What is the best way to hook up a soundbar to a TV? Learn how to connect a soundbar with HDMI ARC, optical cables and RCA connections.
For many people, connecting a soundbar to a TV is the easiest way to improve the sound of TV shows and movies.
A soundbar can be just the right fit for many home theater rooms.
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.
Table of Contents
- Can I Connect Speakers Straight to My TV?
- What Is the Best Way to Connect a Soundbar to Your TV?
- How to Connect a Soundbar to a TV With HDMI
- How to Connect a Soundbar to a TV With an Optical Cable
- How to Connect a Soundbar to Your TV Using Coaxial
- Step 1 – Connect a Coaxial Audio Cable
- Step 2 – Enable the Correct TV Speaker Output
- Connecting a TV Coaxial Output to A Soundbar Optical Input
- How to Connect a Soundbar to a TV Using Stereo RCA
- How to Connect Many Devices to Your Soundbar
Can I Connect Speakers Straight to My TV?
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 are passive and require an amplifier before they will work – and so 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 – which means 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.
What Is the Best Way to Connect a Soundbar to 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 ways to connect your soundbar are:
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 television and soundbar.
Connecting with an optical audio cable 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 your TV connections.
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 transmission – 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 signals from mobile phones 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 soundbar and TV are compatible with the same type of Bluetooth connection before you buy one.
This is the main point regarding each connection method.
Before you buy a soundbar, you should double-check the audio out 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 (Audio Return Channel) and optical input connection.
Therefore you can use either an 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.
How to Connect a Soundbar to a TV With HDMI
This is the most up-to-date method of connecting AV devices. Therefore, it is one of the best ways to connect your television and soundbar.
But you can only do this if your soundbar and TV support it.
To connect a soundbar and TV via HDMI your TV will need HDMI ARC ports.
Most modern TVs have several HDMI inputs. But the important thing is that one of your TV HDMI ports needs to be enabled for 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 the HDMI Audio Return Channel.
The advantage of an ARC port is that the TV will be able to send audio signals from the TV and into the soundbar – including Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos.
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 function? If so, then this is the best way to connect your television and soundbar.
Above we can see the rear input connections of the popular Sonos Beam soundbar.
You also get similar connections on the larger Sonos Arc soundbar. Check out my Sonos Arc vs Beam comparison for more details.
Step 1 – Connect an HDMI Cable
Connect an HDMI cable from the TV’s HDMI Audio Return Channel port – and connect the other end to the soundbar’s HDMI input.
Any category 2 ‘high-speed’ HDMI cables will send audio over HDMI ARC.
Step 2 – Select the Correct TV Audio Output
Using the TV screen, go to the TV sound setup audio 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 available.
If the sound output types are listed, make sure you select the connection method that you are going to use.
So, in this case, select HDMI or HDMI ARC.
With 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.
Step 3 – Enable HDMI-CEC
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:
- Samsung: Anynet+
- Sony: BRAVIA Link
- Pioneer: Kuro Link
- LG: SimpLink
- Panasonic: VIERA Link
- Philips: EasyLink
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.
Learn more about HDMI control here.
How to Connect a Soundbar to a TV With an Optical Cable
Before HDMI ARC, digital optical audio was probably one of the most common ways to connect 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 output – and your soundbar had an optical audio input.
Optical 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.
The choice between HDMI or optical usually comes down to the connections that your devices have. If you can, use HDMI – or optical if not.
Step 1 – Connect an Optical Cable
Hook up an optical digital audio interconnect 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!
Step 2 – Enable the Correct TV Speaker Setting
Go to the TV audio setup menu and make sure the TV sound 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 menu 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.
How to Connect a Soundbar to Your TV Using Coaxial
Although optical digital audio ports are more common, you may have a coaxial TV or soundbar 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.
Step 1 – Connect a Coaxial Audio Cable
Connect a coaxial digital audio interconnect cable from the TVs 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.
Step 2 – Enable the Correct TV Speaker Output
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.
Connecting a TV Coaxial Output to A Soundbar Optical Input
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 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:
Then, you need to make sure that you go to the TV set up menu to select the correct sound output.
How to Connect a Soundbar to a TV Using Stereo RCA
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 analog 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 wire from a stereo analog line out on the TV – or whichever device you want to connect to your soundbar.
The stereo analog 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.
If your TV doesn’t have a stereo analog line out connection like this, then you may be able to use the TVs headphone jack instead.
You will need a 3.5mm mini jack to stereo RCA cable for this.
It’s not ideal as the headphone output will send a weaker audio signal than the stereo line out. So, the audio quality won’t be as good.
But, if you turn up the volume on the TV then you should get something that will work.
Here’s another example of changing the audio type using a converter.
Connecting a TV Optical Out to a Stereo Analog Soundbar
Newer TVs don’t often have a stereo analog output.
So, if your TV only has an optical 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.
You then need to make sure that you set the audio menu on your TV to output PCM.
This means that the TV will send stereo audio from the optical output – rather than 5.1 surround sound.
How to Connect Many Devices to Your Soundbar
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 this AV equipment on your soundbar?
The answer, again, depends on which soundbar that you have.
Some soundbars have multiple inputs. Maybe 2 or 3 HDMI or optical 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 output from the TV pass the audio to the soundbar.
Let’s look at this in more detail.
Soundbars with Single Inputs
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, cable boxes 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 television’s audio connections 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 output to connect your soundbar.
It depends on the connections that your TV and soundbar have.
Soundbars with Multiple Inputs
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 connection ports. One is an input to receive the signal from an external device, like a Blu-ray player, set top box 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 ARC connection, we can also pass audio from the TV to the soundbar using the same HDMI port.
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 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 ARC connection for your TV.
Alternatively, you can connect the TV’s output connection 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 pass the picture to the TV – leaving the soundbar to play all the audio.
If you aren’t using the optical input for TV sound, 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 sound 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 make sure that you think about the number and type of connections required 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 to get a better listening experience.
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 a great movie audio system.
About Home Cinema Guide
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.
I love your help on HDMI. Your information is easy to follow, your humor is appreciated. You have me on my way. Thank you again.