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With hearing loss, activities like watching TV can become a difficult, not only for the person who is hearing impaired, but also for the other people in the home. To deal with hearing loss, many people turn up the volume on their television to a level that others in the household find difficult to live with. An easy and inexpensive solution to this problems is to get a listening system that allows one person to listen to the TV at an amplified volume through headphones or a speaker, while others in the household can listen at a more comfortable level.
There are a number of great systems available to choose from depending on how much you are willing to spend and the type of devices that you find comfortable to use.
This guide covers:
- Types of TV listening devices for the hearing impaired
- What type is best for your level of hearing loss
- Wearing Style
- How Telecoils (or t-coils) work with listening Systems
Types of TV Listening Devices
If you are shopping for a device to help you hear your television more clearly, you will come across a number of different options, each with its own pros and cons. Understanding the differences between the devices can be a challenge. The most popular technology or systems that you can use to help the hard of hearing watch television are:
- Infrared Systems
- FM radio frequency systems
- Induction Loops
Infrared systems are often used in the home with televison sets, although they can also be used in large settings like theaters. The way that they work is a small transmitter converts the sound that is coming from your TV into invisible infrared light waves that is transmitted to your receiver (a headset or small speaker ) that turns the light back into high fidelity stereo sound that goes directly into your ears. You can then adjust the sound to your desired volume. You can use this type of system with or without a hearing aid.
IR systems plug directly into the audio output of a TV set. For older sets with no outputs, most systems feature optional microphones that users may place next to the speaker of the TV.
The main difference between Infrared and FM systems is that infrared light is unable to pass through walls so they are particularly good for situations where there are multiple systems operating in different rooms like a courtroom, boardrooms or a multiplex theatre, or where confidentiality is important.
Companies/Brands: Able Planet, Clear Sounds, Sennheiser, Serene Innovations, TV Ears
- Compared to a hearing aid they are relatively economical
- Privacy, the transmission of IR is confined within the walls of a room.
- Best for multiple occupancy residences
- Some experts believe that IR produces the best sound quality.
- IR wireless systems are immune to radio interference.
- The receivers are susceptible to sunlight interference, so you can’t really use them outside if it is sunny. Although this isn’t usually a problem when watching TV.
- Most systems require hookup to a main outlet which may limit portability.
- Shadows or blockages of either the transmitter or receiver can interfere or cut out transmission. So you must have a direct line of site between the transmitter and receiver (it works in a similar way to a remote control).
- Generally requires the use of a special headset
Price Range: $40- $200+
Read More: Best TV Speakers for Hard of Hearing
Read More: Best TV Headphones for the Hearing Impaired
Radio Frequency/FM System
Radio Frequency/FM listening systems transmit sound via radio waves that can go through walls and ceilings, so you can keep listening to the TV in any room. The personal FM system consists of a transmitter microphone that is attached to the television and a receiver usually in the form of a headset or a neckloop. The receiver transmits the sound directly to your ears or, if you wear a hearing aid, to the hearing aid.
Companies/Brands: Audio Fox, Sennheiser, Serene Innovations, William Sound
- An FM system is generally very easy to set up and highly portable.
- Since radio signals travel through walls, you can continue to listen to the TV if you have to leave the room.
- Can be used indoors or outdoors.
- Economical compared to the cost of a hearing aid.
- Generally requires the use of a special headset
- If you are worried about security FM systems are susceptible to interference and can be discreetly intercepted. This isn’t a huge concern if you are just watching television, the security concerns are more relevant for people who are using FM systems in boardrooms or courtroom type situations.
- You need to tune the receiver. In order to clarify reception, users may have to switch channels in the middle of a particular program due to poor reception.
- Prone to interference from other FM wireless systems.
Price Range: $100 to $300 +
If you use a hearing aid you might already be familiar with loop systems. A hearing loop picks up the sound of a speaker’s voice (or other source like a television) from a microphone (or wired connection) and transmits the sound directly to a listener’s hearing aid equipped with a T-coil. The listener can pick up the audio when they are within the loop. Loop systems allow background noise to be eliminated while the speaker’s voice is amplified. These are fantastic devices for people who use hearing aids that are equipped with telecoils. Loop systems are primarily used by people with hearing -t-coil equipped hearing aid, but in some cases people who don’t use hearing aids are able to use a loop system if they purchase a special receiver (usually a type of headphone that will pick up the signal.)
Companies/Brands: Audio Fox, Sennheiser, Serene Innovations, William Sound
- Require purchasing/maintaining/replacing fewer portable receiving units (for those without T-coils).
- They use a universal magnetic signal, which works no matter the location or hearing instrument brand
- Are inconspicuous
- Are hearing-aid compatible. There’s no need to juggle between hearing aids and headsets.
