For many people, connecting a soundbar to a TV is the easiest way to improve the sound of TV shows and movies.
However, even though it can be quite simple to set up, hooking up a soundbar can still offer a few head-scratching moments.
Which ports do you need to use? What cables? Why can’t you get any audio on the soundbar?
So, if you are sitting there wondering how to connect a soundbar to your TV, you’ve come to the right place.
I will give you a general overview of how to set up a soundbar and suggest a few solutions to common problems along the way.
Let us start with the basics. What is the advantage of using a soundbar?
In simple terms, a soundbar will replace the speakers that come with your television.
It is often the easiest way of connecting speakers to your TV.
While that expensive television that you spent your hard-earned money on looks absolutely amazing with HD and 4K pictures – the truth is that the sound can often leave much to be desired.
Your TV is built with visuals in mind – not sound.
So, if you want to improve the sound in your room – the simplest solution is to connect better speakers.
But when people ask if they can connect speakers directly to their TV - the answer is that it depends on what type of speaker.
Most speakers require an amplifier before they will work – and this is where it can get complicated. You cannot connect these straight to a television.
But the good thing about a soundbar is that you can connect them directly to your TV.
This is because a soundbar is an active speaker. This means that it has an amplifier and speakers all together in a single compact box.
All you need to do is connect the soundbar to an audio output on your TV.
The answer to this often depends on which TV and soundbar that you have.
The fact is that TVs and soundbars have several different options when it comes to audio connections.
Therefore, even the relatively simple task of hooking up a soundbar can get tricky.
Which is the best way?
If you have a choice, then the best way to connect your soundbar is:
HDMI is the most modern way and will give you a few advantages - such as wider support of more audio formats and easier remote control of your TV and soundbar.
An optical audio connection is the next best way as it offers stereo and surround sound audio for those devices that support both.
A coaxial digital audio connection offers similar pros and cons to optical. Your choice will usually depend on the outputs available on your TV.
Analog RCA connections will be limited to stereo audio. However, that may be all that you need if you wish to simply improve on the sound of your TV speakers.
Don't forget, TV speakers are also stereo only.
Some soundbars may also support a wireless connection via Bluetooth.
Your TV will need to support Bluetooth audio output - not many do, but there are some. And your soundbar will need Bluetooth support too.
This can be a handy way to get the sound from your TV to a wireless speaker. Although it is not as common as the popular wired options.
A Bluetooth connection may also be used to send audio from a mobile device to the soundbar.
Personally, in most cases, I prefer connecting devices with a good old-fashioned cable. In my opinion, they will provide a more reliable and stable signal.
However, don't let this old fuddy-duddy put you off.
If you want a wireless soundbar, then just make sure that your TV and soundbar are compatible with the same type of Bluetooth connection before you buy one.
This is the main point regarding all connection types.
Before you buy a soundbar, you should check the audio output connections on your TV. Then, make sure that the soundbar that you buy has the inputs that you need.
For example, the popular Sony HT-S350 soundbar pictured below has an HDMI ARC and optical input connection.
Therefore you can use either an HDMI ARC or optical output from your TV.
Let us take a look at the most common methods of wiring a TV with a soundbar.
Remember, in the most basic setup, we are trying to send audio from the TV to the soundbar. Keeping this in mind can be useful if you are getting confused when wiring your hardware.
This is the most up-to-date method of connecting AV devices. Therefore, it is the best way to connect your TV and soundbar.
But you can only do this if your TV and soundbar support it.
To connect a soundbar and TV via HDMI your TV will need an HDMI ARC connection.
Most modern TVs have several HDMI inputs. But the important thing is that one of your TV HDMI ports needs to be enabled for HDMI ARC. It will be labeled ‘ARC’ next to the port on the TV.
The brand of the TV doesn't matter. Most modern TVs from the popular brands - Samsung, LG, Sony, TCL, etc. - now offer support for HDMI ARC.
The advantage of an HDMI ARC connection is that the TV will be able to send audio from the TV and into the soundbar. Television HDMI ports that don’t support ARC are 'input' only.
You may also see a port labeled 'eARC'. This is a newer version of ARC and will also work fine for an ARC connection.
Finally, does your soundbar have an HDMI ARC connection? If so, then this is the best way to connect your TV and soundbar.
Above we can see the rear input connections of the popular Sonos Beam soundbar.
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Connect an HDMI cable from the TV HDMI ARC connection to the soundbar's HDMI input.
Any category 2 'high-speed' HDMI cable will send audio over HDMI ARC.
