Showdown of Wireless TV Headphones: RF vs IF vs Bluetooth

Sennheiser RF 175
Sennheiser RF 175

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Learn what you need to know to make an informed decision among the different types of wireless TV headphones.

Do you like to watch TV late at night but often have to listen to your favorite movies at 30% volume so you don’t bother others trying to sleep? Perhaps you want to block out the noise of your surroundings while catching up on Stranger Things, then a pair of wireless TV headphones could be just what you need.

This way, you get to enjoy your TV at a comfortable volume without waking the neighbors or disturbing the person sleeping next to you.

What Are Wireless TV Headphones?

As the name suggests, they are wireless headphones that you can connect to your television that allow you to fully immerse yourself into a show or movie on your big screen without disturbing the people around you.

Wireless headphones boast several advantages compared to their wired counterparts. For one, there’s no worry about the cord getting all tangled up, or getting caught on the edge of your couch when you lean back to get comfier. Plus, they are equipped with a much wider coverage range so you can enjoy your TV viewing experience without having to sit too close to the screen.

3 types of wireless TV headphones

Apple, Google, and Samsung have already gotten rid of the headphone jack, so it’s probably safe to assume that wireless headphones are the way of the future, not just for your mobile devices but also for your TV. There are three main categories when it comes to wireless headphones for TV:

  1. Radio Frequency (RF) headphones
  2. Infra-red (IF) headphones
  3. Bluetooth (BT) Headphones

By the end of this article, you should know enough about the pros and cons of each type so you can make the right choice.

How Do Wireless TV Headphones Work

These wireless TV headphones work pretty much the same way as other wireless headphones. Two components — a wireless transmitter and a wireless receiver are required to establish a wireless connection.

The transmitter transmits digital audio signals to the receiver which converts them into the sounds that you hear in the headphones. The good news is that you can connect your wireless headphones to any TV even if it doesn’t have a built-in wireless transmitter.

Radio Frequency Headphones

Sony RF995RK Wireless Home Theater Headphones
Sony RF995RK Wireless Home Theater Headphones

RF headphones transmit sound from your TV using a stereo frequency modulation system. These wireless electromagnetic signals can range from 3 kHz to about 300 GHz, although most types of wireless headphones use 2.4 GHz RF technology, which boasts a remarkable wireless range of up to 300 feet (~ 91 meters).

Think of it like tuning in to a mini radio station where the wireless headphones are the only thing that can pick up the audio

RF headphones usually come with an RF transmitter or docking station and can often require RCA audio cable and 3.5 mm-to-RCA adapter cable to establish a connection with your TV. To avoid damaging your system, make sure all the parts are turned off before you make any connections.

Is Using RF Safe?

The short answer is yes, using RF headphones is safe! There are no conclusive long-term studies that prove that exposure to radiofrequency causes cancer. It’s no secret that some radiation can be harmful to some parts of your body like your brain.

Radiofrequency is a form of electromagnetic radiation, so you’re wondering just how safe it is to use RF headphones, especially since they will be on your head for long periods.

The key thing to consider in this instance is whether the RF from the headphones contains ionizing or non-ionizing radiation. The former carries a large amount of energy than can significantly affect DNA, which is why it is usually located in X-ray machines, nuclear explosions, or sun rays.

Thankfully, RF is located at the low-energy end of the spectrum, which means it has non-ionizing radiation. This makes it extremely unlikely to damage your brain, not to talk of causing ailments.

Although there’s been substantial research on the health risks associated with EMFs, there’s been very little on the safety of long-term radiation exposure from Bluetooth or wireless headphones, according to Joel M. Moskowitz, PhD, the director of the Center for Family and Community Health at University of California, Berkeley. – From

Benefits of RF TV Headphones:

Wireless freedom

RF signals are not blocked by walls or ceilings so you can use your RF TV headphones in a different room from the audio source

Wider compatibility

The RF transmitter in a wireless headphone connects to any sound device that has an RCA audio output or a headphone socket. This makes it a great choice if your TV doesn’t support Bluetooth.

Easy Set-Up

RF headphones only require an analog audio output to connect to any audio device.

Drawbacks of RF TV Headphones:

Susceptible to Interference

This interference can originate from any device within the area that produces electromagnetic signals, like radios, phones, radio transmission towers, and even microwave ovens.

Limited design choices

Compared to other wireless headphone categories, like Bluetooth, there are fewer RF headphone designs. You can find over-ear or on-ear RF headsets, but you will hardly come across RF earphones. Of course, we’re only analyzing headphones here, but it’s still good to know.

Infra-red Headphones

Sony MDR-IF245RK TV Headphones
Sony MDR-IF245RK

These headphones use what is known as line-of-sight technology, meaning you must be lined up with the transmitter (within line of sight) in order to receive sound from your TV. At its core, infrared technology comprises light-emitting diodes that utilize a focused beam of pulsating, invisible light from your TV to the headphones.

