For many of our senior and elderly loved ones, the television is their link to the outside world. TV’s are often their primary source of news, information, and entertainment. Unfortunately, the complications of aging can chip away at the usefulness of this important technology.
For example, complicated remotes can make TVs difficult to operate. Poor vision leads to the need for a larger TV perhaps. Most commonly though, the loss of hearing leads to missed dialogue which leads to loss of enjoyment or misunderstood information.
So, the TV volume just keeps getting turned up louder and louder. To help these folks, I’ve created this guide to the best tv listening devices to help improve senior’s ability to clearly hear their television.
TV Listening Devices Reviews and Options
The good news (and bad news) is that you have lots of device choices for improving sound quality and volume while watching TV or watching movies at home. There are a few major classifications to learn about that will help you make your decision. Here is a rundown of the options out there with a few product recommendations for each one.
RELATED GUIDE: TV Headphones for Elderly Seniors
The first option we should talk about is the amplified TV speakers. This includes amplified speakers that plug into the TV including sound bars. The speakers may be located near the TV but are usually positioned near the user’s ears.
There are several positives of choosing a speaker system.
- Portability. These devices are easy to move around for the best TV listening experience. They are small and lightweight and can easily follow you if you decide to sit in a different chair. Traveling? Take them with you wherever you go. Most are small enough to fit in a suitcase.
- Compatibility. Portable TV speakers will generally connect to nearly any TV audio outputs: headphone jacks, RCA jacks, and optical outputs included. If you have an old TV and are concerned about connections, I have a separate guide to the best wireless headphones for older TVs you should read too.
- Wireless. Many of these models have no wires between the transmitter and the receiver. So, no wires to manage or trip over.
- Easy to Set-up and Use. Just plug the cables into the outputs of your TV, make sure the battery is charged, then use a simple knob to adjust the volume. That’s really all you have to do to use a system like this.
- Hearing Aids. Because they are external, these TV listening aids can be used with hearing aids and hearing aid alternatives like PSAPs.
Potential drawbacks include:
- If the speaker is turned up loud enough, it could disturb others in the room or elsewhere in the house. Several models come with headphone jacks because of this.
- Because they are wireless, most are battery powered. So, it is important to make sure the batteries stay charged or have a power adapter for the speaker part also. That way, the speakers will always have power when the senior wants to use them.
External TV speaker systems like these may be best for seniors with hearing aids, people who live alone, and those who need a simple setup that is easy to use.
Best TV Speakers for Hard of Hearing
Here are my recommended TV speakers for seniors who are hearing impaired.
The Soundbyte is a pocket-sized, multi-purpose radio that can also serve as a TV speaker, a Bluetooth speaker, and an MP3 player. The player interface is pretty basic, easy to see, and easy to understand. No need to purchase batteries either because it uses a rechargeable battery that is also replaceable if needed.
Who doesn’t like products that can serve many different uses for one affordable price, right? This handy little gadget can serve as a portable FM radio, a Bluetooth speaker for cell phones or tablets, as an MP3 player via an SD card, and even as a TV speaker too!
To use it as a TV speaker for seniors, you’ll need either a Bluetooth-enabled TV or you can also use a wired headphone cable connection. To use a Bluetooth connection, you would pair the device with your TV set and then just press the Bluetooth button on the front to hear the TV. You can then place the speaker anywhere you’d like.
For a wired connection, you would need a 3.5mm audio cable, aka a mini headphone cable. (Note that Avantree includes one in the box but it is only 3 ft long – you are probably going to want a longer one.) Just plug one end into the TV mini-headphone out jack and the other into the Soundbyte. Finally, press the mode button to switch inputs.
The folks at Avantree sent me a free unit to tryout for myself and I was impressed with the sound this little device put out. It has 2 built in speakers that get very loud – especially for a device that only weighs about 9-1/2 ounces. And there is only minimal distortion too.
Be realistic about the sound overall though. It is a small device and isn’t going to have a booming bass or make you feel like you are at the movies. But, it is an extremely capable little speaker that has multiple uses from listening to FM radio and downloaded/streamed music too.
