Thanks to the rise of smart TVs, we have access to more entertainment options than ever before. Whether you want to view your favorite shows and movies on Netflix or Disney+, listen to music on Spotify, watch live sports, or play video games, your TV has become a major entertainment hub for everyone in your household.
Of course, there’s one critical element that unites the activities above: you listen to them. Whether it’s the dialogue in a film, a relaxing classical jazz piece, or the roar of the stadium crowd, listening to your favorite entertainment helps enhance the experience and bring it to the next level.
Unfortunately, enjoying this audio is more challenging for people with hearing loss. Turning up the volume is a stopgap solution, but it reduces the audio quality and runs the risk of disturbing those around you. Meanwhile, closed captions are hit-or-miss quality and don’t capture the full audio experience.
To address these difficulties, a number of manufacturers have developed so-called “TV headphones” that transmit audio directly into the listener’s ears. So what are TV headphones, exactly? What should you consider when purchasing TV headphones, and what are the best TV headphones? We’ll answer all of these questions and more in this comprehensive TV headphones buyer’s guide.
What are TV Headphones?
TV headphones are assistive listening devices designed to help people with hearing impairments watch TV. Most of these devices look a bit like a doctor’s stethoscope: two earbuds are inserted into the user’s ears, while a headset hangs below the user’s chin.
Specifically, TV headphones work as sound amplifiers that deliver audio from the TV set directly into your ears. A transmitter plugged into your TV set sends the TV audio to a receiver in the headset, which then sends it to the earbuds and into the user’s ears. Most TV headphones also contain technology that helps clarify and amplify speech, so that users can more easily understand spoken dialogue.
Although TV headphones serve a similar purpose to hearing aids (at least in the limited domain of TV watching), the two devices are not the same:
- Unlike the stethoscope-like form of TV headphones, hearing aids are typically smaller and are worn behind or in the ear. (See our article on the different types of hearing aids.)
- Hearing aids may help you better understand TV dialogue, but they are not optimized for this use case. On the other hand, hearing aids can handle a wide range of daily situations, whereas TV headphones can only capture TV audio.
- If you’re using a Bluetooth hearing aid, however, you may be able to send TV audio via Bluetooth into your hearing aid when watching TV, similar to how TV headphones function. (This may require a third-party Bluetooth transmitter.)
You might also hear the term TV Ears used as a synonym for TV headphones. This is because the TV Ears product was one of the first TV headphones devices on the market, and it has since become a kind of shorthand for the concept (similar to how “Kleenex” can refer to any facial tissue).
By now, however, many different businesses have released their own version of TV headphones, and users are now spoiled for choice. High-quality offerings are available from audio companies such as Sennheiser and Avantree, as well as hearing aid providers like MDHearing.
TV Headphones for General Use: What’s the Difference?
In this article, we’ll be using the term “TV headphones” to refer to this type of assistive listening device as we’ve defined it above. However, it can also be used more generally to describe any kind of headphones that can play audio from your TV, without the specific intent of helping people with hearing loss.
These products are usually intended for people who are more concerned about peace and quiet—e.g. watching TV or playing video games while everyone else in the household has gone to sleep. (You can typically use TV headphones for assistive listening in the same manner, by turning down the TV set’s volume and only listening through the headset.)
This second type of TV headphones also tends to have a different design:
- As discussed, TV headphones for assistive listening have a stethoscope-like shape with two earbuds. Thus, they might be more properly called “earphones” or “in-ear headphones.” These devices are optimized to deliver audio directly into the ear canal.
- On the other hand, this second type of TV headphones usually consists of “over-the-ear headphones,” with two ear cups that fit over the user’s ears.
Many of the TV headphones buyer’s guides that you’ll find online are primarily oriented toward this second type of device, without special consideration for people with hearing impairments. We encourage you to be careful when looking at some of these other guides, since the products they promote will likely be less helpful than TV headphones designed specifically for hearing loss issues.
Why Do You Need TV Headphones?
Much of the target audience for TV headphones are people who may not even consider themselves a good candidate for the device. People with mild hearing loss, for example, are typically able to follow day-to-day conversations, provided that certain conditions are met—such as adequate volume, a quiet environment, and being able to view the other person’s lips.
However, these conditions are not always present with TV shows, films, and other media, which can create problems for even people with mild hearing loss. These barriers include:
- Speech in a variety of voices and speaking rates.
