How to connect a soundbar to your TV
A soundbar will upgrade your TV's audio—here's how to connect one
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There's never been a better time to buy a soundbar. Whether you just bought a new 4K TV and need an audio system to match, or you just can't stand another movie night at home with subpar sound, you'll need a soundbar to take things to the next level.
Even if you haven't bought a soundbar yet, you may be wondering if your TV is equipped for one—a fair question. While the answer is almost certainly "yes," there's a bit more to it. Here's everything you need to know about connecting and optimizing a new soundbar so you can upgrade your setup the right way.
Which ports do soundbars use?
Pretty universally, you'll be connecting your soundbar to the TV via an HDMI cable (generally preferred) or an optical cable, sending digital audio out from the TV. If you just bought a soundbar, those cables are usually already in the box, but some companies will skimp on an HDMI cable. You can get an an HDMI cable for around $10 and we've even got a list of our favorite HDMI cables to help you shop. You don't need expensive or fancy cables, especially when they're only running a foot or two between the TV and the soundbar.
Some soundbars have more than one HDMI port, but the proper one to connect to your TV will have the words "HDMI ARC" or HDMI eARC in some form. The other HDMI port (if there is one) is actually for plugging in outboard video components like a 4K Blu-ray player or gaming console, which may be useful if you're trying to send high-quality audio formats such as uncompressed Dolby Atmos to your soundbar directly.
Which ports does my TV have?
You'll also want to figure out whether your TV has ports that will work with a soundbar. It very likely does, but better to know your situation from the get-go. Like your soundbar, your TV should have an HDMI port that's labeled "ARC" or "Audio Return Channel" or, if you have a newer TV, it may say eARC (more on that below).
If your TV is getting long in the tooth, you'll need to use the optical audio output on the back or side of your TV instead. It should be square-shaped with a roundish flap that will push in when you connect the optical cable, and it may even have a red glow to it because of the way optical cables work.
HDMI ARC/eARC is preferred over optical connection, not only because it allows for newer TVs (around 2017 and later) to pass advanced audio formats like Dolby Atmos, but also because it will usually allow you to control the soundbar's power and volume with your TV remote—without the need to program said remote. (To do this, you may need to turn on HDMI CEC in your TV's settings.) The optical audio connection can carry 2.1-and 5.1-channel surround sound, but that's where it tops out. If you have a more advanced soundbar with Dolby Atmos (which usually includes upfiring speakers), you'll have to use HDMI ARC or eARC to make it work properly.
Note that some media devices—like the Xbox One game console—have their own optical ports, but if you're going to use the optical connection it's better to run the soundbar directly to the TV in most circumstances. By connecting the soundbar to the TV's optical port, you'll be able to hear all TV sound automatically through the soundbar.
What is HDMI eARC?
As touched on above, newer TVs and soundbars (often pricier ones) may have an HDMI eARC connection rather than just HDMI ARC. This stands for "enhanced Audio Return Channel" and is designed to provide high-quality, uncompressed audio from your TV (including Dolby Atmos) as well as address any sync issues between on-screen video and the soundbar's audio. While eARC is becoming more common, there are really only two things you need to know when it comes to soundbar connection. First, eARC's "enhanced" features only work if both your sound system and TV support eARC. Second, in all other respects, HDMI eARC works just like HDMI ARC.
How do I know the soundbar is working/connected?
In the typical case, assuming you've unboxed a basic soundbar or soundbar/sub combo—such as the versatile Yamaha YAS-209—all you need to do is connect the HDMI or (failing that) optical cable between the soundbar and TV, and make sure the soundbar/subwoofer are plugged into a power outlet.
Generally, once you turn the TV and soundbar on, they'll be connected/set-up. Likewise, if a soundbar includes a wireless subwoofer, you shouldn't need to do anything to pair—they're meant to be paired already. If not, there should be clear instructions about how to go about doing so and/or troubleshooting. (This should also be the case for any spare satellite speakers that come with more advanced soundbars.)
When connecting over HDMI ARC/eARC, most modern TVs will automatically send audio through to the soundbar while turning off the TV's internal speakers. That said, as mentioned above, you may need to turn on "HDMI CEC" in the settings to use your TV remote for power and volume. If your TV offers multiple output settings such as Dolby Digital, DTS, etc., it's generally best to use the Auto feature so that the TV will choose the best option.
When using an optical connection, the TV will often output sound automatically, but you may need to either turn off the internal speakers or simply lower the volume on your TV. Otherwise, you may experience synchronization issues due to delay between the internal speaker output and the soundbar. Even if you don't, you don't really need both sources—there's a reason you bought a soundbar after all.
What if I don't hear any sound after connection?
If the soundbar/sub are plugged in and powered on and you can't hear sound, you may need to go into your TV's audio menu and switch from "TV speakers" to "external," "receiver," or optical." If things still aren't working, double-check that your cable is properly inserted into both the TV and the soundbar—this trips more people up than you might think.
Sometimes, if a soundbar and subwoofer are blending particularly well, it'll be hard to tell that the sub is working. An easy thing to do is place your hand against the speaker surface during a scene with some decent bass to check that it's vibrating. If it is, it's synced up and working with the soundbar. If not, you might need to re-pair it with the soundbar—or if it has its own volume control on your soundbar remote, you may just need to turn it up.
Does my soundbar brand need to match my TV brand?
It's understandable if you're under the impression that your soundbar needs to be made by the same manufacturer as your TV. There are sometimes advantages to say, pairing a Samsung soundbar with a Samsung TV, but outside of more complicated audio pass-thru situations and/or wireless connection, pretty much any soundbar will work over HDMI ARC/eARC or optical connection with any modern TV.
What about Bluetooth and WiFi streaming?
If you're looking to stream audio to your soundbar (a great bonus feature), connection is generally pretty simple, but it may vary.
If your soundbar has WiFi, the instruction manual will usually walk you through connection, often via a dedicated app for your smartphone. Soundbars with smart assistants like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa will often ask you to connect via those apps. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but in general, the app should guide you through the process with few speed bumps.
Once connected, you should be able to find the soundbar in your Spotify Connect settings or, if the soundbar supports AirPlay 2, your Apple Music settings. In some cases, you may need to connect to music streaming services through the dedicated app, but this is rare.
If connecting over Bluetooth (which is generally faster but may have lower sound quality), you'll usually need to start by switching the soundbar's input source to Bluetooth (or BT). Next, locate the soundbar in your device's Bluetooth settings, and click to pair. The next time you connect, you should be able to simply switch the soundbar's source to Bluetooth or, in some cases, simply select the soundbar in your device's Bluetooth settings.
Which soundbar should I buy?
If you haven't bought a soundbar yet, don't fret too much about shopping around. Naturally, we have recommendations.
If you've got a bigger/fancier 65-inch TV, you may want to check out some bigger/fancier soundbars, while those on a budget may just want the most affordable bar on offer. Our roundup of the best soundbars has something for just about any price point or need. A few suggestions include the light and versatile Sonos Beam, the aforementioned Yamaha YAS-209, which has a ton of bells and whistles at a nice price, or the big and brawny Sonos Arc for those looking to get into Dolby Atmos in a simple configuration.
If you're looking for something even more affordable, check out the Polk Signa 2, one of our favorite budget-bars.
Whichever bar you choose, our guide should have you up and running in no time.