What is DRC on Your Soundbar? Should You Use It?

The DRC button on your soundbar remote stands for Dynamic Range Compression. It’s used for automatically normalizing volume, making quieter sounds louder and louder sounds quieter. You should use it to avoid sudden loud sounds or make commercials quieter, but it can affect your TV’s sound quality.

Audio dynamics describe volume variations in films, TV shows, and music. Dynamics are often used to emphasize specific moments, a loud explosion in an action movie, for example. For that reason, reducing dynamics with the DRC button can take away from the experience of watching a great series or a nice concert.

However, dynamics aren’t always pleasant. For example, an unexpected sound effect can make you want to turn the volume down while watching a horror movie. The same happens with commercials, which tend to be annoyingly louder than most TV shows. The DRC button is there to ensure that you have the option to balance volume, reducing the distance between the quietest and loudest sound.

While activating the DRC isn’t ideal if you’re trying to have a special moment watching your favorite content, it does come in handy for turning on the TV at night or when someone else’s trying to sleep. If your goal is just to relax without being startled by sudden sounds, you should put DRC on.

As mentioned, the DRC button can reduce sound quality. However, it does so marginally, affecting only one element of sound (in this case, the dynamic range – the distance between the quietest and loudest sound). This goes to show that DRC won’t ruin your TV’s sound quality despite having a noticeable impact on audio.

What is a soundbar?

A soundbar is an all-in-one speaker that offers high-quality surround sound at an affordable cost and without taking away too much space. Made for TVs, soundbars are a more discreet and easy-to-install alternative to traditional home theater sound systems.

Usually long and slim like a bar (hence the name), soundbars can be comfortably placed underneath any TV and boost sound quality drastically. While they’re not as good as a nice home theater sound system, they’re way easier to deal with. Unlike high-quality TV speakers, a soundbar can be installed in less than five minutes, it doesn’t take away any space in a room, and it’s much more cost-efficient.

Pros and cons of activating DRC on your soundbar

ProsCons
No more annoyingly loud commercialsReduced sound quality
Great for late-night viewingMusic may sound flat and less exciting
No more sudden, startling soundsEfficiency may vary from content to content
Great for movies with very quiet dialogue scenesEmotional moments in movies may feel less impactful
You’ll hardly ever have to change your TV’s volume

In a nutshell, activating or not activating the DRC on your soundbar depends on what you’re trying to do.

If you’re excited about watching the newest episode of your favorite TV series, then turn DRC off and have an experience as immersive and memorable as possible.

If you’re trying to relax by watching some TV and you don’t need the hassle of turning the volume down anytime the commercials start, then DRC is your best friend!

How does DRC work?

The DRC option on your soundbar works as an automatic audio compressor, meaning it reacts to audio signals based on their amplitude (i.e., how loud or quiet they are). It changes the original sound of your TV by pushing quiet sounds up and toning loud sounds down.

Compressors are an important tool in audio production and they’re in pretty much everything, from pop songs to reality-show soundtracks. During the production process, compressors are used for shaping audio dynamics, combining different sounds more cohesively, and dealing with issues such as audio clipping.

DRC is merely a compressor that’s not made for professional audio engineers, but everyday consumers. For that reason, it’s automatic and (usually) non-customizable. This means that, while the DRC’s efficiency may vary from content to content, it’s very easy to use, you just need to press the button!

Does DRC distort the audio?

Technically, DRC distorts the audio, but it does so unnoticeably. While your TV will sound different than normal and the original sounds in movies and shows will be effectively changed, DRC doesn’t give way to unwanted distortions such as noises, clicks, and pops.

When you activate DRC on your soundbar, you’re turning on an automatic audio effect that’s processing all the audio coming from your TV. Hence, the signal is distorted since it’s not the original audio as it was produced by the audio engineer. This doesn’t mean that DRC “distortion” is bad, though.

Summary

Now that you understand what DRC is all about, knowing whether you should use it or not is a no-brainer. I would recommend against having it on all the time, but I believe it makes for a great occasional resource for reducing the volume of commercials, making movie dialogue clearer, or avoiding unwanted surprises.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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