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The answer for blaring TV commercials?

Gary Krakow investigates the Audiovox/Terk VR-1 electronic volume regulator touted as the way to solve the problem of super-loud television commercials.
This little box (3.1 by 4 by 1.2 inches) is an automatic volume control  for making loud TV commercials a little easier to take.
This little box (3.1 by 4 by 1.2 inches) is an automatic volume control  for making loud TV commercials a little easier to take.Audiovox / Terk

For as long as I can remember TV commercials have been too loud. Advertisers figured out early on that raising the volume of ads got people’s attention. As techniques improved broadcasters were able to compress and tweak the audio so that not only were commercials louder — but they punched through nearly any type of TV speaker or competing room noise.  The only solution was to get up and lower the volume by hand.

In the 1950's, the introduction of remote controls helped keep annoyed viewers in their seats. If you were quick enough you could turn the sound down (or off) when the commercials came on and then back on again without missing a word of the program.

But that was half a century ago. What can the modern-day TV viewer do to fight back?  Surely in this age of HDTV, cable, satellites and flat-screen TVs someone could come up with a solution.

Audiovox says they have. It’s a simple little box that automatically detects when a program has gone to commercial and lowers the volume accordingly. You take the audio output from your cable or satellite box, plug it into the VR-1 then plug the VR-1's outputs into your TV. Audiovox provides you with an RCA patch cord to help complete the task.

On the front of the VR-1 is a switch to turn the active circuitry on or off and a light to tell you the included AC adapter is plugged into the wall outlet. That’s all there is to it.

According to the very brief instruction sheet, the VR-1 provides effective volume matching for television audio, DVDs, movies and more. The company promised me that I will enjoy consistent audio levels when surfing from channel-to-channel, program-to-commercial or between loud and noisy scenes.

TV viewers everywhere have been waiting for something like this for a lifetime. My tests, however, tell me you may have to wait a little longer.

VR-1 in action
I installed the device on two home theater systems. One has a large LCD TV and a high-definition cable TV controller box — the other a smaller picture tube HDTV receiver and a high-def cable/DVR. In each case, the VR-1 was installed, per instructions, between the RCA outputs from the cable box and the TV's audio inputs.

I watched and listened to daytime programming, prime time and late night shows, movies, sporting events and some of the insipid programming available on cable TV. I made sure I stayed near the VR-1 so that when commercials came on I could switch the circuitry on and off to see if I could hear a difference.

I didn’t hear much difference either way. The sound levels didn’t change radically when I switched it in and out of the audio path. And, I was never aware that the VR-1 was “doing something” to the TV commercials' sound.

On the other hand, I’m not sure it wasn’t. I would assume that the device wouldn’t electronically ride gain — or constantly turn up and down the sound so that the user could hear it. I figure the VR-1 averages incoming sound levels so the viewer/listener would never be subjected to jarring changes. If that’s the case then the VR-1 did its job.

It didn’t ruin the quality of the sound in any way, which always is a consideration when you plug an automatic control unit into any circuit.

The VR-1 has a suggested retail price of $39.99 — but I’ve seen it selling on the Web for less than $30.