It’s an all-too common scenario – one member of a household claims the TV’s too loud, while another says they can barely hear it. The usual result: a compromise nobody’s really happy with. But there’s no need to put up with it.
There can be all sorts of reasons people have trouble hearing TV sound clearly. Speakers in modern TVs are usually tiny and many have poor sound quality, which can leave dialogue drowned out as the TV struggles to handle background music and effects.
Alongside this, hearing loss is inevitable for many of us as we get older, and some people simply prefer the TV louder than others. But listening to your TV for long periods at very high volumes can be bad for your ears, so it’s best to avoid this with one of the solutions below.
Thankfully there’s plenty of tech to help you hear dialogue better on your TV and avoid falling out over volume wars or having to resort to subtitles. We’ve highlighted five options below so you can identify the right solution to keep everyone happy.
Best TV headphones – read our comprehensive guide on how headphones can help you hear your TV better.
1. Home theatre TV headphones
Dedicated TV headphones are the ideal solution if you regularly listen to the TV on your own.
They’re designed with comfort in mind for long periods of listening, and often have controls on the headphones that are compatible with a wide range of TVs (check your TV is on the compatibility list), such as to change the volume.
They are also a good option for those with high levels of hearing loss, as the earcups block out background noises.
They’re wireless, and come with docks you put them on when you’ve finished listening. The headphones wirelessly connect to the dock, and the dock is connected to your TV via a wire. This means that these headphones can also work with older TVs that don’t support Bluetooth. They’re very easy to use, since you always know where they are, and the dock doubles as a charging point so you don’t need to remember to charge them.
There are drawbacks, though. The effective blockage of background noise could leave you feeling quite isolated from those around you when you have them on.
Plus your TV will default to playing audio through them when powered up, so if you want to listen through the headphones while watching with someone else, you’ll need to check your TV has an audio setting that allows for the TV speakers and headphones to play at the same time.
TV headphones to consider: Sennheiser RS 175, £210
The Sennheiser RS 175 wireless TV headphones are a popular choice, with large, well-padded earcups and a dock that connects to your TV via an optical cable or auxiliary cable, depending on the connections on your TV.
The headphones use two AAA rechargeable batteries (included), so you can easily replace them if you notice a drop in battery life down the line.
Find out if the sound quality is up to scratch in our expert Sennheiser RS 175 review.
2. Bluetooth headphones for your TV
Many modern TVs support Bluetooth, which allows you to listen to them with standard wireless headphones. Choose the right pair and this can be a great option if getting a dedicated pair of TV headphones feels like overkill.
You’ll need to remember to charge them of course, and they won’t have the in-built TV controls that a dedicated home entertainment pair may have.
Look for a pair of large over-ear headphones, which are more comfortable for listening for long periods, plus long battery life to easily see you through a marathon Netflix binge and minimise the need for very regular charging – you can expect more than 30 hours’ listening per charge with some of the best pairs.
As with dedicated TV headphones, if you want to use Bluetooth headphones while someone else listens via the TV speakers, check that there is a setting on your TV that will allow for this.
Bluetooth headphones to consider: Jabra Elite 85h, £189
These Bluetooth headphones are ideal for taking out and about, but they are also great for using with your TV, with large, well-padded earcups and headband. Jabra promises a mammoth 36 hours of battery power on a single charge – our independent tests reveal if this is a reality.
Jabra also says you can get five hours of listening from only 15 minutes of charging if you forgot to plug them in.
These headphones also have noise cancelling, which may seem unnecessary for use at home, but if you find you’re turning up the volume to drown out the neighbour’s lawnmower or the vacuum cleaner, it can actually be very helpful.
Removing background noises will make it easier to hear your TV’s sound, and these headphones also have a Hear Through mode you can toggle to let in outside sounds, useful if there’s someone else in the room you want to communicate with.
So does the sound quality live up to the promise, and are they comfortable to wear? Our professional listening panel put them through their paces in our Jabra Elite 85h review.
3. Adjust your TV sound settings to hear dialogue better
If sound issues are a niggle rather than a major problem, then before you start investing in extra tech, check your TV’s sound is set up in the best way possible. Some TVs default to movie modes that enhance atmospheric sounds, rather than prioritising dialogue, so don’t assume the defaults are best.