Go to the TV audio setup menu and change the TV sound output setting from 'TV Speaker' to 'External Speakers' (or words to that effect).
The menu might say 'Home Theater' or it may list the different types of audio output available.
If the audio output types are listed, make sure you select the connection that you are going to use.
So, in this case, select HDMI or HDMI ARC.
In some TVs, you may simply have the option to turn the TV speakers on or off. If you are using a soundbar, it's best to have the TV speakers off.
The main point is that you are disabling the built-in speakers on the TV and telling the system to use another way of playing audio.
If your TV doesn't have an option to disable the TV speakers, just turn the TV volume down to zero.
It may be that you won't need step 3, and your soundbar will now work.
However, if you still don't get any sound, try this option.
Go to the TV setup menu and make sure HDMI-CEC is enabled.
HDMI-CEC is called different things depending on the brand of the TV.
Some examples are:
In the example here, the SimpLink HDMI CEC is enabled in the menu of an LG OLED TV:
The CEC setting allows the soundbar and TV to control each other over an HDMI connection.
Like, for example, turning each other on and off and controlling the volume of the connected devices with a single remote control
Most people using a soundbar will want CEC-enabled. However, in some setups, you may wish to disable this if you can.
An example might be if you are using a separate control system or universal TV remote.
However, just be aware that HDMI ARC and HDMI-CEC are often both required to be enabled on the TV menu for the soundbar to work properly.
Before HDMI ARC, a digital optical audio connection was the most common way of connecting a television and a soundbar.
It’s still widespread and a perfectly good way of sending audio from your TV to a soundbar.
So, you will use this method of connecting a soundbar if your TV has an optical audio output – and your soundbar had an optical audio input.
Optical audio outputs are still quite common on a wide range of televisions. You should be able to find it on the back of your TV.
If in doubt, grab the TV manual and it will tell you where the optical output is – that is if there is one!
Many soundbars also come with optical audio inputs.
So if you need to connect a soundbar to your TV without using HDMI, then the next best solution is to use an optical connection.
Connect an optical digital audio cable from the TV optical audio out connection to the soundbar’s optical input.
You don't need to spend a fortune on a cable. The AmazonBasics range is fine. Or there are plenty of good, well-made cables like the KabelDirekt Optical Digital Audio Cable that don't cost the earth.
Just make sure that you buy the right length cable for the job!
Go to the TV audio setup menu and make sure the TV audio output is set to external speakers/optical out.
You may just have an option to turn the TV speakers off. If so, select this option to disable the onboard speakers.
In some TVs, the optical output is permanently enabled. You just need to connect it up and it will work.
If there is no audio output option at all, just turn the TV volume down to zero using the remote control.
Why? Because you don't want the sound coming from the TV and soundbar at the same time. This will just make the sound less clear.
Although optical digital audio connections are more common, you may have a soundbar or TV that uses a coaxial connection for sending and receiving audio.
These work in much the same way as with optical. The main difference is that you will need to buy a digital coaxial cable to connect your devices.
Connect a coaxial digital audio cable from the TV coaxial audio out connection to the soundbar’s coaxial input.
You will need to buy a 75-ohm coaxial digital audio cable. This will ensure that the digital signal will transmit correctly with no errors.
This Mediabridge Ultra Series Digital Audio Coaxial Cable is a popular choice on Amazon.
As with the optical audio connection, you will need to go to your TV's audio set up menu and disable the onboard speakers.
There should be a menu item to select the speaker output as coaxial audio. Or, it may just say 'external speaker'. Something like that.
If your TV doesn't appear to have this setting, just turn down the TV volume to zero using your remote.
On some TVs, the coaxial output will always be enabled. In which case, you should get audio regardless.
A potential issue with this type of connection will be that coaxial is a less common connection type on newer TVs and soundbars.
So, even if you have a coaxial connection on one device, it is less likely that you will have a coaxial connection on both devices.
But, if your TV has a coaxial audio output – and your soundbar has an optical input – then you can use a coaxial to optical converter to change the audio type.
You would connect a coaxial to optical converter like this:
Don't forget to go tho the TV audio set up menu to select the correct audio output.
If you need to connect a soundbar to a TV without an optical cable, then your soundbar probably has a stereo analog RCA input.
Often budget or older models will have this type of connection. You may also find this connection type on soundbars with multiple inputs - as a way of connecting more external devices to your soundbar.
The easiest way to connect this up is to use a standard stereo analog audio cable from a stereo analog audio output on the TV - or whichever device you want to connect to your soundbar.
