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Don’t wake the baby! How to connect any headphones to a TV

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

For all the numerous features packed into modern TVs — from HDR and 4K resolution to local dimming and quantum dots —  most newer models are devoid of one simple feature: a headphone jack.

This isn’t an immediate issue for most users. After all, if you’ve got an awesome audio setup, why would you need to connect a pair of headphones? However, those looking to keep the noise down for the kids or other family members sleeping in the next room know that a good pair of headphones can be a serious boon to those late night streaming marathons and movie catchups. As such, it’s important to have a simple (and convenient) way to connect your cans to your TV.

Whether you’ve got wired headphones, wireless headphones, or a gaming headset, here are the best solutions to getting your TV time on the sly.

Wired connection

If your setup is conducive to a wired pair of headphones — meaning you’ll be sitting close enough to the TV or other device to conveniently span the distance — there are a handful of options for easily wiring into your TV.

Adapters

Connecting via an adapter first requires identifying what kind of audio output your specific TV has. On the back or side of your TV — usually wherever your inputs are — there should be some form of audio output connection. In older TVs there may be a 3.5mm (standard headphone) output, which makes it simple to plug and play. However, more common on older models are Left/Right RCA audio outputs, which will require an RCA-to-3.5mm adapter, like this one from Amazon. These are simple to set up, and better yet, they’re dirt cheap.

An example of audio out formats., including 5.1 out, RCA (2-audio), and Optical (digital).

Newer TVs will be a bit trickier. Many TV manufacturers dropped analog outputs a while back for a digital Optical output. The output looks like a tiny, square-shaped door, often outlined in bright red light (or fitted with a rubber cap such as the one shown above). For this configuration, you’ll need a digital audio to analog audio adapter. This will not only allow you to plug in a 3.5mm headphone jack, but it also converts the audio output to the correct format to play back in your headphones.

In either of these cases, you may also need a headphone extension cable such as this one, which lets you stretch back as far as 50 feet.

Connecting to a streaming device’s remote control

Another option is to plug into the remote control of a set-top streaming device. If you’ve been thinking about getting a set-top box anyway, this is the perfect time to jump in. Streamers such as the Roku 3 and Roku 4 and Nvidia’s Shield TV have remote controls with a headphone jack built right in. In addition, the Amazon Fire TV’s gaming controller also has a 3.5mm headphone jack (but not its standard remote), so you’ll have to buy the gaming bundle to utilize it.

The only potential drawback here is that you will only be able to listen to the device you’re plugged into. If you’re watching TV mostly from a cable box, this won’t be the best solution.

Connecting through external audio devices

Devices like audio receivers or even external speakers will usually have an accessible spot to plug in a pair of headphones, as well. This is especially handy if you happen to have multiple source devices (e.g., a cable box or antenna, a streaming device, etc.). You’ll need to give your hardware a look over to see if there is in fact a headphone output, or you could alternatively use one of the output-adapter setups we mentioned above (such as the RCA or digital Optical). Most A/V receivers will have a quarter-inch headphone jack in the front, which requires nothing more than a simple adapter.

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