Televisions and accompanying devices such as media receivers are increasingly supporting Bluetooth, so if you would like to pair your headphones with your TV, you should of course use this feature. Not so fast. The old wireless RF headphones are king.
Why wear headphones while watching TV?
Before we dive into the differences between the types of headphones and why we’re excited about the superiority of wireless RF headphones, let’s touch on why you might want to pair headphones with a TV in the first place.
If you, your spouse, or someone in your household is hard of hearing, using headphones with localized volume control is a great compromise between not being able to hear the TV show clearly for one person and the volume being uncomfortably loud for others.
It’s also a great solution even if you happen to be alone at home: Instead of turning on the TV to the point of annoying your neighbors, you can simply put on your headphones.
Even if no one is hard of hearing, headphones are a great way to enjoy content without keeping other people awake. If you’re prone to late-night gaming or Netflix binges, you can slip on a pair of wireless headphones to enjoy all the action without keeping anyone awake.
What is the difference between Bluetooth and RF headphones?
Bluetooth headphones are wireless and traditional wireless headphones are wireless, so what’s the difference?
Bluetooth headphones use Bluetooth radio technology, which is more like complex radio communication standards like Wi-Fi than plain old radio transmissions.
While modern consumers are more familiar with Bluetooth due to its ubiquity in everything from the headphone market to the automotive accessory market, it is not the original form that wireless headphones took.
The original wireless headphones simply used a low-power radio transmitter plugged into an audio source paired with headphones that could receive broadcasts on the same radio frequency. It was the same setup used by the early nannies – no encryption or protocols, no overhead, just a simple transfer from point A to point B.
Here’s why RF headphones are great for TV
There is no doubt that you can pair Bluetooth headphones with TVs and stereos that are Bluetooth compatible. In fact, that’s exactly how I came to the conclusion that it’s an inferior option and that using classic RF headphones is better.
But hey, don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at the specific aspects of wireless RF headphones that offer an excellent user experience.
RF headphones have zero latency
Latency doesn’t matter when you’re listening to music. There is no reference point to show you that the audio is out of sync. If you’re listening to an album over Bluetooth, it doesn’t matter if it’s a fraction of a second delay or a multi-second delay. Apart from the delay when you press the play or pause button, you will not experience any latency.
This is not the case when you are listening to audio synchronized with visual images. The human brain is incredibly good at detecting when audio and video are out of sync. Depending on the version of Bluetooth hardware in your TV and headphones, latency can range from 40-500 milliseconds. The half-second delay is certainly noticeable when watching TV shows and movies – and even more so if you’re gaming.
RF headphones, on the other hand, are much faster. In fact, they have virtually zero latency. The radio waves transmitted from the base unit travel at approximately 186,000 miles per second with no delay caused by encryption or protocol.
On your sofa or anywhere in your home, you’ll experience sound through headphones just as if you were listening to your TV speakers.
RF headphones have better sound quality
Bluetooth is fundamentally a lossy transmission standard because the audio must be encoded, compressed, encrypted and transmitted to the receiving device in order for the receiving device to fully decompress it.
RF headphones simply transmit the signal from the base station to the headphones – no compression or manipulation. Regardless of the sound quality your TV provides, you’ll get
Of course, you can have quality RF headphones that sound bad, but that is a function of the design of the headphones or a poor quality transmitter in the base and not a result of a loss of transmission quality.
RF headphones do not require pairing
Pairing Bluetooth headphones isn’t the most difficult task in the world, but it’s a lot more of a pain than just plugging in the headphones.
The RF headphones offer an experience almost as simple as just plugging in the headphones. You will need to connect the base to your TV or media center using a headphone or stereo cable. Once you’ve done this, you’ll usually need to use a simple switch or dial on the base unit and accompanying headphones to select a channel, such as channel 1, 2 or 3 – but that’s about it.
After that, you can use the headphones at any time without having to worry about repairing them. Just pick them up from the charging cradle and turn them on.
Range of RF headphones indefinitely
This particular point may not be important to you if you just want to buy headphones for yourself.
But if you’re looking for a headphone system that supports multiple headphones—say, you want one pair for yourself and one pair for your husband so you can each listen at different volumes—you can’t beat traditional wireless. headphones.
The vast majority of Bluetooth devices on the market do not support multiple connections, which requires the purchase of a special transmitter that supports Bluetooth multiple connections in order to pair two Bluetooth headphones. In addition to the two Bluetooth headphones, you are thinking of buying several adapters.
RF headphones, on the other hand, scale infinitely. Whether you want to connect one pair of headphones, five pairs of headphones, or want to host a silent rave in your basement, there is no practical limit to the number of headphones you can connect to the RF base station.
You simply need to buy the matching headphones (so that the channel settings and charging style match the base you own). If you have a base Sennheiser RS 135 (or the identical RS 120 that preceded it), you can buy additional HDR-120 headphones to expand it.
A few side notes to consider
Before we leave the topic, there are two things to be aware of when considering buying traditional RF headphones. One thing about privacy and another thing about features.
Traditional RF earphones are not encrypted
We mentioned this in passing above when we talked about how fast and bright RF headphones are, but it’s worth highlighting its implications more clearly.
Because traditional RF headphones don’t use encryption and simply transmit sound like a small radio tower, it’s possible for someone within range (up to 300 feet) of the base station to eavesdrop if they have similar headphones, hobby radio equipment, or even a really old cordless phone or baby monitor. which uses the same frequency range.
This is probably not a big deal if you think about the episodes Officebut if you’re after something of a more sensitive nature, it’s worth being aware of.
Some RF headphones use “Kleer” digital audio.
So far we’ve only talked about truly traditional RF headphones, the kind that transmit sound outdoors just like a small radio station in your living room.
There is a subdivision of RF handsets that is very similar in nature to the division between original cordless phones (which used basic radio transmission) and more advanced cordless phones (which used higher radio frequency for transmission and digital audio).
There are RF headphones on the market that use a digital transmission standard called “Kleer” or “KleerNet”. These sets of headphones can do things like automatically manage the frequency they use for greater clarity and ease of use, and can accept digital inputs from your TV or receiver without requiring an intermediary device such as a TOSLINK converter.
They are also safer than traditional RF earphones, just as digital baby monitors and cordless phones were safer than their predecessors.
One of the most popular Kleer digital headphone models on the market is the Sennheiser RS 175.
These are great sounding headphones, but there are a few trade-offs if you choose to use Kleer headphones instead of traditional RF headphones. These trade-offs may not be important, but they are worth noting.
First, Kleer headphone sets are usually only expandable to two pairs of headphones, if they are expandable at all. (And the other earphones are about twice as expensive as regular RF earphones.)
Second, unlike their traditional RF counterparts, they have a bit of latency. It’s only about 30 milliseconds, but if you’ve skipped Bluetooth for the whole reason to avoid latency, you might want to stick with traditional RF headphones like the Sennheiser RS 135s.
Whether you opt for traditional RF headphones or find some of the features of Kleer’s digital models compelling, either way you’ll have a better experience than Bluetooth and enjoy TV and gaming at just the right volume.