The stereo analog audio output on the back of your TV will look something like this:
And the cable that you need is just a simple stereo RCA cable like this:
You probably have dozens of these lying around the house already!
Just connect the red and white connectors to the same color RCA connections on your devices:
This connection is straight-forward. But, AV devices have all sorts of different connection types.
Here's an example of converting the audio type using a converter.
Newer TVs don't often have a stereo analog output.
So, if your TV only has an optical audio output - and you have a soundbar with stereo analog inputs - then you can buy an optical to stereo analog converter:
You would then connect it like this:
There are many converter boxes like this which make it easy to switch from one audio type to another.
Just bear in mind that any 5.1 surround sound audio from the optical output will be down-converted to stereo audio.
The final thing to consider - when thinking about the best way to connect a soundbar to your TV – has less to do with the type of connections.
It’s about how many devices do you want to connect to your soundbar.
In most cases, many users will just want to hear the sound of their TV on the soundbar. After all, that’s the point of a soundbar.
This is simple, and you just need to make one of the connections mentioned above.
However, what if you have a Blu-ray or DVD player? Or a game console? Or, how do you hook up your cable box to a soundbar?
How do you get to hear the audio from these external devices on your soundbar?
The answer, again, depends on which soundbar that you have.
Some soundbars have multiple inputs. Maybe 2 or 3 HDMI inputs. Or a couple of optical audio inputs.
In which case, you can just run a cable from each device into the soundbar.
However, many soundbars just have a single connection.
In this case, the best way is to connect all your external devices into your TV – and then use your single audio output from the TV pass the audio to the soundbar.
Let's look at this in more detail.
Many soundbars have a single audio input for receiving audio from your TV.
So, does that mean that you can’t hear the audio from your game console or DVD player on your soundbar?
If that’s what you want to do, the best way to achieve this is to connect all your external devices directly to the TV. Then use the TV audio output to pass all the incoming audio to the soundbar.
You would wire it something like this:
Most modern TVs have several HDMI inputs for multiple external devices. Once you have connected everything, then you just need to make the usual audio connection to your soundbar.
These days that will usually be an HDMI ARC connection. If so, make sure that you don’t use that HDMI input for connecting an external device.
Alternatively, you might need to use the optical audio output to connect your soundbar.
It depends on the connections that your TV and soundbar have.
Some soundbars have extra inputs for your external devices.
A good example is the Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 soundbar.
You can see from the picture above that this soundbar has two HDMI ports. One is an input to receive the signal from an external device, like a Blu-ray player or game console.
This means the soundbar can play the audio from the Blu-ray movie or game.
Then, there is an HDMI output that will pass the video signal to the TV.
Also, because this an HDMI ARC connection, we can also pass audio from the TV to the soundbar using the same HDMI connection.
If you're still confused, maybe this simplified wiring diagram will make it clearer:
So, the idea is to connect all your devices into the soundbar inputs. Then, there is an HDMI output from the soundbar to the TV.
This is very much like how we would connect an AV receiver.
In the example of the Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 soundbar, there is also an optical connection to pass TV audio for TVs that don’t support HDMI ARC.
Other soundbars may have more inputs than this - and different types - but the way that you connect everything will follow the same principle as above.
Here's another example. The popular Polk Audio MagniFi Max SR soundbar has a standard HDMI ARC connection for your TV.
Alternatively, you can connect the TV audio output to the optical input.
However, if you can use the HDMI ARC connection there are 3 further HDMI inputs that you can use to connect a DVD player or game console. Or, any device with an HDMI output.
Then, the HDMI ARC connection will pas the picture to the TV - leaving the soundbar to play all the audio.
If you aren't using the optical input for TV audio, you can also use the optical connection for an audio-only device - such as a CD player.
Using a soundbar with multiple inputs can be an excellent way to get a home theater system going in your room.
It can be an easy way to connect multiple devices and improve the sound in your room at the same time.
You just need to think about the number and type of connections that you need for your room.
My guide to buying the best soundbars lists a range of soundbars at different price points. You might find that useful if you haven't made your choice yet.
If you want an easy way to improve the sound of your TV, then a soundbar is a great choice.
A single compact device that does the job without taking up too much space.
However, there are several different types of soundbar – and they also need to be compatible with your TV.
So the question of how to hook up a soundbar can be a tricky one.
And, once you have worked out the connection issues, how do you connect multiple devices – or get surround sound audio?
Of course, there are other ways to get better sound in your room.
Take a look at my guide to buying an AV receiver if you want an even more flexible solution to getting great movie audio in your room.
Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has worked as a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment.