Wireless Headphones for TV: The Ultimate Guide
TV headphones are a quiet alternative to a home theater setup, and are quite practical in a crowded apartment building where excess noise could become an issue to your neighbors. They’re especially useful when your kids or significant others have gone to bed, or for people who have hearing difficulties. A lot of couples don’t have the same schedules, while some people like to listen to the TV at a level that’s suitable for them without deafening others in the room.
Wireless headphones for TV may just be the most practical headphones for TV. Wireless TV headphones can have a Bluetooth, Radio Frequency or Infrared transmission. Their volume can be adjusted via TV speakers and headphones independently. They’re also designed for good speech intelligibility, and as a matter of fact, a lot of customers of the best wireless headphones for TV report hearing movie dialogue they hadn’t heard for years!
Want to know what is the difference between earphones and headphones and do they produce the same sound quality? Read the detailed guide at Treblab Blog.
Sadly, a lot of wireless TV headphones are cheaply made in China, have transmission or sound problems, and/or hidden annoyances. We’re here to sort the wheat from the chaff, with our unbiased wireless headphones for TV reviews and helpful guides.
|Model||Sennheiser RS 170||Sony MDR-DS6500||Sennheiser RS 180||Sennheiser RS 120||Sony MDR RF985RK|
|Customer reviews||478 reviews||110 reviews||418 reviews||3970 reviews||554 reviews|
|Design||Circumaural (closed-back)||Circumaural (closed-back)||Circumaural (open-backed)||Supra-aural (open-backed)||Circumaural (closed-back)|
|Weight (oz)||6.7 oz||15.87 oz||7.6 oz||8.11 oz||10.6 oz|
|Transmission technology||KLEER (digital)||Radio Frequency||KLEER (digital)||Radio Frequency||Radio Frequency|
|Transmission range||262 ft.||328 ft.||328 ft.||328 ft.||148 ft.|
|Full charge||24 hours||20 hours||24 hours||20 hours||25 hours|
|Frequency response||18 Hz – 21 KHz||12 Hz – 22 kHz||18 Hz – 21 KHz||22 Hz – 19.5 KHz||10 Hz – 22 KHz|
|Sensitivity @ 1kHz/mw||110 dB||106 dB||106 dB||106 dB||100 dB|
|Signal-to-noise ratio (dBA @ 1kHz)||85||N/A||85||65||N/A|
|Background noise (Total Harmonic Distortion)||<0.5%||<1%||<0.5%||< 0.7%||N/A|
|Impedance @ 1kHz||32 Ohms||66 Ohms||32 Ohms||24 Ohms||70 Ohms|
|Warranty||2 years||1 year||2 years||2 years||1 year|
|Our review||Read Our Review||Read Our Review||Read Our Review||Read Our Review||Read Our Review|
|Buy on Amazon.com|
Top 5 Wireless Headphones for TV reviews
Sennheiser RS170 Wireless Headphones
The Sennheiser RS170 are headphones designed for TV and movie watching, that utilize the cutting-edge Kleer Digital Wireless System with offers lossless, CD-quality resolution. The signal is transmitted on a 2.4 GHz channel, instead of the traditional analogue 900 mHz, which means that the audio reproduction is unfettered, without any background noise, hiss or interference. With these wireless badboys, you don’t have to worry about having to stop listening to your favorite TV show when you have to step out from the TV room to attend to something else.
The closed-back circumaural earpads provide an audiophile-level home cinema experience. The sound is well-rounded and detailed, and can be fine-tuned to your taste by switching between two listening modes: Dynamic Bass and Surround Sound.
The headset weighs just 216g (7.6oz) without the batteries, but the plastic build quality seems sturdy enough to last many years without breaking. The plush padded headband and luxurious circumaural leatherette ear pads provide a comfortable fit. Their oval shape surrounds the ears better than the circular earpads offered by less user-minded competitors.
Furthermore, thanks to the closed-back design, no one will be bothered by sound leakage. This design also means the sound will me more “contained”, with a lower perception of space and distance. If you would prefer a more airy and open sound, we recommend the RS 180, which have an open-back ear cup. Still, the RS 170’s sound quality is clear and very enjoyable over any movie.