You must be lined up with the transmitter (within line of sight) in order to receive sound from your TV


Benefits of IF TV Headphones:

Zero Interference

Infra-red headphones are not affected by other radio transmissions so there is no interference or static during use.

Amazing Sound Quality

Infra-red headphones, especially higher-end ones, are capable of producing sound that can match the one produced by high-quality wired headsets.


Infra-red TV headphones afford more privacy since it creates a single connection, so you don’t have to worry about your housemates or neighbors tuning into the same band on their own wireless headsets, especially if you are watching something you don’t want anyone else to watch.

Drawbacks of IF TV Headphones

Clear Line of Sight Required

For a connection to exist, your IF wireless headphones must be in an unobstructed line of sight with the IF transmitter on your TV.

Limited Range

With an approximate range of only 10 meters, you will need to sit close to the TV if you want to use your IF headphones.

Bluetooth Headphones

wirelesss dolby dimension TV headphones
Dolby dimension

Bluetooth was named after the famous Viking and Danish King, Harald Blåtand Gormsen, who was renowned for uniting the tribes of Denmark into a single kingdom and his ability to help people communicate. This was actually the idea behind its nomenclature as the idea behind the technology was that it would unite devices and enable them to communicate with each other wirelessly. Blåtand loosely translates to Bluetooth in English.

The simplest explanation for how BT headphones works is that the audio is continuously transferred from a paired transmitter (in the TV) to a paired receiver (headphones). It operates in the frequency range of (2.402 -2.480GHz) and the devices can sometimes randomly hop between frequencies to avoid interference with other devices that may use a similar bandwidth.

If your TV does not have built-in BT capability, you can get an external Bluetooth audio adapter and pair with your BT headphones. Moreover, these Bluetooth adapters also work with gaming consoles like Nintendo Switch, and with Xbox One.


Bluetooth technology has progressively improved over the years with newer iterations that can support more features and an increased transmission range.

Different Versions of BT

Bluetooth technology has progressively improved over the years with newer iterations that can support more features and profiles. It’s easy to get confused in the terminology for the various versions, so here’s a brief breakdown of the current most used three But for a more detailed guide, check out our article on the different Bluetooth versions.

Bluetooth 4.1 (Released in 2013)

This version facilitated more efficient data rate transfers and maintained a much better co-existence with LTE frequencies compared to its predecessor, BT 4.0.

Bluetooth 4.2 (Released in 2014)

BT 4.2 was designed for the Internet of Things (IoT), which meant a significant increase in data rate transfers and improved sensors. Like BT 4.1, it features high-speed capability while also allowing for reduced power consumption with connected devices.

Bluetooth 5.0 (Released in 2016)

BT 5.0 is a more robust version of BT 4.2 for more reliable Internet of Things (IoT) connections. It comes with extended battery life and an increased outdoor transmission range of around 650 feet (200m). BT 5.0 also boasts a new feature known as Slot Availability Masking (SAM), which detects and prevents interference on neighboring bands.

Benefits of BT Headphones


BT headphones are safe to use since they typically utilize radio signals that are 1000 times weaker than standard wireless technologies.


BT connections are quite secure and only transmit data with paired devices at the time. No-one can listen in once a connection has been made. Plus, it doesn’t depend on a clear line of sight, unlike IF headphones.

Ease of Connection

It’s quite easy to configure your BT headphones even if your TV didn’t originally come with a built-in Bluetooth transmitter.

Low Power Consumption

More recent BT versions boast lower power consumption compared to other wireless TV headphones.

Low Interference

BT headphones, especially those with the most recent version of the technology (BT 5.0) have been quite successful in minimizing interference.

Drawbacks of BT Headphones

Latency Issue

As a digital technology, the Bluetooth transmitter in your TV needs to convert the audio from analog to digital before transmitting to your BT headphones. This delay in conversion is known as latency and can cause a lip-sync discrepancy in which there is a delay between the person talking on the screen and what you hear.

Latency can be quite annoying, especially if there are several people having a conversation onscreen and you’re finding it hard to follow who’s saying what.

Limited Range

Unless your BT headphone is equipped with BT 5.0, the range of your connection will only be limited to around 160 feet (~50 m) or even less if your device uses a much older BT version. Going beyond, or even near your maximum Bluetooth range will result in Bluetooth headphones cutting out

Battery Life

BT headphones consume less power, but for some reason, the battery life isn’t quite as strong as you would expect so you’ll need to recharge the battery after just a few hours of use. Using your Bluetooth headphones with a low battery charge can result in various audio issues and even cause your Bluetooth headphones to have no sound, even when it’s connected properly.