- Off-camera speakers.
- Soft, whispered, or mumbled speech.
- Accents that are difficult to understand.
- Music and sound effects that obscure speech.
- Compressed audio that sounds different than a live conversation.
The potential solutions to these issues include turning up the volume and using closed captions. So if you’ve simply been turning up your TV volume to compensate for your hearing loss, you might wonder “Why do I need TV headphones?”
Although turning up the volume can be a makeshift solution, it’s not ideal for three reasons:
- As TV volume increases, the sound quality degrades, which makes for a worse viewing experience.
- TV volumes that are right for you may be too loud for your friends and family who are also watching with you.
- A loud TV can disturb your neighbors, especially in multi-unit housing (e.g. apartments, condos, or assisted living facilities).
Using closed captioning can help people with hearing loss better understand a TV show or movie, but it too comes with drawbacks:
- Closed captions may not always be available for a given piece of media (e.g. for live events).
- Even if they’re available, closed captions may be poor-quality (see articles such as “The Sorry State of Closed Captioning”), or too delayed to be useful for understanding.
- Although closed captions may do their best to indicate music and sound effects, there’s nothing like actually listening to these elements. Instead of reading a closed caption that says “ACOUSTIC GUITAR PLAYS,” for example, most people would prefer to hear the music themselves.
TV headphones are intended to compensate for these shortcomings by delivering the TV’s audio directly into the ears of the user. Crucially, the volume of the TV headphones can be adjusted independently of the TV set’s own volume. This allows TV headphones users to select the audio levels that work for them, without disturbing the viewing experience of their friends and family.
TV Headphones Buyer’s Guide: How to Purchase TV Headphones
We’ve discussed the definition of TV headphones and why they’re such a popular product for people with hearing loss. The next question is: how can you find the best TV headphones for your unique needs? In this section, we’ll go over 12 different factors that you should evaluate when buying TV headphones.
1. Type of hearing loss
The very first issue to consider when buying TV headphones is what kind of hearing loss you have. It’s important to note that hearing loss is a spectrum: mild hearing loss may affect your understanding of speech in noisy environments, while severe hearing loss can make it difficult to understand any speech at all.
In addition, there are several types of hearing loss, and it’s possible for people to have multiple kinds intersecting and interacting with each other. Make sure that your choice of TV headphones is compatible with the type and severity of hearing loss that you have.
2. Type of TV
In addition to your type of hearing loss, the type of TV you have should also be a non-negotiable consideration when buying TV headphones. If your TV and headphones aren’t compatible, you might as well be throwing your money away.
The good news is that most brands of TV headphones should be compatible with most TV sets. Still, there are multiple options, including both digital (PCM, Dolby, and SRS) and analog (RCA, optical, and coaxial audio out) connectivity—so double-check before you buy.
3. Ease of use
Once you’ve ensured that a particular device is compatible with your TV and your hearing loss, the next question is: how easy is it to make them all cooperate? User-friendliness is especially important for a product like TV headphones, whose user base is likely older (and less tech-savvy) than the average person.
When it comes to TV headphones, we know that you’d rather spend less time fiddling with the device and more time enjoying your favorite shows, films, music, and games. Make sure your choice of device is simple to set up and maintain. Some TV headphones offer an “auto-connect” feature that can automatically detect and connect with your TV set, making the installation a snap.
The vast majority of TV headphones on the market these days are wireless—it’s much more convenient than having to hook up a wire between your headphones and the TV, which can restrict your range of motion (and be a tripping hazard). Within this category of wireless headphones for TV, however, these devices also use different technologies to transmit audio from the TV to the headset.
The major wireless technologies used in TV headphones today are Bluetooth, infrared, and radio frequency (RF). The technical differences between these technologies are not terribly important for you to consider (for example, Bluetooth devices can have multiple simultaneous connections, while infrared works on a “one-to-one” basis).
If you have other nearby devices that use the same technology, however, it could lead to interference with your TV headphones, which might cause stuttering or latency in your audio. For this reason, it could be wise to choose TV headphones that use a different wireless technology than other devices in your household. In particular, check whether your choice of TV headphones could interfere with devices such as your pacemaker.
5. Device range
The choice of wireless technology also has an impact on the range of your TV headphones. While the range of a given device may differ in practice, here are some rough estimates for what you can expect:
- Bluetooth: 30 feet (10 meters)
- Infrared: 15 feet (5 meters)
- Radio frequency (RF): 50 feet (15 meters) or more
Again, these ranges are rough estimates, and the exact details will vary depending on how the manufacturer implements the wireless standard.