The RS170 is powered by a nickel-metal hybrid AAA rechargeable battery in each earcup, and a full charge lasts up to 24 hours. As with other Sennheiser wireless systems, the base station can transmit a signal to up to four headsets (the Sennheiser HD170) and also functions as an easy-charge cradle, on which you just have to put the headset for it to charge.
Connectivity is limited to a single 3.5mm analog input, but it isn’t that much of a limitation when you can plug the transmitter into your TV or AV receiver. From there, you can play any sources you want (cable box, game console, DVD payer, etc.). The buttons aren’t ergonomically ideal, but you eventually get used to it.
Overall, the Sennheiser RS 170 wireless headphones are the best choice for most of you, if you are looking for a trustworthy performance across the board and an affordable price. That is why we have ranked it number 1. If you are less conscious about budget, and are willing to pay for an impressive audiophile-sounding pair of headphones, you might want to check out the RS 180 or RS 220.
Sony MDR-DS6500 Wireless Headphones
The MDR-DS6500 are Sony’s state-of-the-art digital wireless headphones for TV. The full-sized headset may be too heavy for some (15.9oz, or 450g with the batteries), but powers an impressive cinema sound, with a unique 7.1 Surround Sound simulation that will make 3D movies come alive auditorily as much as visually. Avatar, here we come. The headphone also offers 5.1 and Dolby Digital audio mix options. The signal is transmitted via a 2.4 GHz channel that avoids interference and background noise, and goes through a compression process that clarifies speech and mitigate loud sounds. If you’ve had trouble understanding dialogue for some years due to hearing loss, then the Sony MDR-DS6500 do come in handy. Sound levels can be controlled from a volume wheel on the headset as well. The fully-padded adjustable headband and circumaural and closed-back earcup design will provide some excellent comfort and isolation, even though the bulkiness of the headphone may force you to avoid any excessive leaning back or forward.
Compared to the Sennheiser wireless headphones, the transmitter has both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it can connect to both digital and analogue inputs. On the downside, you can’t play more than one headset off the single base unit. If you’re looking for a stylish wireless headphone for TV and movie watching that almost replicate the home theater experience, then consider the Sony MDR-DS6500, which are attractively priced under $200.
Sennheiser RS180 Wireless Headphones
The Sennheiser RS 180 TV headphones deliver uncanny realism that has rarely be seen in wireless systems. It’s a joy to use for both for TV watching and high-fidelity music listening, if you have a flexible budget that is.
The RS 180 makes movie and TV marathon sessions an amazing experience thanks to the Automatic Level Control that compensates for variations in the volume of the program material, in order to enhance speech intelligibility. The technology boosts the volume of quieter scenes which are usually hard to hear, while preventing loud sounds from getting too loud. Furthermore, the RS 180 utilizes KLEER’s lossless CD-quality digital wireless audio transmission, offering an effective range of up to 120 feet, clear sound quality and detail resolution with a deep bass response, and reception to 4 optional pairs of Sennheiser HDR 180 headsets. The open ear-cup is designed to offer a more natural sound mix with better sense of space (than the closed-back RS 170 for example), and allows you to still hear what’s going on around you. If you’re a parent with young kids, this makes it practical. However, because of that open design, we recommend you switch off your TV speakers to avoid an irritating “latency” effect, an audio phenomenon where you hear the audio from the headphones one micro second after the TV’s own audio.
Like the ALC feature, the system gets the job done for you, with auto-tuning to the best frequency (from 2.4 to 2.8 GHz) to avoid any interference. No fussing with buttons needed… As if that weren’t enough, a balance control is even included for you to customize your listening experience to your likings or needs.
The luxurious ear-shaped (oval) velour earpads and headband cushions provide exceptional comfort for hours on end, and contribute to a very light headset (7.6oz). The shiny gray metallic finish looks lustrous, and the plastic construction seems solid enough to go the distance. The transmitter also acts a charging cradle for the headphone, and connectivity includes 3.5mm analog input and RCA outputs, which you can hook up to your TV/AV receiver if your TV only has digital connection.
If you can afford the $250 this deluxe headphone costs then go ahead; you’re unlikely to find a pair that has as many audio features and as much a comfortable feel than this one.
Sennheiser RS120 Wireless Open-Back Headphones
Sennheiser’s RS120 wireless TV headphones were released almost 10 years ago but they have stood the test of time with panache. At the time, they were already better than some of their more expensive siblings from Sennheiser. Today, they may have been surpassed by the RS 170 and RS 180, but they remain a top 5 choice for anyone looking to enjoy the home theater experience on headphones. To their advantage, they’re also a cheap option, without compromising on quality.
