Best way to connect a soundbar to a TV: 4 Options
- By: Ashley Saunders
- February 2021
Most modern TVs suffer from poor sound as they use rear-mounted speakers, meaning sound has to bounce off the wall before reaching your ears. You can instantly improve the audio quality is to add a soundbar. But, what is the best way to connect a soundbar to TV?
As with other AV kit, there are multiple ways to connect your soundbar and TV. So, it can be difficult to know which is your best option or even the right audio cable to use. Do you use a stereo mini-jack cable? or Optical cable?
Thankfully, when deciding how to connect a soundbar to a TV, the choice is between two approaches:
Use your soundbar as a hub
Connect your devices (such as TV, MP3 player and Smartphone) directly using the different inputs (Optical, HDMI, mini-jack and Bluetooth). You’ll only need a single cable to connect your TV to the soundbar.
Set your soundbar as a speaker
You could connect all of your devices to the TV and then run a single cable from your TV to the soundbar. That said, you’ll need to turn on the TV to use the soundbar.
How to decide?
As both approaches are equal, it depends on what soundbar you have, how you intend to use the unit and if your TV is HDMI ARC compatible.
The best way to hook your TV and soundbar is by using an HDMI cable.
Why should you use HDMI?
The HDMI format by design can carry large amounts of uncompressed digital data (both audio and visual). In terms of sound, HDMI is designed to handle audio from a stereo signal, all the way up to 5.1 and 7.2 and more.
Also, they’re able to carry newer cinematic sound experiences such as DTS, Dolby Digital, DTS: X, and Dolby Atmos.
That said, most TV use input-only HDMI and so can only receive data from devices they’re connected to. They can’t send signals.
How to use an HDMI cable to connect a soundbar to a TV
For the best results, your TV will need to be HDMI ARC compatible. The ARC part stands for Audio Return Channel and means signals can travel in both directions along the cable.
If your TV offers HDMI ARC connections, then you can connect all of your devices (set-top boxes, games consoles, Blu-ray players) to your soundbar. You then only need to run a single HDMI cable from your soundbar to TV.
To ensure it works properly, on your soundbar only use the HDMI Inputs for connecting your devices. Link your soundbar and TV using the HDMI ARC or HDMI output. Otherwise, it won’t work.
Bear in mind that more affordable soundbars might not have an HDMI port. That said, if you have or are buying a mid to high-end soundbar, then it will have at least one HDMI port.
If your soundbar doesn’t have an HDMI port, then don’t worry as there’s still plenty of options available, all of which will sound superb.
#2 Digital optical
If your soundbar lacks an HDMI port, then you will want to connect a soundbar using a digital optical cable. As the next best option, it can handle audio from a stereo signal up to 5.1 surround sound and everything in between.
You could use a digital coaxial cable instead!
Your TV and soundbar might have either or both digital optical and digital coaxial ports. They are slightly different both in terms of their design and how they transmit signals. An optical cable uses a square connector, whereas a coaxial cable has a circular connector.
Optical cables convert the electrical signal to optical light, which is then transmitted down the cable. At the other end, it’s converted back to an electrical signal.
Some prefer using an optical cable over coaxial cable because you’ll get less electrical interference. Well, that’s the theory! However, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference in practice as they’re both designed to transmit high-quality digital signals.
You will want to check your TV and soundbar before you buy any cables as most TVs have an optical connector, but not all TVs support digital coaxial.
#3 Line out (3.5mm or RCA)
Moving on to analogue audio, which isn’t as rich as digital nor are they capable of carrying more than a stereo signal. Don’t expect them to miraculously to deliver a surround sound experience. That said, they are a variable alternative to the digital options we’ve covered above.
How to use a 3.5mm line out to connect a soundbar to a TV
Your TV will likely have two mini-jack outputs. Typically one is labelled Line out and the other, Headphone. Confusingly, they look identical but have different roles. You’ll want to use the Line out as this isn’t amplified, allowing your soundbar to correctly process the audio.
Using a 3.5mm mini-jack cable, simply connect one end of the cable into your TV’s Line out port and the other end into your soundbar. Easy, right?!
Connecting a soundbar and TV using RCA
You’ve probably seen and used RCA cables without realising! They’re the circular red and white connectors. You might have seen cables with three RCA plugs (the yellow is used for video).
You do want to match colours from your TV and soundbar, otherwise, it will sound weird. So take an extra second to plug the red connector into the red output socket, and the white one into the white output socket.
Don’t worry if your TV doesn’t have a stereo RCA output but your set-top box, DVD, or Blu-ray player does, as you can plug your soundbar directly into one of these devices instead. Bear in mind, you’ll only be able to hear sound from the device it’s connected to!
#4 Headphone jack
If all else fails, then use your TV’s headphone output jack to connect a soundbar to it using a mini-jack cable. That said, you’ll want to experiment with settings as it might sound awful without any adjustments.
While most TVs will have both a Line out and Headphones, some will have only one socket which can act as either. You’ll need to change the function from headphones to Line out. Doing so will provide you with better audio. So if in doubt, read the manual!
Connecting a soundbar to a TV using headphone jack
If your TV only has a headphones output, then you’ll need to find the audio setting menu. Next, you will want to adjust your volume, bass and treble settings until you find a balanced sound.
As headphones are unpowered, the output will be louder than you need as your soundbar has an amplifier built-in. So remember to start with both your TV and soundbar on low volumes.
Adjust just your soundbar until you find a comfortable volume. If it’s too quiet, then you still have the option of turning up your TV.
If you decide to use your TV’s inbuilt speakers, then you’ll need to adjust the audio settings again.