Options for managing the sound level from a TV set


The system described in this document is used in our home to overcome the problem of my wife and I requiring different TV loudspeaker volumes when watching TV programs or movies streamed to the TV set. I have quite bad hearing (with "ski-slope" hearing loss), and so I would need a higher TV loudspeaker volume than is comfortable for my wife, who has quite good hearing. This seems to be a common problem for elderly couples, where the loudspeaker volume that is suitable for one person is either too loud or not loud enough for the other person.

With the system that we now use, the TV loudspeakers in our Sony Bravia TV set can be totally muted when desired using the TV's remote control. We then can each listen to the sound in the TV program or movie through an FM broadcast/receiver arrangement. We each hear the program's or movie's sound through small earloops that are attached to small pocket FM radios. I set the sound level on my radio to suit myself. My wife does the same with her radio. If one of us wants to read and the other watch TV that works because there is no audio sound from the TV loudspeakers.

Alternatives that I considered

The system described in this article is effective, and inexpensive. For one person it can be set up for about $150 (AUD). Each additional person's needs can be met for the price of a second pocket (or small portable) FM radio costing not more than about $50 (AUD).

There are alternatives to such a system, but they can be very expensive. They include packaged headphone/transmitter units from companies such as Sennheiser.

Another extremely expensive option is a unit produced by Phonak, and I assume other manufacturers of hearing aids would have similar systems. One such system that I tried cost about $2,000 (AUD). That's in addition to the $6,000 that I had originally spent on a pair of top quality Phonak hearing aids. That $2,000 cost would have been for wireless connectivity shoes that clipped onto my Phonak hearing aids, plus a "Roger Select" system. That system can be connected to the TOSLINK Optical Output connection of a TV set and it then transmits the audio via a proprietary Bluetooth system to my Phonak hearing aids. Note that the transmitter's primary use is intended to be for people with poor hearing who want to be able to hear better in noisy situations; use in streaming sound from a TV set is a secondary function.

When used to channel the sound from the TV program/movie to my hearing aids using that $2,000 Phonak system, the quality of the sound through the hearing aids was really outstanding. The quality was superior to that which I could get through my FM radio arrangement. However, the quality of sound from the FM radio system was quite acceptable for comprehension of speech in a program/movie. If the program or film was listened to for its musical content, the FM radio would probably be inadequate for an audiophile. In our house the target for the FM radio system is the speech component of the program/film. Given the relative costs of a bluetooth/hearing aid system versus my FM radio system, the latter is clearly the better choice. Also keep in mind that my wife does not use hearing aids. So the bluetooth system would not enable its use for both of us.

System description

My system comprises:

  • One small C.Crane FM transmitter that plugs into the "audio out" sockets of the TV and that is powered by a power adaptor (240 volt AC input to 5 volt DC output).
  • For each person who want to listen to the FM transmitter's broadcast audio: a good quality pocket size (or small portable) radio that picks up the FM transmission, into which is plugged a pair of earbuds or earloops or headphones. We find that headphones become uncomfortable when used over a few hours of viewing, so we use very comfortable minimal pressure earloops.
  • The normal audio from the TV's speakers can be turned down or (as we prefer) turned right off.

The FM transmitter

The FM transmitter that we use is the C.Crane "FM Transmitter 2". This device can be bought on the internet through this page:
https://tinyurl.com/y6ujaduf The cost is $50 (USD) plus $16 (USD) for International mail (can take up to 4 weeks) or $58 (USD) for Priority Mail.

FM transmitter diagram

The transmitter is connected to the Audio Out sockets on the rear of the TV. It is NOT connected to the TV's "headphones" or "external speakers" outputs. On my Sony Bravia TV the audio out sockets are the white (L) and red (R) ones shown here at the rear of the set:

Audio out 640

Connection to the Audio Out sockets allows the sound for a program/film to be sent by the TV set to its own loudspeakers, should one person desire that. However, when my wife and I use the system we simply turn the TV speaker's volumes right down to OFF. Then each of us can set their FM radio separately to a sound output volume that suits the individual user. Those volumes are usually quite different because of the difference between us in terms of hearing impairment.