- You have to set up the loop in a fixed space, the loops cannot easily be moved to another room
- The signal strength is limited to the area of the loop. If you have to leave the room while you are watching TV you probably won’t still be able to hear what you are watching.
- Loop systems can have interference from other electronics, which may result in a buzzing sound in the user’s hearing aid.
Price Range: $150 – $300
MORE: Best Induction Loops
What type of device is best for your level of hearing loss
Listening systems are useful for all types of hearing loss. You can use them with or without hearing aids. The three main technologies that are used are FM, infrared or inductive loop technologies. All are considered good and each has advantages and disadvantages depending on the level of hearing loss.
FM systems use radio broadcast technology that can go through walls and ceiling so they tend to be good options if you move around a lot and still want to keep listening while in another room.
Infrared systems guarantee privacy because light does not pass through walls. They are the best choice for situations such as court proceedings that require confidentiality or residential complexes where there might be a high wireless usage and will have the least amount of interference from other devices.
Inductive Loop Systems are the best option for anyone with a telecoil equipped hearing aid who needs assistance with overall clarity of sound and help with minimizing background noise. Loop systems can be used by non-hearing aid users through use of a headphone and inductive loop receiver.
Television Listening systems have a number of different wearing styles, although most are just variations of headset styles. The main styles you will come across are:
- Earphones / headphones – This is probably the most familiar style. They are the regular headphones that are placed over the ear to listen, without other people hearing.
- Neckloop Listeners – are what you would wear around your neck if you have hearing aids with t-coils. The neckloop wirelessly sends sound into your hearing aids. The t-coils in your hearing aids act like little speakers in your ears.
- Stethoscope Listeners -Lightweight and comfortable headphones that hang beneath your ears. These are not suitable for hearing aid wearers.
With the different types of devices there are a number of features that you will want to be aware of when you are purchasing these types of systems.
Volume Control – Being able to modify the volume of the device is a must have feature to ensure that you are able to customize the device to your specific hearing level. Almost all devices will have this control.
Range – Some systems will give you a range of up to 45 m. For most television watching situations, a range of between 10-20 m should be sufficient.
Bluetooth -There are a couple of listening systems with Bluetooth that let you pair your TV and Bluetooth cell phone to the listener, so you can take calls with your listener headset and switch back to the television when your call ends. If you are interested in this have a look at the Clearsounds Bluetooth TV and Audio Listening System.
Hearing Aid /Telecoil Compatibly – For anyone with hearing aids fitted with telecoils many hearing-aid-compatible IR TV listening systems feature receivers designed to connect directly to your hearing aid, or to an installed induction loop. Other IR systems feature neckloops that broadcast a signal directly to telecoil-equipped hearing aids.
Transmitter – All of these devices to help you watch TV have a transmitter that usually require a power source. Most transmitters are quite small and you shouldn’t need a lot of space to store them. They are most commonly plugged directly into the back of the television.
Receiver – The receiver is what is worn by the listener. The receiver can be a hearing aid, headset (headphones), neck loop, or body pack. Generally they have rechargeable batteries that will be charged when the device is not in use, and placed back on the transmitter charging cradle.
Headphones – A lot of the listening systems have wireless headphone that are battery powered, and the transmitter generally serves as the battery charger, as well as the place where you would store your wireless headphones. If the headphones are wireless it is a good idea to check how long is the operating time and the charging time for the headsets.
Warranty – Most systems come with at least a one year manufacturer warranty. Since hearing is so subjective you may find you get a system that a lot of people really like but it isn’t right for you and you will want to return it so it’s important
To get a decent system you are looking at a cost of somewhere between $150 to $300, although there are a few budget options available.
Unisar Tv920 Listener Wireless Headset is good value for the money despite having limited range. If you are on a budget the Unisar is worth checking out.
$100 to $200
Most of the TV listening systems fall into this price range so this is where you will have the most selection a good place to start is with the Sennheiser IS 410 or the TV Ears Wireless Speaker is a very popular product.
$200 to $300
In this price range you are getting very high quality with top features. Audio Fox Wireless TV Speakers are different than most of the other designs and would be a good option for someone who doesn’t like wearing headphones. If you don’t mind wearing headphones a good choice is the Sennheiser SET840. If you wear a telecoil equipped hearing aid you have the option of using a home loop system like the William Sound Small Loop System PLA-215 that will help clarify what you are hearing from the television
How Telecoils (or t-coils) work with TV listening Systems
As most hearing aid users will tell you, having a hearing aid doesn’t mean that that you will be able to hear the sound on the TV 100% perfectly. If you are looking for a listening system that can work with your t-coil equipped hearing aid to make watching TV more enjoyable there are specific products that use a neckloop as the receiver that pass the sound onto your aid and will help maximize the power of your hearing aids. Or you can look into home loop systems that will allow you to have the sound transmitted directly to your ears.