What is The Best Way to Connect a Soundbar to a TV?

You might have noticed that both your TV and soundbar have multiple connectors, and you might be wondering what is the best way to connect a soundbar to a TV.

Which connection method is the easiest to setup? Which delivers the best audio quality? In this article, we’re going to cover some of the best ways to connect your soundbar and TV while also explaining the advantages of each method.

Best Ways to Connect a Soundbar to a TV

HDMI ARC: 

In a nutshell, the best way to connect a soundbar to a TV is through HDMI ARC (audio return channel). The reason HDMI ARC is the best method is that HDMI can carry higher quality audio formats, such as Dolby True HD, PCM, and DTS Master Audio.

It can also support almost every audio channel, from 2.1 all the way to 7.1 and even higher. Those audio formats don’t work well with optical cables or other connectors, so connecting a soundbar to a TV through HDMI is the best method. HDMI ARC delivers the highest quality audio.

Another benefit of using HDMI is it sends control signals. What that means is your TV can control the soundbar via your remote, which makes things very convenient. For example, when you lower the volume on the TV’s remote, it will lower the volume on the soundbar.

Having said that, not every soundbar or TV supports HDMI ARC. This article explains how to connect a soundbar to a TV without HDMI.

Optical Cable (Toslink): 

If neither your soundbar nor TV have HDMI ARC support, then one easy alternative would be to connect them via an optical cable. The optical connector is rather dated, it’s been around since the 80s, but it can still be used to deliver decent quality audio.

Toslink can support Dolby Digital and other multi-channel systems, so it’s a good solution for soundbars (most soundbars are 2.1 channels or stereo, anyways). The port can be labelled as Toslink, Optical Output, Optical, or Digital Audio Output. It’s also important to remember that Toslink uses digital audio, not analogue like RCA.

To connect your soundbar to a TV with Toslink, simply find the designated ports (they should be labelled) on each device, and run an optical cable between them. The devices should automatically detect each other, but you might need to change the TV’s audio source.

If your soundbar doesn’t have an optical cable port, read this guide for alternative methods.

RCA

Although not the best, using RCA cables to connect a soundbar to a TV is another option to consider. It’s very easy to set up and all you have to do is insert the red and white cables into the RCA slots for left and right audio channels.

Bear in mind, RCA uses analogue, and that signal needs to be converted to digital. Most devices (TVs and soundbars) can convert the signal but the end result might not be the best. Most TVs still have RCA connectors, and you can also use this method to connect older consoles to your soundbar.

The main downside to using this method is the audio will only be stereo, you won’t get any special surround sound or Dolby formats. Nevertheless, stereo is usually good enough for soundbars.

Headphone Jack (3.5 MM/AUX)

Another really easy way to connect a soundbar to a TV is through the 3.5 mm headphone jack, also known as Aux. What you will need is a male to male 3.5 mm audio cable, and then simply insert one end into your TV’s 3.55 mm port, and the other side into your soundbar.

You’ll probably have to change the audio source on either your TV or soundbar (maybe even both) but it should work with no problems. The downside? Just like with RCA, the headphone jack only supports stereo audio, and the sound quality is not the best.

Wireless & Bluetooth:

If you have a modern TV that has Bluetooth, then you might want to consider connecting the soundbar to the TV over Bluetooth. The advantage is you don’t have to deal with cables, so you can move your soundbar to different locations for a better audio experience.

While it’s very easy to set up and pair the two devices, there are a few notable downsides to using Bluetooth with a soundbar. The most noticeable would be latency issues, audio out of sync, cut-outs, and unreliable connections. It can work well for music but watching movies might be frustrating if the audio is out of sync with the video.

HDMI vs Bluetooth for Soundbar Sound Quality:

You might be wondering if there’s a big difference in sound quality between HDMI and Bluetooth. The best way to connect a soundbar to a TV is through HDMI because it not supports higher bitstreams but it’s also the most stable.

Bluetooth is good-enough for playing music from your phone or watching simple YouTube videos but the quality is not the best. Bluetooth only supports stereo too, and it’s more likely to run into connection issues. Most people will agree that Bluetooth audio quality is lower than wired connections. You also have to deal with random disconnects!

Local radio devices might interfere with the signal too, such as wireless mice, routers, and whatnot. Overall, your best option is to go with HDMI or another cable-based solution because Bluetooth can be pretty unreliable at times.

To Summarize: 

The order of recommended ways to connect a soundbar to a TV is listed below:

  1. HDMI ARC
  2. Optical (Toslink)
  3. RCA
  4. Bluetooth

Even though most experts will recommend a certain method (HDMI) it’s up to you to decide which solution works best for you.

If you don’t notice any difference between HDMI and Bluetooth, and the Bluetooth is relatively stable, then you can stick to Bluetooth. Generally, I always recommend a wired connection, especially for more permanent home theatre setups because it’s just more stable.

Further Reading: Best budget soundbars

About S. Santos

Tech columnist and tech blogger, audiovisual aficionado trying to keep up with the ever-evolving world of gadgets, home entertainment, and personal technology. If not fiddling with AV cables at home or in front of the computer, he can be found playing tennis or padel.

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