This is a great choice for a wireless TV speaker when simplicity is what you are looking for. This model is about as plug and play as you can get. It comes with several connectors that will work with the headphone jack or the RCA outputs on the TV. Simply, plug the connector of your choice into the TV then adjust the volume with the large knob on the side.
This one reminds me of the old radio my grandfather kept in his garage. Just a basic black box with 2 speakers. There is nothing intimidating about it because it has a look that is familiar to most seniors.
It is also one of the smaller units. The box itself is 8.5” wide by 8” high and less than 3” thick and weighs about a pound. This size makes it easy to move from room to room throughout the house and small enough to pack in a suitcase or overnight bag.
The Pyle Portable TV Soundbox uses radio frequency (2.4GHz) to transmit the signal to the speaker. This gives it an extra-long range (up to 100 feet) similar to wireless wifi routers. So, it can be carried from room to room if needed to continue a show or to keep listening to the news while going to the kitchen.
The transmitter plugs into an AC wall outlet and it doubles as a charger for the speaker. Simply, place the speaker on the base and it automatically begins charging. Users have reported a long battery life of this product (up to 12 hours). But, the speaker itself does not come with a power adaptor. If someone wants to keep it plugged in all the time, there is a place for one and you can order one separately if needed. If not, the user should get in the habit of placing it on the charger when finished using it. If mobility makes this difficult, grab the extra adaptor.
Finally, if there are others in the home who may be disturbed by a loud speaker, there is a headphone jack on the speaker for private listening.
While the unit by Pyle above is good, I like this one from Simolio a little bit better. Mainly, because it is a complete set and includes all the accessories you may need.
Like the model above, it comes with the connection cords you may need. But, a bit of a warning. You need to know the connection type before ordering. The analog model works with RCA jacks and there is also a digital model that connects to the Optical audio port. Most TVs have the RCA connectors FYI.
Once you have the transmitter connected to the TV is also doubles as the charger for the speaker. The manufacturer reports battery life of up to 6 hours. But, it also comes with a separate power adapter for the speaker. That way, it will always have power and you’ll never have to wait for the batteries to charge.
This one is simple too. There is a large, well-placed knob on the front. Simply turn the knob to adjust the volume. The same knob turns the unit on and off.
The Simolio TV listening device has a headphone jack on the speaker and even comes with a set of “stethoscope” style headphones for the user. No more disturbing others in the home with a super loud TV volume. This is a great option for people who have trouble sleeping and watch TV late into the night.
This unit is also highly portable with a handle on the top. It uses the same transmission frequency as the Pyle (2.4 GHz) and the same range of about 100 feet. But, it is heavier than the Pyle coming in at over 2 pounds and larger overall too. It measures in at 11” wide by 9.6” high and almost 5” deep.
Simolio uses several different technologies to boost the clarity of dialog. This makes the dialog stand out from background music and sound effects. There is a small switch on the back of the unit to customize this by selecting a low, mid, or high setting.
Best TV Soundbar for Hearing Impaired
Soundbars are those long, rectangular speakers you see under some TV’s. TV audiophiles use then to boost the sound that comes from a regular television set. These have some use for seniors with hearing difficulties too. The major drawback is that soundbars are not portable and typically sit under, on, or next to the TV.
The Zvox AccuVoice soundbar looks like normal, standard audio equipment. So, it may be a great choice for anyone who is sensitive to having using special devices out of pride or embarrassment.
It is easy to set up and to use too. Simply connect the power cord and the audio cable between the TV and the soundbox. Note, however, that you must have an Optical audio out on your TV for this to work. The volume can be adjusted with the included remote control or most cable and satellite remotes can be programmed to control it.
The biggest plus for the Zvox is that it has an exclusive technology that makes voices stand out so they can be heard better. It does this by separating the voice track from the background music then boosts the voices to they are clear and easier to understand.
It is not portable though. It has to stay plugged into the TV. Most people sit them on their TV stand under the TV. It measures 17” wide by about 3” high and 3” deep. Weight isn’t really a factor but it weighs about 3 lbs.
One other cool feature is the Output Leveling technology. Have you ever been blasted by a loud commercial? This feature levels the sound out so that the volume is consistent.