5V DC Power transformer for the C.Crane FM transmitter

The product as bought from the USA has a 5 volt power adaptor that has US style parallel prongs and requires US power levels. Discard that power supply. You need to buy a 5V power adaptor suitable for Australian use. We use the 5V DC power adapter MP3144 from JayCar. Cost is $17.95 See here:

Because of the convention that the USA follows for wiring DC power connectors, you must take the end elbow off the end of the MP3144 power lead. Then attach the fat blue-coded end elbow and mount it so that the "+" symbol on the end of the power lead is adjacent to the "-" symbol on the elbow. That means that the positive component of the power supply will be on the outside metal face of the elbow piece, and the negative component on the inside component of the elbow piece.

adaptor lead small

Connect FM transmitter's audio output plug to an RCA adapter cable

The FM transmitter has a long
audio input cable attached to it. That cable has a small male headphone plug at the end. You will need an adapter cable comprising at one end a socket into which the male headphone plug fits, and at the other end two "RCA" plugs - one coded white and the other red. A suitable adapter cable can be bought here from JayCar for $5.50 AUD (catalog number WA7018):

Join that RCA adaptor cable to the FM transmitter's audio input cable that has the small male headphone plug at its end. Then connect the white and red coded RCA plugs into the corresponding white and red
audio out sockets at the rear of the TV set (some TVs may have these sockets at the side of the set).

All the hardware required for the FM system

all the gear

Listening to the FM broadcast from the FM transmitter

When the transmitter is connected to the TV set's audio out sockets and the power adaptor is plugged into a 24 V power socket and the 5V output cable is plugged into the transmitter, the transmitter is turned on by pushing its red button. As is explained in its excellent user manual, you then tune the transmitter to some unused segment of the FM band. We use the frequency 88.4. However, there are many frequencies that you can use. After setting your chosen frequency on the transmitter, then tune your radio to the same frequency.

Radio used to receive the transmission from the FM transmitter

Any radio that can receive FM is OK for the listener to use. The ones that my wife and I use are Sangean DT-210 AM/FM radios. These are great because they are light, highly portable - fitting into the breast pocket of a shirt - and provide excellent FM quality. They are about $ 38 (AUD) on Amazon plus shipping. See here for example:

This radio from Jaycar could also be suitable although it is a bit larger:
https://tinyurl.com/y9khce7c - it costs $25 (AUD) and is catalog number AR1736

Any radio that outputs good quality FM band material is OK for use, if it receives FM and into which earbuds or earloops or headphones can be plugged.

Having one radio for each person means that we can adjust sound volume individually. However, if you like, one person with the better hearing could listen to the sound coming from the TV speakers, and the other person could listen to sound through their FM radio, increasing the sound level via the radio's control to suit their poorer hearing. However, we don't like that arrangement because we can get clearer sound through each person having their own radio/earloop system.

Listening using earloops, earbuds or headphone

For each radio to be used, plug into the radio a set of earbuds or earloops or headphones that are suitable to be connected to the radio. The type that we use are the very comfortable Sony earloops. The speakers in those are not forced into the earhole so you can use them for a long time without discomfort. These Sony "ear hook" units are similar in style and cost $44 at The Good Guys

radio and earloops small

Adjust the listening volume

Once the transmitter is broadcasting and the FM radio is on and tuned to the same frequency, and you have your earbuds or earloops or headphones plugged into the radio, you will hear the TV program's sound in the earbuds or earloops or headphones. You can adjust the volume to suit the user through the radio's volume control (NOT through the TV's speaker loudness control).

Note that you need to set your radio set so that when earbuds or earloops or headphones are connected, the radio's loudspeaker is OFF. Most radios do that automatically when an earbud or headphone is connected to it. The Sangean's controls are a little different - if you like, you could have the sound going through both the earloops and the radio's speakers at the same time. That arrangement is not satisfactory, though.

Other adjustments for the FM transmitter

The C.Crane FM Transmitter 2 user manual gives instructions for tuning and operation. The manual is
downloadable from here as a 2.2 MB PDF file.

Last Updated

24 November 2018


Mike Boesen