The RS120 is a supra-aural wireless headphone that uses frequency modulation to transmit the audio signal. Priced under$100, the RS120 are great value for money as thousands of customers can certify: their sound quality is surprisingly good, but then again, would we expect anything but good sound from Sennheiser? The soundscape is spacious and smooth, as a result to to the open-back ear cup, which lets air breath in, and is supplemented by copious bass power and excellent detail resolution. They are relatively lightweight (8.1oz), thanks to a no-frills design and supraaural foam earpads. The volume level and other controls are conveniently located on the side of the headset for easy access.
The wireless performance is as good as one could expect from the technology of 10 years ago, which means that you’re likely to witness an occasional interference or buzzing. You may need to fiddle with the tuning button to fine-tune the reception, but otherwise, it’s quite smooth sailing.
The transmitter base has a cradle on which you can put the headset for its AAA NiMH batteries to recharge, and it’s also wall-mountable. It connects to the TV through analogue inputs, which can either be a headphone socket or RCA plugs. Some of you with modern LCD or plasma TVs with only digital inputs will probably need an adapter.
If you’re looking for an affordable, comfortable wireless option for listening to your favorite movies on headphones, then don’t hesitate one more second, get the Sennheiser RS 120 wireless headphones for TV.
Sony MDR-RF985RK Wireless Headphones
The Sony MDR-RF985RK are one of the most reviewed wireless headphone for TV. You can listen to your favorite TV shows, radio broadcasts and movies from 150 feet away without any signal loss or hiss. The signal runs on the 900 MHz frequency, with 3 variants that you can tune to using a small pitch at the back of the base unit, which connects to your TV’s RCA inputs. The transmitter allows playback for several headsets, which is a boon for couples wanting to watch a movie together without waking up the baby or the neighbours.
The headset itself is light and well-balanced and runs 25 full hours (!) on a full charge (off a small 3.5 hours charging time no less). Featuring the same earcup design as the MDR-DS6500 (circumaural, closed-back), the headphone compliments the highs while delivering deep rich lows. Even though it doesn’t boast the same Surround Sound features as its Sony sibling, the sound is as impressively clean, a feat Sony have spent decades honing on.
Choosing The Right Cordless Headphones for TV
First thing, avoid the cheaper brands as they have one or a combination of the following problems: background interference and hiss that will ruin your listening experience, poor construction, unfriendly headband and usability, no charging stand, short-lived batteries, etc.
The best wireless headphones for TV models, from the likes of Sennheiser, Sony, and a few other brands, though not beyond reproach, have a lot more thinking, research, testing and quality parts going in their design. They have an automatic charging stand, their batteries last many years, and their sound performance, comfort and usability are way better. If you want a quality headset, you should budget at least $150.
Types of Wireless TV Headphones
There are typically three ways by which wireless headphones receive their signals:
- Infrared (IR): infrared wireless headphones use a line-of-sight signal and are designed to avoid radio interference. These were some of the first wireless headphones for TV, in the 90’s and early 00’s, and while they may have seem impressive back then, the truth is that there are better TV headphones now. The main disadvantage of IR TV headphones is short range and reduced mobility (no more than a few feet, as you must be within the transmitter’s sight). However, they usually produce a clean sound.
- 900 MHz wireless headphones: these are analogue radio frequency headphones. Since a lot of other wireless electronics in your house run on the 900 MHz frequency, their main drawback is a susceptibility to hiss and other noise, particularly when you move your head or go to another room.
- 2.4 GHz wireless headphones: these are digital radio frequency headphones, like the Sennheiser RS 170, that we recommend further below. They are more likely to be free from hiss, interference and noise.
There are three types of headphones: supra-aural, circumaural and earbuds.
Supra-aural headphones have pads that sit on top of the ear rather than surrounding it. Most of the time, they are open-backed (the back of the earcup has a grille that lets air go through). However some closed-back designs exist.
Pros: they’re smaller than full-sized circumaural headphones, and thus less likely to cause the ear to overheat.
Cons: They typically offer less sound isolation and bass than circumaural headphones. The foam earpads pressing down on the ears can get uncomfortable after a few hours as well.
These headphones run the gamut from inexpensive models to high-end home theater models.
