Can I Send Surround Sound from My AVR to Headphones?

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Q If I use an Apple TV 4K with an AV receiver, is it possible to route the surround sound to headphones? I ask because I’m viewing using a computer monitor and the only way I can get sound is through headphones. —H.G. Fernand, via email

A Yes, it is possible to route sound from an Apple TV 4K to headphones via an AV receiver, but it won’t necessarily be in surround. The most basic method is to plug a set of wired headphones into your receiver’s headphone output, which in most cases will let you hear a downmixed stereo version of surround-encoded soundtracks. (Some receiver models used to provide virtual surround processing for their headphone output — Yamaha’s Silent Cinema, for example — but that feature seems to be disappearing.)

Another option, one that will let you hear virtual surround sound, is to use a wireless headphone system such as Sennheiser’s RS 175 ($280) or Sony’s MDR-DS6500 ($250 on Amazon). These systems feature a base unit that connects to the analog stereo preamp output on your receiver and transmits a wireless signal long-range over the 2.4-GHz band to the headphones. Both provide regular stereo and virtual surround listening modes.

Of course, a far simpler option than the ones described above — albeit a surround-sound-less one — is to connect Bluetooth headphones with the Apple TV 4K and bypass the receiver entirely. Just select the Bluetooth option in the Remotes and Devices submenu of the Apple TV’s setup menu, turn on your headphones, and choose them as a Connected device. If using a receiver is important, many new models have a Bluetooth output for sending audio wirelessly to Bluetooth headphones.

There’s one final option I can suggest — one that combines Bluetooth’s ease of use with virtual surround sound — though it’ll cost you. Dolby Laboratories recently released its first consumer product, a $600 set of over-ear Bluetooth headphones they call Dolby Dimension. As you’d expect from a company with a name that’s synonymous with surround sound, these headphones offer surround virtualization processing along with a host of other upmarket features like head tracking and active noise-cancellation.