The good news is that all of these ranges should be enough for users who are watching TV while sitting on the couch at a short distance. However, you might also wish to use your TV headphones while the TV plays in the background (e.g. while you’re working, moving around, or doing chores). Some devices offer larger ranges than others, and some can even transmit sound around corners and through walls—so if this is important to you, make sure to do your research.
6. Sound quality
TV headphones are fundamentally intended to improve your quality of life. If the audio from your headphones is distorted, compressed, staticky, or tinny, then it will make for an unpleasant TV watching experience that may drive you away and discourage you from seeking further help.
If you want to be sure that your TV headphones can produce the crisp, clear sound you need, then buy them from a company that knows what it’s doing. This could be a hearing aid provider familiar with the field of assistive listening devices, or a reputable audio company that’s dedicated to manufacturing headphones and other audio products.
7. Battery life
Battery life is an important factor for TV headphones buyers who consume a lot of TV shows, films, and other media. First and foremost, think about whether you want to buy rechargeable TV headphones or TV headphones with a replaceable battery:
- Rechargeable devices have a built-in battery that lasts between 3 and 12 hours. Typically, rechargeable TV headphones are used during the day and charged at night.
- Non-rechargeable devices have a battery that needs to be replaced when it loses charge. This battery lasts longer than rechargeable batteries—at least a few weeks—but it can be inconvenient to replace when you’re in the middle of an exciting show.
A 2018 NIH study found that people with hearing loss watched TV shows and videos for an average of 342 minutes per day, 20 minutes longer than the general population (largely because both media consumption and rates of hearing loss increase with age).
In other words, if you use rechargeable TV headphones, you’ll likely need a battery life of at least several hours. Also keep in mind that manufacturers’ estimates of battery life are often optimistic best-case scenarios, so try to give yourself a little breathing room—it’s better to have too much juice than too little.
Even if your TV headphones’ battery life is long enough to support your binge-watching habits, it won’t do you any good if the device is uncomfortable to wear for long periods. Details such as the device’s shape and weight, its resting position, and the fit of the earbuds inside your ears all contribute to the overall feeling of comfort (or discomfort) that users can experience.
This review of the Sennheiser RS 5000 wireless TV headphones illustrates just how crucial the comfort factor can be:
They aren't particularly comfortable. If one stands with the devices in your ears, the weight of the receiver hanging below your chin… the balance is precarious and one gets the sense they will fall off which is disconcerting. The constant pressure on the interior of your ear (as any hearing aid user can testify) is a burden. The concept is good, and when just sitting and listening, the sound quality IS good. But all the other issues in life made using these things untenable, so I have returned them.”
Because “comfort” can be such a subjective, individual problem, we suggest choosing a device with a generous return period and/or warranty (as we’ll discuss later), so that you can test it out for yourself.
9. Advanced features
Most TV headphones are able to do what it says on the tin: make it easier for people with hearing loss to understand speech and listen to music and sound effects. However, that doesn’t mean that all TV headphones are created equal—some of them come with advanced features and functionality (and you’ll usually pay more for them).
Some features should be considered basic no-brainers: for example, being able to adjust the volume, for people with varying levels of hearing loss. However, some TV headphones go above and beyond by offering advanced noise-canceling or amplification technology, or specialized adjustable modes for different types of listening experiences.
Of course, the price of TV headphones is a make-or-break factor for many shoppers. This is especially true since TV headphones are often a replacement for, or a supplement to, hearing aids. Since the average cost of hearing aids is an eye-popping $4,600 for a pair, buyers of TV headphones are often looking to scrimp and save wherever they can on assistive listening devices.
Based on our market research, the price of TV headphones generally falls in the $100 to $200 range. Spend any less, and you’ll risk getting a device that breaks quickly or doesn’t work. Spend more, and you might pay too much for a device that’s too fancy for your needs. (Of course, if you have the budget to spare, feel free to splurge a little.)
No matter how much you pay for TV headphones, no one likes feeling ripped off. Unfortunately, there are a few fly-by-night operators in the assistive listening device industry that are more concerned with turning a profit than with actually helping people. (We should know—we’ve been in business as a hearing aid provider for more than a decade, with over 500,000 happy customers.)
