Lots of TV sets still don’t have Bluetooth or other capabilities to use wired or wireless headphones. The Sennheiser Flex 5000 lets you use your wired headphones to listen to your favorite TV shows as loud as you want, without having to run wires all over the place.
Look Mom, No Wires
I watch a fair amount of television, especially with the streaming accounts I have like Netflix and Amazon Prime TV. Unfortunately, a lot of what I watch tends to have explosions, gunshots, car chases, and other loud noises. Also unfortunately, my TV set is up against the wall of another bedroom. So, most of the time, I like to use a decent pair of wireless headphones, so I don’t disturb the rest of the household.
The year before last, I decided to treat myself to a new 43-inch smart Samsung TV. When it showed up, I realized that it not only didn’t have Bluetooth or another wireless-casting capability, it also didn’t have the capability to let me use the Bluetooth USB dongle I was using with the prior set.
The set does have an optical optical audio output, so I’ve been using an inexpensive Bluetooth transmitter connected to the TV with an optical cable and a set of high-quality Bluetooth headphones. It works, but it’s a pain to have to pair the headphones every time I use the TV. And the audio quality is good sometimes, not-so-good others, and the setup has a tendency to cut out randomly. Plus, I have to remember to occasionally charge the headset, otherwise I get a “Battery Low” message upon powering them up.
Sennheiser to the Rescue
Sennheiser’s Flex 5000 is a wireless headphone adapter for your TV or any other audio source, such as a receiver or tablet, that you would like to stream. It uses a radio-frequency link rather than Bluetooth. The package consists of the transmitter, the remote receiver, cables for 3.5mm audio or optical input to the transmitter from your TV or another audio source, a wall wart power supply, and a pair of Sennheiser MX 475 wired earbuds, though you can use any pair of wired earphones or headphones like the Poly BackBeat Pro 2 or Marshall Monitor 2 ANC phones I used for testing. The somewhat large 10.5 inch-long transmitter remains plugged into an AC outlet and also serves as a recharging station for the compact receiver, which is nestled into a bay on the transmitter when it’s not being used.
Setup is a snap and takes just a minute or two once the receiver is fully charged. The transmitter/base needs to be plugged into an AC outlet for at least 3 hours before the Li-Ion battery in the compact receiver is fully charged. The charge status is located on the transmitter and consists of three lighted bars. Power is provided by a typical wall wart transformer, though the plug on the transmitter-unit side is a non-standard non-USB model, so if you lose the power supply or if it breaks, you’ll have a difficult time finding a replacement. Also on the rear of the transmitter are input jacks for a 3.5mm audio cable and for an optical optical cable, which is how I connected the transmitter to my TV set.
Getting the Flex 5000 up and running actually took less time than unpacking it, other than the time needed for the receiver to fully charge. Once charged, simply remove the receiver, plug in a set of earbuds or headphones, and turn the receiver on by briefly pressing the plus button.
In a moment, the audio is playing through your phones. A lighted bar on the base of the transmitter shows it’s on, and a small LED on the bottom of the receiver shows when this part of the system is powered on.
When you’re done listening, simply return the receiver to the transmitter base, or if you just want to conserve the receiver’s battery while you run a short errand, there’s a small button on the right side of the receiver that when pressed turns it off. Then, when you’re ready to resume listening, just press the plus button on the receiver, and the link is reestablished.
While you can just power it up and use it, the Flex 5000 does have a number of controls and indicators. Both the transmitter and receiver have status LEDs. The receiver’s LED is on the bottom front of the device and lights up green when connected to the receiver, red when the battery is almost empty, and flashes green if it can’t connect to the transmitter. It flashes red if it can’t connect to the transmitter and the battery is almost empty.
The receiver also has volume up and volume buttons on the face of the device. You have to press the volume up button to turn the receiver on, but placing it back in the transmitter base turns it off. It’s a shame that it doesn’t have an auto-on feature when removed from the transmitter. There’s also a small button on the side that turns the receiver off, if you don’t want to return the unit to the transmitter base. Sennheiser claims a 12-hour battery life, and my testing confirmed this, getting between 11 and 12 hours before the battery was completely drained.
The transmitter also has a number of indicators. At the very bottom, a light bar indicates whether the transmitter is in standby mode and whether the receiver is connected or the speech intelligibility function is active. This feature, adjustable by a button on the top of the transmitter with an ear image, triggers one of three settings that cuts out background noise in the program being watched, so that speech is more easily understood. On either side of the ear-logo button is a volume down button on the left and a volume up button on the right.
The Flex 5000 system also includes a pair of Sennheiser MX 475 wired earbuds. These have foam inserts, and I found them so uncomfortable to wear that I can’t comment on their response. All of my testing was done with either a pair of Poly BackBeat Pro 2 or Marshall Monitor 2 ANC headphones.
Last, but not least, if you want to watch wirelessly with friends, you can add up to three additional receivers. But you probably won’t, as each additional receiver costs a ridiculously expensive $150.
Expensive, But Mostly Worth It
Let’s face it. Two hundred dollars just to listen to your TV with a pair of earphones or headphones is a lot of money. That equation shifts somewhat if you can use the included earbuds. If, like me, you prefer to use a high-quality pair of earbuds or headphones, you need to ask yourself whether the ease of use and the ability to craft the frequency response and volume of the received audio justifies the price.
It does for me. The audio from my TV using the Flex 5000 sounds noticeably better than when I used the previous inexpensive Bluetooth transmitter, especially when I listen to an over-the-air concert with my Poly or Marshall headphones. And, I like the ability to adjust the volume from the receiver. But if you don’t spend much time watching your TV, you’ll probably want to think twice about the dent in your budget the Flex 5000 will cause.