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Best headphones for TV watching: put that home cinema right in your ears

(Image credit: Audio-Technica)

Creating your own home cinema doesn't have to mean filling your house with speakers, amplifiers and cables. Whisper it, but even if immersive surround sound – complete with a grumbly subwoofer – is what you really want, a good pair of home cinema-centric headphones can give you all that and more. 

This will depend on why you want to use headphones with a TV, though. Maybe you’re sharing a living space with flatmates or family who are constantly distracting you. Or perhaps you like to watch movies late at night with the volume turned right up and don’t want to disturb the neighbours. 

Whatever your goal, a little know-how can go along way when it comes to choosing the right pair of wireless headphones for a home cinema-equivalent experience – and prevent you making any silly purchasing mistakes. 

For the best headphones for TV watching, here’s what you need to know. 

While not every pair of headphones in this list has been fully reviewed yet, we hope the specs will speak for themselves – though it’s always a safer bet to go with a model that has been through our testing process (see entries 2 and 5).

Headphones for TV: what to look for

Make them wireless and make them wonderful. In practice, there are major issues with using regular Bluetooth wireless headphones with a TV. Even if you’ve a smart TV that has Bluetooth, it’s going to be a vanilla kind of Bluetooth that will cause lip-sync delays. There are two technology solutions; 

  • TV headphones that communicate with a Bluetooth transmitter inserted into a TV. They’re generally compatible with the aptX HD and aptX Low Latency codecs.
  • TV headphones that communicate with an RF (radio frequency) base station that’s connected to a TV’s headphones jack. 

Either way, if you want a good pair of TV headphones for this purpose, you’re going to need a specific product created for that purpose. Here are some of the best headphones for watching TV.

(Image credit: JVC)

1. Best TV headphones for Dolby Atmos: JVC XP-EXT1 Wireless Theater System

A multi-channel home cinema to replace a room full of speakers

Range: TBC (5GHz RF) | Battery life: Up to 12 hours | Drivers: 40mm neodymium | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz range | Weight: 330g

Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
7.1.4 channel system
Short battery life
Expensive

If you’re after a pair of headphones for watching movies, you can’t do much better than the JVC XP-EXT1. Compatible with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround sound technologies, the JVC XP-EXT1 puts a 7.1.4-channel home cinema system on your head. 

The key tech at work here is Exofield, JVC’s proprietary processing algorithms that create a 3D soundfield between the two ear cups. The JVC XP-EXT1 cans are also able to upscale stereo or 5.1 audio to immersive multi-channel sound, and connect to a digital processor box via 5GHz RF; the box itself hooks-up to a TV via HDMI.

(Image credit: Creative)

2. Best TV headphones for movies and gaming: Creative SxFi Theater

Simulates a 7.1 speaker array with Super X-Fi effect

Range: Up to 10m/33 ft (2.4 GHz RF) | Battery life: Up to 30 hours | Drivers: 50mm neodymium | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz range | Weight: 346g

Works with PC/Mac, PS4 and Switch
Super X-Fi sounds great
USB only
No Bluetooth or TV inputs

Strictly speaking, the Creative SxFi are for gaming. The first clue is that they come with a detachable mic (for voice chat). They also use an SXFi TX wireless transmitter (a USB dongle) that only works in PC or Mac computers, a PlayStation or a Nintendo Switch (it doesn’t work with Xbox). However, since movies and TV from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime can be binged on games consoles, we think the Creative SxFi Theater cans deserve a place here. 

Designed to produce virtual surround sound for TV junkies and gamers, it uses a TX wireless transmitter dongle that plugs into a dock that connects via USB to any device capable of running audio through it. Once it’s plugged in, it’s all about the Creative SxFi’s Super X-Fi effect, which simulates a 7.1 surround array – though it doesn’t support Dolby Atmos or DTS. 

Read our full Creative SxFi Theater review

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

3. Best TV headphones for two people: Sennheiser RS 175 RF wireless headphones

Virtual surround sound for two on this RF transmitter product

Range: Up to 328ft/100m (2.4 GHz RF) | Battery life: Up to 18 hours | Drivers: 50mm neodymium | Frequency response: 17Hz to 22KHz range | Weight: 310g

Works with two pairs of headphones
Virtual surround sound
Ageing product

Sennheiser produces some of the most admired wireless headphones around – check out the Sennheiser Momentum 3, for example – but this pair of TV-specific wireless cans are a little-known gem. With a closed-back design, they’re created specifically for gaming or watching TV. The package consists of a pair of headphones and a TR 175 transmitter that uses RF; the later has an optical audio jack and a simple stereo audio jack (complete with cables) for attaching to a TV, games console or amplifier. 

The headphones, which use two AAA rechargeable batteries, can be recharged on the transmitter itself and, as a nice bonus, that transmitter can broadcast sound to two pairs of Sennheiser RS 175 RFs. Sound modes include a virtual surround sound and a dynamic bass boost. 

(Image credit: Sony)

4. Best TV headphones for value: Sony MDR-RF811RK

A low price and and a simple set-up make these headphones great all-rounders

Range: Up to 100m | Battery life: Up to 13 hours | Drivers: 40mm neodymium | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20KHz range | Weight: 310g

Works with two pairs of headphones
Small base station
Basic stereo sound

Here’s another TV-centric product that can support two pairs of headphones connected to one base station. Remarkably good value considering the brand’s high-end noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones, the MDR-RF811RK use traditional RF technology to create a latency-free connection between base station and headphones. The RF unit also doubles as a charging station for the MDR-RF811RK headphones – which use 2x rechargeable AA batteries – and connects to a TV’s headphones jack using a simple 3.5mm audio cable. The stereo sound is pretty basic, but this product is about ease of use and reliability, not surround sound.  

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

5. Best TV headphones using Bluetooth: Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Versatile Bluetooth headphones with aptX Adaptive help

Range: Up to 60m (Bluetooth 5.0) | Battery life: Up to 30 hours | Drivers: 2 x 43.6mm | Frequency response: 10Hz to 30KHz range | Weight: 310g

aptX Adaptive codec
Active noise cancellation
Expensive

If your smart TV has Bluetooth it’s tempting to use a pair of Bluetooth headphones to watch TV. That can work, but there’s often some lag, which causes a lip-sync issue. However, that’s not a major issue if you’re going to listen to music instead. Cue the PX7, which adopt Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive codec to further reduce latency on the Bluetooth connection. With three strengths of noise cancellation, the PX7s are also handy to use in noisy environments, and can also play audio via a USB connection from a computer… or from any phone or tablet. 

Read our full Bowers & Wilkins PX7 review