Comparative Table

TypeConnection RangeStatic InterferenceRequire external transmitter
RF HeadphonesOver 300 feet (~91m)Slight static from nearby devices that produce electromagnetic signalsYes. Plug-and-play transmitter
IF HeadphonesAbout 32 feet (~10m)NoneYes. Plug-and-play transmitter
BT HeadphonesAround 160 feet (~50 m) for earlier BT versions and around 650 feet (~200 m for BT 5.0 version)
There's a possibility of low interference, especially with the older BT versions.
Depends. Might require a external bluetooth transmitter if TV has no built-in transmitter.


Best Wireless Headphones for TV
Read our guide to the “Best Wireless Headphones for TV”

At the end of the day, the showdown between Bluetooth vs RF vs IF for your TV will ultimately come down to your preferences. Each comes with its own key advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately, they allow you to watch TV late at night without disturbing your housemates and neighbors and keep out the noise from your surroundings

Not sure which one to go for? Check out our list of best wireless TV headphones to get you started.

💬 Conversation: 18 comments

    1. Blue tooth earbuds will work with a bluetooth TV, If the TV doesn’t have bluetooth you can buy a bluetooth adaptor to plug into your TV (Cheaply) and your Bluetooth earbuds will work fine

  1. One thing that should be noted is that when you enable things like “Real Cinema” (which you should!) or any frame interpolation most latency on TV’s climb to 100-130mbs (see rtings and HDTVTest). So the low latency TV headphones are actually not any better than regular BT ones. Both will be out of sync. The only way to achieve perfect lip sync is to use a PC for playback.

  2. Nowhere is it noted whether the other person in room watching the same TV program will be able to also listen normally and adjust the volume on the TV for their own preference.

    1. Well, that depends on the TV. For example, in my case the TV audio goes off if plug a transmitter into the headphone jack, but not if I connect it to the RCA audio out jacks. Further, when my TV input is HDMI, no audio signal is sent to the audio out, so the headphones don’t work regardless of how they’re connected. Fortunately, my cable box has an audio out that I can tap into.

  3. Hello there! Very good information here. One thing I like to ask is:
    Is there a latency when using RF headphones to monitor Microphones that are connected to an audio Interface. I am planning to buy the Sony RF-895RK to monitor myself when speaking to my Rode NT1 Microphone that is connected to the Rode AI-1 Audio Interface which allows monitoring. When I connect my wired headset to my Rode AI-1 to monitor myself as I speak it produces zero latency. Im just so sick with the cable that I hanging on me and sometimes when I stand-up I forget that there is a wired headphone in my head; dragging it around and risk damage to my audio interface.
    Will RF headphones good enough for my purpose? The Sony RF-895RK operates in 863.0 MHz – 865.0 MHz as stated in the manual. Will this be enough?

    Link to product here:

    1. It’s instant. RF is analogue. It’s just an analogue radio transmitter and receiver. No-one had even heard of latency in the days of FM radio. The quality is excellent. Power consumption is tiny and range is excellent – I use mine in the garden for music – dream on for BT doing that. Remember you cannot pause or change tracks on an analogue radio, just change the volume.
      Unfortunately modern TVs don’t have an analogue output so you have little choice but BT and unsynchronised, unless you get a convertor which sounds like problems to me.

      1. Hi David! Thank you very much for the response. Glad it didn’t have a latency. Pausing is no issue for me since I sit close to my desk. Perfect for my monitoring setup. 🙂 Is your battery still fine?

  4. Hello David. My primary intended use for wireless TV listening is to enjoy my Blu-ray opera collection without disturbing my wife or neighbors. Consequently, I’m looking for accurate, hi def reproduction with no latency. RF & IR seem to have no latency issues. But Bluetooth does to some extent. Safety is a concern, but RF seems safe, health-wise. My questions are:
    -How far off axis does IR start to drop off?
    -Would connecting a BT device by either optical (preferred?) or RCA directly to my blu-ray played solve the latency issue?
    -What would you recommend for the highest quality natural sound for music?
    Many thanks.

    1. Depends on the system but it requires the manufacturer to program the unit to handle channels and that also cuts into quality the more you have.

      1. RF does not involve pairing and multiple receivers should be able to listen to same frequency like ‘old-fashioned’ broadcast radio?

  5. I watch films on a PC (or laptop) and have just bought a set of wireless headphones. Do these actually work on a PC? I only see reference to TV here.
    Or have I made yet another geriatric octogeneratian cock_up?

    1. As long as your pc audio is connected to the transmitter you should be good. In the case of bluetooth headphones, most laptops are bluetooth capable, so you don’t even need the external transmitter.

  6. I see a fallacy in your Privacy statement for IR headphones. They definitely do not create a “single connection.” It is quite the opposite. Any number of compatible IR headphones may receive the IR signal from the transmitter.

    Also, while you state zero interference from RF sources, do keep in mind that other IR sources can cause interference.

    – John

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