How to connect a soundbar to your TV
A soundbar will revamp your TV's audio—here's how to connect one
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So, you're ready for a soundbar. Maybe you just upgraded to a new 4K TV and want great sound to match the picture quality. Maybe you were having trouble hearing dialogue, or you just wanted a better way to listen to Spotify. In any case, you decided, "Yes, I do need a soundbar."
Even if you haven't pulled the trigger on a soundbar yet, you may be wondering if you can even use one with the TV you have—a fair question. While the answer is very likely "yes," there's a bit more to it. Here's everything you need to know to upgrade your TV sound 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 sound from the TV to the soundbar's speakers. If you just bought a soundbar, those cables are likely already in the box, but if not, they're easy enough to find online. You can get an an HDMI cable for around $10 or an optical cable for around the same price on Amazon. You don't need expensive or fancy cables, especially when they're only running a foot or two between the TV and the soundbar.
Which ports does my TV have?
The next thing you need to do is figure out whether your TV has ports that will work with a soundbar. It's very likely it does, but better to know what you're doing from the get-go. What you want to look for is an HDMI port that's labeled "ARC" or "Audio Return Channel" or, failing that, an optical audio out port on the back or side of your TV.
To find if your TV has an ARC-compliant HDMI, you just need to look over the HDMI inputs. If one of them is an ARC input, it'll say something like "HDMI 2 (ARC)." ARC is preferred, not only because it allows for a TV to pass audio formats like Dolby Atmos, but also because it will allow most people to control the soundbar's power and volume with a TV remote—without the need to program said remote. That said, you may need to turn on HDMI CEC in your TV's settings to do so.
In addition, while optical audio can carry the standard 2.1-channel setup (basically, if you just have a soundbar or a soundbar/sub), as well as digital 5.1 surround sound, if you have a larger system or one with Dolby Atmos (which usually includes upfiring speakers), you'll have to use HDMI ARC to carry the audio.
If your soundbar has a spare HDMI input, you can also connect devices like Blu-ray players directly to the bar, side-stepping the need for your TV to decode the audio and sourcing uncompressed sound. But in general, HDMI ARC is going to be your go-to connection source.
If you're unable to connect via HDMI ARC, your optical port is your next best bet. It should be labeled something like "optical audio out" or "digital audio (optical)," and it may even have a red light or red glow to it because of the way optical cables work.
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 about HDMI eARC?
Newer TVs and soundbars (usually 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 output. While eARC is becoming more common, there are really only two things you need to know when it comes to soundbar connection. First, its "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 2.1-channel soundbar or bought one of the popular soundbar/sub combos—such as the versatile Yamaha YAS-209—all you need to do is connect the cable between the soundbar and TV, and make sure the soundbar/subwoofer are plugged in.
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.
Many modern TVs will automatically send audio through the HDMI ARC port while turning off the 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.
If the soundbar/sub are plugged in and powered on and you can't hear them, you may need to go into your TV's audio menu and select between "TV speakers" and "external" or "optical." If things still aren't working, double-check that your cable is properly inserted into both the TV and the soundbar on both ends—this trips more people up than you'd 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 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 or optical with your TV.
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 or the aforementioned Yamaha YAS-209, which has a ton of bells and whistles at a nice price.
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.