With its TV Clear Set, Sennheiser disprove that headphones, especially for watching TV, have to be big, heavy and old-fashioned: here, contemporary true-wireless optics meet up-to-date technology for improving your own hearing. The five settings for amplifying speech, therefore, work as expected and are extremely effective. The ability to use the headphones with smartphones and tablets and adjust them via the app also shows where this particular headphone segment is headed.
What is interesting in this context, however, was my own expectation, especially with a suggested price of just under 400 euros: if you’re expecting a “beast of burden” due to the modern appearance (and the price), you will be disappointed. The TV Clear Set neither offers the hi-fi sound of a Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, nor can it offer an immersive cinema experience in front of the TV at home. However, this is a true specialist that is aimed at all those with limited hearing.
Timely True Wireless optics, transparency mode and app connection: it’s easy to get the impression with the new Sennheiser TV Clear Set that you’re putting hi-fi sound in your ears. But far from it – the Sennheiser TV Clear Set is a true specialist that focuses on a very specific target group; these headphones are aimed at anyone who wants clear and intelligible voices when watching television, for example, to compensate for their own hearing impairment. The fact that this comes at the expense of tonal balance may be perceived as a shortcoming, but the Sennheiser TV Clear Set cannot and does not want to fulfil this demand.
As the name suggests, the Sennheiser TV Clear Set consists of several “parts”: the True Wireless headphones, including a charging case and a small black box, the transmitter. In addition, three pairs of silicone adapters, a mini-jack cable, a Toslink cable and a USB charging cable are also included in the package.
What the Sennheiser TV Clear Set can do
As mentioned above, the Sennheiser TV Clear Set offers two different connection options. Via Bluetooth, the earbuds connect to smartphones, tablets and other players. The headphones do this with the somewhat outdated Bluetooth version 4.2 and only use the SBC codec.
Connection to a TV (to an overview of all TV headphones we’ve tested), a stereo system or a PC is done via the transmitter. Although these True Wireless in-ears can also be connected to TVs via Bluetooth, this issue is still treated rather poorly by many TV manufacturers, so a mismatch of picture-sound often clouds the enjoyment of films.
Thanks to the small transmitter box, the Sennheiser TV Clear Set bypasses the Bluetooth protocol. The technology behind it is called “AirStream” and was developed by Phonak. As a hearing aid manufacturer, this company, like the Sennheiser Consumer Electronics division, belongs to Sonova Holding AG. So it is not surprising that the small black box is not only capable of supplying any number of Sennheiser TV Clear headphones with an audio signal at the same time, but it is also compatible with hearing aids from Phonak or Unitron.
The transmitter is connected to the TV via an analogue mini-jack or digital Toslink cable, and the USB cable supplies the box with the necessary power. We recommend using the digital connection, as this bypasses the TV’s signal conversion and causes less interference. The digital output must be set to “PCM” in the TV’s sound menu.
Once everything is wired, the wireless transmitter automatically connects to the headphones, or you simply press both pairing buttons. When you switch on the TV, the sound is output in parallel: the TV programme is output via the TV speakers, but the headphones are fed with the same sound signal simultaneously. A practical feature: the Sennheiser TV Clear Set switches on automatically when the TV comes on – there is no need for anything to be paired or configured again.
Operation and control
The earpieces can be operated via push buttons and touch surfaces. Not only do the push-buttons take care of volume control, but they can also be used to control the five different speech intelligibility programmes and manage calls. The touch-sensitive surfaces take care of playback (play, pause) and transparency mode. While the buttons have a pleasant pressure point and reliably execute inputs, the touch fields on the model we tested, unfortunately, did not react as we had hoped: the transparency mode was not always activated or deactivated by double-tap. In addition, the rather loud rustling noise that the activated ambient mode’s microphones capture through (accidental) finger swiping/tapping can be experienced as very uncomfortable.
Thanks to smartphone connectivity, the behaviour of the Sennheiser TV Clear can be conveniently adjusted. The free “TV Clear” app (iOS, Android) not only shows the battery status of the in-ears and the case but also allows you to configure the controls or define the five levels of the speech intelligibility settings. If you want to switch the transparency mode on and off, as well as toggle between two levels, you can do this in the app. Deactivating/activating auto-pause, reducing voice prompts to a minimum, selecting the language, finding the headphones, reading operating instructions or registering an account with Sennheiser complete the range of functions.
The app cleverly maintains the connection to the headphones when they are connected to the TV transmitter. This allows you to watch films and change settings “live” if necessary. It may be a little confusing as music apps on your smartphone will forward the stream to these in-ears seamlessly, but you won’t hear anything because the wireless protocol of the TV box takes priority.
The manufacturer claims that when used with the TV transmitter, the headphones can be used for up to 15 hours on a single charge. Our practical text roughly confirmed this value. The charging case delivers a further 22 hours of playtime, making a total of 37 hours of runtime.
The case can be charged via USB cable or wirelessly on a Qi-enabled charging pad.
As mentioned at the outset, the Sennheiser TV Clear are sound specialists. The five levels of speech intelligibility settings pull up the mid-range as well as the treble, so voices gain enormous assertiveness. When switching through the modes, the volume is also increased, so it will need to be turned down if necessary. In my test, level 1 with its moderate amplification was enough to follow dialogue without any problems. Above that, it becomes harsh, sharp and unpleasant to my ears, but ultimately everyone has to decide which level gives the best balance based on their own hearing ability.
If you like to watch films in their original language you will recognise the problem: the dialogue is quite dynamic in its volume and sometimes drowns out when background music or noises play at the same time. The Sennheiser TV Clear helps here, and in fact, you have less trouble understanding the actors’ voices.
But this also has to be said: anyone expecting high-resolution sound or even surround-like playback characteristics here will be disappointed. The sound from the dynamic 6 mm drivers is flat and narrow, which makes immersion in atmospheric films impossible.
The sound improved somewhat when we cut the connection to the TV and connected the Sennheiser TV Clear to a smartphone via Bluetooth. The stereo image widened a little, yet the music remained bass-poor, narrow and its resolution seemed reduced.
Unfortunately, the Sennheiser TV Clear Set is not free from background noise. If the strength of the transparency mode, or the ambient awareness function, was increased, the background noise also increased due to the design, and this was clearly perceptible at the maximum control setting. If the ambient mode was deactivated, a soft beeping could be heard, but it disappears after about three seconds. During music playback, neither noise was noticeable because it was simply not audible. However, the noises were perceptible during podcasts or talk shows with pauses in the conversation.
- Ear couplingIn-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)20 - 20.000 Hz
- Sound pressure level (SPL)100,5 dB
- Weight without cable6,9 each, case 49,9 g
What's in the box
- 3 pairs of ear tips (S, M, L)
- USB-C charging cable
- Charging case
- Micro USB cable
- Optical cable
- Mini jack cable
- BT codecs: SBC
- BT version: 4.2
- BT profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, DID