Why Do We All Need Subtitles Now?

There is an answer, but it’s more complex than you might think

Benny Carts
6 min readJan 29


Image by nadiabormotova from Depositphotos

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stream anything these days without using subtitles. If it wasn’t for the fact my wife does the same, I’d think I was developing a hearing problem.

Turns out we’re not alone.

Research conducted by StageText showed that 4 out of 5 viewers aged 18–25 use subtitles all or part of the time. So what’s happening? Is there a genetic mutation that’s preventing new generations from understanding dialogue?

Fortunately, no. The actual reason is as layered as it is technical.

Big mics, bigger voices

Ever wonder why old Hollywood performances seem to have a completely different style — more theatrical or overblown? Well, technology is a deciding factor. In the early days of sound recording, mics were wired, bulky, temperamental, and often required creative solutions to be hidden. What’s more, actors had to always be conscious of the mic’s position and ensure they projected their voices towards it. To add to the already challenging prospect of technicians, all these sounds could only be recorded onto one track no matter how many performers were in a scene.

Paving the way for naturalism

Cut to today and technology has gotten to the point where mics no longer impede performance. To record sound in the modern era, 2 boom mics are used along with a hidden lavalier mic worn by the actors. This ensures Tom Hardy can mumble to his heart's content without having to worry about the direction or volume of his voice. However, while this has paved the way for more naturalistic performances, it does present problems. The main one being we can’t make heads or tail what the actors are actually saying.

The magic of modern sound editing

Austin Olivia Kendrick is a dialogue editor who, as she puts it, “performs audio…



Benny Carts