If you like to listen to your TV loud, or just have trouble hearing it through the speakers or soundbar, and don’t want to disturb the family or neighbors, Sennheiser’s TV Clear might be just what you are looking for.
I like to listen to the TV in my bedroom loud. The problem is, the wall that the TV is located on has another bedroom right on the opposite side of the wall. And the bed in that second bedroom abuts the wall where the TV is located in my bedroom. So blasting the TV just annoys someone in the other room (or, for that matter, anywhere upstairs), or worse, keeps the person in that second bedroom awake. That’s not great for family harmony.
In the past, I’ve used some pretty annoying workarounds. The TV is an older Samsung model, without Bluetooth or a USB port where I can plug in a Bluetooth dongle to stream to a set of headphones. Nor does it have a 3.5mm audio out jack. What it does have is a TOSLINK optical audio out jack. So to keep peace in the family, I’ve been limited to a series of adapters that bridge the optical output of TV and offer Bluetooth connectivity. It’s a real pain since I have to pair the headphones with the adapter every single time I turn the TV on. There’s a button on the adapter that needs to be pressed and a pairing button on the Bluetooth headphones that has to also be pressed quickly, or the pairing doesn’t take place. It’s even worse if I want to use a pair of true wireless earbuds where I have to fumble with the button on the buds. What a pain!
I’ve always been partial to Sennheiser’s headphones. I had a pair of Pros for the better part of 20 years until they finally fell apart. So when Sennheiser offered me the chance to review their new TV Clear wireless earbuds and adapter, I jumped at the chance.
Not a lot of parts
The TV Clear doesn’t have a lot of parts, so it’s pretty easy to get it set up and going. There’s a tiny TV Connector box measuring .9 x .7 x 1 inches, several cables, and a nice set of True Wireless earbuds in a small 3.5 x 1.9 x 1.1 inch clam-shell case. The case also serves as a charging station for the earbuds, and has a Type-C jack to charge the buds. You can also place the charging case on a Qi wireless charger if you have one, which is a nice touch.
The TV Connector box is basically a Bluetooth transmitter, and it has two jacks on the rear—a 3.5mm that serves for both the 3.5mm audio cable as well as the TOSLINK optical cable (which has an optical plug on the side that plugs into the TV and a 3.5mm plug on the TV Connector jack side), and a USB-C jack for the power supply. An actual 5-volt power supply isn’t provided, and the user directions show this cable (supplied) being plugged into a USB port on the TV, which my TV lacked. I do, however, have about a hundred wall-wart power supplies here and there around the house, so I was golden. Also included are two additional sets of ear tip adapters–one larger than the default adapters installed on the earbuds, the second pair smaller. These pop on and off, and after some experimenting, I settled on the smallest pair.
Setup took all of a few minutes. Plug the power supply into the wall or a USB jack and the Connector box, then the TOSLINK cable between the Connector and the TV set. The most difficult part of the process was moving the TV set around so I could get to the AC outlet behind it.
The earbuds need to be charged before finishing the setup. I happened to have had a USB-C cable already plugged into a multi-port power adapter, so it was a simple plug-it-in process. Worst case, you’ll need another 5 volt power supply or a Qi charger. After a few hours of charging, the three green LEDs on the case were lit, and the earbuds were ready to go.
Versatile True Wireless Earbuds
The earbuds themselves are magnetic and when oriented correctly, snap into the charging case. There’s also a small button between the spaces for each earbud, which is used for pairing along with the pairing button on the Connector. Also available is a smartphone app for both iOS and Android devices. More on that in a moment.
The earbuds come with three sets of tips with the middle size already installed on the buds. The two largest have a little retention finger that sticks up on the top of the bud and helps hold it into place in the ear. The smallest tip, which is the one I settled on, does not have this but did stay in my ear comfortably without it. Switching tips is just a matter of pulling one tip-off and snapping a replacement on. Inserting the earbuds take a little practice; it needs to be placed in the ear and rotated slightly to fit correctly.
The earbuds have two ways that they can access various features. The most common way is by using the buttons on the outer surface of the bud. The buttons themselves are not configurable, with the right button being “up” and the left one “down.” What these actually accomplish is a function of how they are being used at the moment. When listening to TV or music, the up and down functions adjust the volume. You can also use these buttons to answer or hang up on a call, though initiating the call has to be performed on the phone itself.
The earbuds included with the TV Clear system are Bluetooth units, and I had no trouble pairing them to my iPhone and using them to listen to music as well as making and answering calls.
Other functions of the buttons on the earbuds are implemented with the use of the smartphone app. This app is available for both iOS and Android. I have an iPhone, so I installed the app from the App Store.
