Don’t use The Avengers Age of Ultron Blu-ray to show off your home cinema

posted on Monday, 21st September 2015 by Steve May

home cinema  Blu-ray  Dolby Atmos 

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If you want to show off your home cinema, don't call on The Avengers. Earth's mightiest heroes may have sounded super heroic in the cinema, but the much anticipated Blu-ray release of Avengers Age of Ultron, hasn't arrived with the statement soundtrack AV enthusiasts might have hoped for.

Having good demo software is essential for any installer looking to sell the benefits of a full blown home cinema install, be it 5.1, 7.2 or Dolby Atmos. And for fans there're few things more satisfying than hearing their AV kit in full unfettered flight. So any blockbuster which inexplicably fails to deliver comes as a major disappointment.

I first heard Avengers Age of Ultron at a packed multimedia screening in London's Leicester Square Odeon. It's not a Dolby Atmos theatre, but it does deliver a superior sonic experience. Swept up in the excitement, I certainly never noticed anything untoward about the sound mix. Indeed, it seemed pretty exhilarating at the time. Inexplicably, that's not what's delivered by the Blu-ray release.

In fact, when I first spun the disc, I thought something had gone wrong with my system. This 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix sounds like nothing of the sort.

Avengers Splash

The opening sequence, the raid on Hydra’s research facility, left me dumbfounded. The dialogue is pre-eminent, and directional effects, like bullet pings and Cap's clanking shield, are delivered with resounding dynamics. But other elements of the mix seem unbalanced. The score appears to be leaking in from an adjoining theatre, while some elements of onscreen action are completely bereft of sonic heft.

Thor's hammer clunks resoundingly into Hydra goons, but Hydra’s heavy weaponry has no volume; Captain America throws his motorcycle into a jeep, causing it to flip, but this has no sonic consequence - it lands with all the impact of a tin foil tray.

As a viewer, the instinctive reaction is to crank up the volume. But this doesn't solve the problem. Dialogue and sporadic effects become uncomfortably loud, and the score remains recessed. 

I stopped the movie and dug out test discs and other known favourites. They all sounded normal. I even listened to the BBC's TV broadcast of the first Avengers flick, in DD 5.1; that sounded better too. I then recalibrate the entire system (luckily I hadn't invited anyone else around to watch the film with me, as that would have been a bit embarrassing). Still nothing changed.

The Avengers House party sequence before the introduction of Ultron, would seem to offer plenty of opportunity for an involving, ambient mix. But it’s largely stereophonic. The surround channels are near-as-dammit silent. This film sounds like a TV show.

There's often debate amongst enthusiasts about the merits of near field remasters of movie soundtracks, that's to say films whose soundtracks have been remastered for listening in a home environment rather than a commercial theatre. I'm generally sanguine about them, as there appear valid acoustic reasons for doing them. But what we have here is unapologetically dialogue-based. Perhaps AoU has been remastered for soundbar playback? 

DTS 7_menu

So am I alone in this? I chatted with Anton on Home Cinema Choice magazine, who reports that he too had a similar sonic experience. HCC has since queried the soundtrack with Disney. Twitter respondents confirm volume related issues.

I'm beginning to feel that The Avengers are jinxed. I had similar issues with the UK Blu-ray release of the first Avengers movie, specifically about the now notorious self censored Death of Agent Coulson scene. That went viral real fast. Disney denied everything, then the BBFC got involved and even the BBC's Watchdog TV show joined in.

So at this point, I'm not sure what's going on with the soundtrack. Probably it’s just meant to sound the way it does; this may well be an authentic representation of the intended sound design. Or just maybe Loki has been up to his usual mischief.

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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Posted by Zak Vracevic on 21st September 2015, 7:02 PM
Well, after spending number of years in post pro studios (large and small) I witnessed all sorts of things and got very depressed and disillusioned about movie mixes for DVD & Blu Ray. They sound NOTHING like the real thing and are always inferior. And they are never properly mixed again for domestic market. Studio gets stems (dialogues, effects, soundtrack) and have to make with what they were given. Some movies are mixed on semi pro gear in small, DIY studios. Nuff said!
Posted by Darren Shear on 19th October 2015, 11:27 AM
Interesting post, wish we could see what goes on behind closed doors more often...

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