Using your remote, head to the audio section in your TV’s settings. Many TVs will have different audio modes to choose from – choose one that will boost dialogue such as a news or drama setting. Many TVs from LG and Samsung also have a dedicated Clear Voice setting you can enable to enhance dialogue.
Some TVs take intelligent listening a step further. For example, all Samsung TVs in their 2020 QLED range have sensors that listen for unwanted background noises and adjust the volume or emphasise speech accordingly, so it’s still clear.
This is also better for your ears; if you’ve turned the volume up to drown out background noise, it’s easy to forget to turn the volume back down yourself after the noise goes away. TVs with these sensors TV do this automatically.
Video: TV sound tips
Find out about all the options you have without buying any extra tech by checking out the video below.
A TV to consider if you have hearing loss: LG 55NANO816NA, £899
There’s no one TV that we can single out best for those with hearing loss – and you can’t assume that paying more will automatically get you better sound. While high-end TVs costing thousands might give you additional sound features, much of the extra money will be going into the picture quality.
The mid-range LG 55NANO816NA LCD TV is one to consider, though. It features LG’s Clear Voice III mode, which you can enable to make dialogue clearer. It also has Bluetooth so you can connect up wireless headphones, and a SPDIF socket to connect an optical audio cable, such as for TV dock headphones.
LG also promises the TV’s speakers are well ahead of the pack – we put this to the test in our comprehensive LG 55NANO816NA review.
4. Try a sound bar
If you don’t want to change your TV setup too much (or it doesn’t have the options you need), but want to give the volume more oomph, a discreet sound bar is likely the best answer.
Simply plug a good sound bar into your TV for an immediate improvement in both volume and sound quality. Some sound bars also have independent volume controls from your TV, which means you can vary the volume of the sound bar separately from that of the TV.
We use a five-member professional listening panel with decades of experience between them to assess sound bar sound quality and give ratings for different content genres, including speech.
Check out the Test Results tab in any of our sound bar reviews – where you will also find ratings for the sound bar’s maximum volume and how well it handles listening at different angles and distances from the TV.
TV sound bar to consider: LG SN5Y, £325
The LG SN5Y could be a great, mid-priced choice to make it easier to listen to your TV. It prioritises sound quality over surround sound and other home entertainment effects that aren’t necessary if you’re simply looking for the best sound clarity.
It has a wide range of connections too, to support different TVs, including digital optical and coaxial connectors, plus two HDMI ports (one supporting ARC, which can save on cabling with some setups). The sound bar suits larger TVs (40 inches or more), and can be wall-mounted as well.
Is this the ideal sound bar to improve your TV’s sound? Find out our experts’ verdict in our LG SN5Y review.
5. Want to listen with others? Try the Sony Handy TV speaker, £150
The Sony Handy TV speaker aims to solve the age-old problem of volume wars – or the isolation of having to watch TV alone because others find it too loud. You put the speaker on the table beside you and it claims to provide extra volume over the TV’s own sound – but only in your direction and not to anyone else in the room.
This means, in theory, you and your partner can both enjoy watching the TV together at different volumes. The speaker also has a useful Voice Zoom function designed to make voices louder and easier to understand, without raising the overall volume.
Sony has just released an updated version of this speaker, the LSR200, which has slight tweaks that Sony says improves the design.
We tried out the original LSR100 model with two people with different levels of hearing loss.
Find out whether this is the ideal solution you’ve been searching for, or if it’s too good to be true, in our Sony Wireless Handy TV Speaker review.
Hearing aids and induction loop systems
If you use a hearing aid, it’s also worth considering installing an induction loop for your home to hear your TV better – it can connect to your TV’s audio connections (check your TV supports this option) and then you can hear the sound from the TV directly through your hearing aids.
There may be other helpful tech to consider if you have a hearing aid – Action of Hearing Loss has more advice on your options to hear your TV better.
If your TV is very old, it could simply be worth an upgrade to improve the sound quality. Head to our TV reviews and filter by those that have scored four stars out of five or more in our expert tests to find all the top models on the market.
This story was first written on 11 September 2020. We updated it with current product prices and a video on 17 December 2020.