There is also another class of devices that are specially made to improve TV listening for hearing aid users. These have transmitters that send the sound right to the user’s hearing aids. Some examples are loop transmitters that work with T-coil hearing aids. There are other devices made by the hearing aid manufacturers that work with their brand of hearing aid only. Contact your hearing aid company for more information.
Sometimes, though, the TV itself must be replaced because it is not loud enough or not adaptable to these newer technologies. It might not have the right audio ports or be able to be upgraded to work with your favorite device.
If you decide to upgrade your television, look for one that has equalizer functions in the settings or special audio modes that boost conversation and dialog. It would also be advisable to get one with multiple audio out ports. The minimum ones should be RCA jacks (red, white, and yellow circle connectors), a headphone jack, and Optical audio out. These should give you plenty of options for adding additional TV listening devices later if you need them.
General Buying Guide
To find the best TV listening device or you or a loved one, there are several considerations. Here are some important factors to consider.
How Will the Device Be Powered?
One of the most important things to think about is how the device will be powered. Will it plug into the wall outlet or use a battery?
AC powered (plug in) models will require a plug near the location where the user will be watching TV. The benefit of this style is that the unit will always have power. But, a drawback could be the wires. It is important to make sure any wires are out of the way to prevent tripping over them.
Battery powered devices are sometimes more convenient but, of course, require either battery changes or the batteries must be recharged frequently. Make sure you know the battery life of the listening aid you choose. If it is being used by an elderly person or senior who isn’t up with the latest technology, they will need to be shown how to change or charge the batteries. They also need to when it is time to charge the batteries by understanding the warning or charging indicator.
Will It Be Compatible With Your TV?
Most TV listening aids will plug into the audio outputs of the TV. Check to what types of outputs you have and where they are located. The most common types are RCA plugs and Optical outputs. RCA jacks are round plugs with red or white insets in them. One plug represents the left channel and one represents the right on a stereo setup. The plugs that fit into these connections have single prong with a metal ring on the outside. Optical outputs are on newer TVs and uses fiber optics to send audio signals to the device. The plug has a small square end on it.
The location is important too. The best location for access is on the front or side of a TV sitting on a cabinet. Wall mounted TVs may be challenging because the ports cannot be reached. Or, there may no place to set the transmitter once it is plugged into the TV.
The newest TV sets may have built-in Bluetooth and not require any cables at all. Although, Bluetooth has its own challenges that we will talk about in more detail later.
For older TVs with no audio outputs, some listening devices have mics with them that you can set in front of the TV speakers.
How Will The Device Transmit the Signal?
Like I talked about above, most TV listening devices require a transmitter that plugs into the audio out ports. This box transmits or send the audio signal to a receiver that plays the sound. This transmission can be sent via a wire, an infrared signal, a radio frequency, or Bluetooth.
A wired connection may produce the best quality sound but will be far from convenient. You would need a wire running from the TV to the speakers or headphones. This could cause someone to trip over the wire. So, most devices today have wireless connections.
Radio frequency (RF) has a longer range which means you can use it farther from the TV. Sometimes even in a different room. This style uses radio waves to send the sound signal. These signals work anywhere within the room and even penetrate walls depending on how powerful they are. Most of the devices today are RF. However, most manufacturers don’t recommend you use radio frequency headphones if you have a pacemaker. People with pacemakers should use Infrared (IR) or Bluetooth.
Infrared (IR) is what your TV remote uses to change the channel or volume of your current TV. The range (how far away you can get) is usually somewhat limited. The receiver must also be in the “line of sight” of the transmitter. This means you must be able to draw an invisible line between the two for it to work. Think about your remote control. If you point it behind you, it will not work. You have to point it right at the TV.
Finally, Bluetooth connections are becoming more and more popular. The advantage to Bluetooth is that it can connect with no wires. The Bluetooth transmitter is built into the TV itself. A huge drawback though is that Bluetooth signals have a very short range. Therefore, the user must stay close to the TV to receive the signal.
How is the Sound Quality?
