How do I set up a sound bar with my TV?
By Jack Turner
In this guide, we explain how to set up your sound bar with your TV and other equipment, and how to get the best sound quality no matter what you're watching.
When you're setting up a sound bar for the first time, it can be confusing to work out the best way of connecting it not only to a TV, but to set top boxes, additional speakers, consoles, and other equipment.
HDMI, ARC, Ethernet and Optical are terms that might not mean a lot right now, but to ensure you get the best sound quality in your home, and that all of your equipment works as it should, it's a good idea to take some time to optimise your setup.
Use our interactive tool below to find more information on the different connections that your sound bar might have.
If you're just looking to find the top sound bar for the job, head straight our Best Buy sound bars page.
1. Placing the sound bar
Ideally, we’d all have a square living room with a large TV located centrally on one wall and a sofa directly facing it. But even if your TV isn’t in this position, you’ll get the best out of your sound bar by lining it up horizontally with your TV screen and watching TV head on. Sound bars can be placed on a flat surface, such as your TV stand, and should fit snugly in front of your TV or below it on a shelf. Many, but not all, sound bars come with wall-mounting brackets, so can be fixed to the wall to save space, if you prefer.
If your sound bar has an external subwoofer, you’ll need to find a suitable place for it and connect it to a power socket. Some external subwoofers are wired and need a cable connection to the sound bar, while some are wireless and can be placed elsewhere in the room - generally within a 10-metre range of the sound bar. Ideally, the subwoofer should go in the middle of the front wall; otherwise place it in the nearest spare corner.
2. Checking the sound bar position
If your sound bar is going to sit in front of the TV, be careful that it won't obscure the TV’s screen or infra-red sensor. Some sound bars have adjustable feet so you can increase or decrease their height, while some also come with an infra-red repeater, either built in or as an attachment, which will pick up the signal from your TV’s remote control and forward it to the TV.
3. Connecting to your TV and other equipment
Decide how you’ll connect the sound bar to the TV and any other equipment. Then check if you need to buy any cables separately, checking the ports on your TV and any equipment that you intend to connect to the sound bar.
Most sound bars offer at least one digital input, normally HDMI or digital optical, and one analogue input, such as 3.5mm mini-jack or red/white phono. Some LG and Samsung sound bars can connect to a TV of the same brand using a Bluetooth connection.
HDMI carries video and audio, while only audio can be carried by digital optical, digital coaxial, left/right phono, and 3.5mm mini-jack. Some sound bars don’t come with cables, and those that do often come with only one. Using a digital cable connection is necessary if your sound bar claims to decode surround sound.
Plug all equipment into the TV
The simplest way to set up a sound bar with your TV equipment is to run a single cable from your TV to the sound bar and plug all of your equipment, such as a set-top box or DVD player, directly into your TV. This bypasses the TV’s internal speakers and passes audio from other devices out to the sound bar. Either a digital or analogue connection can be used, but if you connect the sound bar via HDMI, use the TV’s HDMI-ARC port.
This method is best if your sound bar doesn’t have enough inputs to handle all of your equipment. If your sound bar does have enough inputs, you could connect your equipment directly to the sound bar.
Plug all equipment into the sound bar
This method works best if the TV and sound bar are connected by an HDMI cable, because if you have audio-visual equipment, such as a set-top box or DVD/Blu-ray player, an HDMI connection will carry images to the TV. Prioritise connecting video devices to HDMI inputs, then connect audio-only devices to audio-only inputs.
On the TV, you’ll need to use its HDMI-ARC port (audio return channel) so sound will be transmitted, and make sure ARC mode is enabled. If your TV supports HDMI-CEC, you can operate the TV and the sound bar with one remote.
Plug equipment into the TV and sound bar - best for lots of equipment
Alternatively, if you have more devices than ports, you can do a mixture of both. You may need to use the remote control to switch between each input (or ‘source’) to select the device connected to the TV or sound bar, when you want to listen to it.
As above, prioritise connecting devices that need to transmit video to HDMI inputs on the sound bar. Although a little more complex, it is possible to connect an audio-visual device to both TV and sound bar, sending video to the TV and audio to the sound bar.
4. Check audio settings
You may need to access the TV’s menu and choose to output sound to an external speaker system, i.e. the sound bar. If you’re using an HDMI connection, the sound bar may be listed using the manufacturer’s HDMI name, such as LG (Simplink), Samsung (Anynet+), Panasonic (Viera Link), Sony (Bravia Sync), or Philips (EasyLink). Also ensure ARC mode is enabled - this will allow you to use your TV remote to adjust the volume coming from your sound bar.
You may need to adjust the sound delay and volume levels, as every room has its own shape, layout and furniture which affect the sound. It’s also a good idea to adjust the subwoofer level so it integrates well with the sound bar and doesn’t dominate. In our tests, we often find that the subwoofer level is often set quite high and reduce it accordingly.
All sound bars offer stereo sound, and this is often best for watching TV, although you may wish to experiment with any settings the sound bar has. Some include a mode to improve speech clarity and many have a mode to process the surround sound (Dolby Digital and DTS audio) found on DVD/Blu-ray soundtracks and films broadcast on TV.
Many also offer different sound effects which are designed to enhance films or music, such as ‘cinema’ or ‘3D’ for a film, where the audio is electronically processed to recreate a virtual surround-sound effect. In our tests, we often find these effects sound unnatural and turn off extra processing – this will be explained in the sound bar’s manual, but look for a setting called ‘Stereo’, ‘Bypass’, ‘Off’, ‘Standard’ or ‘Natural’.
5. Using extra features
If you want to play audio from portable devices such as a laptop, USB drive, MP3 player, smartphone or tablet, check if your sound bar has 3.5mm, USB or Bluetooth connectivity. These provide an easy way to hook up these devices, particularly Bluetooth which lets you listen to music wirelessly from Bluetooth-enabled smartphones and tablets.
Some sound bars can also connect to your home wi-fi network and be used as part of a multi-room audio system. Each manufacturer has a slightly different setup process, but all will require you to input your wireless network password.