For this reason, you should look for TV headphones providers who offer a generous warranty and return policy. Offering free shipping is another good sign of a reputable TV headphones seller. Some disreputable companies provide returns for defective and shoddy products, but they still pocket the money they made by charging you for the initial shipping costs.
To determine whether you’re likely to need the warranty, you can check online review sites to get a feel for any product quality issues. Be wary of any reviews or ratings that are overly positive or highly negative—they may be a sign of the growing problem of customer review fraud.
12. Customer support
Basic problems with your TV headphones can sometimes be resolved by disconnecting the transmitter, removing the batteries, and restarting the device. If this doesn’t work for you, or if you have a more serious concern, you’ll need to take the issue to the company’s support agents.
First, think about what kind of customer support works best for your needs—phone, email, live chat, help forums, etc.? What kind of guarantees does the company provide in terms of support availability or response time?
When checking out the company online, be sure to see what people are saying about support and maintenance issues. Do buyers report positive experiences interacting with the company, or do they complain about delays, rude agents, and failures to resolve their problems?
MDHearing’s TV Headphones Solution: QuietTV
We’ve gone over the various factors that should go into your decision when buying TV headphones, from technical concerns and price to comfort and battery life. MDHearing took all of these facets into consideration when we designed our own TV headphones solution: QuietTV.
For more than a decade, MDHearing has provided high-quality, FDA-registered, affordable hearing aids to more than 500,000 people with hearing loss. Now, QuietTV is MDHearing’s first step into the TV headphones space, based on our extensive knowledge and years of experience as a hearing aid provider.
Designed by doctors and audio professionals, the QuietTV wireless headphones come packed with state-of-the-art hearing technology that delivers crisp, crystal-clear sound into your ears. QuietTV’s advanced voice-enhancing amplification functionality can help a wide range of people—from those with hearing within normal limits to moderately severe hearing loss—greatly enhance their TV viewing experience, without disturbing your friends, family, and loved ones.
QuietTV is compatible with 99 percent of TVs on the market, includes analog and digital options, and can be set up in just a few minutes. The QuietTV earbuds are flexible and comfortable—and thanks to the long-lasting rechargeable battery, you can enjoy hours of watching your favorite shows and films every day.
Here at MDHearing, we want our customers to turn into happy users for life. We offer free shipping and excellent U.S.-based customer support from our team of audiologists and hearing specialists. If you’re not satisfied with your purchase for whatever reason, we also offer a 45-day 100% money-back guarantee, so that you can find a solution that works better for you.
The technical specifications for the QuietTV headphones are as follows:
- Battery life: 5 to 7 hours
- Wireless technology: Radio frequency (RF)
- Range: Up to 100 feet
- Maximum sound pressure level (SPL): 120 decibels
- Headset dimensions (H x W x D): 7.375″ x 6.5″ x 0.92″
- Transmitter dimensions: 1.18″ x 4.75″ x 3.15″
To check out QuietTV for yourself, visit the QuietTV product page now.
We can’t tell you which TV headphones are best for your situation—but we think our own QuietTV wireless headphones are pretty great. By evaluating the various factors in this TV headphones buyer’s guide, you’ll find it much easier to find the right device for your needs.
Our passion for helping people with hearing loss doesn’t stop at TV headphones, of course. Founded by an ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor and headquartered in Chicago, MDHearing has been providing help to people with hearing loss for more than a decade.
Driven by the high cost of hearing aids, MDHearing seeks to make hearing loss solutions available to the millions of Americans who could benefit from using them. By cutting out the middlemen and letting you buy hearing aids online straight from the manufacturer, MDHearing is significantly more affordable than the other top hearing aid brands.
If you think you could benefit from using hearing aids, but cost or other concerns have held you back, we’re here to help. MDHearing offers a free online hearing test, designed by professional audio engineers, that takes just 8 minutes to complete. Once you’re done, we’ll email you with your personalized results and offer our recommendations. If you prefer, you can also schedule an appointment at a hearing clinic near you.
MDHearing has a simple goal: help restore the quality of life for people with hearing loss—whether that means using wireless headphones while watching TV, or using a hearing aid in day-to-day life. We offer a full suite of high-quality, FDA-registered, easy-to-use hearing aid devices that have helped hundreds of thousands of happy customers manage their hearing loss.
No matter what you need, MDHearing is here to listen.