Use Headphones with Apple TV

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How to Use Headphones with Apple TV

Using headphones with Apple TV isn’t as easy as it should be. This article presents some workarounds for using headphones with Apple TV.

People who live together are often on different schedules. You may work during the day, and your spouse might work the graveyard shift. Maybe one of your kids is a night owl. Whatever the case may be, a loud TV can keep people from getting rest, even if they are in a different room. I once lived in an apartment where the walls were so thin, my neighbor was complaining about the TV, even in the early evening. It wasn’t even very loud. I solved that problem by moving out. That’s not always a possibility.

Roku Supports Headphones

Apple TV is a wonderful device, but it leaves a few things to be desired. One feature is “private listening”. This is built in to the Roku remote. The remote has a headphone jack. Just plug your headphones into the remote and you can listen to Roku’s streaming video player without disturbing anyone.

Feature envy over the Roku’s remote headphone jack isn’t a compelling reason to switch. If you are invested in the Apple ecosystem, Apple TV is, by far, the best choice. AirPlay support outweighs the lack of headphone support. Roku has nothing like the Apple Remote app. If you are willing to try a few things and maybe spend a few bucks, you can enjoy Apple TV without disturbing your family, roommates or others.

Bluetooth and AirPlay Don’t Work with Headphones on 2nd and 3rd Generation Apple TV’s

Bluetooth headphones are very popular, but they don’t work with older Apple TV’s. The second and third generation models only offer Bluetooth support for keyboards. This is disappointing, given the popularity of Bluetooth headphones.

I tried using AirPlay to beam content from my iPhone to my Apple TV. I was hoping that the audio track would be supported on headphones while using AirPlay. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. AirPlay always diverts the audio track to Apple TV. This happens using standard AirPlay as well as screen mirroring. I haven’t been able to find any AirPlay headphones. It’s also not possible to pair your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with Apple TV using Bluetooth. Thus, your iOS device can’t serve as an external audio device.

Apple TV 4 Supports MFi Bluetooth Headphones

The newest Apple TV model supports Bluetooth headphones, but not every pair will work. The safest bet is to buy headphones that comply with the Made for iPod, iPhone, iPad (MFi) program. The MFi program provides guidelines for third-party hardware accessories. Accessories with the MFi logo are designed to work with iOS devices, but should also operate with tvOS (Apple TV 4). If you buy MFi Bluetooth headphones, they will probably work with Apple TV. Beats is probably a safe bet, as Apple owns the company. It’s best to keep the receipt just in case.

MFi Logo

You can use multiple Bluetooth devices with Apple TV. After all, the Siri Remote uses Bluetooth. There is a limit. You can use up to three Bluetooth devices simultaneously, however, not all combinations will work. You can use one Siri remote and two MFi Bluetooth gaming controllers. It’s also possible to use a Siri Remote, one MFi gaming controller and one Bluetooth audio accessory. Unfortunately, it might not be possible to use two Bluetooth audio accessories at the same time. This means that Bluetooth headphones may only work for one person. According to Apple, you might be able to pair more than three Bluetooth devices. When you reach the limit, you need to unpair Bluetooth devices in order to add new ones.

Turn on Reduce Loud Sounds Instead of Using Headphones

If headphones are intended to keep the peace in your household, it may be possible to use the Reduce Loud Sounds feature on Apple TV. This feature turns down loud sounds, such as explosions and loud music, which are common in movies and TV shows. It will also prevent commercials from blaring. With Reduce Loud Sounds turned on, you can hear dialog at normal levels while loud sounds are mitigated. It’s not as quiet as headphones, but it may be enough for some households. The feature was designed so that people can listen to audio without disturbing others. I always use it for movies and TV shows, but turn it off for music.

You can turn on Reduce Loud Sounds by swiping down on the Siri Remote’s Touchpad while a video is playing. A panel is displayed at the top of your screen. Select Audio and then check Reduce Loud Sounds. Swipe up on the Touchpad to dismiss the panel. You can also turn on Reduce Loud Sounds by going to Settings > Audio and turning the feature on. Siri can turn Reduce Loud Sounds on or off. Simply hold down the Siri button, wait for the prompt and say “Turn on Reduce Loud Sounds” or “Turn off Reduce Loud Sounds”.

Connect Headphones to TV or Stereo

The simplest solution is to listen to headphones through your TV or stereo. Your Apple TV outputs audio to your TV or stereo. Just connect a pair of headphones to the jack on your TV or stereo. Chances are, your TV is too far away. You can extend your headphones with an inexpensive cable or purchase a pair of wireless headphones.

If your TV or stereo doesn’t have a headphone jack, you could possibly use the line out. Keep in mind, however, the line out operates at a much quieter audio output level. Also, a line out does not change levels when you adjust the volume on your TV or stereo. So if you connect headphones to line out, you will need some sort of pre-amp. It’s not worth investing in that. We’ll look at FM audio transmitters later in the article, which are a better solution.

Bluetooth Headphones with TV

Flat screen TVs continue to evolve and add many convenient features. Some newer flat screen TVs feature Bluetooth connectivity. If your TV supports audio over Bluetooth, simply purchase a set of Bluetooth compatible headphones. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for pairing your headphones with your TV. (continue…)

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UPDATE: The new fourth generation Apple TV supports Bluetooth headphones for private listening. According to reviews, Bluetooth support is substandard. In his review of the new Apple TV, David Gewirtz of ZDNet points out that only 2 out of 5 of his Bluetooth headphones worked. While this might be fixed with a software update, make sure to check compatibility before purchasing Bluetooth headphones for your new Apple TV. Additionally, the fourth generation Apple TV provides no way of adjusting Bluetooth headphone volume. Make sure to purchase Bluetooth headphones with adjustable volume.


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6 thoughts on “Use Headphones with Apple TV

    • So you’re able to listen using headphones on your iOS device and beam the video onto Apple TV? Cool! But I guess it only works with VLC… I tried with Netflix and other apps, and it doesn’t work. I guess developers could implement the feature, but I doubt it is a priority.

      AirPlay is actually remarkably flexible. That dual-screen mode can really do a lot. It doesn’t surprise me that developers can split the audio stream and keep it local, and beam the video stream.

      Thanks for the tip!

    • What are you streaming from? I mean are you using an iPad? Also are you just watching movies from your playlist? Lastly which VLC app did you download?

  1. I’m anxiously awaiting your reply. I have beats headphones and and Apple TV 3rd gen, iPad Air 2. I was going to buy the new Apple TV when I saw this post. ???

    • The newer version of tvOS supports a lot more Bluetooth headphones, but there may be some compatibility problems. It should work with Beats. My advice — go for it, but keep the receipt just in case. I’m really loving the new Apple TV. It’s a quantum leap over the old one.

      DIRECTV NOW actually has a great deal on Apple TV 4. You can get the 32 GB model for $105 with 3 months of DIRECTV NOW. Getting an Apple TV 4 for $105 is a great deal, but this comes with three months of DIRECTV NOW too! DIRECTV NOW is basically cable over the Internet. It’s like having cable on your Apple TV, but with a much better user interface.

      I guess the problem with the deal is that if your Beats headphones don’t work, you can’t return it.

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