ZDNET’s key takeaways
- The SoundFun Mirai Speaker is available now on Amazon for $299.
- It does exactly what it says it will — and with impressive results. You’ll hear dialog with clarity, without having to crank up your TV to 11.
- This is far from audiophile-quality sound, with not much low end or highs, but for its key purpose, the speaker gets the job done.
Have you noticed that it’s getting harder to hear dialog in movies and TV these days? There are many reasons for that problem, and it’s likely not because your hearing is going bad. Instead, it’s all about director choices, acting styles, a lack of respect for sound on sets, the increased use of music and ambient sound, the evolution of technology, and audience passive listening. In short, there’s a hodgepodge of reasons why dialog is becoming harder and harder to hear.
In some cases, you’ll find yourself turning up the volume on your television, only to find it doesn’t really do any good. I have a lot of friends who resort to turning on subtitles to ensure they can hear what’s going on within scenes. Yeah, it’s frustrating.
For example, my treadmill and rowing machine are both in my basement, where I have a television set up in front of them because both machines are dreadful to use without some distraction. I can use headphones, but even those cans don’t always help me to hear dialog. And cranking up the soundbar I’ve been using for about a year can annoy anyone else in the house.
So, when SoundFun sent me a soundbar designed specifically for enhancing dialog, I was anxious to give it a try. Even before connecting the device, I was fairly certain how it worked and how it would sound.
- Curved-shape speaker design to produce sound waves for better distance hearing
- Audio frequency: 150Hz~20kHz
- Amp output: Dual 15W amps
- Audio input: Optical and 3.5mm analog
- Contoller: Remote
- Color: Black
- Dimensions: 21.3″ W X 3.4″ H X 6.2″ D
- Power: AC adapter (DC 12V 2A)
I was doubtful this speaker would work as well as it claimed. First off, I was fairly certain how it worked — bump up the midrange, which is the frequency most responsible for carrying the human voice, and bump down the lows and highs. With the midrange in focus, dialog should be more prominent.
And that’s exactly the technique deployed in the soundbar, but it works very well. My first test was watching The West Wing while on the treadmill. Now, this wouldn’t normally be a good test of a speaker that places a focus on dialog because this series was filmed during the 1990s, when dialogue wasn’t drowned out by so much figurative and metaphorical noise. But when a treadmill is going full bore, dialogue can get drowned out, even with great speakers. The SoundFun Mirai had no problem getting the dialog to my ears, even without having to crank it up to max.
The only problem the speaker had was with one voice that was particularly mid-range-heavy and loud. When that voice peaked, the speaker restarted. This situation only happened once, but it took me by surprise. Other than that instance, I haven’t had a single problem with the Mirai.
After the West Wing/treadmill test, I then put the soundbar through its paces with movies from various eras while I used the rowing machine — and not once did I have problems hearing dialogue. Even various dialects and accents were as clear as if the speaker was right in the room with me. I watched every genre I could think of — from horror to documentaries — and the SoundFun Mirai didn’t miss a beat.
The one thing you must keep in mind is that you can’t expect cinema-quality sound with this device. There is no subwoofer to bolster the low end and the small speakers aren’t going to fill up your room with an immersive sound experience. This speaker has been created for one purpose, which is to ensure you hear dialog — and it does a great job.
The last thing I’ll say about this speaker is that setup and usage couldn’t be easier. With only two options for input, you plug in either connection (it comes with both optical and 3.5mm cables), turn the device on, and start listening. Even the remote is as basic as you’ll ever see, with only a power button and volume up/down buttons. Because this is speaker so simple, anyone can set it up in minutes and start hearing dialog as if you were back in the 1980s or 1990s (minus the cool hair, fun clothes, and awesome music).
ZDNET’s buying advice
I was surprised at how effective the SoundFun Mirai was at helping me hear dialog, even while pounding away on the treadmill or watching a movie that I might otherwise have missed. If you find yourself struggling to hear dialog in TV and movies, I would highly recommend you give this speaker a try. You won’t be disappointed.