How Apple TV and AirPods Max Solved My TV Headphone Problems

What started with an old pair of Bluetooth headphones for watching late-night TV movies has become a pretty daunting task to get great wireless sound and a reliable connection from your TV. It shouldn’t really be complicated, but it turned out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined. And I spent months and months – and a lot of money – solving the problem.

This is how I did it.

How did it all start

Towards the end of 2021, I started watching late-night TV, not wanting to be “that neighbor” when doing so. So I grabbed a pair of bluetooth headphones and hooked them up to my TV. I didn’t think much at the time. It’s a modest size room so I didn’t expect range to be an issue. It’s a modern TV, and headphones feel very good attached to my phone. I thought the problem was fixed right then and there.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The headphones I used were the Marshall Monitor II, and I connected them to my 2017 Sony KD-49XE9005, which runs Android TV and has Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP. The pairing was fine for a little while, but the issues started creeping in. The bluetooth range wasn’t great, and I often got confused if I walked into the next room. While the connection was stable, it would suffer from latency issues and would also take about 60 seconds to stop stuttering after starting the program.

The audio performance was much worse. It was muddy, lacking definition, volume, and body, stealing blockbuster audiences and thrills. It was a subpar experience compared to even regular speakers. On Black Friday (not a good time to “fix” the issues), I ordered a pair of Sony CH-710 Bluetooth headphones as a trial, and although the stuttering and latency issues were gone, the audio was a disappointment.

Both headphones sounded much better at playing music when connected to my iPhone 13 Pro. I didn’t hold back, I paid more money to solve the problem, choosing the WH-1000MX4 headphones from Sony. Comfort is greatly improved, latency hasn’t been an issue, and noise cancellation is excellent too. But at the same time, the performance was still uninspiring, and yet they seemed to be connected to my excellent phone.

It was annoying, but I wasn’t in the mood to declare defeat. I went in a different direction after that, I tried the Master & Dynamic MG20 gaming headphones. This dongle is used to connect to the TV instead of bluetooth, which reduces latency and provides 7.1 audio connection as well. It looks great with my PlayStation 4, and it sure does well with the TV, too. However, since the volume control of the TV remote control no longer works, you have to use the headphone control, and it does not have the same tight control. Either it’s too loud or too quiet. Plus, there’s no noise cancellation, and I found they weren’t quite as comfortable as the Sony headphones.

TV stays

I hate not solving a problem, and now that’s it very frustrated. I was using four sets of headphones at this point, and while listening to wireless sound was decent, it wasn’t as good as it should have been, and everything felt like a compromise. The WH-1000XM4 came close to what I wanted, but the sound wasn’t always as full as the MG20’s, which in turn was held back by the lack of noise cancellation and being less comfortable.

Master & Dynamic MG20 headphone cup and logo.
Master & Dynamic MG20 headphones. Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Was this really? Was I destined to be perpetually disappointed with wireless audio from the TV, even though the WH-1000XM4 looks great and is connected to my phone, and the Master & Dynamic MG20 works well with my PlayStation?

I did what most others would do and searched the internet for a solution. I found several listings telling me to get a great variety of different headphones, all of which were apparently “best for TV”. Some suggested I should use a pair that came with a separate RF or IR transmitter, but the battery life was usually much shorter than the Bluetooth kit, there was no noise cancellation, and they were just for the TV instead of being able to connect to my phone or tablet if I wanted Option.

The internet really led me to the point where I was at the time. The Sony WH-1000XM4 topped many of the lists, and while I agree it was pretty good, I refused to believe what I was having with my TV The best. Does this mean my problem was with the TV? Showing off about using a pair of headphones every few months was really trivial, but it’s not as financially crushing as buying a new TV, especially since there’s nothing wrong with the one I own. And what if it didn’t make any difference, or was somehow worse? Where will it end? A house full of TVs and speakers? Who am I, Caleb Denison?

I mention the audio and TV expert at Digital Trends for a reason, because it was his article that set me on the path to wireless audio success.

Not a new TV, a new Apple TV

In his article about why he’s wrong about the Apple TV, he once wrote, “You can easily use AirPods with your Apple TV for private listening.” He says it was Captain Opius, but it wasn’t like that for me. I didn’t really think of this as an option, and buying an Apple TV 4K was a lot cheaper than buying a new TV. After searching further, but not finding much substance, I ordered one from a refurbished Apple Store to save a bit of money, because another expensive issue loomed.

AirPods Max and Apple TV 4K with a remote on the table.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The only Apple headphones I own are AirPods Pro. They are excellent and I use them often, but wearing the earbuds for hours every day will ruin my ears. I needed over-ear headphones, and that only meant one thing if I wanted to enjoy Apple’s Bluetooth connectivity, called Spatial Audio, and seamless connectivity: the expensive Apple AirPods Max. I hated myself for it (and really still do), but I took the lead and waited for the Apple TV and AirPods Max to be delivered.

This was about a month ago, and I can now report that all of these “best” lists are wrong. The best wireless headphone experience you can get with a TV is with Apple TV 4K and AirPods Max. This is across the board. The connection is instant, and there are no latency issues. The range is better than all the other headphones I’ve tried. AirPods Max switches between my phone, iPad, and TV with the press of a button, and best of all, the package looks great.

Almost perfect solution

I don’t blame any of my previous headphones for not delivering the goods. They all perform their functions brilliantly when connected to another device. Instead, I think it has a lot to do with the TV and its Bluetooth connection. Taking them out of the equation, and putting wireless activity into good hands with the Apple H1 chip and Bluetooth 5.0, everything I watch has full, rich sound with blocks of volume, definition, and excitement.

Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos are part of the package, the noise canceling is great, and the comfort — taking a while to get used to, and still not quite there with the WH-1000XM4 — is good enough for hours of listening. The Apple TV 4K is fun, too. Fast and responsive, and has all the services I use regularly as apps. Setup was also very easy, I only need to take the AirPods Max out of the case for them to connect right away. Apple TV allows two people to connect headphones to it, if you want to watch with someone else.

It’s almost perfect. yes, approx. The only problem is that you can’t listen to broadcast TV, because that (in my case) is handled by the TV and not the Apple TV. This means that you have to connect your headphones to the TV’s Bluetooth to listen wirelessly. It’s not a huge problem for me personally, but it might be for some, and I would expect it to similarly affect cable boxes and other standalone peripherals.

Time, money and effort

Like me, not everyone will own the latest TV, and many will keep the TV they have for a few years before considering an upgrade. I’ve only recently found myself wanting wireless audio, and most of the advice on finding the best option has led me to wireless headphones. Yes, they will connect and work, but the actual results you get will almost certainly vary, and it could all be due to your TV set.

The Apple TV and AirPods Max combo package is expensive, but still cheaper than most new high-spec TVs. If you watch a lot of streaming services, or buy movies and shows through iTunes, they will provide much higher performance and a more consistent wireless listening experience than you hope a pair of Bluetooth headphones connected to your TV will do the job. I’ve definitely found that results from even some of the best headphones you can buy vary wildly.

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all solution to great wireless audio from your TV, but for me, Apple TV and AirPods Max are the best for 95% of the time. I wish I had known the next day after trying the Marshall Monitor 2 all those months ago, because it would have saved me a great deal of time, money, and effort.

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