These headphones have earcups that go over the ear, surrounding it. They are larger and are used mostly at homes and for professional applications. Because they completely surround the ear, they can be designed to fully seal against the head to attenuate external noise.
Pros: they generally offer the best noise isolation and the best sound reproduction.
Cons: they’re cumbersome. Because of their size, circumaural headphones can be heavy, some weighing over 500g (1 lb). Your ears can also become hot, with the back of ear sweating (open-back circumaural headphones don’t have that problem though). Ergonomic headband designs usually reduce he discomfort resulting from weight, while some earpad designs are quite comfortable.
In-ear headphones are meant to sit directly into the ear canal, sealing off background noise. The plugs are usually made of silicone. Their downside is that sound quality and bass response is often not comparable to full-size models.
Open Back or Closed Back
Both supra-aural and circumaural headphones can be open back or closed back. The term refers to the back of the ear cup being either open or closed, which creates a totally different atmosphere in both cases.
Open air headphones let you hear the environment around you by allowing sound to pass through the ear cups grille freely. That’s why they’re the best choice if you need to attend to your baby in the other room. Open air headphones generally have less distortion and resonance than closed-type headphones since the sound isn’t restricted. They also give a more natural or speaker-like sound and more spacious “soundscape” (the perception of distance from the source). On the other hand, the sound will likely be slightly audible to the people around you.
Closed back headphones are sealed, blocking out 8 to 32 dB of background noise, but also keeping the sound from being heard by the people in your vicinity, making them great for bed-side use with your sleeping spouse next to you. These headphones will outperform open-air models because the sound is more focused and not obtruded by background noises. As a result, they give out a smaller soundscape, giving you the impression that the sound is coming from within your head. Bass potential will be increased in closed back headphones, but so will the possibility of distortion due to resonance at some frequencies.
Comfort and Weight
Wireless headphones for TV vary from light 2oz stethoscope to 12oz for some circumaural models. Even inside the range of around-the-ear models, weight can vary 30% between the heavier and lighter models, and 40% for over-the-ear models, if we look at our full comparison table. Over hours of movie watching, this can make a tremendous difference in comfort.
Another important comfort aspect is how much pressure the headphones exert on your ears. Keep in mind that headphones that enclose your ears –especially those with cushy leatherette pads– can get uncomfortably hot. But then again, you might be one of those persons who don’t feel it or don’t mind it. The bulkier the headphone, the more uncomfortable it might get. Fortunately, even heavy models have adjustable headbands that relieve some of the weight and pressure.
Speech Intelligibility in TV and Movie Listening
An essential facet of watching TV and movies is how clearly you can hear and understand the dialogue, also known as “speech intelligibility”. This is typically determined by how accurately the TV speakers can reproduce lower-treble sounds. An average TV has lousy fidelity in the “presence” region (the midrange between 1kHz and 3kHz spanned by the harmonics of the human voice; this range thus provides vocal clarity and detail, a sense of presence and immediacy). Turning up the sound of your TV will only increase distortion, and therefore aggravate speech intelligibility. This is where headphones for TV can considerably improve your film watching experience, as they provide better fidelity in the critical lower-treble frequencies and allow users to listen at a lower and safer volume overall.
Bass from headphones will never give you that core-shaking experience of a movie theater. But full-size models generally offer a deep bass response and profound dynamic range, through good reproduction of lower frequencies.
Some TV headphones have a feature whereby they synthetize a larger than stereo sound field. While only a surround sound imitation for most headphones, some actually do have multiple speaker drivers fitted into the earcup. The advantage of this feature is a more spacious soundscape, with sound coming from your back and sides as well as from the front, making it particularly enjoyable for action and adventure movies. It can create an overly reverbant effect though.
An implementation of virtual surround sound derived from a surround processor that expands stereo sound. Dolby Sound is typically built into AV amplifiers. Some wireless TV headphones now include this processor in their transmitter station to achieve the same effect.
TV usually have an analog connection or a digital connection (for modern models), or both. The wireless headphone transmitter station will usually be able to connect to your TV using only one mode, which makes it a bit problematic when you have an analogue wireless headphone and a TV with only a digital connection. Fortunately, the headphone usually comes with some type of adapter, and if it doesn’t, you can buy one cheaply online. If you want to learn more, read our article on how wireless headphones connect to your TV.