in a room meant to enjoy a Disney or Marvel movie, you don’t want all the sounds to be the same volume. You want the quiet parts to be quiet and the loud (and low) parts to be LOUD. That doesn’t seem to be the case with many Disney disc releases. The compressed version is there as well.
Of Course There is a Petition
As you might expect, there is a Change.org petition asking Disney to fix their sound on disc releases. Disappointingly, very few people have signed it. Therein lies the problem. Most people don’t notice, nor do they care, about audio. These are the people that are convinced that you can’t get movie theater-quality sound or picture at home. These are the people that don’t understand why you’d want a subwoofer (or even more speakers than a soundbar).
While I could rail against these people, I won’t. It isn’t their fault. I’ve seen many industry “professionals” claim that we NEED theaters because that is the only way to truly experience a movie. Well, if you want good sound from a Disney movie, that is certainly true. But it doesn’t have to be.
Will Disney Change How They Mix Sound?
Nothing I do or say is going to make Disney care about how their content sounds on my home theater. I just don’t have the pull. But certainly, someone does. And that someone needs to know that how they’ve been doing things isn’t good enough. Will they read this article? Probably not. But you did.
I believe that headphones are the gateway to home theater. Everyone has headphones these days and more and more people are starting to realize just how bad most of them sound. As they start caring about how their headphones, sound, they are going to start caring about how everything sounds. As that happens, we can hope that someone at Disney also starts caring about how their products sound. Until then, we’ll all have to keep turning it up.