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How to listen to your TV with headphones

Surprisingly, you have some solid options.

Sony XB900N wireless noise-canceling headphones
Image: Sony

When watching TV socially, you really want speakers or a soundbar, so everyone can hear what’s going on in crystal clarity. The thing is, there are many times where you might want to watch stuff on the TV without disturbing the other people in your home. Maybe they don’t like the show you want to watch, or don’t want to hear the staccato thrum of machineguns in the latest Call of Duty title.

It could even be that you want to watch late at night, while everyone else is asleep, and you don’t want to risk waking anyone up. Whatever the reason, that means you want a good pair of headphones so you can listen without bothering anyone.

Once you know that, it’s time to find some headphones that will work with your TV setup. Do you have an older TV? You’ll probably want to explore wired options, unless your couch is really far away, in which case you want some way to add Bluetooth to your TV so you can sit anywhere. Got a newer TV? You probably already have Bluetooth, and you can get some nicer, noise-canceling headphones so you’re not bothered by other sounds in your house.

Whichever way you go, we’ll show you how to use headphones with your TV so the rest of the house can be quiet when you watch.

Wired headphones options

3.5mm headphone extender cable

Image: KnowTechie

If you’ve got a 3.5mm headphone jack, and don’t mind that your head will be tethered to your TV, like a weird spider, then grab an extension cable for your headphones. Literally any will do, just make sure you get one that’s long enough for wherever you want to sit, otherwise you’ll end up sitting on the floor like an oversized toddler. If your TV only has RCA output, you’ll need an RCA-to-3.5mm cable, but the same considerations still apply.

This might be the easiest option to set up, but it’s probably the most annoying in practice. People will trip over your headphone wire, you will trip over your headphone wire, and simple actions such as eating popcorn will invariably snag your eating hand in the headphone wire. Yes, that wire will annoy almost anyone after a while. We don’t really recommend this way, it was fine before wireless headphones became actually good, but now it’s simply better to use the newer technology.

Wireless headphones, because it’s the future

broski noise cancellation headphones

Image: Kevin Raposo / KnowTechie

If you’re serious about your viewing enjoyment, you know that having a wire limiting where you can sit near your TV is going to be sub-optimal. Wireless really is the way to go, allowing you to move freely, and also take advantage of other technological advancements such as noise canceling. Once you’ve figured out which headphones you’re going to use, it’s time to figure out how to connect them to your TV or streaming device of choice. We’ll show you how.

Oh, and one last thing before we start. You’ll have to pair your headphones to your streaming device or TV, so depending on your headphones, you might lose the ability to use those headphones with your other devices without pairing them again. If that’s an issue, you might want to buy a second pair of wireless headphones to dedicate to TV watching.

Amazon Fire TV

amazon fire tv dashboard

Image: Amazon

If your streaming device is from Amazon, or if you have one of the TV sets that comes with inbuilt Amazon Fire TV, you’ll have a wireless option immediately available to you in the form of Bluetooth. Fire TV can connect to most Bluetooth devices, from controllers to keyboards, and yes, to headphones. Just pair your favorite Bluetooth headphones (or buy some that you saw good reviews for), and pair it to your Fire TV, just like you would with your smartphone.

  1. Go to Settings, then select Controllers & Bluetooth Devices
  2. Select Other devices, then Add New Device
  3. Turn your headphones into Pairing Mode (check your manual), and select them when their name turns up on your screen

Now your Fire TV with stream audio to your headphones while they’re turned on and connected.

Roku

roku dashboard and app

Image: Roku

If you’ve got a Roku streaming device or TV with Roku inside, you don’t usually get Bluetooth, but that doesn’t mean you can’t listen to your audio wirelessly. If you have the upgraded remote, you can plug in a pair of headphones and listen that way. If not, you can listen using the Roku smartphone app, with a feature called Private Listening.

  1. Download the Roku app for your device, either iOS or Android
  2. Pair it with your Roku device
  3. Once the app is paired, you can plug any headphones that work with your device (yes even Bluetooth ones), and it’ll stream the audio to you instead of playing it on the TV

It’s basically the same as if you have the higher end Roku remote that comes with the Roku Ultra, just with your choice of headphones and the smartphone you already own.

Android TV

android tv dashboard

Image: Google

If your TV uses the Android TV platform (like Sony or Hisense), or you have an Nvidia Shield device, you can also use Bluetooth audio devices.

  1. Head into Settings and find Remote & Accessories
  2. Select Add Accessory, and put your Bluetooth headphones into Pairing mode (see the manual that came with them if you can’t remember how)
  3. Select the headphones when they turn up in the onscreen list

Now when your headphones are on, you’ll always get your Android TV’s audio through them, instead of your TV’s speakers.

Bluetooth Transmitter

bluetooth transmitters

Image: KnowTechie

If you don’t have a streaming device or TV that supports wireless audio via Bluetooth, it’s pretty simple to add that yourself. All you need is a Bluetooth transmitter, which will cheaply add Bluetooth to your TV or A/V receiver so you can pair your favorite Bluetooth headphones and listen without disturbing the peace in your home.

Out of the thousands on Amazon, make sure you look for ones that connect with optical (TOSLink or SPDIF), as those will give you the best audio quality. Most TVs have an optical out nowadays, so unless your TV is really old, you should be fine.

As before, just pair your headphones to the transmitter, as you would with your smartphone.

Wireless gaming headset

astro.id make your own headset

Image: Josiah Motley / KnowTechie

You might already have a gaming headset, like the Astro A50, which uses a base unit to wirelessly transmit audio to the headphones. If so, you can use that with your TV, in much the same way you’d add a Bluetooth transmitter. Make sure it’s one with optical input though, as your TV probably won’t work with the USB dongle that most lower-priced gaming headphones use.

Just connect it to your TV via optical, as before, and you should be good to go. Just make sure you switch the audio out in the TV settings, if it isn’t set to automatically switch.

Now you know how to listen to your TV shows without annoying the rest of the household. While you’re here, check out the new stuff coming to Netflix this month, as you can plan your viewing while you wait for your new headphones to arrive.

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