I'm a home theatre fan (see my website link in my profile), but very much an amateur. When I watch a movie it is to relax and switch off.

By profession I'm in IT, and find whenever I use a computer outside work, I'm always aware of UI issues or poor programming (and cringe endlessly at Movie "computers").

Do you find that you are listening critically when watching movies/TV for entertainment, or can you switch off when you leave the office?

11 Answers 11


If I'm watching a movie or tv show or playing a game, if it is good and sucks me in with the story, I find it hard to pay attention to the sound. I'll notice little bits here and there, but I am more interested in enjoying good media then being a sound geek. I'll tell people about a game or movie that I really enjoyed, people ask me how the sound was, I usually say I don't know, I was too busy enjoying the movie.

If there is something bad about the sound/music/dialog, usually I'll pick up on it and it will end up distracting me and hindering my enjoyment of the movie/tv/game.

If the sound is really good something will catch my ear. Then I'll need to revisit the movie/tv/game a least a second or third time to focus on the sound.

If someone was to ask me what the best sounding movie I've seen in the last year, my answer would have to be something that I've watched more then once. I actually can't think of anything I've seen in the last year that I remember the sound in, except maybe Star Trek, because I've watched it a few times :) Take Avatar for example. I really enjoyed the movie (saw it in 3D) I don't remember the sound, was it good?

Remember, if we do our jobs well, no one should ever know we were there....


Actually, I did think of a couple of movies where I really focused on the sound the first time I watched them.

Wall-E. Sound is such a key storytelling element in that film. Impossible to ignore. Amazing work by one of the true greats in our field.

Saving Private Ryan. That movie changed my life. I remember flipping through the cable channels, SPR was on, maybe half-way through the movie. I had a sound request on game I was working at the time for some darts that should sound like the bullets in SPR. So I started watching it to check out the sound. I was so floored by what I heard (and the film in general), that I watched it to the end and then watched it again right after (it was on HBO and repeated for west coast time). I then went out a few days later, bought the DVD and watched it again.


I find it very difficult to switch off my "poor sound radar", especially when it comes to dialogue. If I notice poor quality sound effects or something, I can usually push that to the back of my mind, but if the dialogue is off, there's bad ADR, ambience is wacky, or certain sounds are particularly bad, I can't overlook it. It doesn't really bother me though, since I enjoy picking apart films and TV shows so I can learn from others' mistakes


It takes a very good film for me to stop concentrating on the sound. By good, I don't necessarily mean a well crafted movie, but rather a gripping narrative. My attention will be stolen as much by a great piece of sound design than a bad one. My love for it makes it hard to be just an audience member. I find myself often not enjoying watching movies or listening to music because either the sound is too loud, or the quality too low, or the listening environment not right. I've gotten better lately though, forcing myself to let go a bit.


Unless the sound is somehow annoying, I get drawn in and am a complete punter if the movie is good. In fact, I sometimes think if I don't notice the sound, it's because it was well done.


By default, I watch movies like most anyone else does -- get immersed in the story, subconsciously appreciate the component aspects like cinematography, editing, sound design, etc. If any part of the movie is particularly bad (writing, acting, camera work, any aspect of the soundtrack), causing me to fall out of the story and back into the theater seat (or couch), there's a chance that I'll start scrutinizing the components that make up the film, including sound. If the film is excellent all around, I may consciously appreciate some component of it for a moment or two before getting back into the story.

On good films like those, if the element that grabbed my attention is a great sound moment, I always watch the film again later to do nothing but scrutinize the sound. I did this most recently with Avatar to the tune of yet another $18 3D IMAX ticket -- ouch. (Chuck, yes, the sound was good - I loved the mix and there was plenty of killer FX work.)

If the movie is just horrendously awful, I'll try to make the best of it by turning it into a listening exercise and scrutinize every last iota of sound work that I can.

I find it harder to stay in "story mode" when gaming - possibly because I have to listen critically while gaming day in, day out at work. Habit, I guess.


I try it sometimes, but after a while I realize that by concentrating on the sound I will lose the plot. Therefore: first time : getting immersed second time,etc. : listening for sound


I don't really notice sound all that much when I'm watching films or playing video games. If there is something really bad, like poorly lined up ADR or junk sound effect, I notice right away and it takes me out of the film for a minute. Generally, if sound design is very good, I don't notice until the end of the film when I have time to process the experience - like Wall-E or Inception.

When playing video games, I will occasionally take time to wander around after baddies have been cleared to enjoy the design of a level. For instance, I recently replayed Half-Life 2 and was really loving the bridge level - such a cool level, really makes you feel the height of the bridge.


I learned a term ages ago in school called "the willingful suspension of disbelief" which is a prerequisite in a way for enjoying many fictional works. Besides employing that technique, I do see the goofy stupid stuff but typically chuckle then let it blow by for the greater good of being entertained by the movie! Sometimes I dig in. In the Netflix series XIII they have this world-altering more-dangerous-than-nukes computer program. Turns out the code they display on screen is HTML/CSS code from the engadget.com website.That was a good laugh. So dangerous! But also an amateurish oversight.


A critical ear (and eyes) is not something I have found particularly easy to turn off. I give a warning to people starting out in the A/V field that while it is a lot of fun, it will forever impact the way they see and hear media productions. It is a double edged sword though, while I find any issues in a work to be incredibly distracting, when a work really shines, I find all the more enjoyment in seeing such a well done work.

I rarely go to concerts any more due to these kinds of issues and I prefer to watch movies at home on my setup that I have calibrated and configured the way I like to minimize distractions that might be introduced by the location as well.

For the most part I prefer to work at live events rather than attend them, but when I do decide to attend something, it has to be pulled off in a really top notch way or I'll be super distracted.


I do tend to get sucked in if the film is good. But that's not to say that I won't notice some bad sound moments or obvious ADR. Or on the other hand, that I won't notice a particularly nice bit of design. But to really listen to the sound of a film I generally have to go through it a second and third time.

One very interesting experiment in this was when I flew back from England and the only in-flight movie I was at all interested in watching was SWAT -- I wound up watching it three or four times in a row, specifically to listen for sound and music things.


It is really down to the quality of the film. Every time I watch Star Wars I think this time I am going to concentrate on the sound, but it never works I am always sucked in. But there are plenty of other films where it is easy to listen to the sound, it is usually down to the approach that has been taken, the budget has either been very tight, or someone is trying to prove a point and draw attention to the sound.

It is important to be able to switch off your critical listening skills so that you can understand the audience perspective.

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