Hands On: Sennheiser Flex 5000 Makes Wired 'Phones Wireless

Who doesn’t love staying up late and watching a guilty-pleasure movie while the rest of the household sleeps peacefully? The problem is that you can’t turn up the volume without fear of waking them or the neighbors. The Sennheiser Flex 5000 turns any headphone into a wireless option designed to let you watch TV using your favorite wired headphones. Plus it has features that help make TV audio clearer and enhances dialogue for better intelligibility.

The Flex 5000 (MSRP $200) is a two-part system. The transmitter sits next to your TV or cable-box. The portable wireless receiver goes where you go, with your headphones plugged in. The transmitter requires AC power and has a digital optical input or a 3.5mm AUX input. On the front of the transmitter are a few buttons that control left/right balance and let you select the sound enhancement equalization mode you prefer. There is also a charging dock for the receiver.

The receiver has a jack for your headphone cable. There are very large volume up and down controls, an LED indicator, and a switch for activating the speech intelligibility enhancement mode. The Flex 5000 comes with a pair of in-ear earphones but the beauty of this system is that you can use whatever (wired) headphones you prefer.

The transmitter and receiver come already paired - they use RF signals for a robust connection. You can use up to four receivers with a single transmitter, so couples can both have the advantages of the Flex 5000. What are its advantages over a simple wireless system?

The Flex 5000 has a few ways to customize the sound for individual needs. There is a left and right balance control to improve performance for people who have different levels of hearing in each ear. There are also three different sound enhancement profiles. All three provide some level of dynamic compression to smooth out the levels between loud and soft passages. The first mode boosts the low-frequencies and rolls off a bit of the higher frequencies. The second mode significantly boosts higher frequencies. The third mode rolls off the low-end without increasing the high-end performance. These modes are selected on the transmitter and are not changeable remotely.

Perhaps the most interesting feature is the speech intelligibility function. This is selected directly from a dedicated switch on the receiver. This mode analyzes the incoming audio and reduces music and background noise, leaving the dialogue clearer and easier to understand. It also creates a more mono soundstage. It is useful for scenes where dialogue is key, but if you’re watching a movie to enjoy the soundtrack, you might want to switch it off. It is nice to be able to switch this on and off as needed throughout a movie.

I auditioned the Flex 5000 in my home and found the signal to be quite robust. As I’ve mentioned before, my house has prestressed concrete floors that create problems for most wireless signals. I was able to go up a flight of stairs and across a large room before the signal was compromised.

For me, the sound enhancement modes are a bit heavy-handed, but I would imagine they’re quite helpful for listeners who have hearing loss in different frequency ranges. That said, I did find the speech intelligibility mode helpful in a variety of situations. Some movies intentionally mix the dialogue low (Interstellar, I’m looking at you) so this feature helps listeners without having to resort to turning on close-captioning. It also helps protect your hearing - instead of cranking up the volume to hear the dialogue, it just removes the sound around the dialogue. The purist recording engineer part of me was hesitant at first - who does the Flex 5000 think it is, messing up the prefered balance and mix the engineers and producers worked so hard to create in their movies? The reality is that many people can’t hear those perfect mixes, and the Flex 5000 makes movies more enjoyable for them.

For the most part, I will always prefer using my home theater speakers. However, when I can’t sleep and start watching a movie at midnight, I will absolutely grab my favorite headphones and the Flex 5000. For me, just the convenience of wirelessly connecting my headphones is worth it. However, add in the ability to enhance movie dialogue without turning up the volume to damaging levels and it becomes even clearer. The Flex 5000 has a permanent place in my home theater.