While the TV Clear can be used without the accompanying smartphone/tablet app, the app gives you the advantage of being able to fine-tune aspects of the TV Clear system. While the earbuds are True Wireless models, they don’t have the ability to provide noise cancellation. Considering what these cost, they should offer both Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) as well as ambient awareness feature noted below.
The app lets you adjust three really nice features of the earbuds. The first of these is ambient awareness. This is sort of a reverse noise cancellation and lets you set how much of the surrounding sound gets passed through the buds. Many users, myself included, don’t want to be completely cut off from what’s going on in the house, especially if there are other people who might need my attention. With the standard headphone setup I was using before, I wasn’t really aware of what was happening outside of the TV soundtrack. Adjusting the Ambient Awareness setting let me find a good balance between the TV sound without sacrificing knowledge of events going on in the house.
The Speech Clarity setting was also useful since it makes conversations on the phone a bit crisper. It wasn’t something I couldn’t live without, but nice to have.
Finally, another screen in the app lets you customize what actions happen when you use the control buttons on the earbuds.
Getting Them Going
Getting TV Clear up and running is a simple process and took me less than five minutes once the earbuds had been charging for the better part of the day. You can check on the status of the buds by opening the case. If the earbuds are fully charged, you’ll see three green LEDs light up on the lower part of the case. There’s also a white LED on the rear of the case beneath the charging port that lights up when the case is being powered.
Once the buds were charged, connecting the TV Connector box to the TV took less than a minute. One cable went from the box to a 5-volt power supply plugged into an AC outlet; the other cable ran from the TOSLINK jack on the side of the TV to the multi-purpose 3.5mm jack on the Connector. A green LED on the Connector lights up to show when the Connector is on.
Pairing takes a few seconds. Once all three LEDs on the charge case light up, just open the case and take out the earbuds. They will automatically link to the Connector. The earbuds switch on and off automatically when taken out of the case or returned to it. Should you want to connect the earbuds to a Bluetooth device other than the Connector box, you can put the buds into pairing mode by opening the case and pressing the small button located between the earbuds for two seconds until the indicator light on the bottom half of the case starts blinking blue. Pairing mode stays active for up to eight minutes.
To finish pairing, go into the Bluetooth settings on the phone or tablet and search for the earbuds, and when they appear in the available list, simply choose them. Taking the earbuds out of the case will automatically pair them with the phone or tablet. Pairing with the Connector box or a Bluetooth phone or tablet usually only has to be done the first time the earbuds are used with the device. The earbuds can be paired with a maximum of six devices. Pairing with a seventh device will bump the first paired device from the list.
If, for some reason, the pairing between the earbuds and the Connector fails or becomes lost, pressing the pairing button on the rear of the Connector next to the jacks will enable the earbuds to again be paired with the Connector box. This wasn’t necessary during my testing. As an additional feature, the Connector box will support up to five Bluetooth headphones or earbuds.
Roll Your Own?
If you wanted to emulate the TV Clear, you probably could to a great extent. Sennheiser sells a Bluetooth transmitter, the BT T100, for about $80 that is similar in function, with inputs for optical and audio. The BT T100 isn’t identical to the TV Connector, which supports up to five headsets to the BT T100’s two. But if you already have a really nice set of True Wireless earbuds, you can MacGyver something similar, if not quite identical. And, depending on what kind (and priced) earbuds you use, you could save a few bucks putting together something similar. Still, there’s no denying that the earbuds and the Connector are of premium quality (as well as premium price). And the TV Clear just sounds really good, especially if you fine-tune it to your liking with the TV Clear app. Finally, Nuheara offers a similar Bluetooth transmitter as well.
What’s It Worth to You?
While the benefits of a wireless system like this are pretty obvious, especially if you have a slight hearing loss or just love to blast the TV, the price of nearly four hundred dollars can be somewhat off-putting. Still, given the quality of the system, as well as the helpful app, it’s a premium-priced purchase, but it carries the Sennheiser name and reputation, which is responsible for much of the price tag.
Also, it’s important to remember that the earbuds that come with the TV Clear are Bluetooth True Wireless units. You can use them with a smartphone or other streaming device simply by pairing them. I found them easy to pair, and they sound very nice. I’m not sure I would wear them for outside use, though they certainly can be used in this manner, eliminating the need for another set of earbuds.
The bottom line is that these are a great solution to listening to the TV your way–as loud as your ears can stand. But they are going to put a bit of a dent in your wallet.
Here’s What We Like
- What We Like
- Easy to set up
- Earbuds come with several sets of silicone tips
- Good battery life
- Fast recharge
- Sound great
- Worked well with my iPhone
And What We Don’t
- You could put together something similar for less money
- No Active Noise Cancellation