What Volume Level is “Normal” on an AV Receiver?
What’s the deal with having to change the volume level on your AV receiver all the time? From app to app, from streaming to disc, from cable box to anything else, everything requires a different volume! Sometimes even in the same app, you’ll need to adjust the volume as you watch different content! Shouldn’t you just be able to pick a volume level on the AV receiver and leave it alone? Why must the volume level constantly be changed? Let’s discuss!
Mixing and Mastering
Before we get into the specifics, let’s discuss mixing and mastering. When a piece of media is created, someone (usually the audio engineer with input from the director/artist) needs to make decisions about how everything is going to sound. They take all the audio that is recorded and adjust it until it sounds the way they want and is balanced with the rest of the audio. This is called mixing. Once the “mix” is finished, they move on to mastering. Mastering is putting the final touches on the audio and getting it ready for final distribution. More info can be found here.
During this process, the overall volume of the audio is determined and set. If you are mixing and mastering a movie, you are supposed to use reference level as your guide. If you are mixing nearly any other media, there are no real standards and each audio engineer will mix to whatever they want. You probably see where this is going.
No Standards Means No Set Volume
When you don’t have a standard that makes everyone mix to the same volume, then you end up with audio that is mixed to wildly different volume levels. If you are watching TV shows on a streaming service, you may find that some shows are considerably quieter than others. This is because of how they were mixed and mastered. But it gets worse.
Apps Aren’t All the Same
One thing that often confuses people is that they have to change the volume level on their AV receiver when they are using only one device. Usually, when you are watching a movie, you can switch to a different movie and not have to adjust the volume too much. But when using a game console or streaming box for streaming different apps, you often have to change the volume as you switch from app to app.
This is because there are no standards (again) about how these apps handle volume. Your Roku, Apple TV+, or game console does not create and control the apps. These apps are maintained by their respective services. This is why the volume seems to vary so wildly between the apps. In fact, if you were to stream the same service from a different app on a different device, you would likely find that the volume would be different! Even the same service can’t (or won’t) maintain similar volumes between their different apps on different devices.
What Is “Normal?”
If you are looking for a fix, there really isn’t one. You could try enabling a dynamic range compression DSP on your AV receiver. This would make the volume less variable, but won’t adjust the overall level. In general, each of us prefers to listen at a specific volume. Since there is no standardization between the different content and apps, there is no way of knowing what is the right volume level for you for each type of content. What you’ll find is that you’ll have a specific volume level on your AV receiver for each app/content/service/device that your find “normal.” But don’t be surprised if you have to change it fairly often. We are all doing the same thing.