Of course, sound quality is extremely important. I mean, that is the whole reason you are doing this right? The good news is most of these devices have good sound quality out of the box. Many have special built-in processors that separate speech and amplify it over other sounds. This is important because the frequencies of human speech are the ones that need the most amplification.
How Important is the Unit’s Design?
Do you care how the device looks in your home or when you are wearing it? Some of these devices use speakers that sit on the back of a chair or near the user’s ears. Many of the headphone styles are worn over top of the ears like Princess Leia buns. Others look like a stethoscope hanging around the neck. Some people are bothered by things like this. Just take that into consideration especially if buying a system for someone else.
Is Portability Important?
Do you need to move the device from room to room in the home? How about travel? Do you want to take it with you when vacationing or visiting family? If so, choose a device with a simple plug connection and plug and play set up. The smaller the overall size the better too.
Will Others Use the TV at the Same Time?
This may be a bigger deal than you think. And, here’s why. Many TV’s only play the sound through the “active” output which is usually the built-in speakers. So, when you plug anything into the audio out ports, it may shut off the speakers and only play through the added device. That means no one else can hear the TV.
How Easy is It to Set Up?
Is the device plug and play meaning all you have to do is plug it in and maybe adjust the volume controls? Or, does it require syncing with another device or a complicated set-up process? These are important considerations, especially for non-techy seniors. Is someone in the family available to help set it up? Can someone assist with troubleshooting if necessary? Many devices do have quick start guides and customer service phone numbers, but a base level of tech know-how may be needed.
Is the TV Listening Device Easy to Use?
Is the device easy to use? Make sure any buttons or controls are clearly labeled. You should be able to understand how to use the device without having to read a manual. The optimal choice is probably one with a simple volume adjustment wheel or switch.
Is Your Choice Hearing Aid Compatible?
Does the user wear hearing aids? This may eliminate some choices from consideration. For example, wireless earbuds will not fit in the ear with hearing aids. On the other hand, many hearing aid manufacturers make TV listening aids that work with their hearing aids. That way, the sound from the TV will play right through the hearing aids. These are often brand specific though and you will have to buy the one that works with your brand.
What is the Return Policy and the Warranty?
Whether you buy your TV listening device at a retail store or online, know the return policy before buying it. It is also important to know what the warranty is too in case of a problem. Can you return the device during the warranty period or will it need to be sent in for service?
Three Tips for Hearing TV Better
There are a few tweaks you can try first before buying any new gadgets. These are especially helpful for those in the early stages of hearing loss.
- Closed Captioning. Turn on the closed caption capabilities of your television. Almost every TV out there has this capability built-in. You can find it in the TV settings menu. Sometimes, this is enough to supplement the dialog if you are missing a few words here and there.
- Adjust EQ Settings. Some TV’s have equalizer settings that allow you to tweak the levels of the TV sound. To improve the quality of dialog, turn down the bass level and turn up the mid and treble levels. You’ll probably have to play with these settings to find the best levels for you.
- Put Your TV in a Corner. Move the TV to the corner of the room. This will allow the TV to use the walls as amplifiers which will bounce back the sound towards the watcher. It’s a similar effect to putting your hand behind your cell phone speakers to boost the sound. This is especially helpful when the speakers are on the backside of the TV.
Summary and Final Recommendations
So, here is a quick review of all this information. There are many devices to choose from that will help you hear your TV better. Most are easy to set up and usually plug right into the TV. Many of them are also easy to use although some are easier than others.
Separate TV speakers including sound bars are best for seniors with hearing aids and who usually watch TV alone. These are available as wireless speakers that can sit right next to the user. Another version is soundbars that sit next to the TV set. Some come with headphone jacks that can be used when there are others listening to the TV at the same time.
The other option is headphones that the user can wear to improve the sound. These are best when multiple users are watching TV or for more profound hearing loss. There are three headphone styles to think about: over the ear, on the ear, and “stethoscope” style. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. These styles are not usually hearing aid compatible.
Whew. Who knew there was so much to say about tv listening devices? I hope this guide has helped you decide which is the best for you and your situation. Feel free to ask any question in the comments below. Also, please share any tips you have for hearing the TV better!